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Changing Seasons

Share the trail love:
Dylan Bowman

By: Dylan Bowman

Head Freetrailer and co-founder.

At this point last year, I was desperate for change. After nine years at my previous job, I’d given my notice and fully committed to Freetrail, pursuing an intuition that the project was my true calling in life. Simultaneously, I’d set the wheels in motion to depart my previous longtime sponsor to follow a new path as an athlete and partner in startup footwear brand, Speedland. While my enthusiasm for this new work gave me confidence, I’ve also experienced tremendous insecurity, second guessing myself and my capabilities regularly.

My personality is one that seeks predictability and stability above all else, and these were moves in the opposite direction. The analogy I like to use is letting go of the side of a swimming pool – floating helplessly into the deep end. But the emotional experience often feels more like skydiving without a parachute, hoping for the best. The motivation created from going all in was only reinforced when we learned that Harmony was pregnant in November 2021. For the past 12 months, there has been a palpable sense that we are tackling a new chapter of our lives personally, professionally, and as a family.

The last 12 years have been devoted to being the best trail runner I could be. I’ve always found my fullest self-actualization in competition. It feels as though I’m now in the September of my athletic career, slow transitioning between the summer of my prime years and the winter of post-pro athlete life. As that changing of the seasons has become more obvious, I desperately want to ensure there is a long autumn where I can still train, race, and exist as I’ve always felt best – as a committed high-level athlete.

This year has been simultaneously the most fun and hardest of my life. Rather than training, traveling, and competing as I have grown accustomed to, 2022 has been about ensuring we establish Freetrail on firm footing, building a strong foundation for our enormous future ambitions. It feels like the February of our evolution as a company – still very much in the dark and cold of winter, but with a faint glimmer of brighter days to come. While we’re still fighting for survival every single day, even the desperate times have a sense of enjoyment and exhilaration I’ve grown to love.

Dylan Bowman at the start line of the 2022 Ultra Pirineu

As I’ve spoken about in many places, Freetrail has required unexpectedly huge effort and never-ending focus, which naturally necessitated a deprioritization of my athletic life during the 2022 racing season. Unnecessarily, I’ve felt a constant need to justify the career changes I made last year, ensuring they didn’t expose my family to undue risk or compromise my long-term career trajectory. Adding to the urgency was the ever-present backdrop of Harmony’s pregnancy and the happily anticipated arrival of our son.

What I’m trying to communicate is the powerful internal tension I’ve felt with the perceived changing of my life’s seasons. Simultaneously charging forward towards a future I’m optimistic about with Freetrail, while clinging to the thing which has given me many of my best friendships, memories, and life experiences – the magic of professional athletic competition. I’d really like to have both for a little while longer.

At 11:56am on August 14th, I became a dad to Rhodes Japhy Bowman. The last eight weeks have been filled with indescribable joy as we’ve settled into life as a family. In talking about how we wanted to approach this new chapter, one of the core things Harmony and I determined was important to us, and that we’d seen modeled by other parents we admire, is to live life as a unit. To keep pursuing the things we love, not sacrificing our passions to avoid inconvenience. We want Rhodes to see us striving to be our highest selves and to accompany us on the adventures we’d always enjoyed as a couple. So only six weeks after he was born, the Bowman trio boarded a transatlantic flight to keep that promise to ourselves.

The main purpose of our trip was to attend a dear friend’s wedding in Switzerland. The timing of which fortuitously allowed me to race Ultra Pirineu the weekend before – a spectacular 100k course in the Catalonian Pyrenees that had been on my radar for a decade. Though the previously mentioned work and family considerations limited my training, I was very glad to stand on the start line of a big international race again, ready to do what I love most and compete to the level I could on that day. Adjacent to me on the start line were some of the athletes I respect most in the world – Miguel Heras, Dmitry Mityeav, Pau Capell, Nuria Picas, Claudia Tremps the list goes on.

While I held out hope for a miraculous dose of dad strength to carry me to an inexplicably strong performance, the reality of my preparation and life circumstances made it obvious I wasn’t in the same league as the true contenders very early in the race. At this point, in the pre-dawn darkness, I was confronted with two options – foolishly try to keep up and suffer the inevitable implosion, or trust my intuition, race smart, and execute a solid finish from which to build further momentum later this year and into 2023. Ten years ago, there’s no doubt I would have chosen the former and paid the price as a result. Luckily, the current version of myself, while older and potentially slower, is definitely tougher and wiser.

Dylan makes his way through Ultra Pirineu snow on the hills behind him

I’m happy to say, I put together a solid day and enjoyed all 100 kilometers of the course. I suffered no low points and had no major issues. After about 40k, I settled into a similar pace with an old friend named Victor Mier, a Spaniard who lived in San Francisco at the same time as us in the early years of SFRC. We worked together all day, sharing conversations about work, training and fatherhood, ultimately arriving at the finish line together tied for 7th and 8th overall. Though a long way from being competitive in the way I’d like, it was a result and a race I’m proud of.

Prior to the race, I made the mistake of going back to look at my training from 2014-2018 on Strava. I’m not sure what inspired my referencing of the archive, but it had a fairly profound impact on me in the moment. “I used to be a savage!” I thought. “Wow, look how committed and consistent I was!” To be honest, it made me a little sad, amplifying the voice that’s lived in my head wondering why I voluntarily walked away from that lifestyle. Those years were the summer of my athletic life, a carefree time, and a period that I’ll always look back on fondly.

In continuing to think about and consider my evolution over the years, it’s clear that my life has much more depth now. I have a business that I’m proud of, working with people I love and respect every day. I have a son and a wife for whom I’d do anything. I have my health and still maintain a deep love for our sport and our community. The richness that those things deliver vastly overshadow the heroic interval sessions I used to do multiple times per week.

At the same time, there is so much from the days of single-minded athletic performance that still powers me personally and professionally. The passion and intensity with which I use to approach those sessions is still in me, even if much of the energy is funneled in a different direction. Life has seasons. No matter how hard we try to encourage it or avoid it. They change, we change.

At this time last year, I was desperate for that change. While it has come with a force and magnitude that’s been overwhelming at times, it’s also created an environment for huge personal growth and concentrated learning. For that I am grateful – and ready for the long autumn ahead.

Dylan and Victor cross the line hand in hand with baby Rhodes

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