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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

Jacob Moss on What Has Made Him An Elite Ultrarunner: Family, Learning, Trial & Error, and Patience

Jacob Moss, 28, began running in college on the cross-country team. "I was the fastest on the team but relatively slow." He ran his first ultra - the Hell Hole 100K in 2018. "It was June in Charleston. Hot. 90-something degrees. Knee-deep swamp. A really hard race and I did it in like 13 hours. That's when I found out I might be really good at this." He placed first.

Two weeks ago Jacob ran Tunnel Hill 100 in 12: 54:52. His ultrasignup stats are impressive. I first met Jacob at the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track Ultras in 2019. We were in the 24-hour event. I recently chatted with him about his ultrarunning life - training, nutrition, why he runs, what has made him successful, his advice for runners new to ultrarunning, and his next ultra event.

Training and Nutrition

When preparing for a 100-mile or 24-hour ultramarathon, Jacob trains 10 to 17 hours a week and focuses on intensity. "I hover around 100 miles a week or push up to maybe 120-something miles. I don't have to do as much mileage as long as the intensity is right."

Jacob's normal training days begin with a shower before heading off to work at Navy Federal Credit Union. As soon as he gets home, he heads out the door by 6 pm for a training run. "I run at least 10 miles. Probably average an hour to 2 hours each day. I'll take a rest day if needed." Jacob finds that as long as he keeps that intensity range, he can hit 6 to 8 miles at his 24-hour pacing. "I can still recover and not do more damage." After a shower, he'll fire up the grill, make dinner, and then goes to bed to get 8 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep. "Normally, I shoot for a 9 or 10:30 range to go to bed."

His nutrition and the foods he enjoys are as routine as his days. Breakfast consists of 2 to 3 breakfast bars and Kombucha. "I drink only a Kombucha every morning. I'm naturally a picky eater which is kind of helpful for me." For lunch he sticks to chicken thighs, which have a lot of good fat, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, Basmati or Jasmine rice. For dinner he enjoys chuck eye steak with rice or potatoes. "Chuck eye steak is a cheaper version from a rib eye steak so it helps to save a little but also has the fat content. I normally aim to get that high fat content and a good amount of protein with steak." Jacob eats about a pound or a bit more.

Race day nutrition consists of carbs and caffeine. "I typically will aim for what my stomach can tolerate for carbs. I'll drink something with enough sodium and carbs." He keeps Welch's gummy bears on hand just in case he needs a boost. "I also have energy drinks on hand that I'll use, whatever I like at the time. The caffeine can be a huge boost."

Running to Refocus and Recenter

Runners run for different reasons. For Jacob, running is a spiritual experience in solitude away from distractions. "I run because it's a good way to get out, to be by myself. That's the good thing about running. You have time to think about whatever you want. It's a good time to be able to focus on what's going on in life and how you're processing things. And how you're being guided through that and where you need to direct more focus."

Running also "absolutely" brings Jacob closer to God. Running gives him "that time to be able to disconnect from everything else going on." Jacob adds, 'Even when you start a long and easy run you might have a lot of stuff going on, whether it's drama from work or a fight you had with your wife or whatever it may be. It's a time you can disconnect from all of that and you can refocus and recenter yourself."

Riley, Learning from the Best, and Trial and Error

Jacob has been running ultras since 2018. He has set four course records and has placed first in Merrill's Mile 24-hour and in the 6-hour event, where he set a course record. In 2020, he logged 159.16 miles at The Stinger All Comers 24-hour track race and set another course record.

What's behind his extraordinary success?

Three factors have helped Jacob to quickly join the ranks of elite ultrarunners. People have been instrumental in his remarkable ultrarunning accomplishments. The first person is his wife Riley, a 3rd and 5th grade ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. "She's been so supportive and sacrifices the time. She does so much around the house. Her crewing is phenomenal. She's got a really big heart in pretty big ways."

Riley crewing Jacob at Tunnel Hill 100.

Jacob adds that on his training runs, "every now and then Riley will ride with me on her bike. She'll be beside me while I run. We can get some good conversations. We can use the AirPods and listen to the same music and cruise along."

Jacob also credits elite and veteran ultrarunners like Zach Bitter, Bob Hearn, Ray Krolewicz, and Camille Herron for his success. "I've learned from a bunch of those guys and it's been super helpful. Though I haven't necessarily talked to them for all of it, they've kind of held my hand through it." He adds, "I came into the sport not knowing anything. I had to be self-coached. I knew I was capable. I knew I was good but did't know how." Zach Bitter, whom Jacob ran with for a few miles at Tunnel Hill, has been especially helpful. "It was a real treat to run with Zach because I've learned so much from him in particular. He's got a lot of stuff on YouTube. I've learned tons from him about training, diet, and everything."

Training, albeit by a trial-and-error approach, has proven successful. "You can do a lot things right in training, and you can do a lot of things wrong in training," says Jacob. He points out that there is a lot of information on how to train for a 10K and a marathon to make you a successful runner in these distances. "But there's not a lot of information on how to be a successful 24-hour runner so the trial and error of what makes you a good 24-hour runner is not necessarily there. Getting the training right has been huge and that's taken trial and error and it hasn't come over night. I've been in this for three, four years now and I'm still learning tons," says Jacob.

Patience, Avoiding Overtraining, and Running with Yazzie

Whether you have a lot of information about how to train for any distance, or rely on trial and error, training requires patience - the first piece of advice Jacob has for those setting their sights on becoming an ultrarunner. "Be patient. If you're coming into this world of ultrarunning and you go out and run a 100 miler and you have to drop for any reason, just know that that there's going to be another 100 in the future."

Being patient and knowing the difference between what you can push through during an ultra and what you don't want to push through is important. "I err on the side caution. If I feel any sharp pains I'm more than likely going to stop. But if it's a dull or aching pain or if it's just tough mentally, there is no reason not to push through."

Jacob's second piece of advice is to avoid overtraining and racing too much. "I see a lot of people run a race every weekend - a 5K, a 10K, then they'll run an ultramarathon, then a half-marathon." Running too many races will lead to injury. "If you do too many miles you're going to get injured, or you're going to end up with a muscle that's tightening up that you don't even know it's tightening up until it's too late." Jacob adds, "Racing frequently is a quick way to burn out."

In addition to exercising patience, and avoiding overtraining and burnout, don't forget to make time for life. "That's been a really difficult one for me, " confesses Jacob. But he stresses it's important to make sure you have time for your family. Maintaining relationships and living a life that's full is essential. Jacob shares, "One of the things that boosts HRV (heart rate variability) is playing with your dog. HRV is an indicator of stress. If it's higher, you're typically more recovered. If it's lower, you're more stressed." To recover after training or running an ultra, Jacob plays with Yazzie, their fun Rottweiler/Lab mix.

Up Next for Jacob

After recovering from his third place finish at Tunnel Hill 100 behind Zach Bitter and Phil Young, Jacob will be running at the Desert Solstice Track Invitational on December 11 - 12. The event is also a qualifier for the national 24-hour team. "Four weeks is a quick turnaround for Desert Solstice. I'm hoping I'm fully recovered for it," says Jacob.

And he's thinking about what he will be racing in February - the Jackpot 100 mile road ultra or tackling the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail ultra. "I'm thinking I might do some trails that way I don't get too mundane with the track because the track can wear on you. It can beat the mind up. I've done so many track ultras. Looking at the wrong color track can be like, Oh, no. Do I have to run on that right now?" chuckles Jacob. "The colors can make a difference."

Jacob is also a running coach. To learn more about getting coached by Jacob, contact him on Instagram @thejacobmoss.

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. Read excerpts, praise, and reviews, and order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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