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Just before a chilly start to the 2012 IMTUF 100

Missoula is a hotbed for ultra running talent and Seth Swanson is clearly one of the most talented runners in the valley.  While relatively new to running, his racing resume includes over a dozen 1st and 2nd place finishes at ultra races over the last 3 years.  His ability to balance running at a high level, work, and raising a young family shows that Seth is  diligent at multitasking.  Add to that list this weekends event put on by Seth and Justin Yates, The Phall Phringe Phatty (Ph^3), an unsanctioned, loosely organized, 25 mile trail run/race.    

Thanks for your willingness to answer a few questions and share some insight for our readers. First of all, what is your running background and how did you get into trail running?
I really don’t have much of a running background; I’ve maybe been at it for four years now.  I ran cross country in 7th grade and was super slow.  My wife, Norel, still likes to remind me of that and the fact that she used to beat me.  I’m fine with that now.  I just really wasn’t into it and didn’t have much a competitive drive then.  I never really got into team sports either, except for a bit of soccer in the early years.  During my college years in Bozeman I spent most of my time skiing, which was reflected by my academic prowess, or more appropriately lack thereof.  I went onto graduate school in northern California, where my priorities shifted a bit and instead of 80-100 days of skiing a year, I became a dedicated weekend warrior.  I skied regularly with a tight group of friends who continually pushed and scared the shit out of each other.  It was a blast.  I also began mountain biking with this same crew, which was ultimately a steep learning curve just managing to keep up.  But I loved it, and that’s what I did: ski and mountain bike. 

Equipment check, Duthie Hill.  Circa 2010.

 Shortly after graduate school I was living in Olympia, WA and my boss convinced me to do a local triathlon.   Maybe he thought that I could pull it off since I rode my singlespeed to work, or maybe he wanted to see me suffer.  I copped out and entered the accompanying duathlon with a borrowed bike.  It was a pretty good feeling to be riding a 20 year old steel bike with downtube shifters, wearing my wife’s helmet and passing guys donned in spandex onesies and aero helmets on top of $5,000 bikes.  But more importantly the run was actually fun, and straight off the couch I felt pretty good.  Soon after, I ran a trail half with my brother in law, which was the longest run I had ever done by over eight miles.  I was coming off the flu, and was dealing with a tumultuous stomach, but I still had a blast.  I signed up for a marathon, another marathon, and an Ironman in the next year.  But along the way I started running trails more, and that is what I really enjoyed.  I began running with a ragtag bunch of trail runners in Olympia, and started entering some races.  Each one was a complete experiment, and some a test of survival.  My first ultra was fittingly a fat ass in Olympia in early 2011.  It was a generous 55k, and I only had a half a gel flask for the entirety.  Needless to say I didn’t finish strong, but I had a ton of fun and met some great folks along the way.  I found the simplicity of running as a means of traveling through the wild and exploring various locations extremely enjoyable.  I also began to realize that maybe I did have a little competitive spirit in me. 

What are the main challenges you've overcome to get your running to the place it's at today?

I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m working on that though.  I’ve had my share of glitches along the way, but thankfully nothing major.  But I am a regular at Sapphire PT.

What is a running career highlight to this point?

I have only been competing for a few years, so that accounts for a pretty light resume.  I am, however, pretty happy with my run at the inaugural Mystery Ranch Ultra last August.  I saw it as a great opportunity to get an intimate view of this remote and beautiful mountain range.  Even though the trails were surprisingly runnable, the course boasted over 28,000 feet of cumulative climbing, so it was tough.  I ran conservatively all day, and was able to finish relatively strong.  Besides having to stop at the Pony Bar to confirm directions to the finish line, I felt like it was the smartest race I had pulled off so far, a good feeling for sure. 

How do you manage to fit running into your busy schedule with work and family?

Balancing a family life, a career, and running isn’t easy, and I’m not saying that I can do it with grace.  Running is a selfish venture.  My entire family shares with me the sacrifices of running, but it is really just me who reaps the rewards.  I am very fortunate to have a lovely, supportive, and forgiving wife.  I am lucky to have her support and with that a couple of good hearted and flexible young girls.

  Bea and Norel, Holland Lookout. 
I do try to do most of my running during the week while our girls are sleeping, whether that’s at 5 am or 9 pm, and then work some longer runs in on the weekend.  It seems like flexible scheduling is absolutely critical:  we may be up most of the night with the kids and a morning run just doesn’t work out, so I have to role with it.  I have also spent a lot of time pushing our oldest daughter Freya on trails around town, enough that we actually blew out the suspension on our first BOB stroller.  That has given way to her desire to get out and actually do some running of her own. Bea, our youngest, is up next; that’s what she has to look forward to next summer.  I look forward to the days of cruising trails with my daughters; that’s going to be a lot of fun.   

What are the basic components of your training? Who do you train with? Where do you like to run?

I do the bulk of my day to day running by myself, well with our dog Norm.  Enough that I believe there is an indirect correlation between his weight and my fitness; right now he is three to five pounds overweight. 

       Sheriff Norm, moments before the 2010 Capitol Forest Scary Ass
I run largely by myself in part because of the timing, but I also enjoy the solitude of running on the trails.  I do, however, like to mix it up with friends, and find that is a great way to push myself when I would otherwise not or run different trails that I normally would not, and a good way to catch up.  Missoula is great in that there are miles upon miles of singletrack, and a nice variety to boot, all easily accessible from nearly anywhere in town.  I do what I can to run right from our backdoor whether that is on and around Sentinel, Jumbo, or in the Rattlesnake.

What's your all-time favorite trail race?

Again, I haven’t competed in too many races so it is a little difficult to have an objectifiable opinion.  I have only made repeat attempts at one race, Orcas Island 50k, so I would have to say that is probably my favorite.  I actually had to beg my way into a sold out starting list for this coming year.  It is really my style of racing too:  a tough course, beautiful location, laid back atmosphere, and some partying afterwards.  And most everyone camps or stays in one of the many cabins available at the old environmental camp turned race headquarters.  It’s like the summer camp that I never went to, except it’s in the middle of winter, there’s a bluegrass band, and you can drink beer at it.
On top ofMt. Sentinel overlooking Missoula

What's your favorite Montana trail race?

I like the ‘old school’ characteristics of some of the Montana races:  recovery buffet of fried chicken, PBR, and no water at the end of Le Grizz; pot luck and used gear raffle at Tom Hayes’ house before Devils Backbone; and party at a hot tub store after the Bridger Ridge.  I hope that never changes.  From what I’ve run I have to say Devils Backbone is my favorite Montana race.  It is absolutely beautiful, logistically simple (carry what you need), and just plain tough.  

Having lived and run all over Montana, what's your favorite trail to run?
I’ve lived in Montana nearly 10 of the last 16 or so years, but have only run for a couple of those.  I have so much yet to see.  Even though I don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like, I really enjoy exploring new trails and new areas.  I find it rejuvenating to be in a new area and discover new treasures of this region.  Running in the Swans is always one of those inspiring areas.

Are there any other Montana runners who have inspired you over the years?

Missoula has such a deep pool of talented road runners, triathletes, mountain bikers, and trail runners that it is really humbling to be an aspiring runner.  I am continuously impressed not only by the ability of runners in our town who are competing at the top of national and international competition, but the places where running has taken them, the adventures they are lining up, and the amount that they are giving back.  Then there’s Bob Hayes.  I’ve just met him in passing, but everyone knows Bob Hayes.  I hope that I can have the drive and passion that he has at that age in whatever it is that I’m doing.  That’s inspiring. 

What are your goals for the coming year? 

I am still figuring things out, and exploring what I am capable of. I like races as a means to check out new areas and test what I can do, so I am looking to try something different.  I’m not sure what that’s going to be right now; maybe some longer stuff mixed with some shorter stuff.  I’m looking to throw my hat in a couple of lotteries for 2014.  I am also interested in exploring more of the gems around Western Montana, dabbling in skate skiing this winter, and getting a DeLorean. 
Dreaming big.  Centralia, WA outlet mall. 


  1. Congratulations Seth Swanson! 2nd place of 2014 Western States 100.



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