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How Cody Reed Went from Reluctant 10K Runner to Way Too Cool 50K Champ

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Cody Reed was feeling ready and excited before competing in the Way Too Cool 50kK. That is, until he looked up the competition.

“Uh oh,” he thought. “Patrick [Smyth] is running. If he does his thing, I’m probably not going to win.”

Two weeks later, on March 4th, Reed toed the line next to course-record-holder Patrick Smyth; Chris Mocko, who finished 7th at the 2016 Western States Endurance Run; and Scott Trummer, who’s won four of the six ultras he’s ever run. Reed prefers things fast but knew this race was going to push him to a new level of competition.

From the track to the trail

Before 2016, Reed, 25, of Flagstaff, Arizona, hadn’t raced more than seven miles. He grew up in Danville, California, where cross-country and lacrosse were his main sports. Then, his senior year of high school, he decided to forego lacrosse and join the track team. He quickly realized he loved the faster pace of track and excelled at the mile and two-mile.

After high school, Reed moved to Flagstaff to attend Northern Arizona University (NAU), where he walked onto the cross-country and track teams. He ran the steeplechase, the 5K and the 10K, though he didn’t like the 10K.

“At the level I was racing at,” he says, “it was so fast and so long. I never had a good race.”

While at NAU, Reed met Tim Freriks, a year older, who ran on the team (Freriks is another recent trail running upstart, who finished second to Jim Walmsley at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50).

“It was pretty apparent that this guy belonged on the team,” says Freriks. “More than any of the physical aspects of training, the thing that was special about Cody was his personality. With Cody around, it was always easy to get along and have a good time together.”

Freriks and the other upperclassmen were a major influence for Reed and he credits them for his work ethic and attitude toward running. “They were just the grinders, doing high mileage and were still super fast. I went from thinking short term to long term and started to see my workouts as part of a yearly plan rather than individual efforts.”

 Reed knew about ultras but preferred speed to miles. He thought of ultras as plodding, sluggish events. “I didn’t want to go out for hours and run 60 to 100 miles at a slow pace and just suffer the whole time.”

That all changed after college, when mutual friends introduced him to trail phenom Jim Walmsley.

Reed and Walmsley did a few casual runs together and went rock climbing. “He was just a normal, goofy guy,” remembers Reed.

Then Reed crewed Walmsley at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50K. “I saw what it was really all about,” Reed says. “From the gun, [Walmsley] was going fast, going through aid stations, handing off bottles and food and not ever stopping.”

Walmsley set the course record that day and Reed wanted a taste for himself.

Fast in Flagstaff

In 2016, Reed started training with Walmsley and Frericks, doing 30-mile runs on Flagstaff’s Black Canyon Trail and in the Grand Canyon. Soon, Reed was nearing 100-mile weeks.

That May, Reed managed to win the Miwok 100K in 9 hours 4 minutes, beating the record by more than six minutes. He knew he was onto something.

Over the next seven months, Reed would go on to win Tamalpa Headlands 50K, Ultra Race of Champions 100K and Black Canyon Ultras 60K. Of Reed’s debut and racing style, David Roche, elite ultrarunner and coach says, “He’ll give you a big hug at the start line, then rip your legs off the first chance he gets.”

By early 2017, Reed knew he was competitive and had a solid chance to win the Way Too Cool 50K. That particular distance was a sweet spot for him.

“It’s got the speed so it’s right at the limit where I can keep pushing and not really break.” However, with the stiff line-up, Reed wasn’t sure if he could pull it off.

“I knew it would be a fast start … and a fast middle … and a fast end.”

At the gun, Reed took off with the lead pack. A 4:59 first mile made him question his capacity to endure.

“Oh, baby,” he thought. “I haven’t run like this in a while.” Feeling good, Reed pressed on and soon it was just him, Smyth and Trummer, with Smyth in the lead.

“We were all like 30 seconds apart and averaging sub-six-minute miles even half way through the race. I wasn’t sure if I could keep it up,” Reed says. “I’d never run that fast that far before.” Then, at mile 25 ¾ (Reed was paying close attention to his watch), he came up on Smyth. Once he took the lead, he knew he had it.

“I wasn’t going to let anyone pass me,” he says.

Over the next five miles, the pace slowed a bit, but Reed kept a close eye on who was behind him. “I knew someone, it must’ve been Scott, was about a minute behind me.”

His pace climbed with the terrain of the last few miles until he knew he was home free. He brought in the last mile at 5:23 to win in 3 hours 16 minutes 42 seconds—the fourth fastest time ever.

Ultra urges

Reed has officially tasted the KoolAid. He’s gearing up for the World Championships 50K in June, and then it’s on to the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“I think Cody is going to be a contender in the scene in the next year, once he starts racing more,” says friend and ultrarunner Chris Rennaker, of Flagstaff.

Reed plans to continue training in Flagstaff with the Team Run Flagstaff Pros, a group dedicated to “supporting local developing, national-class, and world-class distance runners” as well as his casual running group, the Coconino Cowboys, which consists of Freriks, Walmsley and Makai Clemons, 2nd place winner of Arizona’s Black Canyon 60K in February. Other runners are welcome. “We’re inclusive,” he says.

For optimal training, Reed prefers back-to-back middle-long runs as opposed to one long run per week, as well as a good dose of elevation, which he gets naturally running in Flagstaff. “It has the best training,” he says, “because it has so many different climates.”

Despite his love for the 50K distance, he thinks it’s important to compete in the longer races, “because of the prestige. It can make or break you as an ultrarunner.”

He already has his sights set on the 2018 Western States 100, and plans to run the Bandera 100K for his chance at a Golden Ticket. “It’s all about States,” he says.

For more on the 2017 Way Too Cool 50K, check out this Q&A with women’s champ Megan Roche.