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Rod Farvard’s mustache might be my favorite in all of running.
It’s neither thick nor groomed, neither oiled nor manicured. It’s messy. It’s patchy. It curls at the ends. I think I caught him snacking on his own facial hair the day his whole body began snacking on itself at the highest point in Thailand, as he attempted to run the Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB 100-miler in December, 2022. I didn’t know it at the time but his kidneys were failing and his father had nearly died from cardiac arrest on the plane a few days prior. I’d gnaw on my mustache, too.
Rod Farvard, 27, from Mammoth Lakes, California, is an up-and-coming elite ultrarunner and former triathlete. In 2022, he was selected as one of 17 athletes for The North Face’s Athlete Development Program (ADP), the latest emerging model of innovative athlete support and sponsorship, ways that companies and organizations are beginning to think differently about how to support athletes and changemakers within the endurance community.
The North Face announced ADP in March 2022 as a way to “to equip aspiring athletes with the tools and financial means to achieve their athletic goals and inspire other adventurers within their communities.” The program was established to face systemic barriers in the recruitment process that often keep underrepresented communities across race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and differently-abled athletes from excelling in their discipline.
The North Face would select a small cohort of athletes and offer them a two-year contract with funding, gear, education, and one-on-one mentorship to accelerate their progress and reach the next level of their sport. After a short application period, they received 2,500 applicants, and athletes were chosen in February 2023, a diverse cohort from climbing, alpinism, skiing, snowboarding, and trail running. In addition to Farvard, ADP trail runners include Helen Mino Faukner, Rudy Lindquist, Sophia Gorman, Terence Copeland, Laura Cortez.
To Pro or Not to Pro
To understand why Farvard was selected in this pool of talented athletes, it’s helpful to know more about his background. Farvard ran cross country in high school. In 2012, during senior year, he dropped out of a California state race after hitting a wall at mile two.
“For whatever reason it ate at me for so long,” he said.
Farvard eventually turned to marathons, then to triathlons, where he competed at U.C. Santa Barbara for two years. “Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find that wall again. I want to get to that cracking point so much. I want to prove to myself that I am better than that internally,” he said.
After college, Farvard lived in San Francisco and worked in tech. He ran his first ultra when he was 19, and went on to podium several races in California over the next few years, including a win in 2019, at the Kodiak 100. In 2021, he set the supported FKT for the John Muir Trail, north-to-south (3 days, 16 hours, 2 minutes), an impressive effort that positioned him for future success in ultras. In 2022, he picked up a Golden Ticket at Canyons 100K, had a rough day at Western States, but fortunately made up for it with a 23rd place finish at UTMB, one of the top American finishers. He’ll be returning to States this year.
As someone who had been a competitive athlete while also holding a full-time job, he’s flirted for years with trying to run full-time. “All it means is that you’re giving yourself a shot,” he said. This sentiment lies at the heart of why he applied for the ADP program in the first place. He wanted to give himself a shot to commit fully to ultrarunning. Farvard found himself in a position where he was less interested in acquiring any random sponsor, and more inspired to collaborate with a brand he could get behind. That’s when he thought of The North Face.
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“The type of people here, like the level of boundaries that the athletes want to push, was just always incredibly inspiring to me,” he said.
All 17 ADP athletes come from different backgrounds, sports, and vocations. In fact, most athletes applied to the program for different reasons. “The North Face comes at it from an angle of: how do we represent more people in our sport that still have incredible potential to be really good athletes, but that they may be getting overlooked right now?” he said. “If you want to foster talent in the sport and not just have a one-hit wonder with athletes, I think these mentorship programs are incredibly important.”
Every ADP athlete gets paired with a North Face Global Athlete to collaborate on projects and receive mentorship through their two-year contract. The cohort meets bi-weekly, with new guest speakers on each call. Recently, a session has been focused on developing the athletes’ deepest intentions for pursuing the sport and goals—cultivating their why.
“It’s easy when you’re racing all the time to just think about who you want to be as an athlete and what races you want to podium at and where you want to get to the sport,” said Farvard. “But, why? Why do you want to get to that level? The North Face is stopping us here and having us craft our story, to try and figure out our why, what drives us to want to do all these goals.”
Farvard was paired with North Face Global Athlete Zach Miller, 2023 winner of the Tarawera 100 Mile race, fifth place and first American at the 2022 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, and, most recently, his epic finish at the 2023 Trail World Championships, to name a few of his many accolades. “We both have really big goals and both like love getting after it. So we’ve had fun creating different ideas,” said Farvard.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to mentor Rod,” said Miller. “He’s a great guy who has already done some impressive things in the trail running space. He’s motivated, thoughtful, and dialed in his pursuits. He shows a lot of maturity and a desire to learn and grow as an athlete. I’m enjoying seeing Rod progress and hope that in some way I can take the knowledge and experience that I’ve acquired in this sport and pass it on to him.”
Every ADP athlete gets a guaranteed $5,000 to spend on a project of their choosing, but they’ll work with their mentor to devise a project proposal and pitch to The North Face, with the intention of telling stories through expeditionary projects of each athletes’ reason for doing what they do. In the process, Farvard has already had great opportunities to network, skillshare, and commit to manifesting his dreams.
“I’ve been more encouraged to take ownership of what I’m most passionate about and pursue it to a full level,” said Farvard. “And being surrounded by all these different athletes who are doing that is really encouraging.”
The Collective Is Key
Esther Kendall is The North Face’s Global Sports Marketing Manager, and she is overwhelmed with how generative the program has been. “It has been a huge team effort,” said Kendall. “The athletes are so positive, so eager to learn, and so open to having conversations, and have come together as a team so quickly.” A central goal of the Athlete Development Program, according to Kendall, was rethinking The North Face’s approach to working with athletes.
“If you talk to any athlete on our team, they didn’t get to where they are alone,” said Kendall. “The primary goal is to equip aspiring athletes with tools and resources to achieve their athletic goals, to take responsibility as a brand, looking for the best athletes in the world and help people get there who might not have a clear path to connections or opportunities.”
Her selection committee really looked for athletes who were on the cusp of the next big thing. “Rod’s a great example of someone who has had successes but still has so much more to offer our sport, not only in terms of performance but as someone interested in building and growing the trail community,” said Kendall. “He is resilient and is able to find joy and positivity, even when things are not going to plan.”
Another ADP athlete Laura Cortez, 29, from Denver, Colorado. Cortez’s personal mission, as part of the program, is to “foster welcoming environments for the communities to define what the outdoors is for themselves.” An accomplished ultrarunner herself, Cortez’s experience with the ADP program, like Farvard’s, has been overwhelmingly positive. “A large part of this process is getting the chance to look behind the curtain at what being a professional athlete with a big brand looks like, and learning the business side of it,” she said.
In 2020, Cortez started Trailtinos, a running group for Latinx and Hispanic runners in the Denver area. The group hosts group runs and meet-ups to increase visibility for the Latinx community and provide a sense of community and source of support in a predominately white sport.
If you want to foster talent in the sport and not just have a one-hit wonder with athletes, I think these mentorship programs are incredibly important.
Cortez is paired with Flagstaff, Arizona, runner Rob Krar, and they chat weekly. “He’s been in the sport for a hot minute, so it’s really special to listen to him talk about how much the sport has changed and how the opportunities on the professional side have grown, too.”
Cortez’s goals with the ADP were twofold. First, she really wanted to dive into what it would feel like to be a professional athlete. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to give myself the chance to do, by having enough financial and athlete support (coach, nutrition help, strength/conditioning, mentorship, connections),” said Cortez. “The support The North Face is providing us with has helped me make major strides there.” Second, she wanted to grow as an advocate for cultural healing through sport. “This more action-taking approach has helped me think of new ways to show up for my community and really assess the underlying barriers and layers of nuance that can interfere not only our participation in sport, but being outside in general.”
But perhaps the most compelling case to be made for the power of something like the ADP is the community. With the ADP, athletes are representing disciplines of climbing, skiing, snowboarding, trail running, and alpinism, and the diversity of creative skill-sharing is powerful.
As someone who grew up playing team sports, Cortez found being part of this cohort of talent energizing. “Once you become an adult and continue doing sports at a higher level, the overall participation changes. Schedules and priorities shift, engagement wears off, and it can be difficult to find a group of like-minded folks who want to push themselves as much as you do,” she said.
Next Up? Western States
On June 24, Farvard will toe the line at Western States, his third time running the historic race. In some ways, Western States is one of his greatest challenges. “What keeps bringing me back is that I have not figured it out. It’s just such a hard race to understand,” he said. “It’s like this massive puzzle; there’s just so many more pieces to get it right.”
After recovering from States, he’ll build for TDS at UTMB, a 90-mile course with over 30,000 feet of vertical gain. And though he couldn’t share every detail about the The North Face project he’s developing, with the assistance of Zach Miller, it will be attempted at the end of September, and it will involve an attempt to link up all the eastern Sierra 14ers by human-power. One can only hope that his mustache will come along for the ride.