Jeff Colt is Having Fun – And Running Fast

About to make his UTMB debut, Colt says the less he frets, the better he seems to perform

Photo: Andy Cochrane

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Don’t ever tell Jeff Colt the odds. Or his V02 max. Or his heart rate.

“I don’t want to know that stuff,” he explains. “I don’t want to find out my numbers are average, then have to think about that when I toe the line against someone whose stats are out of this world, like Kilian [Jornet].”

“The race would be over psychologically before it started,” he continues.

The 32-year-old resident of Carbondale, Colorado prefers a more holistic, high-level approach to his training and racing. “I like to go off of perceived exertion,” he says. “And it’s as much about your mind as physiology.”

Whatever his metrics, this approach has helped Colt’s ultrarunning star rise dramatically the last few years. He won his debut 100-miler – Idaho’s IMTUF – in 2021, and surprised a lot of people (“including myself”) by twice earning Western States Golden Tickets and making a splash at the iconic race – this June he finished 9th overall.

This week he’ll travel to Chamonix for his first crack at one of the few races that might be more competitive than Western States: the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB).

Feeding Off His Community

So why UTMB?

“I really want to run the Hardrock 100, and UTMB is a qualifier,” Colt told me via FaceTime audio in mid-August from his partner, Annie’s family home in Rangeley, Maine, where he has no cell service.

It wasn’t the answer I expected: UTMB is considered a pinnacle of the sport. For many people, running well there (or running it at all) is the ultimate goal. And maybe someday it will be for Colt.

Just not this year. Maybe. (More on that later.)

“I knew I needed to run a mountainous ultra later this year” – Western States isn’t a Hardrock qualifier –  “and it was between UTMB and the Wasatch 100,” he says.

In many ways, Wasatch was a better fit – he’d have an extra week to recover from Western States and train, the competition was at his level, and he only had to travel one state over. But – counterintuitively – it turned out his family and Annie could all make it to France September 1. Not so with Utah a week later.

“That’s a no-brainer,” he says. “Being surrounded by my community and my family – I pull so much energy and positivity from them. So UTMB it is.”

RELATED: Ruth Croft Opens Up on Her Build Towards UTMB

His training has consisted mostly of recovering from Western States, which was only two months ago. He tried to ramp up his volume a bit in July but felt flat, so he pulled back. “I’ve got about 23 years of endurance sports under my belt, so recovering is way more important than trying to build fitness,” he says.

Colt has only felt ready to train in earnest the last few weeks – seeking out vert to mimic the notoriously steep course, getting comfortable with poles, and “generally trying to be on top of as many mountains as possible.” When I spoke to him, he had just finished his last hard effort before the race: a “hilariously technical” trip up Saddleback Mountain and The Horn via the Appalachian Trail.

“I’m so excited for the chance to experience UTMB,” he says. “If I go in grateful for the opportunity, I know I’m gonna pull a ton out of this experience.”

Jeff Colt with his crew
(Photo: Andy Cochrane)

Going In With Less Pressure

Don’t get the impression that Colt is taking UTMB lightly, or that this won’t translate to his racing well there. If his history tells us anything, it’s that this approach could set him up for success.

In 2019, he treated his racing and training very differently. Hoping to impress on a big stage and land a sponsor, he targeted that year’s OCC – UTMB’s roughly-100K sibling race – and put immense pressure on himself to finish in the top five.

“I was running for the wrong reasons,” he says. Worn thin by the nerves and his outlook when things went sideways – as they inevitably do in ultras – he would go on to DNF. The next year, the pandemic swept through the world and there was little to no racing. “I started to have serious doubts about whether I really wanted to do this sport,” he says.

I can’t claim credit for Colt’s interest in ultrarunning, but I was there when it started, more or less. I worked in PR at Hoka, and he worked at the agency we hired to manage our media relationships. We worked together almost daily, and ran together when we were in the same city for a tradeshow or media showroom. At one point, he mentioned that working with athletes like Jim Walmsley made him want to get into ultras.

What he didn’t share at the time was that he thought – with the right training – something like a Western States top-ten was well within his grasp.

But agency life – even at an outdoor-focused agency – wasn’t conducive to training at a high level.

“I was always spread thin,” he says. “There were lots of clients and there was always a lot going on. I felt there was a different path to focus my days differently.”

“I just figured if there are 24 hours in a day, I’m going to sleep for eight, work for eight, and that should leave eight left over to pursue something,” he continues. “But I wasn’t sure where that last eight was going.”

In 2020 he left the agency and founded Zip Fit, a custom ski boot liner brand, with two friends. (Colt might be an even better skier than runner.) “Now I can start work at 10 am if that makes sense,” he says. “That allows me to train at the level I thought I could get to.”

Ironically, it was that same year, when races were canceled and Colt figured he’d missed his opportunity to run professionally, that the footwear brand On reached out.

“My most recent race was a DNF, and I had kind of thrown in the towel, but that was when my relationship with them kicked off,” he says. “It just affirmed that I didn’t need to fret so much about a single result – that I had to keep the big picture in mind.”

Having the backing of a brand helped alleviate the imposter syndrome he felt lining up at Golden Ticket races with the goal of finishing top three.

“A lot of people believed in me, and I was able to convert some of that to self-belief,” he says.

This self-belief gave him the confidence to not only qualify for Western States twice, but to take a big swing at this year’s edition. That 9th-place finish doesn’t tell the whole story: at mile 80 that day, he was in third place and on 15-hour pace before he fell off and finished in a still-impressive 15 hours, 42 minutes.

“I think if I can run that fast for 80 miles, I can assess what went wrong and try and fix it, and I might be able to run that fast for the full 100 next time,” he says.

So while he isn’t setting a big goal for UTMB this year – in terms of his time or finishing place – that might be the key to a great day out for this debutant. If not this year, then certainly in the future.

“You can get really focused on a course record like the 19 hours Kilian and Mathieu [Blanchard] did last year [at UTMB], but if you put it on a pedestal you are almost setting it out of reach,” he explains. “You’re setting these parameters on potential.”

“Just look at Courtney Dawaulter,” he continues, noting that she finished ahead of him at Western States en route to demolishing the course record. “She seems to avoid putting too much stock on a goal time, and it’s like that prevents her from thinking a certain timer milestone is out of reach.”

“You can see how that worked for her at Western this year,” he continues. “She just blew all of our understanding of what was possible out of the water.”

Colt exudes respect for the UTMB course, and admires the veterans like Dauwalter and Jeff Browning whose experience helps them run consistently well at the world’s hardest races.

“Experience is everything in this sport, and I’m excited to add to mine at UTMB,” he says.

With a Hardrock qualifier on the line, his first priority is finishing, so he says he probably won’t take any big risks. But on a course as unforgiving as this, that might just be the ticket.

“I’m going to go out there, feel myself, push myself into places of discomfort and challenge myself to perform beyond my own expectations,” he says. “Wherever I finish, that’ll be a success.”

RELATED: Trail Runner’s Guide to UTMB 2023

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