UNTAPPED ATHLETE: JEFFREY STERN
Scoot across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and you’ll find yourself in the cozy town of Mill Valley. Abutting its quaint downtown is Mt. Tam, a gigantic playground for Bay Area residents. Born in Mill Valley and raised on the trails of Mt. Tam is Jeffrey Stern, a lifelong athlete, who only recently has dipped his toe in the ultrarunning pond… and he fell right in. An outdoors marketing consultant, writer, high school cross country coach, Jeffrey continues to find himself on ultra running podiums after having won just the second ultra he entered. Let’s dive into the conversation.
- Age: 31
- Current Residence: Santa Barbara, California
- Years running: 10… but only the past 1 year consistently(!)
- Race specialties: Technical, steep terrain & unrelenting heat
- Instagram: @uponward
- Twitter: @uponward
- Strava: Jeffrey Stern
- Facebook: Jeffrey Stern
- Website: www.uponward.com
The entry into the sport of ultrarunning is rarely “typical”. Tell us about how you got into the ultras.
I’ve run this little known trail race in Mill Valley for the past decade called the Dipsea. It takes place the second Sunday every June, it’s only seven-something miles long, but it’s brutally hard. Straight up over Mt. Tam and down to the Pacific, I’ve suffered through that for the past nine years knowing for the next week or so my one-dimensional cycling legs would only be able to a muster a hobble to the fridge.
For the past five years I’ve dedicated 99% of my training to racing bikes; mountain, road, even a couple UCI ‘cross races. I reached an elite cycling level in all three, but started looking for a new challenge last fall. As a kid growing up, riding Railroad Grade, the trail that snakes up my back yard to the summit of Mt. Tam, that segued to trail running in general, and then ultras just seemed like the natural progression.
You’ve clearly taken to it quickly! As a sport that rewards chronic, year-over-year-over-year training, what do you think has allowed you to find success so soon?
My time in cycling has been huge. The knowledge I gained about training, recovery, race strategy, nutrition, mental strength and general racing. From 90 minute full gas criteriums to Leadville to a couple of unsupported 200 mile rides around Santa Barbara, there are a ton of skills that cross-over from cycling to running and vice-versa.
I’ve found my body and mind can handle only so many hours on my feet each week and that number is significantly less in running. On the bike, I was riding upwards of 24 hours per week. With running, 8 or 10 hours is plenty. 12+ hours is a huge week, and I can only do so many of those.
This time last year the Dipsea was six weeks out and I was running twice, ten miles per week. I’ve come a long way in a short time and I know there’s a lot more to come, but I couldn’t have done it without the knowledge I gained from cycling. It was a perfect transition for me. A challenge, but I have a half step ahead of others just getting into ultrarunning without a background in endurance sports. It’s been super fun.
What are three pieces of advice you wish you’d known when you started?
Run slower, more often. Everyone seems to be in competition with their watch or Strava (heck, I can be guilty of this too sometimes). So go on runs where the whole point is about feel – try not to peek at your data. Take in your surroundings, soak up all the little details. This is what running is about, the simplicity and being in tune with your body and nature. Plus, it helps you recover from hard workouts which relates to my second piece of advice.
Rest more. Scheduling and then actually sticking to days off is especially important as a runner. Cycling is a low impact sport and running is just pounding, every bone and muscle in your body. Trail running is especially a total body workout. There is so much control that requires supporting muscles in your body you didn’t even knew existed, or could hurt so bad. Your body will get stronger, but it takes time building up. Your feet, ankles, even back and shoulders (especially when carrying hydration bottles/vests) get worked in such a different way. Learning to run smooth, efficiently and softly, almost as if you’re floating makes things easier, but ultimately taking days off to allow your body to recoup is vital.
I actually think this applies to all endurance athletes, but finding the right mix of fuel and hydration that works for you. All our bodies sweat at different rates in different conditions, process food at various speeds and needs certain things when we’re putting out a full effort. You can’t even think about going fast for a long time unless the fuel you’re putting in allows you to perform at your true potential. The only way to figure out what works for you is by trial and error in training and racing.
You have a pretty deep race calendar for 2018 established throughout the west coast. Does one stand above the rest or is the whole season an evolution?
The Dipsea, for sure it’s always the Dipsea! I love that race. To me, I have this special connection to it growing up right there in Mill Valley. There’s so much history behind it too. To be able to run from the house I grew up in down to the start and then make this crazy journey over the mountain and know that people have been doing it for over a 100 years, it’s just an incredible feeling.
Even when the ultra running stops for me, I’ll never stop running the Dipsea. I want to be that guy that runs it for 40+ years in a row. Besides my family, friends and dogs it’s the only thing I really are about. It’s on my calendar through the end of time.
I’m super excited about the prospect of running the second oldest trail race in America (behind the Dipsea), the Mount Marathon race in Seward, Alaksa that’s been going on for 90 years. It’s a crazy race straight up a mountain and back down that people consider the Super Bowl of Alaska.
Completing the Dipsea triple crown (the single on 6/10, Double on 6/16 and Quad on 11/24) will for sure make 2018 a special year too. I’m crazy enough about the Dipsea to do that once, but I’m not sure I’ll make that a yearly thing, ha!
Every time we see a photo of you competing, you have an enormous ear-to-ear smile! Running can be painful and competing is even tougher. Is that your suffer face, are you hamming it up for the camera, or just how you feel when running?
HA! Running makes me happy. My coach says positivity is a performance enhancer so I try to always stay positive even in the toughest situations. Smiling is often the easiest way. Just being outside doing anything makes me happy. Competition for me is incredibly fulfilling which is why I race so much; 35 times last year, probably 15-20 this year.
I also really like the challenge, that makes the process all the more worthwhile. Either because I just figured something out or am literally in the middle of connecting two dots; that makes me smile mid-race for sure. I learn dozens of new things everytime I race that make me better prepared the next time. When I’m better prepared, I’m less stressed and much happier.
You’re headed out the door for a long training run; what UnTapped product(s) are you taking?
On all runs and especially on the 20+ mile days with thousands of feet of vert I’ve leaned heavily on both the both Coffee and Maple UnTapped. I love how it goes down so easily, in hot or cold conditions, and I never get any sloshy feeling in my stomach. Not having to worry about that is really great. I always have an Coffee UnTapped on hand for the final push. The 27mg of caffeine isn’t too much and is just the extra boost I like towards the end of a training session. I also seem to have a Raspberry Waffle as soon as I walk in the door. I just think it’s delicious, so it’s what I’m craving as soon as I’m finished. I’ve tried the new MapleAid through some of the testing phases and I’m psyched for that to be available to the public!
Where does your mind go when competing — are you focused on the trail in front of you, do are your thoughts headed elsewhere?
If I’m in really in the zone, everything gets tuned out, I’m running my own race and nothing else in the world matters. I know those are the good races because it doesn’t feel like running, it feels like flying. When the suffering sets in and the low point hits — every race has one — I’ll search for a mantra, a person, an event, a song, whatever pops into my head that inspires me, and focus really hard on using that to fight the pain and keep moving forward.
When you get home from a tough run what are you fueling with for dinner?
For sure that Raspberry Waffle first!
I love Mediterranean food and my Grandma makes the best Yaprakis you can find (…that’s stuffed grape leaves). They can be vegetarian or with meat, and they just melt in your mouth. Served with rice and this white bean tomato sauce, it’s that one meal that reminds me of family and childhood memories, you know? It’s pretty easy, here’s the recipe:
1 small jar grape leaves, rinsed and drained.
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
Filling: Mix together
1 1⁄2 lbs. lean ground beef
1/4 c rice
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs oil
1/4 c parsley
2 tbs. tomato sauce
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
2 tsp. oil
2 cans tomato sauce
2 c water
Juice of 1 lemon to add after Yaprakis are tender
Roll meat mixture in grape leaves and place in pan, beginning and ending with beans. Cover with extra leaves and then sauce. Cover pan and bake for 2 – 3 hrs. at 350 adding lemon juice toward end of cooking time. Add more sauce if necessary.
Yum! You’ve done some demos and promotion with us at UnTapped in the past. What’s the most surprising thing you see when people try UnTapped for the first time?
First timers are always surprised at just how simple yet above and beyond UnTapped is. They pick up the packet, flip to the ingredients, and are shocked. It’s like Occam’s Razor, less the better! That seems to catch them off guard.
Then we explain that maple syrup has all these nutritional benefits: it’s a categorical superfood, has all these vitamins, minerals and antioxidants naturally, then their mind just gets blown away and most are immediate converts.
It’s really cool to be apart of that education component and see people find success with real food. That’s been a huge part of my athletic career and a big reason why I’ve been able to find some consistent success across many disciplines.
The most important question of all, what is your favorite way to use maple syrup?
Hands down on pancakes, waffles a distant second unless they are super soft and fluffy, but it’s hard to compete with most pancakes on a consistent basis. I like bananas and blueberries in my pancakes too. Breakfast-for-dinner is common and entirely encouraged!