Since we predict you might be hearing more about Jeff Ball in the future, we thought we would take this opportunity to delve into who Jeff Ball is and what makes him tick.
Jeff has a reputation for speed within the state of Texas. His typical race kit usually includes a pair of “manpris” (capri tights for men) and a Team TROT (Trail Racing Over Texas) singlet. Jeff has been racing ultras for a few years now but this is only his second 100k race. His first was Zion 100k in 2015 which he won in 11:10. He struggled with nutrition during the race and bonked hard halfway into it. Jeff took what he learned and his already existing grit and improved his 100k time at the very competitive Bandera 100k National Championship in a time of 9:21. He was second male (3rd overall) and earned his Golden Ticket* to Western States.
Remarkably, Jeff struggled with knee pain in the weeks leading up to the race. He questioned whether he would be able to start at all. He took 4 days off leading up to Bandera and just did some light biking but it still hurt to bend his knee. The Thursday before the race, Jeff saw a Sports Medicine doctor. The diagnosis was runner’s knee. The doctor gave him the OK to race but warned that it would hurt especially with ascending and descending. His fiancé, Tracie Akerhiem, taped up his knee for him and sent him on his way. Jeff gritted it out and the rest is history. He will accept the Western States entry which will be his first 100 mile race.
*Golden Tickets are awarded to top two men and women at 6 designated “golden ticket” races leading up to Western States. The Golden Ticket entitles the ticket holder to register for a coveted spot in the prestigious Western States Endurance Run. This is partially how the WS Board ensures a competitive field in a mainly lottery based entry process.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an Account Executive at an advertising agency called Publicis Hawkeye in Dallas. My client is The North Face and I lead our teams marketing/promotions efforts, manage all social media and oversee our registration system for The North Face Endurance Challenge Series.
Why do you live in Texas?
I grew up and went to college in Virginia. After graduating, I was accepted into a yearlong rotational program through the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation that was based in Texas. I made the move south and worked at three different advertising agencies in the Dallas area for four months each and was hired by Hawkeye, the first company I worked at during the rotation, upon completing the program.
How did you get into ultrarunning?
I ran the 400 Meters, 800 Meters and Cross Country while attending Christopher Newport University. When school was over, I decided to try longer distances and raced my first half marathon. Once I began working on The North Face Endurance Challenge account, I thought it would be a good idea to understand what our participants go through as the series offers trail running distances of 50 Miles, 50K, Marathon, Marathon Relay, Half Marathon, 10K and 5K with several race locations throughout North America. I ran my first trail race and ultra in July of 2013 at a technical nighttime 60K in Texas and was instantly hooked.
What made you choose Bandera 100K?
The reason that I chose Bandera 100K is because I decided that in 2017 I wanted to start running in races that had more competitive fields to really push myself and see where I stacked up against bigger levels of competition.
Can you talk about the conditions at the race? Did the cold affect you negatively in anyway or did it help?
The race started off a 18 degrees and remained in the low 20s for the first 4 hours of the race. I actually prefer to run in the heat, so going into the race I wasn't thrilled with the weather, but I knew everyone was going to have to deal with it so I could manage too.
Was Western States always on your radar? When did it become a race you aspired to?
Western States is a race that I’ve been fully aware of since I began trail running and ever since I was out at the event in 2015 as a spectator it has been something that I wanted to get back to. The race, the atmosphere and the community make it a very special experience. I thought I would eventually work my way up to the 100 Mile distance and have to apply to the lottery to get into a few years down the road.
What hydration gear did you use? And what was your fueling strategy during the race?
I ran the whole race with using one Nathan SpeedMax Plus Flask and used a Phantom Pak belt to carry my calorie needs between aid stations. I’ve had stomach issues in the past, but I’ve been testing a product from a new company called Outlast Sports Nutrition for the past few weeks. My main source of fuel during the race was their Outlast electrolyte mix which helped keep my stomach from turning on me. Besides that, I had a Red Bull at the 50K mark and filled up my bottle with soda at the last two aid stations.
At what point during the race did you realize you were in a position to earn a golden ticket?
From the start of the race I was in the lead pack of 6 guys. We ran together through mile 11 where Mario Mendoza took off and a few miles later Bob Shebest surged ahead. I ran the rest of the first 50K loop with the rest of the pack. I left to go out for the second 50K loop in 5th and passed one of the guys in front of me, believing I was in 4th now. When I got to the next aid station at mile 36 I was told the first two runners had gone off course and that I was now in 2nd. That’s the point where I realized I had a shot to earn a golden ticket if I could hold it together.
What are some things that went through your head during the race?
For the first half of the race I just kept telling myself to run my race and not get caught up in how everyone else was racing. After I was told I was in 2nd place, I started to tell myself that even though I was hurting, everyone else was feeling the same thing and that If I could just keep pushing that I could earn my ticket to Western States.
Did you have crew?
I had the best crew ever! Trail Racing Over Texas owner, Rob Goyen, as well as my fellow Team TROT teammate, Katie Graff, both crewed me throughout the entire race, making sure I had everything I needed. They were at every crew accessible aid station despite the starting temperature of the race being 18 degrees and the majority of the day being in the 20s. They were crucial to my performance.
What scares you the most about your first 100 miler?
The thing that scares me the most about my first 100 miler is going from my longest run ever of 63 miles all the way to 100. That and the fact that my first 100 miler will be on a big stage like Western States!
What do you look forward to most at Western States?
I look forward to experiencing the atmosphere of the event from the perspective of a participant. I can’t wait to toe the starting line of my first 100 miler and see what the day has in store.
How do you plan to change up your training for this new endeavor?
I believe I do enough volume currently during my training to take on a 100 miler, but there are a few things that I do need to alter. I plan to increase the length of my long runs in both distance and time, do more back to back long runs, increase my elevation gain per week and possibly look for a coach!
So that is Jeff in a nutshell. In June, Jeff will join a handful of fellow Nathan athletes as they line up at the 2017 Western States Endurance Run as he has officially accepted his Western States entry. Until then he gets to sit back (by sit back we mean train hard) and watch his competition earn their tickets in the coming months. But first, some well deserved recovery time.