He Runs Far
Bryon Powell ’00 followed his passion for ultramarathons to a new career editing his own distance-running website.
Lots of Fords pursue law careers. But there’s just one who exited the profession to launch one of the world’s most popular ultra- and trail-running websites, iRunFar.com. Bryon Powell ’00 was a cross-country and track athlete and a history major at Haverford before he found post-graduation work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., then powered through law school at night while balancing his day job. Powell worked in law for eight years, with just under three as an attorney specializing in food and drug regulations, before a tempting idea began to take hold. “I didn’t get much personal satisfaction out of my legal work,” Powell says. Mounting stress made him crave the outdoors and a change of pace, so to speak. “I’m not usually a risk taker,” he says. But of his eventual decision to flee the law and turn his running blog into an authoritative source—and source of income—he says: “So worth it.”
That was 2009. Now, Powell lives just outside the outdoor enthusiast’s mecca of Moab, Utah, with his girlfriend, Meghan Hicks, who is senior editor to his editor-in-chief at iRunFar. Powell’s site, supported by a small staff, covers gear, events, training, and all topics of interest to those who pursue outdoor trail running and tackle ultramarathons (technically any race longer than the standard 26.2 miles). Powell, who finished third in the 250-mile Ultra-Trail Gobi Race in China in 2015, is the author of Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons, and co-wrote the trail-running guide Where the Road Ends with Hicks. iRunFar, which gets more than a million page views per month at peak season, is a full-time job, and then some.
Running early, and often, and far: I grew up a distance runner, but in college they needed sprinters, so I became one. It was a great blessing, and it really saved me, because I didn’t burn out. After a few years of sprinting, I wanted to get back out and run some miles. I started with some short road races that evolved into longer ones. Now, my distance of choice is 100 miles, and the farthest I’ve raced is 250.
How the site was (re)born: I started blogging in law school because I was working my butt off and couldn’t keep in touch with my family and friends, so I used it to update them on my life. I graduated and started writing more about my running, and I realized they didn’t want to read about that, so I spun it off to be just about running. In 2007, I decided to make it more informational, about shoes and gear, just because I wasn’t seeing that kind of thing out there online. In 2008 I went to my first industry conference. I was still just working on it in my free time at that point.
The big leap: I was getting really stressed at work. There was a lot of anxiety. Then I met my girlfriend, who was living out in Yosemite, Calif., in the summer of 2008. We did a race called the Marathon des Sables together in Morocco. It’s out in the desert, and you race each day, then camp each night, so I had a lot of free time to think. And basically, on the plane back, I asked her, “Do you mind if I quit my job and come live with you in California?” And the next Monday I was looking for a real estate agent to sell my house.
How he pulled it off: The great thing about a website, as opposed to something like a restaurant, is that you don’t have to invest in much infrastructure or pay other people to get it going. It was just me. So it’s not like I’d put up 250 grand and, if it failed, I was out that money. I kept my law licenses up to date, just in case, but I can’t say I was psyched about the idea of going back. Luckily, it just kept growing. We fund the website now through advertisements and marketing partnerships, like race sponsorships.
A day in the life: There’s no typical day. I travel about eight months a year, all over the world, to different races and events. I’ll usually do video interviews before and after the race, and live reporting on race day. A lot of the benefits that come with commingling work and life the way I do are fringe benefits, like being able to work from anywhere. The downside is that I feel like I can’t take a day off, because there’s so much I want to do. And there has been a different type of stress and uncertainty as everything has scaled up. But we’re finally getting to the point where we can make decisions not based on making sure iRunFar survives or flourishes, but based on what will help me and Meghan flourish. I used to work 18-hour days, but now it’s more like 12.
On Ford influence: One of the biggest things you learn at Haverford is just how to think and how to adapt, so you can try anything and find a way to succeed. On a given day, I can be an accountant, a web designer, or a writer. I’m not a natural writer, but I learned how. So my advice to someone thinking about doing what I did is not to fear trying what you’re passionate about. There are so many options for what you can do next.
What makes it worthwhile: There’s incredible passion and enthusiasm in this sport. Just today I spoke with a guy in his mid-70s who lives in Colorado. He doesn’t have a computer, so he has people print out articles from iRunFar and bring them to him so he can stay up to speed on ultra-running. And on a personal level, the feeling is just amazing. When I’m out there, 60 miles in, just cruising along, I’m thinking, “Wow. I can do this. I get to do this.”