Victor Ballesteros – Ultra Entrepreneur

Victor Ballesteros is the third fastest man to finish the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail. He is also the founder and lead designer at Victory Sportdesign. Having run his first 100 mile race in 2009, the Western States 100, Victor has raced, run, and paced a wide range of ultras in the years since.

How did this amazing journey begin? That’s what I wanted to find out. Here we go…

TB: I like to start here. Fastest Known Times, or racing against others – which gets you more hyped?

Mixed… This may sound weird, but I usually don’t get hyped about anything. I’ll say this though… Racing against others is definitely exciting, but it can also be a bit nerve-racking, if you let the rush of fellow racers take you away from your own game plan.

An FKT (Fastest Known Time event) can be a bit more chill, as you’re mostly running after the ghost of someone else’s accomplishment. It really becomes more about racing yourself and being in your own moment, which brings me back to the excitement of racing others. Even though, you have the “electric” push and pull of others on the course influencing you, you still have to stay within that focus of racing and listening to yourself. That being said, not to sound like a lone wolf, but I guess I lean more towards FKTs, since the experience seems to focus less on who’s the best amongst my peers, and more about being the best within myself. FKT’s also tend to take a ridiculously long time to accomplish. I tend to learn things during that time that I can’t seem to do anywhere else.


Always smiling

What was your entry into the Ultrarunning scene?

Honestly, before 2006, the thought of running anything longer than 10k seemed horrendous to me. In 1996 I was introduced to trail running by participating in the historic Dipsea race, the second oldest footrace in the US, next to Boston, which runs 7.1 miles from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach CA. Entry into this race is so stringent that one must either consistently place every year to re-qualify, or face the boot and have to re-apply with no guarantee of entry. After skipping a year of running the race, I found myself facing the latter dilemma. Being shut out, I realized there was a Double Dipsea, and quickly entered the race. Despite the fact that it was past my desired quota of running mileage, I found myself surprised and intrigued by my better than expected finish. I then noticed that four months later, there was an even crazier-looking event called the Quad Dipsea! Not knowing any better, I found a random blog report about pacing oneself for the specific event, and started training. A week before the race, I read somewhere that I would need to carry water bottles and consume something called GU, so I reluctantly practiced using these things four days before the race, and lo and behold, I finished the thing in 2nd place! A few weeks later, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I ran my first 50k, where I placed 2nd again… and that’s where my entry upon the Ultra scene of placing 2nd began.

Can you share the story of how Victory Sportdesign came to be. What inspired you to develop a dropbag?

Since I’ve already “eloquently” put this story into words before…I’ll just lift it from the Victory Sportdesign website:
In 2009 I ran my first 100 mile race: Western States 100. Not wanting to use wasteful plastic sacks for drop bags, my good friend and pacer, Mark Gilligan (of Ultrasignup fame), gave me some small canvas bags to use. To my dismay, it was such an ordeal trying to find things in a hurry (or even if I wasn’t in a hurry for that matter) because the bag was basically a black hole and all its contents a jumbled mess. Afterwards, wanting to invest in something organized and durable that I could use for future events, I looked at the market and to my surprise found that there was nothing specific that was simple, yet, all encompassing for the needs of a super-organized, durable drop bag. I decided that with my underutilized background in art/product design, I would create something that I would want, with all these elements in mind.

What was the process of concept, to prototype, to final product? Who helped you along the way and what were some of the iterations you experimented with?

I started with Western State’s drop bag size requirements, which wasn’t all that big at 6”x8”x16”, yet made a lot of sense if you think about how much one should really pack in a drop bag. From there, I focused on how much organization I could apply to the bag’s design, while still keeping the function simple. Having the extreme fortune of an “Angel” silent partner, who could help me put an actual bag together, was a huge plus. I started teaching myself more than I thought I’d ever know about fabrics and sewing, while experimenting with different materials, and ended up designing three different sized bags… just to give myself options for different distances and uses. Once I started using them, I was really surprised to see how many folks were interested in having one for themselves. After a year of toting the bags around, and gathering valuable feedback from fellow runners, particularly Brett and Larissa Rivers and Rick Gaston, I took the leap into creating a business with the support of my amazing wife Jena, and our “Angel” investor, by forging Victory Sportdesign and dubbing the bags: Victory Bags.

You’re part of the SF Running Company crew, a recently opened retail store in SF. What are some of the trends you’re seeing in the products coming into the industry?

Brett Rivers is the owner, Jorge Maravilla is the General Manager and I’m the lovable grunt. Together we are the three amigos. The store opened in January, and I joined the crew as a means to work with good friends and help bring something important to our local running community. It ended up being a shrewd move, since we’ll also be carrying the bags at the store, and the job has proven to be less like work and more like play. Although the name is San Francisco Running Co., our actual location is north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Mill Valley. The original intention was to open the store in the city, followed by another location in Marin. Things just worked out for the best with our current location less than a half mile from some of the best trail systems California has to offer. Although we cater to both road and trail runners, our focus is a bit more on the trail and Ultra side of things. With the wealth of running experience between the three of us, we’re pretty selective with what we use ourselves, and offer that same selectivity with what we carry in the store. As trends tend to come and go, we try not to follow them, and rather, focus on what makes sense. We utilize brands that, we think, complement our sport like: Hoka, Newton, Altra, Montrial, Hydrapak, Salomon, 110%, Ultimate Direction, and of course, Victory Bags, to name a few, and put these products to the test. In the recent past, before trail running gained such popularity, products either lacked the sophisticated utility we see today, or didn’t even exist. Now we see a slew of products following new and constantly evolving trends: minimalism without the sacrifice of cushion and protection, recovery in the form of compression wear, unique shoe constructions and nutritional supplements, performance-aid personified by streamlined hydration systems, body temperature-sensitive clothing design, and again through nutritional supplements. Even the need to store our products on the go is a growing trend in the form of lightweight hydration packs, waist belts, and gear bags which provide time saving organization and performance peace of mind (see where I’m going with this?) Companies are starting to raise the industry bar with higher quality, function, and simplicity, coupled with design innovations that, we believe, allow athletes to take their game to another level. As our sport continues to grow exponentially, it’ll be interesting to see what new products and permutations come to light.

Can you share one of your future adventures, either locked in or in development stage?

As far as Victory Sportdesign goes… it’s top secret. As for myself, I have plans on going back out and navigating the Tahoe Rim Trail 165. As some folks already know, this was an adventure I took part in last August http://ultrarunnerpodcast.com/victor-ballesteros-interview/, where I actually ran 176 miles. This September I plan on getting back there and chopping off about ten hours from my last attempt time of 53 Hours. If I could get the 2nd fastest time next to the FKT leader Killian Jornet (and you know how I am about being 2nd) that would be pretty sweet!

What’s one of the top running destinations we don’t know about, but should?

Hmmmm… probably, someplace that I don’t know about either. Although… I do know that… I’m very lucky to have here in my own back yard, some of the nicest running around. Marin is a runner’s paradise, littered with untold miles of trail systems that, in my lifetime, I could never imagine completing. Perhaps that should be my next FKT! Although, we might not have Appellation, or Rocky Mountain peaks and valleys, we make up for that with some of the most varied, scenic, and challenging terrain imaginable. Just don’t tell anyone I told you, cause we like having our trails all to ourselves!

We’ve all experienced negative self talk at some point in our training or racing. How do you stuff it back in the box during a low point or a training run or during a race?

It’s never easy, but you just have to get out there and commit. If you’re not bleeding from an artery, suffering from a terminal illness, or dealing with the zombie apocalypse, then there’s no excuse for not putting your best foot forward and getting it done. There’s so much suffering in the world. As long as I’m in a position to be able to do what I love… how can I possibly let a negative running moment affect my day?

If we were to look in the trunk of your car what would be the most surprising thing we’d find?

Underwear…

What’s one piece of advice can you share to make our next run more enjoyable?

Be in the moment, listen to your breath, and acknowledge everyone you see… even if they don’t reciprocate.

What’s next to come from Victory Sportdesign?

It’s still a secret, but I expect it will shock and titillate.

Trail Box sends a BIG thank you to Victor Ballesteros for sharing his time with us. You can learn more about Victory Bags at victorysportdesign.com. For more on Victor’s adventures, listen to his recent podcast from our friends at Ultrarunner Podcast. You can also read a review of Victory Sportdesign’s Bear II from Philosopher Runner.

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