Interview with Aaron Ortega
ATRC: How did you get started in (trail) running?
AO: I started my web design and development company in 2009 and that lead to a general decline in my physical health. After the business started somewhat sustaining itself in 2013, I decided to make a change and started a diet and exercise routine. I would road run off and on, but I never got into it. I don’t think road running is for me, even to this day.
Jump ahead to 2017 when my best friend invited me to run a Spartan race with him in Dallas. That race made me aware of what it was like to run out in nature. It took me back to being a little boy on our family farm. I also noticed that the guys winning Spartan races weren’t the strongest looking guys in the room, but instead were these lean runner types. From there I adjusted my training from 90% gym / 10% cardio to more of a 60/40 split respectively. That’s when I started running a lot out of Brushy Creek, mainly Deception.
In 2018 I ran across a group of trail runners on a Thursday. I stopped them and asked them if they were a running group. The leader of the group said, “Yes, we are the Austin Dirt Runners.” It wasn’t until April of 2019 that I went to a run. The Dirt Runners changed my life physically and mentally. The group and the camaraderie that came from it sparked something in me. For reference, between the years of 2013 and 2018, I ran a total of 630 miles. In 2019, I ran just over 800 and didn’t start running regularly until April.
Once I started running I began to push past every limit I thought I had. One of the greatest resources I have at my disposal is my wife, who is a life long cross country runner. There will be times I’m on a long run and I’ll hear my inner voice say, “You can’t do this”. I’ll call Michelle, and she always breaks it down for me. I remember a half marathon I was running. I was at mile 10 and I was done. I called her and she said “OK, you have 3 miles left. You can jog a 5k in 30 minutes, so at worst you have 30 minutes left. Can you run for 30 minutes?” Just like that, I was back on track. She’s so good to me and so patient with all of my training.
In short, I’d say Spartan and Austin Dirt Runners got me looking at my fitness routine and how it was going to get me to my goals, and my wife helps to push me and support me when I’m low.
ATRC: Given the choice of anyone in the world, with whom would you want to go on a 1-hour run? Where would you go?
AO: That’s a tough question. I don’t think I have an ambitious answer. The obvious answers would be Scott Jurek or Jim Walmsley, or maybe even some of the Spartan champions I admire like VeeJay Jones and Ryan Adkins. The truth is I’ll run with anyone that wants to run with me. I get a lot of joy out of running with people and asking them questions. I like to get to know people when running, finding out what makes them run through nature.
If I had to pick I’d pick some of my close running friends here in Austin and we’d go sky running out in Colorado.
What constitutes a “perfect” run for you?
A nice long run with friends. A cool breeze, sun in the sky, cool water in my pack. We just talk, and run and laugh and run. It’s so therapeutic for me.
ATRC: Do you have a grand running challenge in 2020?
AO: I’m pushing hard for three things:
- I would like to hit the 1,000-mile total mark for 2020. That’s doable and won’t be a challenge—I love running and love running distances.
- I would like to hit the 20-min 5k mark. I started speed & track work a couple of weeks ago. I’m pushing for this goal.
- I would like to place in the top 100 in a Spartan. This last year I placed as low as 109 out of 1500 people. I’d like to break into the top 100.
ATRC: You guide the runs for Austin Dirt Runners. Tell us about that.
AO: I sat down over the Christmas holiday and thought about why I love leading the Austin Dirt Runners so much. I mean, realistically I volunteer about 5 hours of my life a week to the group. It’s not a lot, but I wanted to know why I do it. I ask why a lot.
The answer is that I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life. For every event I lead, there is a person there that would so much rather be on a couch. They came anyway though, and I want to make sure they leave feeling like they accomplished something, that they were part of something, and bottom line, they are a runner!
Aaron is so generous for volunteering to help out with the Dirt Runners- thank you from all of us at ATRC!
ATRC: Favorite running gear. What shoes are you running in? What do you love? What’s on your wishlist?
AO: I could go on and on about gear, but you asked and so now you’re going to have to listen!
- Packs: I have a few packs, but only one is worth mentioning. I have a Salomon Advanced Skin 12 set. I love it. It fits great, it doesn’t bounce and it holds everything I could ever need. I love it so much. I’d go so far as to call it my security blanket.
- Shoes: I love a few. I love Hoka. I run in the Hoka Speedgoat 3 and the Hoka EVO Speedgoat. They are great shoes. The SG3 is my go-to shoe. For fast runs, I’d slip on the Hoka EVO JAWZ. It’s a light shoe—lots of grip—and it’s fast. I also run in the Salomon Speedcross 5. I love it for rugged terrain with lots of climbing. It’s a lot like the EVO JAWZ but with more protection. The shoe I’m experimenting with now is the VJ MAXX. It’s an OCR trail shoe with a fantastic grip that is comfortable.
- Socks: I’ve tried a lot of socks, and I’ve landed on Injinji. I like them! They’re goofy looking, and maybe a little awkward but push past that because they are GREAT! I’m all about the run 2.0 no-show versions, both in cotton and in merino wool.
- Wish List: I’m currently wearing a Coros APEX running watch. I like it and it’s served its purpose. It’s a great watch, but there are a couple of issues that aren’t working for me. I’d like to upgrade to a Garmin fēnix 6X sometime in 2020.
You can join Aaron, James and the rest of the ADR crew on Monday’s and Thursday’s at 6pm. Until March, you will still need to bring a headlamp!