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Anthony Costales’ Long Days

Discover the journey of Anthony Costales into trail running, from his long days to breakthrough performances at Black Canyon and Western States.

anthony costales nike announcement
Image Mike Mcmonagle

Anthony Costales’ Chico States jersey was the white whale in an ocean of brand-sponsored athletes. In February, he won Black Canyon scoring the second fastest time ever and securing a Golden Ticket. Then, he finished 3rd at Western States establishing himself as one of the most exciting athletes of the year. Now that he found a new sponsorship deal with Nike everyone is wondering what’s next for him.


We had the chance to meet him while he was in Cape Town to race UT100 at UTCT - spoiler: he finished third coronating a strong season. We talked about what it means to be an unsponsored athlete, juggling between a family, a full-time job, and a running career, his Nike sponsorship, and much more.


You started the year as unsponsored and after your win at Black Canyon, everyone was asking themselves why this guy has no sponsors. How did not being supported by a brand change the way you approached your year?

I was with Solomon for a little bit, and then they just had some marketing changes and I was an unfortunate casualty of it. Okay…I've done some weak performances the year before, but it was, I mean, that's just the way it works. I didn't have any funding for the start of the year, it did change my plans up a little bit. Black Canyon might have happened anyway because I am originally from California and I raced it the year before and didn't do as well as I felt I should have done. I wanted to go back for some redemption anyway. Yeah. Then Western States mightn't have happened if I already had a sponsor because I wanted to go out to Europe and see other places. So being from California, Western wasn’t at the top of my list but it made more sense financially.


You recently announced yourself as a Nike athlete. How did the Nike sponsorship happen?

Before Black Canyon, it was one of the few brands I had a little bit of contact with, but things kind of fell through the crack, it was kind of cool that they showed a little bit of interest in me. Then after Black Canyon, I got an agent because it was difficult trying to balance my full-time job and managing contacts. It started to become a bit too much. So, I hired an agent just so I could take that stress off the plate and worry about it. They understand all the logistics behind it and what an athlete's worth a little bit more than I do.


anthony costales western states 2023
Image: Luke O'Shea

The figure of the agent is starting to appear more in trail running, but managed athletes are still a minority. Hearing your story, it made sense for you to hire a manager.

 

I mostly did it because I didn't understand how the sport works. Every single time I was talking to brands it was almost like they were trying to figure out how little they could give me. Coming back to Nike, right before Western States, my agent was in talks with them, and they gave me some test shoes. But that was it. Nothing.

 

I liked one of their shoes and wore it for the last part of Western States. It was the new Ultrafly. This might have helped a little bit to get my sponsorship. But I didn't do it intentionally.


A big reason why I chose them was that they were going to support me without looking to make a bunch of changes in my life. Other brands ask for more commitments. I don't have a ton of travel days I get with my job. I get summers off for teaching, but if it's not a summer, I'm pretty limited. For example, right now here at UTCT, I am burning all my days off to stay here for a week.


The sport is professionalizing and the majority of the top athletes are dedicated full-time. You are one of the exceptions. How do you balance your running career, family, and work life?

I need to have other things going on. Whenever I have a job or whenever I have a lot on my plate, the running part is more enjoyable because it's that time of the day that you get to go run, not that part of the day I need to go run. Because then it becomes your work. Of course, I still put in a lot of hours. I take it very seriously. I mean, you have to. I don’t miss many days or sessions. The more things I've had on my plate, somehow, the better I've been running. It’s been like that throughout my life. Right now, it's part of me. Even if I did have the opportunity to only run, I’d be very nervous.

If you make the jump to become a full-time athlete, would you be scared of burning yourself?

Yes, burning myself out and then not having a substantial part of the day where I'm not thinking about running would get me. My wife always jokes and makes fun of me saying I'm the worst runner during the summertime because I have too much time. I do not work during the summer because I am a teacher and have a lot of extra time. She says What do you do with it? I do house renovation or rework our backyard. By 9 o’clock in the morning, I could have run more than usual but I didn’t. I feel the window is too much.

For example, when I finish work I know that within the next 20 minutes, I better start this run, or else it's not happening today. I must pick up my daughter at daycare at 5:30 and then I have some family duties to take care of.

One of the things with my job is that I am standing a lot all day. My time on feet is very high.

My days are long. I go for a run at 5:30 in the morning. Then do a full day of work. Then do another workout. In the end, it is a 12-hour day. I believe this helps, even though I don’t think there are any studies proving it. This is not something I would recommend to anyone. This lifestyle is my career now and I did for the better part of 10 years. I did not pick it up all of a sudden.


anthony costales western states finish line 2023
Image: Luke O'Shea

Everyone has a unique approach that works for themselves. On this matter, I liked a comment you made about your training in a previous interview: I Don’t look at the data all the time. I Enjoy the process.

I don't look at the data super closely. Everybody asked me to be on Strava more. But I'm never hiding anything. I've never taken a run and hit it on Strava for people because I'm trying to do it. If it's not on Strava, I don't want to see it. I don't want to know how fast I went. I don't want to know the pace because I just want to go on my relaxed run. If I know Strava is on, I know somewhere in that run, I will pick it up more than I need to.

What you just described is a typical dynamic of social networks. Strava is not an exception. Do you feel that you have, to show up a little bit for the people who follows you?

Exactly. Sometimes I do want to see how fast I was either running or the elevation gain or how many miles I ran on that long run. But when I'm doing 90 percent of my runs and I'm by myself, I don't like turning Strava on.

The other funny thing about Strava is that I have so many friends that I'd love to follow on Strava, but I don't because I am into maps. If I had a social media where I was just looking at everybody's cool routes, I would spend too much time on the social media part. I don't want to be looking at my phone that much. I guess I really like exploring.


Is this part of the reasons why you chose to race UTCT in Cape Town?

It was a combination of things. I like the way Stu [Stuart McConnachie, the race director] is trying to make it an elite race. He helps elite runners to get out here and it is already a huge thing. He is very progressive in supporting those athletes. Then, you don't get ocean, mountains, and a city all together not that often. I think it is an incredible place to visit.

Historically you raced mostly in the US but last year you finished top 10 at Lavaredo Ultra Trail. How was racing abroad?

Unfortunately, that day wasn’t my best day. Not many things clicked that day. Probably it was something in my training block that did not work well. At that time, my daughter was 1 year old and, of course, it did not help my training.

Usually, people say that the Alps are more technical than the US but I did not find it true at Lavaredo. Here at UTCT it will be more technical. The main difference was the climbs and descents were longer than the Wasatch or Salt Lake City, where I live. Our climbs are short and steeper, while there everything is extended.


anthony costales family western states 2023
Anthony crossing the finish line at Western States 2023 with his daughter and wife. Image: jdpetersdotcom

How do you find the European community compared to the American?

 

The community was amazing. My first thought when I was at the start was: How cool is that? It was an 11 PM start and the whole town was wired for it. They had fireworks going off and I was amazed. Every little village we went through was out cheering and supporting us.

 

Is it your plan to race more abroad next year?

 

The plan is to do Western States one more time. I wasn't planning to go back, but I feel I didn't quite race like myself this year. I had a good race and a great result. But I was never in the mix to win it. I didn't really like how I was never pushing the pace or at the front. I just kind of missed the break. Usually, I don’t race like that. I felt I was barely out of it the whole race. I was close to bridging the gap with Tom [Evans] and Dakota [Jones] but I couldn’t and then they separated. I was only two minutes away from them for 30 miles but I wasn’t never on their shoulder which makes a big difference.

 

Looking at this year’s race data, if you want to have a chance of winning Western States you need to be right there at the front for as long as you can. The longer the race goes the less likely it is that you gain positions.

 

This is basically what happened. I took a drop bag at an aid station, and I thought I had 2-3 minutes to do my thing and that was it. In my mind I was telling myself: I am getting dropped. This isn’t going well. Then you get to the next aid station and they are still only 2 minutes in front of you but I spent the past 10 minutes pouting about how I'm not doing well, even though I'm doing fine. Mentally this is not a good way to be. Again, I am very happy with my results but that wasn’t my style.

 

Back to your initial question. The plan is to go to Western States then go to Europe the next month and experience being out there. I might do one of the UTMB races and then I’ll be back in August for UTMB week. My idea is to race CCC. I was watching Emily Hawgood’s finish and it seemed a lot of fun. You run the race, while at UTMB you hike. Running sounds more fun to me. Moreover, doing the double with Western States would be very tough.

 

You come from a road running background and have an impressive 2:13:11 PB on the marathon. Have you ever thought of racing shorter races, like the Golden Trail World Series?

 

You had that thought because looking at my PBs I look very fast. It’s funny tho. When I tried shorter races. I had my butt kicked pretty good [laugh]. I have had more success on the longer distances.


Anyway, I have it in my mind in the future. Maybe not next year but more in 2025. I was planning to do Mammoth Trail Fest this year. I was excited. But then I had an issue with my knee after Western States. It didn't make sense to go out there and push on it. I'm a big fan of the shorter stuff and this is how I got into the sport. I did the Trail World Championships in 2018 and finished 10th.


Why do you think you had better success on the ultras?

 

I don’t have an answer to it. Maybe my long days at work help as I said. An ultra is just a long day out there. This is my lifestyle setup. I constantly have long days. When things start going bad I look back and it is like when I start my second run of the day and it feels bad. I think I can handle damage control well. I know my own limits well and this makes a huge difference when you are racing for long hours.

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