In 2005 as a freshman cross country runner at San Juan High School in Moab, Dakota Jones discovered that he loved long distance running and was not content just racing the 5K distance.
When his season ended that year, he continued training and entered the Canyonlands Half Marathon in March and has run that race every spring since, improving his time each year.
Moving to Durango his sophomore year, he continued running competitively for the Durango High School cross country team and was a part of the state-qualifying team during his junior and senior years.
"Cross country started my interest in running long distance. I just like seeing how far I can go," Jones said.
While volunteering for the annual Hardrock 100, Jones really started thinking about doing an ultramarathon.
"It was just so cool to see them doing that," he said.
On the advice of his coaches, he decided he needed to wait a few years until he stopped growing to avoid injuring himself.
"For a while, I was content on waiting, until I went to Hardrock, then I really wanted to do it," Jones said.
He began reading about other young long distance runners and discovered that they were putting in 80-100 mile weeks while still in high school, so he decided to increase his training mileage and prepare for an ultra event.
In November 2008, Jones ran his first ultra, the Ultimate XC in Moab, placing third overall.
In February, he entered Moab's Red Hot 50K and ran it an hour faster than the one in November, placing fifth overall.
A typical training week for this 18-year-old involves running six days per week at varying distances and efforts.
He does back-to-back 20-mile runs on the weekends and keeps his body toned through ab work, pull-ups and push-ups.
It's a full schedule, especially since he works full time and tries to fit in some skiing and BMX biking when he can.
Jones credits former track coach and ultrarunner Robin Halloran for providing him with support, advice and encouragement in his passion for running ultras.
"She helped me with my training schedule, how I should race, what I should eat and the things I should take. She's really helped me a lot."
Jones will run his first 50-mile race in May at the Jemez Mountain Trail Run in New Mexico. Although his goal is eventually to run the Hardrock 100, he plans to wait until he is 20 years old before signing up for his first 100-mile race.
Motivation is not a problem for him; he loves the adventure of trail running.
"I like to go to Silverton and just pick out a route on the map, some crazy trail that's 25 miles long over the passes. I feel like I'm doing a really cool thing in a really cool place. It's just awesome to be out there. I love running on trails."
His parents have been very supportive of his ultrarunning.
"I think they feel like I'm doing a good thing, and they're trying to help me out to do this thing that's healthy," he said.
Jones will graduate from high school in May and then plans to defer college for a year to continue working and training.
His advice to others considering long distance running: "Do it if you like it. If you don't enjoy it, there's no point in doing it."
Reach Marjorie Brinton at firstname.lastname@example.org.