SEDRO-WOOLLEY — John Maxwell works for Boeing, owns a farm, occasionally tends bar and with his wife Brittany raises three children.
Somewhere in there he finds the time to be an ultra runner.
The Sedro-Woolley 34-year-old is coming off a first-place finish at the Whistler Alpine Meadows 100-mile race, which he finished in 23 hours, 9 minutes. He finished about an hour ahead of his closest competitor.
Maxwell attended the University of Washington after graduating from Cascade High School in Everett where he played soccer.
It was while attending college he really got into running.
“I just started running the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle,” Maxwell said. “I started out just by doing five miles. Then I decided one day to do eight. Then it was a half marathon.”
It was after that half marathon that his wife’s uncle casually mentioned Maxwell should run a marathon.
Maxwell admitted he wasn’t so sure of that, saying the distance sounded pretty tough.
“Eventually, he talked me into doing the Eugene Marathon,” he said. “That was my first one back in 2011 and it has just gone from there.”
He also ran marathons in Seattle, Portland, Boston and Japan.
In 2017, he switched to trail running and immediately took to steep climbs up big mountains.
That same year, he decided to run is first ultra marathon, the White River 50 Miler.
Since 2018, he has competed in six 100-mile races.
“I’ve also run the Moab 240-mile race,” he said. “So I’ve ran some miles. Now I use 50-mile runs in preparation for 100-mile races.”
As for the Whistler Alpine Meadows race on Sept. 11, Maxwell said his focus was on himself.
“... The game plan going into WAM, as it is always now, is not to focus on what anyone else is doing, but just to run my race and hopefully that puts me where I want to be,” he said.
While running 100 miles is a feat in itself, once you take into account Maxwell climbing and descending a total of about 60,000 feet in elevation, it literally takes his accomplishment to another level.
“You actually run up Blackcomb, down Blackcomb, up Whistler then down Whistler, is how that race goes,” Maxwell said. “Then you run around a couple of lakes and do it in reverse. So it’s up and down Whistler and up and down Blackcomb again.”
He described the first 50 miles as “really enjoyable,” as he kept with other runners, letting them lead while he “maintained.”
“I was running conservatively to start,” Maxwell said. “In a 100-mile race, there’s no use starting hot out of the gate.”
Just after that 50-mile mark, Maxwell made his move, breaking away from the pack on a steep descent.
“I just sort of figured if I was going to push it, that was the time to create a gap,” he said. “Then I pushed really hard up the climb of Whistler and by the time I got up there, I could look back quite a ways and I couldn’t see any headlights. That was right around midnight.”
Things went a bit sideways for Maxwell after that point as he became nauseous on the descent into Whistler Village. He said he believes he simply pushed too hard on the uphill to create his lead.
“I figured out how I could run, cough and vomit all at the same time,” he said. “It was rough, but I got through it.”
Ahead of him, however, was the ascent of Blackcomb — three grueling miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
“That was just a nice, grind up,” Maxwell said. “Just trying to muster anything I had left.
“I got to the top and there was an aid station and that was the first time I’d heard I had about 30 to 35 minutes on the guy behind me. I figured as long as a didn’t completely blow up, if I held it together, I could possibly run sub 23 hours, but I was just over that.”
Reaching the finish line first replaced the pain and agony with euphoria.
“I was loving it,” Maxwell said. “The fact this was my coach’s (legendary endurance athlete Gary Robbins) race he puts on and I was able to show up to it and perform, Wow!
“When I turned the corner around some trees and could see the finish line, my hair was standing up on the back of my neck. All of a sudden, my legs felt like they could run a 5-minute mile. I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’”
Maxwell’s wife and three children — Jace (8), Jax (5) and Jamie (11 months) — were at every reachable aid station along the route as well as at the finish line.
“Seeing them at the finish line, that was amazing,” Maxwell said.
He trained for the race by running the Squamish 50/50 a couple weeks earlier. That race includes a 50-mile run on Saturday and 50 kilometers (31 miles) on Sunday.
“That was my longest training weekend leading up to this and I finished third overall,” Maxwell said. “I got some good miles on my legs.”
The 100-mile distance usually includes running through the night.
Maxwell said he doesn’t mind running in the dark. He said he actually thrives when relying on his headlamp to light the way.
“I tend to like the overnight runs,” he said. “That is actually my strength. With my family and my normal work schedule, I’d say in order to get my runs in, 95% of my runs are between 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So almost all my runs are with a headlight. When races shift to night, that is when I’m most comfortable.”
Most of his training runs take place in the Chuckanut mountains.
“No one is up at 4:30 a.m., so I get Oyster Dome all to myself,” Maxwell said. “Not a soul all the way up and down.”
He admitted to having a couple unnerving experiences while running alone at night, such as the time he ran into a cougar while on the Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helens.
“That cougar ended my run,” he said with a laugh. “But normally, I feel very comfortable out there at night.”
Next up for Maxwell is the heralded Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in France, where he’ll be running in the 90-mile race.
“That’s like the Super Bowl of trail running races,” he said. “I’ll be running through the Alps and I believe three countries. That will be a great family vacation.”