A passionate storyteller who loves finding elegant ways of communicating complex issues—whether through data, sound, words, animation, maps, or graphics—Jordan Wirfs-Brock finds narratives where others might see only chaos. A data journalist at Inside Energy and a previous speaker at our It’s About Time, Jordan has covered everything from gas leaks to garbage to dairy farming over the course of her career.We keep the topics of our TEDxMileHigh talks a secret until the day of the event, so here we talk about ultra marathons, sour beer, and eating ice cream better than anyone else.
One caveat to these interviews is that we like to keep the subject matter of your talk secret until the event.
Well, that’s good because it’s not finalized yet.
Even better. So, you’re a runner?
I am, and I am one of those crazy runners that does ultra distances. It wasn’t something that I ever intended to do, but it was a slippery slope. Once I moved to Colorado and started running on trails, I noticed the runs started getting longer and longer. I transitioned from a being a track runner in high school and college to a marathoner to someone who does 100 milers or multi-day events.
How many ultra marathons have you completed?
I don’t actually have a number because there have been a lot of them. I’ve also done a 48-hour race and a 72-hour race. The craziest thing I have ever done is actually a 10 day race—I’ve done that twice.
A 10-day race? What does that look like? Do you sleep?
You sleep, but the clock doesn’t ever stop. It’s all strategic: how much you sleep and when you sleep plays into how far you get to run. So, for that race, I actually did a podcast episode about it. I sort of recorded all of the nitty-gritty, ugly, painful things of that race in real time.
Were you recording while you were running or you would stop for the night and recount the day?
I would record sometimes while running, so it was a combination of both. That race was held in Vermont. It’s called Infinitus and it is an 888-km race, which is about 550 miles, and you have 10 days to finish. The first year I did it there were ten people who started and one person finished, not me. Then the second year was the same thing, one out of ten people finished. So, yeah.
It’s in the mountains of Vermont, there’s a roughly 27-mile course that you run over and over. There was a home base at a cross-country ski center where you could sleep and eat and get help from your crew and that kind of thing.
So you do a loop every day? Kind of like a marathon every day?
Well you have to do two marathons every day to make the 550 miles.
That is crazy!
Yeah, I feel like running a 100-miler is a totally different sport than running anything shorter. You’re out there long enough that you can see your body start to adapt. You can see your metabolism change, it’s crazy. The first couple days your body kind of freaks out and says “Stop doing this! What are you doing? This is crazy!” Then it’s like “Okay, I guess this is what we are doing now.” Then your muscles and your metabolism and your sleep schedule and everything starts to get on board.
You also brew beer, right?
I do! Not always well.
Well, there are a lot of variables with brewing beer.
Yeah, you have to sterilize things, but actually a lot of the beers I like are from wild fermentations, like sour beers. That process is actually about leaving more things up to fate. I am actually sad because the one time I tried to do a sour beer with wild fermentation, we found some berries and threw them in. The yeast from the berries was supposed to start the fermentation and it totally didn’t work. It just turned to mold and was gross and disgusting. But I’m doing some experiments now, trying to wild-ferment mead. We’ll see how that goes. With brewing it’s always an experiment and that is the fun part.
That’s one of the things that’s so cool about beer. If you’re willing to embrace an accident it might turn into a success.
Well, that is how it all started in the beginning. It’s not like someone had this vision of beer in their head. It was like, “Oh, we have these grains that we left out in the rain and they got wet and now all of a sudden they are beer.”
We also heard that you’re a champion ice cream eater? Have you entered contests or is that just self-proclaimed?
Not a formal contest, no. I was on the cross-country team in college and we would have an ice-cream-eating contest every year. They had to disband it after I started doing it, because no one could compete. It was a half gallon of ice cream and you had to eat it as fast as you could. The first year, I think I did it in a little over 20 minutes. By the second year, I was getting closer to 15 minutes.
After the second year they said, “Well, we know that no one is going to beat Jordan, so let’s have four of us tag-team against her.” Four members of my team basically performed an ice cream-eating relay. They still didn’t beat me.