Written by Nevada media services intern Kara LaPoint
August Brautigam chose to pursue a collegiate skiing career, but he has other options for success - as recent running results have proven.
Though running is a second focus for Brautigam, one of Nevada's top Nordic skiers, the junior has established himself among the best in several distance running races, including turning in a second-place finish in the Silver State 50/50 50-mile race this past spring.
Brautigam finished the race, which took place May 16 at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno, in a time of 7 hours 35 minutes and 28 seconds. He finished just behind Jasper Halekas, veteran and professional ultra-runner, who ran the course in 7 hours 11 minutes and 33 seconds.
Brautigam's time was faster than the previous course record of 7 hours 46 minutes, set by Erik Skaden the year before. Skaden, like Halekas, is also a professional ultra-runner.
But according to August Teague, Brautigam's Nordic coach at Nevada, Brautigam is not out of his league racing against these elite athletes.
"At the present time, he's a better runner than he is a skier," Teague said. "We hope to develop him into a skier because that's what his goals are. But when you're second place in the Silver State, you're at a professional level already."
This was Brautigam's second year running in the race. Last year, he turned in a time of 9 hours and 15 minutes in 94-degree heat, a record high for the event.
On a much milder 82-degree day this year, Brautigam turned in a much-improved performance that shocked not only himself.
"When I went through the aid station at about mile 12, one of the guys yelled at me, 'Is your name Erik?' " Brautigam said. "I guess I was twenty minutes up on the record at that point."
Brautigam said he certainly did not anticipate a record-breaking performance in the event, which he entered on a whim after originally planning to do the half-marathon instead.
"I really didn't want to do it again," he said.
But only about two weeks before, Brautigam said he just couldn't resist making another attempt at the event that he originally tried out of skepticism.
"I thought ultra-running was stupid and anyone could do it," he said. "Naturally, going in that way I got (totally beat)."
Brautigam said he has learned much about ultra-running since then. He said the most important thing he has learned is that even when he thinks they will, his legs don't give out.
"You just have to keep running," he said. "Your body finds a way to make it work."
Brautigam said he actually felt like he had more left when he finished.
Though he has only done two 50-mile races, Brautigam is no stranger to distance running. He said he has run six marathons and one or two half-marathons. His personal record for the marathon is 2 hours 52 minutes, which he ran in the 2006 San Francisco Marathon, taking 15th overall.
Teague said he considers Brautigam to be a natural runner.
"He has always had a natural ability to run," he said. "And now that he is training more consistently and preparing for races in a better way we have seen his natural ability develop into something that is inspiring."
But Brautigam said that his entire running career, like his 50-miles race, began unconventionally.
"I was never a natural runner," Brautigam said. "I just ran so much, I got good at it."
Growing up in Vermont, Brautigam's parents owned a cross country ski center so he said he skied a lot but never raced.
At 17, he was going through a tough time and his mother suggested he try a new form of exercise. He chose running and, true to his style, made running a marathon his first goal. He accomplished that after only four to five months of training and became hooked on the sport.
"Part of the appeal for me is to focus on the thing I'm not good at, so I'm more inclined to do the harder thing," Brautigam said.
This is what drove him to want to do longer and harder runs, and what motivates him to ski now.
"I have thought of pursuing running instead of skiing," he said. "In the summer of 2006 (prior to coming to Nevada), I was actually training pretty seriously for it.
"But now I intend to ski train more than I intend to run, because skiing is harder and I want to do the hardest thing. My lungs just never feel like that when I run. Other things hurt, but nothing hurts your lungs like skiing."
But, while Brautigam said the only races he is focusing on now are ski races, he does see himself focusing on ultra-marathons when his collegiate ski career is over.
"It's still an option," he said. "I'm only 24 now, I'm still young."
Brautigam said, though, that while sports are a lot of fun and can teach you a lot, in his opinion they are not a life-long occupation.
He said he is most focused on studying hard to become a mechanical engineer.
The best thing Brautigam said skiing has taught him is how to work really hard at something all the time and lose and still be okay with it.
But the former walk-on who will look to qualify for the NCAA Championship this year looks as though he will not be learning any new lessons about losing in the upcoming ski season.
Despite a relatively late start in the sport, Brautigam said he feels like a few years of consecutive quality training are starting to pay off.
After earning multiple top-30 finishes in the West last year, Brautigam has already recorded numerous personal records in the team's fall training time trials, including one team record in an uphill running time trial.
According to Teague, Brautigam is on pace to have his best season yet on the ski trails.
"If we can clean up his technique, he has the motor and potential to qualify for NCAAs," Teague said. "The biggest thing he needs to learn is to be more relaxed with competition, which he has done this summer with running, so hopefully we can carry that over into skiing. At this point, we're hoping to take August from a good citizen and collegiate skier to a great collegiate and professional skier."
But should he decide to pursue a running career down the road, Teague said, "He could have a real future there as well."