Dylan Bowman loves to run. A self-proclaimed ‘perpetuator of stoke’ and ‘appreciator of endurance’, he has spent the past 13 years competing in ultra-running races around the world, running up and down mountains, across distances ranging from 50-100 miles. He doesn’t just participate in these feats of human endurance, he often wins them.
In 2021, Bowman participated in two of the hardest races in the world: the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, Colorado , and the Grand Raid on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. During the Hardrock, which traverses 100 miles of the Rocky Mountains, amounting to 33,0000 feet of climbing and descending at an average altitude of 11,000 feet, Bowman had one of his greatest races. His second place finish with a time of 22 hours, 45 minutes and 50 seconds was the third fastest time for an American man in the race’s 30-year history.
The Grand Raid, though, was an opposite experience that Bowman refers to as a 'vision quest'. Climbing and descending 31,637 feet over a 100-mile traverse of the rugged volcanic island, the race is known for its relentlessly grueling terrain. Even in what Bowman considered a subpar effort, however, he finished in 27 hours, 41 minutes and 12 seconds, which placed him 17th in a field of 1,775 competitors.
To keep his body performing at what is arguably the highest athletic level a body can be, Bowman relies on a deceptively simple ingredient: good sleep. I called him up to dig into how sleep and recovery factor into his training and competition, as well as his daily life.
LifeLabs: How do you recover from those big efforts like the Hardrock and Grand Raid?
Dylan Bowman: The first thing is resting, just not running. Also, hydration. I think most people walk around chronically dehydrated. I find that in training and after big race events I’m incredibly depleted. I like to drink a lot of water, but also electrolytes and smoothies.
Sleep is so critical. It’s not easy to come by after big workouts or in the middle of really hard training. It’s counterintuitive because I’m walking around in an exhausted haze sometimes but I also can’t sleep super well because my nervous system is stimulated.
After races it’s even more acute because I’ve just put my body through this semi-traumatic experience for sometimes 24 hours, so it takes time for the nervous system to calm down and be able to go from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” mentality.
Photo: Ryan Thrower
I really try to focus on shifting to the parasympathetic nervous system. I have a meditation practice I do every day no matter what, which I try to emphasize in recovery. I work on disconnecting from electronics because I think that keeps my nervous system activated when I don't want it to be. I spend time reading in a quiet environment and try to maximize the hours of good sleep that I do get.
"A core part of my training philosophy is recovery and the best recovery you get is through sleep."
As I've gotten older, I've become more and more religious about sleep. When I was younger I thought I could de-prioritize sleep and still perform at a high level. Now I can’t. A core part of my training philosophy is recovery and the best recovery you get is through sleep. I’m the kind of person who is in bed by 8 and asleep by 8:30 every night and up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning.
Photo: Ryan Thrower
LL: What do you notice about your performance when you don’t get enough sleep?
DB: A general lack of energy is the most obvious way to describe it. Also when it comes to recovery, I definitely notice my muscles and soft tissue do not bounce back after hard workouts to approach the next day’s training with more energy. If I get nine hours of sleep I feel like a different person than if I get seven hours.
LL: How do you measure your sleep and your rest?
DB: A few ways. One is the Oura Ring , which I’ve been using for a long time. I’m not somebody who's incredibly data-driven or metrics-oriented in my personal life or my training. So it’s not necessarily about the details of the numbers, it's more about the macro pictures and the trend line of how my sleep is going.
I use it to gauge when I’ve overstepped in training or when I’ve stressed myself too much. In that case I expect to see lower sleep quality, less of the deep sleep cycle, a higher resting heart rate, a higher core body temperature and a lower HRV (Heart Rate Variability) number. If it’s just one day that I’m busier and got worse sleep, it’s no big deal. But when it starts to be a trend over a week and I notice impacts on my training, then I have to adjust what’s stressing me out or lower the training volume or adjust my sleep rituals in order to bring those numbers back in line to where they’re most optimal.
"I notice it in the data, it’s pretty dramatic how much alcohol impacts peoples' sleep quality."
But also, when I’m on top of it and my ring data is validating the subjective feeling of my body, it’s really cool. I wake up and look at my Oura data and feel like I slept great and the ring is telling me I’m ready to go out and win the day and then I have a great workout.
Photo: Ryan Thrower
The other thing I’ve used it for is to eliminate things that mess with my sleep, especially alcohol. I do sober January every year and am still on it this year. I notice it in the data, it’s pretty dramatic how much alcohol impacts people’s sleep quality. And other health marks like my resting heart rate, HRV, body temperature. Also, caffeine intake. Oftentimes I notice when I’m training really hard I increase my caffeine intake because I'm trying to stay more energized and I notice it impacts my sleep when I drink too late in the day.
LL: Do you have a sleep ritual?
DB: My wife and I meditate together every night, usually 20-25 minutes. It’s a way to wind down and have some quiet together time. I’m also really into stretching, which ties into hydration. When I’m dehydrated I notice I’m less flexible, which increases my risk of injury. So I like to stretch out, especially because I spent more time than I'd like sitting throughout the day. My wife and I also sometimes do breathwork, which is a really powerful way to get into your parasympathetic nervous system and hit the pause or reset button on the day. I read a lot too, and try to resist the temptation of electronics before bed. I train first thing in the morning, so sleep is mega important to make sure I stick to my training calendar.
Photo: Ryan Thrower
LL: What tips or advice do you have for people who want to use sleep to perform better in their lives?
DB: Use LifeLabs CoolLife! I’ve been using the sleepwear and sheets and noticed an enhanced quality of sleep because of the CoolLife material keeping my body temperature lower. This then helps with achieving deeper levels of sleep and getting out of the sympathetic nervous system.
"[Sleeping cool] helps with achieving deeper levels of sleep and getting out of the sympathetic nervous system."
Interestingly, it's also reflected in my Oura data. I’ve recorded side by side data from before I started using the CoolLife sleepset and the data after using it. I swear by [cooling performance]. It’s a thing you use and can genuinely feel a difference.
CBD is also powerful for people who have trouble sleeping. Oftentimes when I’m training my hardest, my sleep isn’t very good, which is the time when I really want it. In those times I take CBD to help me sleep. It’s also a natural anti-inflammatory so it helps keep the body more capable of bouncing back for the next day’s training.