A few months ago, I interviewed the trio behind one of my favorite YouTube channels, Mountain Outpost, for a Trail Runner magazine assignment. Host Jamil Coury, sidekick Schuyler Hall and creative genius Michael Carson launched Mountain Outpost when they released their debut show, “Mystery Drop Bag Challenge,” nearly one year ago in late May of 2016.
The magazine published a very abridged version of my conversation with these guys in the April issue. I decided to use this forum to run a fuller version of our Q&A, along with screenshots from several episodes.
I did a little happy dance when Mountain Outpost released a new installment today, shot last weekend at the Lake Sonoma 50 (linked at the bottom of this post). Jamil’s weekly newscast, Mountain Outhouse, continues to run, but the Outpost Challenges have become sporadic special reunions, since Jamil and Schuyler no longer live near each other.
The Q&A follows this intro, which I wrote for the magazine. Enjoy!
Three-quarters through the 2016 Quad Dipsea, a 28-mile rain-soaked mudfest on the famed Dipsea trail north of San Francisco, Jamil Coury, 31, of Phoenix, Arizona, and Schuyler Hall, 28, of Walnut Creek, California, hammer down the trail while holding two gilded, dog-sized faux reindeer adorned with bells and holiday ornaments. Coury also holds a camera on a selfie stick to film them.
Earlier in the race, which takes place two days after Thanksgiving, Coury and Hall had paused at key junctures to gulp pumpkin-spiced lattes, consume entire cans of pureed pumpkin and choke down pints of vegan mushroom gravy. They filmed their antics and the digestive discomforts that ensued while offering colorful commentary along the way.
“The climbing is brutal,” a wet, miserable Coury says. Switching the camera angle to film the back of the reindeer’s head running down slick singletrack, he adds with forced cheer, “It’s Prancer’s first Dipsea!”
Days later, they transfer the footage to their colleague and ultrarunning friend Michael Carson, 30, of Tempe, Arizona, at the Phoenix headquarters of Aravaipa Running, the trail-racing company that Coury heads up. Carson, the company’s videographer, adds a Muzak soundtrack, inserts goofy graphics with pop-culture references and uploads the 11-minute video—dubbed Quad Dipsea Holiday Challenge—to their YouTube channel Mountain Outpost.
A comedy show about ultrarunning, Mountain Outpost has gained a cult following since its debut in May 2016. The show has hooked fans like ultrarunner Jimmy McCaffrey of Hamden, Connecticut. “Mountain Outpost is to trail running what Caddyshack is to golf,” he says. “It both celebrates and spoofs our culture, reminding us it’s really awesome but not to take ourselves too seriously.”
Their first video, Mystery Drop Bag Challenge, features Coury and Hall simulating a four-lap race on a mountainous trail in desert heat while using stuff from random drop bags that ultrarunners had left behind three months earlier at an Aravaipa event.
Before each lap, Coury and Hall open a bag, consume whatever edibles the bag contains and apply whatever clothing or medical aids they find inside. They become progressively overheated while running in layers of ill-fitting clothing, and sick to their stomachs while eating melted, sugary snacks and gulping warm, expired drinks.
The team also produces a weekly newscast, called Mountain Outhouse, which opens with Coury’s signature line: “I’m your host, Jam Jam, and this is the craziest shit to happen in running this week.” Wearing reflective sunglasses to conceal the fact he’s looking down to read a script, Coury anchors a news show as informative as it is satirical.
Coury started ultrarunning in 2005 and, in 2015, completed what he nicknamed the “the Slam of the Damned,” four of the hardest 100-mile races: HURT, Barkley (finishing four of the five loops to become the last man standing), Hardrock and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2017, he’ll race Barkley and Hardrock again. [Update: Jamil made it through three loops of the Barkley on the first weekend in April; you can watch his cool 20-minute vlog about it.] Hall, a speedy runner on roads, transitioned to trails in 2014 through Aravaipa’s Arizona-based events. His claim to fame is a world record of 1:48 in the “beer half-marathon,” drinking 13 beers over 13 miles, set in December 2015 at Aravaipa’s Across the Years ultra.
Q&A with Jamil, Schuyler & Michael
Me: How did Mountain Outpost get its start?
Jamil: It’s fuzzy in my mind how the show came to be. What it is now is an evolution, and Mystery Drop Bag Challenge was the first concept.
Michael: Now I remember! We had a previous show called Trail Talk, which is a serious talk show for Aravaipa Running, and in an episode, I put in a little picture of an owl when Jamil said something, and it was kind of ridiculous. There was this “ah-ha” moment of what Mountain Outpost could be.
Jamil: That’s right—he edited in this goofy random thing, and it made me laugh.
How did Mystery Drop Bag Challenge happen after that “ah-ha” moment?
Jamil: It just popped into my head to try to use these old drop bags, and I thought, “It can’t be just me. I have to do it like a race and race someone.” I thought, who would be up for that? Or who would be good in this type of show? Schuyler.
Why was Schuyler the first person who came to mind?
Jamil: He was an Aravaipa ambassador, really involved with our group runs, and someone who’s funny and pretty much up for anything. He’ll rally at 3 in the morning and go do something. Probably, too, because he did the beer half marathon—I knew he had that “it” factor, I guess.
Schuyler: I said, “I’m in, just tell me where and when and let’s do it.” I’m relatively new to the ultrarunning scene, so I didn’t really understand how crazy some people got with their drop bags. That made for some legitimate anxiety and for those very real reactions from when we filmed it.
Were you surprised that Mystery Drop Bag went viral?
Jamil: Yes and no. When we were doing it, we knew it was ridiculous. Haley [Pollack, president of Aravaipa Running] and Michael could not stop laughing while we were filming it; they had to put their hands over their mouths to keep the laughter out. When we first watched it in the office, we couldn’t stop laughing—we were almost on the floor and all in tears.
That’s a tough act to follow. Did any subsequent episodes go viral?
Jamil: Well, it was a bit of a reality check. We kept making things, and sometimes we would pour so much time and energy and money into an episode, but it wouldn’t get any comments and hardly any views. Sometimes it’s discouraging, but fortunately, we’re doing it because it’s fun and we love it. We know that if you keep doing it, you’ll have some successes, even surprise ones. Chasing Walmsley was our biggest surprise. We never expected it to be our second biggest video.
Describe Chasing Walmsley.
Jamil: Schuyler and I dressed up as [champion ultrarunner] Jim Walmsley and tried to mimic his outfit from Western States, with holes in our shirts. We went after two of his Strava records in the Phoenix area. We didn’t get the first one, but we both beat the second one.
The episode US Sky Drinker completely cracked me up, with its over-the-top, retro-style video game spoof. It looks like you guys were having so much fun. How did that episode, which you shot in Silverton, come to be?
Jamil: It was insanely fun, probably the most fun I’ve ever had making a video. The idea came together in a day; we were all up in Silverton, and we just grabbed a few friends and it came together that afternoon. We saw that Patrick Sweeney did a Hope Pass Beer Mile, where he ran back and forth and called it something like Skyrunning Beer Mile. We thought we should do a true Skyrunning race, going up and down a ridiculous avalanche. We grabbed whatever cameras we had, and just filmed as much as we could, then literally dumped it in Michael’s lap.
Michael: I wasn’t there, and there were a lot of technical issues. That whole video, I would say, is the biggest diamond in the rough and my personal masterpiece. There’s no original audio; it’s completely wiped, completely redone. That’s like my life work, my childhood, things that I lived through—it’s all there in that video.
Struggling to eat large amounts of food while running is a recurring theme in Mountain Outpost challenges. What was one of the most difficult things to choke down?
Schuyler: The most difficult challenge for me, bar none, was the Chipotle Challenge [which involved running to several Chipotle restaurants in 103-degree heat and consuming a burrito at each]. I love Chipotle, but that day, in those temperatures, and with my minor brush with heat stroke, was the hardest.
While filming, have you ever had to take a time-out and say, “This isn’t funny anymore; I could seriously hurt myself”?
Jamil: Yes. The Chili Pepper Gu Challenge. We had a four-lap race and ate chili peppers mixed with unflavored Gu before each lap—a 300-foot climb up a mountain and back down, on a super-hot day. We ended with the Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper. I almost died out there. It took me almost 40 minutes to do the last quarter mile; I was hunched over, and Michael had to come find me. I thought something serious was going to happen because of the pain in my chest and body.
Schuyler: It helps that Mike is sort of the resident parent of the staff, so a lot of the time, even before we do it, he’s the one who’s concerned and asking, “Is this actually a good idea?” It helps to have him on site when we do some of the more idiotic maneuvers.
How would you describe the Mountain Outpost mission?
Michael: In this sport, there’s so much seriousness, so just to see some fun is awesome. We make things that we’d want to see, and it’s great that people enjoy it.
Jamil: For me, this is an outlet to kind of be crazy. In other parts of my job, I have to be more serious in the role, and this is something where I can literally do whatever. Actually, that’s not entirely true; we have two videos we had to take off the Internet because we broke some laws.
What were the videos you had to take down about?
Jamil: One was The Beer 10K, where we did a 10K trail run and each of us carried a six-pack, and you could drink the beers anywhere you wanted in the six miles, as long as you were done with them by the end. We did it in a mountain park where you needed a permit to drink alcohol, and we didn’t have one, so we got busted. Then there was one called Aid Station of the Future where we used a drone and flew snacks and booze to Schulyer out on a trail in a mountain park. We weren’t busted, but pre-emptively took it down.
How did the weekly Mountain Outhouse newscast spin off from the Mountain Outpost challenges?
Jamil: After Schuyler moved [to take a job in California], we wanted to continue the consistency on the channel. The very first one was a complete shit show. It was me reporting on the beer mile championships over the summer, and I decided to do a beer mile newscast where I would drink four beers and tell four news stories. I was poking fun at Sage Canaday, because on his old YouTube channel, he did this fake “nip tips” infomercial, with nipple guards made out of tin foil. So I ended the newscast just wearing foil, and it’s total sophomoric humor to the maximum. The show has evolved since then, but you gotta start somewhere. Now, every episode is scripted, and Michael does an absolutely fantastic job of editing. I come up with the script and delivery of the lines, and he takes that and amplifies the humor in it.
Going forward, what is ripe for skewering or shining a light on in our sport?
Jamil: Anything where someone is taking themselves or the sport too seriously, or anytime there’s a controversy. When I don’t agree with something happening in the sport in general, I like to say something about it. I don’t necessarily want to offend any people or make them feel bad, but sometimes I feel it is my duty to call them out.
Viewers want to know, what’s your relationship status?
Schuyler: I am uncomfortably single, mainly because I have to talk about Mountain Outpost early on in the dating process, because I’m going to get googled, and Mountain Outpost is gonna come up and I’ll need to explain it.
Jamil: I’m single as well. A little-known fact about me is that I have a child. It’s not something hugely public, but I’m no longer with his mother. He’s almost 11 months old [but since this interview was conducted early in the year, he’s turned 1 now]. Once I have more custody and time with him, he’s going to be an integral part of my life. It’s been a hard process, and I’m still working through it. I’ve had a few starts and stops with some people, but that’s currently the status.
Michael: I’m the married one of the bunch.
Are you guys making a profit?
Jamil: Currently we’re not. We do turn monetization on our videos, but I don’t know if we’ve made more than $10 a month. We’ll probably spend, easily, $100 an episode on props and things. For now, we love doing this, and we’re fortunate that Aravaipa is keeping the lights on and paying some of the bills.
If Mountain Outpost isn’t generating income, then what makes producing it worthwhile?
Jamil: It’s a creative outlet for me. The way I was raised may have something to do with it; I always enjoyed business, but I kind of got pushed into an accounting type career path, and maybe there’s more of this artistic, creative side of me than I knew even existed when I was younger, and this is a way to explore that. I love the creative process of coming up with an idea, and then making it a reality, and then hearing the reaction to it. Making people happy, and making them laugh—that’s really rewarding.
I genuinely appreciate the levity and commentary these guys bring to the sport. I’m glad the Mountain Outhouse newscast is continuing, and I hope Jamil and Schuyler can work their travel schedules to produce more Outpost challenges. Their latest episode is “Real Aid, Fake Arms,” about working an aid station at the Lake Sonoma 50. (But if you haven’t checked out Mountain Outpost, then I suggest starting with the episodes linked above, along with this classic one below, “Ultra Fashion Drop Bag Challenge,” which I like because it showcases running in the Marin Headlands as well as their irreverent humor.)
You can subscribe to the Mountain Outpost YouTube channel and follow @MountainOutpost for updates.
I’m stoked my book will ship in mid-May, and Scott Dunlap—to whom I provided an advance copy—wrote this great review. You can pre-order a copy of The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras; and, anyone who preorders this month can fill out this form to be in a drawing I’ll do May 1 to win a coaching consultation with me. I have a book launch planned May 31; you can find out details about this and other events on this page.