Inside the Minds of Western States Runners
Ultra runners might be a bit crazy but their feats of endurance are something to pay attention to. Running one hundred miles might never be on your to-do list, but there’s a lot to be learned from these incredible athletes who do it. As we approach one of the top endurance races in North America, if not the World, we wanted to see what was going through the minds of our athletes headed to Western States. See what three Strava Pros racing this weekend have to say about what they’ve been doing to prepare, why they do it and advice for those looking to follow suit.
Dylan Bowman: Perpetuator of stoke
“DBo” is a veteran of the 100 mile distance. He’s run Western States twice now, placing 8th in 2012 and 5th in 2013. He won the 2011 San Diego 100 and placed 2nd in the Leadville 100 that same year. This year he won the Sean O’Brien 50, the North Face 50 mile race in New York and placed in the top 10 at the brutal Transgrancanaria 125K in the Canary Islands.
Alex Varner: Runs are longer than his shorts
Financial analyst who is probably in over his head on this 100 mile thing. This will be Alex’s first attempt at the 100 mile distance. He’s run a 2:21 marathon and was the 50K National Champion last year. Alex is a leader in the community of Marin, California, the guy is fast.
Sally McRae: Sunshine personified
A personal trainer and mother of two, Sally will be running Western States for the first time, having secured her spot by coming in an impressive 2nd place at the Sean O’Brien 50 miler in Southern CA. She came in 4th at the Angeles Crest 100 miler in 2012, her first attempt at the distance and won the Cuyamaca 100K in 2013.
What have you been doing to prepare for race day?
DB: I’ve been doing a lot less volume and a lot more intensity this year than I have in the past. I think I went into the race way overtrained last year. I work with a coach now who has really helped me prepare in a more efficient and focused way. I’ve also been going to the sauna this year to help me prepare for the heat.
AV: More of everything. More miles. Longer workouts. More climbing. Fitting in back-to-back long runs has also been a new addition to my training regimen. Getting in 20+ miles on tired legs has given me some confidence in handling the fatigue that will come as the race progresses.
SM: Resting, visualization, and lots of injury prevention workouts. My training is fairly similar to that of the past few races I’ve done; however the sessions are longer and the runs are slower. I’m logging more miles but being more mindful of recovering and listening to my body. As the race has neared, it seems it’s always on my mind. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so intense or so focused on a race.
What is your goal for Western States and race-day strategy for getting there?
DB: I’d really like to finish in the top ten for a third straight year and hopefully PR on the course by a big margin. I’d like to run 15:45 and believe that’s a realistic expectation based on past results and this year’s training. Of course, it will be highly dependent on race day conditions. I plan to be conservative early and run hard the last 20 miles. But, I think that’s everyone’s plan.
AV: Since this is my first 100-miler, I’m treating this as a learning experience, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be out there pushing myself to my limits. I want a silver buckle, so I guess 24 hours is the main goal. I think I can go faster, but I don’t want to ask too much of myself.
SM: My goal is to race relentlessly. I want to finish the race knowing I gave everything within me. My race-day strategy for getting there is happening even as I do this interview…remain focused but not obsessed. I’ve also been getting lots of rest as well as ridding of unnecessary stresses. Thankfully, my life is quite full caring for my family and running my own business, so finding my balance when States starts to consume me has actually been easy. Race day is very near so I’m taking it day by day. I stay focused but do live graciously.
What are your nutrition and hydration plans for combating heat, grueling climbs and lots of downhill?
DB: Arrive at the starting line willing to do absolutely anything to finish. If you give yourself any excuse to quit, you will. Don’t even entertain it as an option.
AV: Getting to the start line healthy is a huge hurdle that a lot of people overlook. People will put in huge training blocks only to injure themselves and end up being unable to race. Assuming you get to the start line in one piece, enjoy the experience.
SM: Don’t be afraid, but train with fear. Being afraid of a course like this comes naturally but if you stay afraid you will be paralyzed and your training will suffer. But training with fear is powerful. It’s not always the fastest and fittest that finish these kinds of races, wisdom and respect are key.
What advice would you share with those looking to run a similar race?
DB: My favorite part is being totally crushed but still trying to find the strength to push on. Conquering those moments makes you feel like you can do anything. There is really no feeling of satisfaction quite like accomplishing a goal as huge as 100 miles on foot. I also really enjoy sharing time and stories with fellow members of the ultra community and all the friends I’ve met at various races. It’s really a family atmosphere which is why I love it so much.
AV: I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I’ve never run more than 50 miles in one go, so who knows how 100 will feel. As for ultra-marathons in general, I like being on the trails with my thoughts for hours at a time, so running long distances in remote places fits with that.
SM: I’m still amused when people respond with the ol, “100 miles! I don’t even drive that far!” It really does sound insane to most; but for some reason it has never seemed ridiculous to me. There’s something so mysterious about this distance that keeps me intrigued with running it and the fact that there is no magic formula for training or racing it is pretty awesome. This distance forces you to take an honest look at yourself and what you’re made of. You have to be in complete tune with every part of your body and how it functions. At the end of the day, I really love this distance because it’s much like life; the highs and lows that come with the ultra distances have time and again been beautiful metaphors for the seasons of my life; it’s what keeps me moving. When I take a moment to consider all that I have endured and all the strength I’ve gained as a result. I then become that much more passionate about getting to that Finish line. It’s Life’s Adventure in “just” 100 miles.
The Western States Endurance Run starts on Saturday, June 28th at 5am. Runners are awarded a silver belt buckle if they finish under 24 hours and the race cut-off is at 30 hours. Follow along and see how our Strava athletes fare in the ‘World Series’ of Ultrarunning!