Monday, March 21, 2016

Western States: The Super Bowl of Ultrarunning

Since giving up added sugars and desserts last month, I am quite confident I:

1) Recover faster between workouts
2) Sleep better
3) Have more stable energy
4) Benefit from greater mental clarity

I am sure of all four of those, especially #2, which, admittedly, could be a key driver for the other three...... I do not miss desserts and I have come to love nothing but cream and butter in my coffee. Being off sugar has a transformative effect. But I am still far from a low-carb runner. That said, I eat way fewer carbs than the average American (and probably the average runner). I have found that, as my carb intake has dropped, I crave fat, which makes sense because it's the body's preferred fuel.


It's hard to believe but in a little over three months I'll be at Squaw Valley Ski Resort getting ready to run 100 miles on the most storied ultra course on Planet Earth. The excitement is building. I have wanted this opportunity for over ten years and at one time in my life thought it might never come.

My only regret is that this opportunity didn't come sooner, like when I was younger and a little more fleet-feeted. Then again, I was more immature in those years and might not have fully appreciated the experience. Bottom line: Western States is the gold standard and pinnacle for ultrarunners.

Pacing me at Western States will be Mike Wilkinson and Kenny McCleary. Kenny, who's in the 50-state marathon club and also has run a marathon in every Canadian province, paced me at Burning River in 2007 and Mohican in 2008 and 2009. He promised me years ago that he'd be there if I ever got into States and, sure enough, he's going to be there. Mike, an ultrarunner, has never run States but it's on his bucket list and this will be a great opportunity for him to see the course, experience the race, and help a buddy. I am grateful to both of them and to my wife, our son, and my parents, who will also be there.

This past weekend, my wife and I watched "Desperate Dreams" (note: the YouTube page says 1982 but it's really 1983), a grainy documentary that chronicles the 1983 Western States 100. In that race, Jim King, 26, and Jim Howard, 29, battled it out until the bitter end. King reportedly went off course by an hour after leaving Red Star Ridge (it was a big snow year), losing his lead by several positions. Yet he managed to regain the lead only to lose it to Howard with a half-mile to go as the runners were at Robie Point with the Placer High School track only steps away (they both talk about it in this interview shot 30 years later by Howard won in 16:07 and King in 16:08.

As the drama unfolded on screen, I kept thinking about "Unbreakable," which chronicles the 2010 race in which Geoff Roes overtook a seemingly indestructible Anton Krupicka before the Highway 49 crossing. As an aside, I've always thought it so sad Anton didn't get a win at States. He was entered into the 2008 race, which got canceled due to wildfires. As almost anyone would attest, that was the year Anton would have won States...only it was called off. Sad.

Circling back to the two Jims, I would argue--and this is just my take--that guys like King and Howard would be just as good and probably better today. Howard was a 2:18 marathoner and ran a 2:32 marathon while in high school. 2:18 back in the early 1980s was smokin' fast. With modern technology, gear, etc., those guys would be dominant today. If you watch "Desperate Dreams," you'll know what I mean. King weighed about a buck thirty-six back then and his stride was smooth as silk.

Western States has seen its fair share of drama. I still remember when Brian Morrison collapsed from exhaustion and dehydration on the track during the 2006 race, losing his win to disqualification. Last I heard, Morrison is returning to the 2016 race. Then you have Gunhild Swanson's crazy exciting finish last year.

With spring in the air, it's hard to believe that in only three months, I, too, will be soaking in the experience and running that storied course.

On the training front, all is falling into place. I'm gradually increasing my mileage and am at the place where I'm clicking off 70+ mile base-building weeks without much of an issue. Weekly hill repeats are now under way (this is the workout that seems to give me the biggest bounce). As this is Western States, the Super Bowl of Ultrarunning, I fully plan on being in the best shape of my life by race day. That will be a tall order because there have been some races in the past where I was clicking on all cylinders. But I'm certainly gunning for peak fitness going into States and I am willing to make the sacrifices to get there.

Knowing my mileage will be there (though these days it sure is hard to get in 100 miles in a single week due to busy schedules), my focus is on two key areas:

1) Getting the quads downhill ready. It sure would be nice if all the snow in the mountains would melt!
2) Being ready for the heat. There's a sauna with my name on it!

I am confident I'll be ready in both regards.

I also know that the better shape I'm in for Western States, the better my recovery will be so that I'm ready for Leadville 56 days later. If all goes to plan, I genuinely believe Western States will help, not hurt, me going into Leadville. My quads will be very strong after States. With those 56 days being about recovery, I'll also be well-rested going into Leadville. Plus, this will be my sixth Leadville, so I have experience and course knowledge on my side. I will place no pressure at Leadville on myself; if I need all 30 hours, that's OK. States will be a different story; I will want to run my best race possible, but at the same time I know how important it is to go into a race relaxed and confident.

I hope your training is going well and that 2016 is your best year yet!


  1. Academic point: 2:18 was not smoking fast in the early 80s. In many regards it was a lot more commonplace than it is today. For example

    Nonetheless, I agree that sub 2:20 marathoners are more likely to have an advantage at the 100 mile distance than a 2:45 guy and that those guys you mention would be competitive on the scene today.

    1. Point well-taken, George. According to what I saw, the Tuesday after his win at States Howard went to the track for mile repeats and clicked off 4:30, 4:30, 4:40 and 4:44 (I think those were the times he mentioned in the video). Geez.

      I found the Google search trends info you linked to yesterday very interesting. I have sensed some lost momentum regarding ultramarathons and the trends confirmed that. Blogging is definitely down for sure. That said, Western States still had some 3500 trying to get in.

  2. Fun read, Wyatt. I'm really looking forward to helping out at WS and ensuring you have a great race!