My Own Confusion – Western States Version

“I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion” – Jack Kerouac

Western States 100 logoTo Western States or not to Western States, that is the question? I’ve already faced that question three times for the 2011 race and, having said “maybe” each time, I will face the question once more. I thought I’d share with you where I’ve been with the decision, where it stands now (con and pro), and how I see decision’s roll in the near future. I hope the following will give you an insight into why I run as well as spark some lively discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

The Big Question (The First Three Times)

I’m in the first class of four-time Western States lottery losers. Every year since I last ran States in 2006, I’ve applied and been denied. However, after the race was canceled due to fire in 2008, the large number of applicants to the 2009 race who fell into the now abolished two-time loser automatic entry category were spread out with automatic entries in the 2009, 2010, or 2011 race. I was drawn for 2011 race. This meant that from early December 2008 until now I knew I’d have a spot in this year’s Western States 100… sort of. You see, there are many hoops one needs to jump through before running Western States and I’ve balked at each one so far. These include running a qualifying race, paying the entry fee, and fulfilling the mandatory volunteer (sic) requirement.

The first time I faced the question of whether or not to run this year’s race popped up late last summer when I realized I didn’t have a qualifying race. (You need to have run a 50 mile or 100k in a specified time or, for a 100 miler, within the race’s time limit. See qualifying rules.) For some reason, I thought I had the race within the qualifying period but, as it turns out, my finish from the 2009 Leadville 100 was outside that period. Oops! I needed a qualifier fast. (The deadline was in October ’10, I think.) Normally, it would be no big deal for me to run a 50 miler in 11 hours; however, I battled plantar fasciitis from late November 2009 until May 2010 and never really got up to speed training-wise once I was healthy. In fact, I’d done only 10 runs of over 10 and a half miles in 9+ months with my longest runs a pair of 17.5 milers. I was concerned that I’d hurt myself on so little training (I was also only running 25-40 miles per week), but decided to try and keep the WS100 option open by running the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 with the caveat that I could drop out if I risked injury. Long story short, I faked my way through 50 miles and earned a qualifier.

In November, I again faced the run it or not decision when I had to pay my entry fee. By then, I was healthy and motivated to train… for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which I covered for iRunFar last August. The scene at UTMB got me fired up and there was no way that I wasn’t running it in 2011.

Now, did I want to run both WS and UTMB in the same year? I’d run two 100s in a summer twice before -WS and Wasatch in ‘05 and WS and Leadville in ’06. In each of those instances my focus was on the first 100, but, in 2011, I wanted my focus to be on the first race – UTMB, not the first race – WS. Complicating the double is the fact that the two races are so different. Western States is a running race and, for me, UTMB will be a walking race. I had nearly decided not to sign up for States when I phoned someone who’d done the WS/UTMB double a few times. His suggestion – run WS, but treat it as a UTMB training run. I said what the heck and threw down a boatload of money for the entry fee.

Fast forward six months to this past week. I sat in my office with a blank WS volunteer form. I needed 8 hours of trail work or race volunteering by Sunday. Over the previous few weeks, I’d more or less decided not to run Western States this year for many of the reasons I’ll outline below. In the end, I woke up last Friday morning, packed up my trail work tools, called the head of the Mountain Trails Foundation, Park City’s awesome trail stewards, to get approval to go clear trail, and then I set off for beautiful, worthwhile day of trail work. Now that I’ve sent in the volunteer form, I’ve got 36 days to decide whether or not I’ll toe the line early on the morning of June 25th.

Why I Might Not Run

As mentioned earlier, over the past few months I’d gone from being indecisive to fairly certain that I wouldn’t run the race. Why wouldn’t I run it? Let me explain.

Fitness
On the fitness side, I’m not where I’ve been on five weeks prior to my previous three Western States (04-06). I say I’m not fit and people call me out on it. Yes, I certainly have some fitness, but I’m not race fit nor anything close to it. Here are some facts:

  • I’ve not run more than 186 miles in any month since November of 2009.
  • I ran over 18 miles once from December 2009 through January 2011 and that was in my qualifying race.
  • I’ve run 18 or more miles seven times this year, with the four longest runs being 20, 26, 32, and 33 miles.
  • From September of last year through mid-January of this year, the thought of UTMB had me in a solid, but not voluminous training routine. Then, in mid-January, I decided to make a final two week push on the book… two months later, I got back to training. Without that break, I’d be MUCH more confident about running Western States well, but, as it is, I ran a mere 114 miles in February whereas I had 65 mile weeks in my past two pre-WS Februaries.
  • Here are my monthly mileage totals for 2011. They speak for themselves. January – 166.5, February – 114, March – 167, April – 186.5, May (through the 18th) – 115.
  • As a comparison, in April 2006, I ran 376 miles. Not huge mileage for some, but still more than double this year’s April… which was my biggest month in a year and a half!

I should add that my downhill legs are NOT where they need to be. In a normal year, I’d be pounding down Park City’s mountains to toughen my quads at this point. That’s a no go with all the snow still found at low elevations.

Motivation… or Lack Thereof
One reason I can’t make too many numeric comparisons between this year’s training and my previous WS training is that I haven’t entered my training in my Excel log since January 16th… just as I starting making the final push with the book. I have all my Garmin data stored, but it never made it into my official log. This is extraordinary and, therefore, telling.

During my first 12 years of running, I only sporadically kept a log. Then, in January 2004, I started training for my first 100 miler, Western States, and started the log to track my progress. I’ve kept the log going ever since then. Occasionally, there have been short stretches when I wouldn’t record mileage in my Excel log, but this is many times longer than any previous lapse. It’s indicative of where my mind has been.

This lapse, and its significance, is echoed by the fact that I started a Western States training “series” last spring and never got past the first entry in the series.

As The Big Question section illustrates, I’ve never been fully committed to running WS this year. I see this as a huge issue. You see, I’ve been totally committed to six of my seven 100 mile attempts. That one non-committal led to my only 100 mile DNF. There are bound to be points in a 100 miler that are unpleasant at which point I, personally, need to look back over six months and see all I’ve invested in the race. That keeps me going through the rough parts… or, even better, prevents any thoughts of dropping out. After six or more months of focused work, I’m finishing a race come hell or high water. In face, out of my six 100 mile finishes, I can only think of three times I wanted to quit – for a mile or so during a prolonged bad spell early in Wasatch ’05, later that same race as I headed up from Brighton to Catherine’s Pass at mile, and from miles 25-32 (or so) in the combined snow and brutal heat of Western States ’06. That’s not bad during 600 miles of racing!

Race Results
Even with perfect training, I’d have no chance of a top 10 finish at Western States this year. The competition is way out of my league. I’m ok with that. That said, with good training I’d still lay it all out there and see what I could do. Another sub-20 hour States would have been nice. Regardless of time or place, I know when I’ve performed well.

Any thoughts of a kickass performance this year would be delusional. So, what am I left with? I’ve got no doubt that I could cover 100 miles five weeks from now. However,  I’ve run States three times. While finishing is always my primary goal at a 100, that alone isn’t enough to get my juices flowing. When I threw down my money in November, my plan was to be in great shape and be able to cruise through as a sub-24 training run. Now, I’m not sure that I could run sub-24 hours even on a perfect day. I’m not particularly fixated on a silver buckle (you can only wear one, right?), but given my experience, proficiency, and past results, I can’t see simply going out there to plow through a 25 or 26 hour 100 miler.

This is a window into my motivation.  Please, don’t take offense at it… we all have varying abilities. I go out there to see what I, personally, am capable of. Running 6 or 7 hours slower than my fastest WS (19:30), even if things went well, would not show me what I’m capable of… it would just show me that I’m not fit.

What Doesn’t Motivate Me
I am not and will likely never be A Tough Guy. I’m actually a wuss (and a WUS). I train my butt off in hopes of fending off fatigue and pain ever longer on race day. I’d rather be indestructible than the guy who can hold his feet in the coals. I say this to suggest that I see no benefit to entering a race merely to suffer. That’s some folks’ thing, but it sure as heck ain’t mine!

Opportunity Cost (Part I)
One of my biggest factors against me running WS is that I’m still psyched about UTMB and it remains my focus race. No matter what I do, I can’t be in good shape for Western States. Considering the past year and a half, I’m certain I don’t have enough time to be in absolutely top form by late August. However, I do think I can be respectably fit three months hence… if I focus on it.

Running Western States would generally mean taking a three-week taper before the race and counting on at least a two-week recovery afterward. That taper and recovery combined with another three-week taper for UTMB chew up 8 of the 14 weeks between now and UTMB! Skipping States would nearly double my effective UTMB training time from 6 to 11 weeks.

Yes, I realize that there would be many benefits to running WS (see below), but there’s also the risk that I end up hurt or exhausted for more than two weeks after WS. After previous 100s, I’ve been substantively training again as soon as inside of two weeks, but I’ve also been wiped out weeks or months later… and I can’t be sure which it’d be this time.

Know Thyself (Part I)
While my original plan had been to run WS as a training run, that was with the assumption that I’d be in solid shape where I could easily run 22 or 23 hours. Now, I honestly think I’d have to have a darn near perfect day to run sub-24. I’d have to lay it out there… and that’s the thing. I probably would lay it out there to try and break 24. It’s silly, yes. It wouldn’t be a silver buckle on my mind… it would be a 10 days, 1000 miles buckle on my mind as well as the thought of coming within the same league as my prior finishes. That effort would only increase the risk that I’d need substantially longer than two weeks to recover.

Opportunity Cost (Part II)
If I don’t race, I can cover the race live. Not only is that important for me in my roll in the ultrarunning community,  but I’m also a huge fan of the sport and this year’s Western States is sure to be one heck of a race!

Admittedly, I struggled … and failed at thinking of myself as a runner first, running-focused journalist second much more often than not over the past two years. I’m getting better, but I’ve missed a many a run to work. Witness: I ran once in six days will covering UTMB last year and I’ll miss running today writing this post. Screwed up? You betcha!

Know Thyself (Part II)
I also know that even if I choose to race WS, I’ll put journalism first. Undoubtedly, I’d work late into the night the week of the race putting together last minute analysis or editing yet another pre-race video. It’s who I’ve learned I am.

Why I Might Run

This section is much shorter… only because the first point in favor of running Western States is so weighty and yet needs so little explanation.

It’s Western Frickin’ States
That point is, it’s Western frickin’ States! It’s the big dance. The Boston of ultras. The granddaddy of 100 milers. The site of my first and most frequently run 100 miler to date and, therefore, the setting for so many wonderful memories. My uncertainty in no way undermines my love and respect for this race. That uncertainty is almost entirely due to me questioning the readiness of my own mind and body

Always Take the Lump Sum
Simply reinforcing the fact that I’ve got the opportunity to run Western States is the fact that it’s so hard to get in the race via the lottery. I know as I lost it four straight times! Who knows when I’ll get another chance. Even if I enter every year from here forward, it’s conceivable that I won’t get another chance to run this hallowed (and sentimental) race until 2016 or 2017.

Train as Train Can
Then there’s the fact that I’ve only run 100 miler (and, also, only one run longer than 50 miles) since Leadville in 2006. That didn’t hurt me when I ran Leadville in 2009, but (1) I had many a long, long day the summer of ’09 and (2) I’ve run only a handful of runs over 3 hours in the past year and a half. Running WS would be a great trial run during which I could reacquaint myself with and reinforce my fueling, hydration, gear, pace, and problem mitigation strategies before UTMB. In addition, I’d surely reexperience the lows of a 100 and be prepared for their reappearance in the Alps.

Oh yeah, and running 100 miles has to have some training benefit for running 100 miles right? At least I’d get some walking training in the Canyons.

The Next Five Weeks

Over the next five weeks, the various pros and cons of running this year’s Western States 100 will weigh heavily upon my mind. However, the pending decision will have significant intermediate effects. Here are a few.

First, the pendency of running States has me training in earnest. There’s no time like the present to get started, right? No, I’m not running megamiles, but I have ratcheted up my miles faster than I would have otherwise. The very recent melting out of the low elevation trails here in Park City is independently propelling this ramp up. I’m loving it. I’m not going nuts, but if I feel like running 8 or 9 miles three days in a row, I’ll go for it even if my recent base wouldn’t suggest I should do so.

Not only am I now running more consistently, it’s also a heck of a lot easier to motivate for long runs. To wit, I’m eager to run two ultras in the next week and a half.

On Saturday, I make my paved ultra debut with a 41-mile race here in Park City, Utah. It’s actually a relay race (five people on a team each run two of ten race segments), but the RD invited me to run the whole thing. I have no interested in pushing the effort, so I figure it will be a good, supported long run… the key emphasis on run. I strongly believe that most non-elite ultra training doesn’t involve enough continuous running. Sure. I preach about specificity of training for walking up and running down mountains when appropriate, but I don’t think there’s better training for running late in a 100 miler than a long continuous run.

Next weekend, I plan to run a 50+ mile race to be named in later. Again, I’m not looking to compete, but rather to get in another long day on my feet. I would never generically suggest that a runner put such long runs together on back-to-back weekends, but (1), even under trained, I’ve got decades of base training, (2) I won’t push the effort in either event, and (3), given that these are training runs, I will drop out if I risk prolonged injury and I not start the second race if my energy hasn’t returned.

Second, the possibility of Western States has me motivated to trim up. I’m by no means overweight. However, I am 5 to 10 pounds over racing weight. Over the past week, I’ve modified my diet in hopes of losing 5 or so of those pounds. My increased mileage will help with this, but so, too, will moderating my portion sizes and ramping up fruit and veggie consumption while slashing simple carbs and paring down my intake of certain fatty foods. That’s not to say I’m cutting fats in general. I’ve actually been eating more nuts and avocado to help sate my appetite. So far, I’m feeling great and, while I’ve just gotten my scale working again, I perceive that I am, in fact, trimming up.

The great thing about both of these first two points is that they help me prepare for UTMB whether or not I run Western States. They’re win-win moves.

One concession I’ll make to UTMB if I run Western will be to minimize my taper. For starters, it will hard for me to put myself in a significantly overtrained position in the next three or four weeks.  Yes, I’ve got the two long runs and an overall increase in mileage, but I am watching my overall fatigue levels and am still taking easy days and days off. Normally, I’d take a three-week taper for a 100 miler. Not this time. I wouldn’t plan on more than a few days tops.

Conclusion

I remain incredibly uncertain as to whether I’ll be running up out of Squaw Valley in five weeks. I’m sure I’ll keep mulling over the pros and cons. I’ll be eagerly listening to what all of you have to say. However, in the end, it’ll likely come down to how I answer one simple question – Do I, deep, down in my gut, WANT to run Western States this year? I need to be completely honest with myself in answering that question.

Eight days ago, I was convinced that I didn’t fully want to run the race. My eleventh hour decision to fulfill my volunteer requirement showed me I was uncertain of that analysis. I’ve yet to pick a point of no return. However, this absolutely cannot be a start line decision.

If I’m to run the race, I need to go all in and build up momentum. I’ll need about two weeks to scramble to make last minute plans for a pacer (Yes, I’m afraid to run trails alone in the dark. I dropped my pacer at States in ’05 and I ran scared for 15 miles.), a crew (if I want it) or drop bags in lieu of a crew, and many other things. Fortunately, I love these details and they’ll help focus my desire into a singularity – an unquestionable determination that I will run from Squaw Valley to Auburn in less than 30 hours under my own power.

If I’m not to run the race, I’ll be your faithful reporter from the Sierra Nevada the final weekend in June.

Ps. Yes, I think too much.

There are 65 comments

  1. Phil

    Bryon, from reading this I take away a couple things. 1) You don't feel like you're in shape for WS 2) You don't really sound that excited about running WS (you've already been there and done that) 3) You seem genuinely excited about UTMB. I also get the impression that because you got a slot in WS you now feel obligated to carry through despite 1)-3) above. I.e. you're standing at the altar with a beautiful bride, but you're about to drop her and run out the door. : )

    If you decide not to run WS… relax, I'm quite sure there will be another chance for you in the future, when you're more prepared, and more excited about it.

    I think you already know the answer; once you make the decision and drop the burden of agonizing over it, I think you'll feel much better.

    Whatever you decide, best of luck.

    Phil

  2. Matt

    I say run the WS100K. Drop out at Foresthill. I think that due to your undertrained state, running the full 100 miles would wipe you out for UTMB. By running a 100k, you minimize your taper and recovery time, you still get to experience WS, you aren't wasting almost $400, and you can still be a journalist if you can get a ride to the finish.

  3. Tim Casagrande

    Its paid for, the volunteer time logged, and the lottery slot filled. Treat it as a training run, and as Matt said, drop at 100k if you don't feel good. Treating it as a training run means you don't need to worry about time. A finish time of 6-7 hours slower than your PR is as much a result of taking it easy on purpose as it is a lack of fitness. That, and…It’s Western Frickin’ States.

  4. Jeffrey

    Geez man, don't run it. I say anything that causes that much stress when its supposed to be fun ceases to have any value. I mean, why are we really out here doing this? Life is hard enough, the moments precious, and very short to be stressing over the small stuff. Enjoy your running and when you don't, then stop, you'll save yourself a lot of time that would be otherwise wasted. Remember, a very long time ago now, what it used to feel like to just go to the trail and cruise for a few hours, no ulterior motives, just having fun in a beautiful place. I say get back to that place, it's where you really want to be.

  5. Chris Kilmer

    I agree with Phil, I think you already know the answer. Don't feel you have to run because you got a spot, paid the $$$ and did you volunteer stint. Your post speaks to me of a man asking himself for permission to back out. Give it.

    If you run WS and have a bad go of it at UTMB, you'll always wonder whether WS did you in. Go be a journalist at WS and focus your training on UTMB. And have fun at both :-)

  6. Doug

    Bryan, very insightful read. I'm glad to know its not just newbies like myself that think too much.

    I think Matt's approach is a good one. Do your reporting from the actual course, get some training, get your money's worth, and enjoy some long miles on dirt. Something that us Utah folks are not getting much of right now.

    On the other hand Jeffrey makes a good point about the fun factor. Perhaps this is just a touch of the FOMO?

    In any event, my perspective on trail running is perhaps a bit different than others. That is I've only gotten into racing so I'll train, and I only train so I can run farther for fun and solace. In other words my goals are sort of upside down to the norm. With that said, I'd do WS for the fun of running far. After all its irunfar, right?

    Cheers!

    BTW The book is fantastic!

  7. Rob

    In my long ultra running experience, if I'm even questioning my participation in a 100 mile race I've been better off NOT GOING. In the past I've gone into a 100 in similar situations as yourself: under trained, not 100% motivated, lure of another 100 just around the corner, etc… they have ALL not ended well! That being said, I will say that the experiences still got me in shape and I was glad I participated AFTER THE FACT. At the time it made getting through the race tough; I suffered greatly. Then again, I'm not one of those guys who does a 100 to train for another 100; really don't see the point. So if it were me and UTMB was my goal race I wouldn't be doing WS anyhow… Because I know if I were to run WS in this situation I would, despite my conditioning (mental and physical), try to race it. In this case I'd run the risk of possibly peaking too soon, injuring myself or burning out before the actual GOAL race! Yikes! Like I tell my ultrarunning friends, "Eyes on the Prize!" Focus on what the real goal is and don't be side tracked!

  8. Martha

    My .02: If you can commit to running WS as a slower-paced training run, then yes, run it. However, if you can't come to terms with a slower finish, it's probably best to skip it. If you *race* WS, then you will, as you mentioned, cost yourself valuable training time for UTMB. Those 2-3 weeks of recovery and then building back up the training miles won't be easy.

    In short, make the decision that allows you to have the best run (run/walk) possible at UTMB — and hope for no high winds and storms this year! Have fun!

    PS — Perhaps enjoy the view from mid-pack at WS and write an article about it?

  9. glenn

    There are always reasons why one doesn't think they should run a given race, and you have many good ones. I have held back from

    from participating in races in preperation for a big focus race only to get hurt just before the focus race or in the race and unable to finish. That made we wish I did the other events I opted out of. Don't plan on there being a tomorrow, take the opportunity that is in front of you now. You can think all you want, but you and I both know you are going to run WS regardless. It will be a great experiment and will serve you well later. Run right up to the race, run WS, and never look behind you. If you don't run it youy will always wonder if you should have, at least if you do it you will have your answers.

    Glenn

    1. liza

      Good point. Would you regret not running WS if something happened and you couldn't run UTMB? If not, then I'm with the folks who say run as much of the course as feels good and makes sense and do some embedded journalism.

  10. olga

    I never thought of it, but I really like Matt's proposal. Heck, you can drop at Michigan (we both know there is nothing between there and Forest Hill that is so awesome you'd go on), and it'll give you enough time to get your ass to Hwy 49 and then finish to cover front field. And – you'll get a good ol' training run, longest to date, get to be in a mix of at least "back of front" field (your fitness should allow you to hold their pace for a good measure of 30-40 miles), and you can even carry a camera and a tape recorder! Speaking about "news from the front line"!

  11. Chuck

    As you likely know, your body is capable of way more than we each give credit to it. So train when you can and try not to sweat the "low" volume.

    Good luck.

  12. Speedgoatkarl

    Dude, you just wrote a book on "a guide to running ultramarathons". Shut up, go get it done, and prove what you wrote in the book….how to get it done. Don't wuss out because you feel you are not ready. That's pretty much bullshit. I know I"m a freak, and many will not agree with what I"m saying.

    Also, if you're not in shape, why go slog 41 miles, run harder, not farther and i bet you'll whip yourself in shape pretty quick. Look at Mike Wolfe, at RR, he had a tough last 40 miles, but a few weeks later, smoked it at Way Too Cool, you too, could see that effect. Although, I should shut up, people may start referring to me as "cloud". :-) I ain't no cloud.

    We are all different, but I had 5 weeks of 50 miles a week on my legs before I ran RR in 14:27. Where did that come from? Not from fitness, but from stubbornness and the ability to have "relentless forward progress". :-) Show alot of folks how to suck it up and get it done. Then run UTMB, cuz' regardless of fitness, it's a fun run too.

    Another BBQ soon…after the deluge of course. You just need a few Red Bulls.

    1. olga

      I never plan on dropping myself, and if you know me (what you do), if I pay, I show up, if I start and not have a good race, I crawl in (although pissed off). I was giving Bryon out, since as someone pointed out, the post seem to imply it. My take? You knew you are in once you paid last December, high snow is not an excuse, neither is book writing. Pretty much mothing is once I sign up for a race. As you (Karl) say, if time/distance is not an option, go for quality. I did this whole year. it worked out ok (although the 100M jury is still open for 2 more weeks on that plan of training for me). I ain't droping though, and I am starting:) If anybody ever talks about busy, even if I don't bring myself up, I simply point at AJW. Or Rod Bien. Or about 3 dozen other people. Plan and organize. Excuses are for weak and soft Americans, ultrarunners ain't it:)

  13. Lar

    I'm one of those "4-time lottery losers" if you incluce the '08 cancellation. Never ran it. Paced in '07 from FH to the finish. Went out last year with Olga and camped in the Sierras and we ran all over Desolation Wilderness, amongst other places. Went up to Emmigrant twice (once for the flag ceremony and on race morning to watch everyone make it into the backcountry). Was at the Finish line to see both Geoff and Tony cast shadows on the track–that was insane.

    I'm certain for someone who has ran it multiple times it must be a different decision process, although you've detailed it out. If someone told me right now that I'm in for Squaw next month, I'd leave work right now and pop off a long run and then do two-a-days up until taper. I can't imagine having access to the trails you do for training. Plus, it's a day drive to the start… Book is done, time to celebrate! But, of course, I'm biased.

    -4xL

    1. olga

      I think what Larry is trying to say along with a handful of others, your spot might have been theirs. You can't give it back. We can't make decisions for you. You shouldn't listen to us. But we are allowed to have feelings:)

      1. Larry

        Nope, that's not what I was saying. Taking a "spot" didn't even cross my mind. I'm just tired of looking at all your WS buckles and am Jonsing to get my own, preferable the silver variety. :)

  14. Andy

    I like the laid back, 100k idea, which affords you the opportunity for a good training run, the experience of WS, and the opportunity to be both runner and journalist. This, of course, would require that you are able to apply some moderation, not something either ultrarunners or "recovering" attorneys are known for! The good thing about getting all this feedback is that it does force you to see your own sentiments more clearly as reflected back from others: Don't run the full WS, enjoy whatever you do decide to do with it, and prep and enjoy UTMB to the fullest. It is, after all, U-frickin'-TMB.

  15. Pablo

    Run both. Figure out the way to run WS in a WISE way, make that your challenge, not time.

    And, as another challenge, figure out how to run it AND cover it. Again, that's your challenge this time, not the time.

    You need to run AND cover WS, AND run UTMB to be truly, fully, happy. I think.

    Go for it, wisely.

    Pablo

  16. Ken

    Whenever I am in doubt on something like this, I always just go ahead and do it. The key to life is showing up, and you rarely regret it. As others have posted, you can always drop, so it's not the end of the world if race day doesn't go well. As you well know, the body is capable of amazing things, and we overthink tapering and mileage and all that crap anyway. Just go and have fun.

    On a related note, many folks have gone back and run races slower than than their PR's or "fast times" and experienced a completely different race. You might enjoy hanging out at the "back of the pack" and experiencing WS in a different way. For more on this check out Scott Dunlap's blog post about his 2010 Boston/Big Sur marathons. He got hurt a week before the races, but ran anyway and had a great time. He seemed happy to experience the race at a more relaxed pace. Granted, a marathon is not a 100 miler, but the theme is the same.

    There is a lot more to life than finish times…

  17. Mike Place

    As a guy who regularly finishes at the back of the pack, I think you should do it. Why should the challenge of pushing through a race in 24+ hours be less valuable than the challenge of running a fast race? If nothing else, maybe you'll get a reminder of what it's like mid-pack or further back and you can take what you've learned and apply it to your future coaching clients and your future writing.

  18. Jim Blanchard

    Bryan, great read. For what it's worth, here's my thoughts. At some point during a 100 I'm going to ask myself "what the hell am I doing here". I'd better have a good answer or else I'm going to drop at the next AS. Whether it's a personal goal, a first time buckle, to get a monkey off my back, something. I've run a few because I ran the year before andthought it would be fun to do it again, wrong. I'm not mentally tough enough to just bull through 100 miles for chuckles. I don't know how I'd feel about starting and planning on dropping out. Maybe if it was a local run and not WS. Good luck jimb

  19. Sean Cunniff

    I think you should run. Lottery spots are precious at Western, and scores of dedicated runners are chomping at the bit to gain entry. Gaining entry is a great luxury and should not be squandered, especially for a race that does not maintain a waiting list. For those of us who have bad lottery fortunes, it is slightly dispiriting to see fellow runners occupy lottery spots with only lukewarm interest in the race.

    Next time just forfeit your spot.

    1. Bryon Powell

      While it's true that if I don't run this year, I've squandered a spot… but only temporarily. With the way that slots are determined (five year moving average of starters, I believe), one less starter this year means an extra runner in future years.

      1. olga

        That extra runner next year may not have means to train next year, or apply, or pay, or get there. God forbid, one runner can get ill or seriously injured. We all may not have another year, period. Gotta live today. Gotta plan too, but still live today:)

  20. Jeff

    This is the summer you left a lucrative career for. You finished an excellent book and you get to cover and run WS and UTMB. Your'e living your dream. Enjoy both races.

  21. Dave Mount

    This is a great example of how to be truly honest with yourself about how ready for a race your are. I've fudged it a few times and regretted it. I'm returning to running after an injury and it's very important now that I be brutally honest with myself about what I'm ready. I've already overdone it a few times and reinjured myself. So I'm going to keep this post in the back of my mind.

    Thanks also for speaking up for the "wimpy ultrarunnners." I'm always amused at how many of us are really only tough within the very small arena of ultrarunning. Outside of that, we like comfort and safety just as much as anyone. Maybe that's the appeal for a lot of us ordinary runners: it's a place where we can be tough and macho, but when the race or the long training run is over, we go back to being our ordinary wimpy selves.

    I'm sure you'll make the right decision when the time comes.

  22. Alex from New Haven

    I'm sorry this has you tied up in knots. I've been there, and every time I have it has been the case that I don't really want to do the thing. So change the "thing" for gods-sake. WS is not sacrosanct.

    There is no reason to toe the line at WS unless you can make it fun. You need to simplify things down to 'do I want to?' 'is this fun?'. Because you're a journalist I like the idea of being an "embedded reporter". Bring a video camera, still camera whatever. Start off medium fast but then pause a few minutes here or there to watch people go by, run with some random people on easy stretches and get their stories. Soak in the river before Devil's Thumb and then hike up easy. Watch people thrive and struggle including yourself. Cruise into MB and if it's fun keep going to FH. If you see someone walking, walk with them for the experience and to support them. Walk up to the meds at FH with no injuries, a smile on your face and say "I had fun, I'm done now" and actually mean it. Then scoot to 49 or the finish to cover the track meet.

    I'll be grunting up to DT between 3 and 4, I'll look for you. Simplify man,

    Alex

  23. Ben Nephew

    You are undertrained and have had some injuries in the past. That could be a recipe for disaster. Even the best case scenario would have a negative impact on UTMB. Cover WS for the site, and find a couple of other shorter races without as much downhill so you don't have DOMS for 3 months.

    Even though my training has been going well, I sacrificed one of my favorite races to be more rested for a 50 miler the following weekend. My legs were very happy about that decision.

    As for the downhill running, you can run downhill on snowshoes, hard enough so that it hurts.

  24. Loomdog

    Do it!!!!!! Go enjoy the mtns, the people, the course, the history, the canyons, the cougars, and most importantly your ability to complete 100 miles.

  25. Phil

    As a previous overseas runner (WS'07) I know how special this race is and as much as I would love to avail of your wonderful journalistic coverage here in Australia I say go for it. Run it smartly with your eye on UTMB as the goal race.

    And please don't ever enter to DNF, that's just wrong imo.

    All the best whichever way you decide Bryon.

  26. Charlie

    Bryon,

    I don't get why you need a 3 week taper before a training run. Surely 1 week would be plenty, or even just a lower volume week, that way you are not losing as much training time for UTMB as you think.

    I think you already made the decision to run when you sent in the entry fee. Just do it, you will be happy you did afterwards.

  27. Laura

    I joke about being 28 but with old lady knees who trains more like a master's runner, and yet its always the "old ladies" that dictate how every training run and race end up, regardless of what my mind wants.

    There is always an unknown element to running such distances. Even with flawless, confident training there is the possibility that something does not go right during the race. Sometimes that means you end up running a little slower, or maybe the time isn't so bad but it feels awful, or maybe it means a DNF is the safer choice. Conversely, sometimes lousy training fades away once the gun goes off, and you may not win the race but you perform much better than expected.

    The point is, you never know and can never predict. Experience definitely helps your chances, but that doesn't preclude the unknown. Even if you plan well there's Murphy's Law lurching behind the next boulder. Rocky Raccoon had Sharman with more marathon speed training pulling out all the stops for 100 miles while Jurek ended up with something like a 60 mile training run. Sometimes its for obvious reasons and you come away with a big learning experience for the next race. Sometimes its for reasons you can't figure out. So it goes, and you can still have a good experience even if the outcome is different than expected.

    My vote is thus to go for both, and to let your body (rather than a brain full of over-analysis) dictate how things end up. And I like others' advice of running with a camera and leaving open the possibility of a different (more relaxed) type of race mentality.

  28. Ryan

    Wow. This seems almost as whiney as the elite ultrarunners when they complain about not getting paid for RUNNING. I'll leave that for another time, but come on, man. You run a website called "irunfar," and yet you don't and apparently don't even have the motivation to do so. I appreciate your candor on this topic, but this is a topic that maybe should have stayed between you and your friends and not people who might buy your book.

    You're taking spots at races that other people would love to have. You haven't even trained for your goal race so why are you going to waste this spot at WS? (You're right about the moving average and helping people in the future if you don't start.)

    1. Bryon Powell

      If my candor about it being a difficult decision whether or not to start a particular race results in someone not wanting to buy my book, then so be it. The decision whether or not run a given ultra remains after you sign up. You still have to be honest with yourself about your physical and mental readiness. I think that's an important lesson.

      As for motivation to train, I had a great amount (added: for my then fitness level) through November, December, and early January. While not going super long, I was running some tough miles. In the end, that came to a stop so I could finish the book.

      As for your point, "You run a website called 'irunfar,' and yet you don’t and apparently don’t even have the motivation to do so." Aside from my considerable running history (30+ ultras and 6 100s), I just ran a 41 mile training run on the roads by myself yesterday, am likely to run a 50 miler next weekend, and at least one 100 miler this summer. In the past year and a half, I've had two significant training lulls due to a major injury and, later, work commitments. I envy you if you can't relate to either of those.

      1. Ryan

        Thank you for taking the time to reply (graciously). I've thought more about this, and I think I was annoyed because you have this awesome opportunity to run these two huge races, and you were waffling. I personally hate doing a race I feel unprepared for, but if it was something like WS that I couldn't just sign up for the next year then I would definitely give it a shot.

        I honestly wish you great success with both races.

    2. Gina

      Using the name of the website to take a shot at its founder is simplistic and sad. Aside from the intended insult, it greatly misses the point of what I've experienced iRunFar to be. Wether or not Bryon runs "far" is not the point. As I see it, that lower case "i" doesn't indicate this is a site solely about Bryon's running. It's about ultra runners, ultra training, the races, a passion for the sport, and the ultra community as a whole. A discussion about training volume, injury/recovery, self evaluation, and revising race goals is fitting and valuable.

      I also admire that the author of an ultrarunning book is real enough to say in public that he has limits and doubts, that life sometimes gets in the way of training, and that running isn't his only priority. I'm glad he's shared about it here and didn't limit the discussion to friends.

  29. grae

    Dude, run your two 50's and see how they pan out. That's solid enough training for States. Make the commitment either way and see it through 100%. You can't expect to run a great time for yourself this year with 30 miles of snow. Everybody is going to be slower. If anybody can touch 15 hours this year, they are super human. This is not a problem, you just need to commit. It's all in the head.

    I've got real issues, like should I take a chance and wear my Bondi's in the snow? :)

  30. Go Longer

    Ideally trained folks DNF regularly at 100's and less than ideally trained folks regularly, via smart pacing, fueling, and hydration strategies, finish 100's. Your book says ultras are about "relentless forward progress," and makes no mention of ideal circumstances. So you feel your circumstances are less than ideal. Only rarely are we affored that ideal" going into a race.

    You have a spot that is coveted. You are not risking permanent injury by going for it.

    Go for it. Just run. Surprise yourself. Risk. If suffering is needed to finish, then suffer a bit. Finish.

  31. paulb

    I just finished reading your book on my Kindle app and It I just planned a few runs much more carefully. The logistics of some of these events are tricky. Good luck with that knee.

  32. Will T,

    I got your new book and instantly went to chapter 6. I found "Training plan for a 100 Miler Race on 70 Miles per Week" and "Training plan for a 100 Miler Race on 50 Miles per Week". I searched the book from cover to cover, but couldn't find "Training Plan for 100 Miler on 15 Miles per Week". Now I'm screwed. lol That's the whole reason I bought the book. I was looking for that magic secret. No work, big payday!

    So here is my advice, go out there and crush a sub 20 hour WS, then write me a chapter on how to train for a 100 Miler on 15 Miles per Week. lol

    In all seriousness, could luck with the decision to/not to run. That's a tough one.

    P.S. The book is filled with a plethora of great advice on training for 100 Milers.

  33. Jenny Handy

    Speaking as someone who is a back of the packer (you could probably walk backwards on your hands faster than I run), I don't think there is any shame in not coming in top 10. Run to have fun. Enjoy the experience. Do some midrun interviews with slow folks. Don't get wrapped up in the pressure. Just enjoy it and then focus on UTMB. Good luck!

    Jenny

  34. Thomas

    AT100 is no WS100, but awhile back I read a race report about this middle aged man who was reluctant to run the AT100 because of an injury he was recovering from which caused his training mileage to be significantly lower (~50 mpw with few long runs) compared to his usual mileage going into a 100 mile race. It turned out to be the best race of his career and a PB.

    Thanks for laying your inner thoughts out there for all to support or slam! That took courage.

    I know you are tough because of you past accomplishments we have all witnessed.

    I know you are determined based on the obstacles you’ve overcome to finish previous races.

    Maybe there is something else going on in your life that is causing you to question your ability! Most of us have been there, but I have no doubt you can do this in epic style (regardless of your training volume). No, you’re not going to win the race, but you already knew this. But you can make this a personal challenge to complete both of these incredible races and survive to write about it someday given the hand you’re dealt.

    You know what needs to be done. Stop thinking and go do this. No training run, and never a planned DNF. Don’t give yourself an out or your mind will be weak when you need courage, toughness, and determination 70 miles into it. If you toe the line, you finish it, period.

    Only you can decide this for the obvious reasons.

  35. Henry Bickerstaff

    If your lack of motivation is mental, then I would say don't run. You will not enjoy yourself and it will be difficult to complete.

    If your lack of motivation is physical, then I would say run. You know how much it will hurt and you certainly can push through that if, mentally you want to finish.

    Henry Bickerstaff

    Alva, OK

  36. Anonymous

    Bryon,

    You'll always be a WUS. And no one is going to think you're a wuss if you opt not to run WS.

    Of course, if you don't run WS and UTMB gets mysteriously canceled again mid-race, that would be a big bummer.

    It's only life, and none of us are getting out alive – as Tommy C likes to say.

    @ultrarunnergirl/Kir

  37. Eric Sherman

    "Now, I’m not sure that I could run sub-24 hours even on a perfect day. I’m not particularly fixated on a silver buckle (you can only wear one, right?), but given my experience, proficiency, and past results, I can’t see simply going out there to plow through a 25 or 26 hour 100 miler."

    You know, some day father time will make you rethink this comment :)

    1. Bryon Powell

      Without a doubt… hopefully, when I'm 60 or something like that. ;-) … but, yes, that last clause would read more accurately as "I can’t see simply going out there at this point in my life to plow through a 25 or 26 hour 100 miler on this course." I'd be thrilled with a sub-30 hour UTMB finish.

      1. Eric Sherman

        I hear you on that. But seriously, you sound stoked for the UTMB and I'd focus your energy where your excitement is. Good luck!

  38. Lon

    I agree with Glenn's comments. You knew when you picked up the trail work form and headed out the door to do the 8 hours. You got out the door at the 11th hour, you're motivated. You can waffle back and forth all you want, but it sounds like if you're even posing the question, then you've already decided. Otherwise, the title would have been "Why I'm not running WS"

    Don't taper, just go spend a long day in the woods with a few hundred others. You'll have fun and learn more about yourself than you would have by covering the race. You'll greatly regret it if UTMB is called off because of rain/weather/smoke filled canyons/25 feet snow drifts. :)

    You never know what tomorrow holds in store, take advantage of what you can do today.

  39. susan bush

    Good for you for being human and having mixed feelings. And sharing them. (Thank you!) Kudos. Now as to your decision…you are the only one who gets to make it. Enjoy. And be ok with your decision. One question: What is your astrological sign? I'm thinking Virgo. We are all about being perfectionists–and we are not ok when we aren't! :)

  40. Ultra Bob

    At the moment I write this, you only have 10 miles to go. That's nothing. Hopefully you'll finish before midnight, an incredible time.

    So much for your indecision. I have a rule which actually came up when I couldn't decide to do my first ultra, a 100K. I couldn't come to a conclusion, going back and forth. Finally, tired of the inner controversy, I entered. All the mental conflict vanished. I must have wanted to do the race the whole time. Same with you?

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