As good as the Americans racing this year’s Western States 100 are, they’ll face an equally competent phallanx of fleet footed foreign foes. Despite each only having run Western States once, the following five foreigners* – Kilian Jornet, Nick Clark, Jez Bragg, Ian Sharman, and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki – have racked up a second, two thirds, a fourth, and an eighth place finish at Western States. How will they fare this year? No one can know, but these runners are surely on the minds of the other top competitors, such as Geoff Roes, Hal Koerner, and Dave Mackey, who we also interviewed.
* Note: Ian Sharman and Nick Clark are both British nationals living in the US.
Kilian Jornet: I’m very excited to return to the WS100. Last year was a amazing experience for me, to run with Anton and Geoff, who are incredible. They are very strong and I learned a lot of them.
iRF: Last year, you had difficulty with the heat and hydration. How much faster do you think you could have run at last year’s race if you had been prepared for the both? Will you do anything different to deal with both this year?
Jornet: I don’t like thinking about past if you change something… I think it is important to learn and search for the positive in all situations, and to get better is important in a loss.
For this year, I changed my preparation a lot. I ran more in heat conditions (in Greece) and I didn’t run the Pyrenees. ;-) Also for the hydration, after WS last year, I tried to run with more water, with mineral salts… and it went well at the Diagonale des Fous. This year, I will try to run with bottles and drink more.
iRF: A few weeks before last year’s race you ran 850k (528 miles) across the Pyrenees as part of Kilian’s Quest. Do you think you will have more energy for this year’s Western States since you won’t have had such a long and difficult adventure so close to the race?
Jornet: Maybe, but it is impossible to know where I would have finished, if I didn’t run the Pyrenees. It is impossible to change the future! And I’m very happy to run the Pyrenees. It was the most amazing and emotional run I’ve ever run.
iRF: You had another spectacular ski mountaineering season, but did not run at all until May. How has your transition to running gone over the past month? How do you feel your running fitness compares to your fitness at this time last year?
Jornet: The transition this year was easy. I run TNF Australia 100k just one week after skimountaineering season and I felt very good in the race and in the recovery. After that, I ran short races – a Vertical Kilometer and Zegama – to go fast.
Compared last year? In winter, I got a little bit better. This skimo season was my best season ever and, now, in summer, I feel good.
iRunFar: Your fourth place finish at last year’s Western States may have been the surprise performance of the race. Since then you’ve won the Wasatch 100 mile and placed third at the American River 50 mile. How have you raised yourself to this new level?
Nick Clark: Probably a bigger result for me was my Jemez 50 mile run a couple of weeks ago. Running that 20 minutes faster than last year and a touch quicker than Kyle Skaggs in ’08 was a real confidence boost. [Editor’s note: Kyle Skaggs crushed the Hardrock 100 mile course record later that season.] I knew I was in good shape going in, so was thankful to get the confirmation in hours, minutes and seconds. Anyway, to answer your question on how I got there, it really is nothing more than consistency. I’ve had an unbroken three-year spell of injury-free running where I’ve been able to ramp my mileage gradually to the level I’m at right now. As a consequence, I feel like I’m in really good 100-mile shape. But then I haven’t raced the distance since Wasatch last year, so we’ll see.
iRF: Do you think you’re in better shape for Western States this year? If so, how?
Clark: Undoubtedly. I’ve got better raw speed, better endurance, more confidence and another year of experience under my belt. I have a very good feel for what my body can and cannot sustain for long periods of running, which is allowing me to close out long races in a convincingly strong fashion.
iRF: You particularly excel at mountain races from the Pikes Peak Marathon (4th last year) and Wasatch, but also have speed as you showed at American River. How do you think your skills will play out during Western States?
Clark: I was pretty conservative on the downs last year through the canyons – partly by design and partly because I was running behind guys who were running even more conservatively than me – so I know I can pick up time there versus last year. But overall, I think that right now I am just faster and more comfortable at a higher tempo for longer periods. If I have a similar run to last year, where I had no major issues, then I’m hoping I can go a good bit faster (route and conditions dependent, of course).
iRF: This spring, you’ve been running more miles than ever before. What was the reason behind this move and how does it have you feeling?
Clark: Just to feel like I was doing something extra to improve. It’s not just increased mileage, it’s also increased vertical and more focused speedwork. I’ve really tried to up my game in all departments. I feel strong, full of confidence and ready to go, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.
Jez Bragg: I’d like to think I’ve made decent progress since then. I was pleased with my third place in 2009, but it was far from a perfect race for me, and that’s the real reason I’m back here, to put in the stronger performance which I know I’m capable of. My training build up wasn’t great in 2009 due to injury and I suffered a nasty stomach bug 10 days before the race which was far from ideal. I was also probably racing too much around that time. When I look back at my schedule for 2009, I can’t quite believe how I did it. I’ve made changes this year.
iRF: You won UTMB last August. Does that give you a big confidence boost in running for the win at a race as competitive as Western States.
Bragg: The UTMB win was sweet, but there were many top guys missing. I’ll take it, and I’m proud of that result, but there’s going to be more competition at both Western States and UTMB this year, so it’s all about looking forward to these two races. It is, however, nice to know that I do have the ability to win the big international races if I get it right on the day.
iRF: As a WS100 veteran, will you do anything different in preparing for or running this year’s race?
Bragg: The approach I’ve taken to training and racing has changed a lot over the last 12 months. My strong run in UTMB last year, straight back from serious injury, taught me that to bring out the best in myself in the big ones requires a lengthy focused build up, avoiding racing too much beforehand. That’s how I’ve approached Western States this year. I’ve raced a couple of times this spring, but without tapering too much and very much using them as long runs for Western States. My nutrition wasn’t great last time round, so I’ll be making adjustments to sort that. It’s also no secret that route knowledge and race experience are key for Western States which is no doubt part of the reason why the US runners have always (I think) won Western States, but I suspect the Euros and other international runners will be there or thereabouts this year. It’s going to be interesting.
iRF: You seem to be running well this year, with a personal best at the Highland Fling 53 mile race, a race you’ve run five times. How has your training gone and how do you feel about your fitness?
Bragg: I’ve run a couple of UK races as part of my build up for Western States and run personal bests in both. More recently I got a course record at the Fellsman race (see blog write up for more) which was a promising sign. I’m excited to see where my preparations will put me, but I’m pretty confident I’m fitter than ever. We shall see. We all know 100 miles is a long way and a lot can happen….
iRunFar: In February, you ran the fastest trail 100 mile time ever on American soil with a 12:44:33 at Rocky Raccoon. In the process you beat Anton Krupicka, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and Scott Jurek, who dropped. That’s got to give you some confidence going into this year’s Western States. How are you feeling physically and mentally?
Ian Sharman: Not 100% at Comrades two weeks ago, but pretty good now after some positive training sessions. I’m excited about it, which is very important for finding the motivation to dig deep during the race and think I’ve learned a lot of lessons from last year’s race, which should make it go more smoothly this time and allow me to race it instead of mainly focusing on finishing.
It’s always a boost to have a strong race, but RR100 is so different that not many lessons are directly translatable to the mountains, snow and, then, heat, too. I’m sure I can improve on last year’s WS, but I think Kilian, Geoff and Nick C are the men to beat and anyone who finishes ahead of any of them will have had a great race.
iRF: Given your great foot speed and strength on the flats, would you mind a flatter alternate snow route this year?
Sharman: I live at sea level and don’t train on mountains as much as many of the other guys so anything lower and with less climbing will suit me. But I do love technical sections and downhills so there’s plenty of that to enjoy no matter what course is chosen. This year’s got so many unknown factors surrounding the weather and the course, so I’m sure it’ll make it even more interesting for anyone following the race. Whatever happens there’s going to be several fascinating battles going on within the top 10-20 positions.
iRF: Aside from your place, you ran one of the most incredible races at Western States last year. You went from 31st place 6 hours in to finishing eighth. Was this your plan all along?
Sharman: My plan was to run it fairly evenly since the second half is definitely faster terrain. Didn’t quite work as I had some hydration issues to slow me down when I’d hoped to speed up but I think most people, and men are particularly prone to this, tend to go off too fast in an ultra. I find it’s more fun to pace evenly as well as giving me a better overall time so I’m unlikely to be anywhere near the lead pack early on, if at all, which takes the pressure off, too. Besides, it starts off on an evil climb so the mountain goats can fly up that while I do my own thing. I’m still new to 100s and need a few more years of mountain races to get to where I’d like to be, but hopefully it’ll go well and I won’t mutter ‘never again’ on the finish line like I did last June.
iRF: After its success last year, will you employ a similarly conservative strategy this year?
Sharman: I won’t take it as easy as last time since that was my longest hardest run to that point and I wanted to make sure I didn’t DNF. But your position at halfway doesn’t matter, just where you finish, so I don’t mind where I am earlier on anyway. I tend to ignore other people’s tactics since all I can do is run my race. Whenever I don’t listen to this advice it usually doesn’t go well for me.
iRunFar: You had an amazing 2009 in which you placed second at Western States, third at UTMB, and fourth at The North Face Endurance Challenge. What are some of your top performances in 2010 and 2011?
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki: I finished first at The North Face 100 2010 Beijing International Endurance Challenge in 2010 and third at the same race in 2011.
iRF: How has your training gone in 2011?
Kaburaki: I stressed the reinforcement of stamina this year. Due to a lot of tough races and hectic schedule in 2009, I injured my leg at the end of the year.Then I also started to swim and bike.
iRF: In 2009, you set the masters (over 40 years old) record for the Western States 100. Do you feel you are ready to run as fast as you did in 2009?
Kaburaki: In 2009, that was my first challenge for WS100. Under that circumstances, it’s my honor of getting the record of 40’s. Now that I know the course well, I’m sure I can achieve a good result.
Call for Comments
How do you think these competitors will fair at Western States this year?