Just three days ago there was a clear favorite in the men’s field at the 2012 Western States 100. However, with Kilian Jornet withdrawing due to the tragic death of Stéphane Brosse while the pair traversed Mont Blanc last weekend, the field again appears wide open. Leading the list of remaining favorites are the second through fourth place finishers from last year’s WS100: Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, and Jez Bragg, respectively. Hear what these gents (and Wolfe) have to say heading into the race.
[For more, check out our full men’s field preview and stop back at iRunFar tomorrow for more pre-race interviews.]
iRF: Last year, you were balancing ultrarunning with your legal career and still finished second at Western States and won the TNF EC 50 Mile. In late April, you left your job as an attorney to focus on running full time. What do you think the primary benefits of that change are heading into this year’s Western States?
Mike Wolfe: Honestly, ditching the legal career back in late April hasn’t entirely caught up to me yet. What I mean is that I was insanely busy in late April/early May finishing up work, packing/moving back to Missoula, then blasting off to Spain for Transvulcania/Zegama. Since returning, I have had a few weeks to focus on my last bit of training, which has been very nice. But, I feel like the bulk of training for a race like this comes in the months leading up, not necessarily the last few weeks, so quitting my job really hasn’t affected how I’ve trained for WS this year. I did get in a really solid block of training since returning from Spain, so that is great. If anything, less stress and more sleep is how I’ve benefited from not working the past few weeks. The one thing I seriously lack is heat training… been cold and snowing in MT!
iRF: Are you making any changes to last year’s successful game plan heading into this year’s race?
Wolfe: No real changes. Overall, I’ve had a higher volume of training this spring than last year. We’ll see if that pays off. However, I raced terribly in Spain, so that may have been an indicator of being over trained? Only real change for me this year is that I am going “freestyle.” No pacer. I want to go at this fight alone, see if I am up for it.
iRF: This year’s course will be slower and more mountainous than last year’s. You are drawn to and excel in the mountains, but so do many others in this race. Does any top-five contender particularly benefit or suffer from the return to the standard course?
Wolfe: I think most of the top contenders benefit from the change: obviously Kilian would have (Super sad about what just happened to his partner Brosse, and I know I will miss Kilian’s presence at WS this year.). Ryan Sandes is all-around strong, as far as I have seen. Nick Clark, Dave Mackey, Jez Bragg, Timmy Olsen, etc, etc, all run strong in the hills. And, this “more mountainous” course is all relative, it may be a bit slower than the last couple years, but it will still feel pretty fast, especially in the second half.
Nick Clark: Not downtrodden, just a little unsure maybe. The whole Spain trip in conjunction with other life responsibilities left me a bit short on miles in May. For training purposes I think I would have been better off running a 50-miler in the States rather than Zegama, especially with regards to confidence, but I’ll be fine. I have benchmarks from recent training runs and time trials telling me that I’m at least fit enough to give a fast run a go at Western States, even if the endurance factor is a bit of a question mark for me right now. Maybe the easier May means I’ll have a little more pop in my legs at mile 80?
iRF: On the other hand, you recently jumped into a minor 15-mile trail race and surprised yourself enough to reconsider some previous doubts. How can you (and others) use a strong performance at a non-focus event or distance to brace their psyche before a big race?
Clark: Finishing 38th at Zegama certainly didn’t help in the confidence game, but I just have to keep reminding myself of the difference between that race and Western States: two totally different fitness requirements. Pilot Hill[, the recent 15 miler,] is a great race and I always enjoy running events put on by the High Plains Harriers up in Laramie. I ran faster this year than I did in 2010, which again is sign enough for me that my aerobic fitness is just fine heading into WS. Like everyone, I use build-up races as indicators of potential performance and then develop a realistic plan from there. 100 milers are a bit different from, say, a marathon where there won’t be a whole lot of relative difference between a half marathon tune up three weeks out from a goal marathon and your actual performance in the marathon. It’s very predictable. In 100 milers, confidence and mental fortitude are key factors for success. You gather it where you can in order to toe the start line in a state of unwavering self-belief, then go from there.
iRF: What’s your Colorado Top 5 (in order, if possible) for States?
Clark: Bowman, Burch, Clark, Mackey, Tiernan (A-Z), with Hinterberg as my alternate. Here’s another prediction, in a cross country scoring format – with five scoring runners – Colorado wins the boy’s team competition.
iRF Bonus Question: You’re the reigning top-bearded-runner at States. Who’s got the best chance of taking that crown from you?
Clark: Timmy Olson without a doubt, but last time I saw Zeke [Tiernan], he had a pretty good sailor beard going on. Not sure of the current chin gristle status on ZT though. Outside of those two, I’m in the dark on beard stylings for this year’s field. I do, however, predict that there will be fewer beards in the top 5 than in 2010.
iRF: You live in England, which is “enjoying” a prolonged spring. Are you doing anything in particular to prepare for heat? Do you have any strategies you intend to employ on race day should it be a scorcher?
Jez Bragg: To be honest I’m not doing too much by way of heat training. You’re right in saying its been a pretty disappointing ‘summer’ so far in the UK, loads of wind and rain, but we’re a pretty adaptable bunch so I will just deal with it! I’m not really into running around in loads of layers, or training in a hot room, or anything like that. My approach will be the same as previous years, to ‘manage’ by body temperature during the race, ice under the cap, dousing myself down, keeping my top wet, a careful electrolyte replacement strategy, etc, etc.
iRF: You’ve had a good run at the Fellsman, but from afar it’s hard to tell where you stand after an injury and a wrong turn at the TNF 100-Australia. How would you rank your fitness compared to when you headed into your third and fourth place finishes?
Bragg: I haven’t raced a great deal this year, a few niggles at the start of the year meant I had to take my time building up fitness, but I’m pretty pleased with where I’ve got to now. It’s hard to say where I am against previous years, but certainly no slower! TNF 100 Australia was obviously a huge disappointment but I was pleased that I stuck at it to get a good long run in for Western States and my splits, on average, we’re only second to Ryan’s. So I’ve taken confidence from that, and I’m now properly tapered for the first time this year, so it will be interesting to see how it goes. I certainly feel strong and very excited about States this year. I intend on having some fun out there.
iRF: You’re now working with a “sports mindset coach.” What’s been your most important take away from that interaction?
Bragg: What I’ve learnt first and foremost is how powerful the mind can be when it comes to running ultras. I think we all know that already, but it’s fascinating when you really start drilling down into the detail and working on techniques to specifically develop that aspect of my race. Visualisation has been a really useful thing to work on. I’ve always liked knowing a course in full before racing it, but its great to take it on to another level.
Call for Comments
- Will past success predict success at this year’s Western States?
- How will each of these returnees fare?