In the past few years the level of competition has exploded at the Western States 100. That makes it all the more impressive that the three men inteviewed below each have three or more top-ten WS100 finishes to their name. In these interviews, we learn that neither Nick Clark nor Ian Sharman plan to hold anything back at States in light of running the Grand Slam. We also hear Dave Mackey’s winner prediction!
[For more on the top men in this year’s Western States, check out our full men’s preview, as well as interviews with Timothy Olson, Hal Koerner, and Mike Morton as well as Dylan Bowman, Cameron Clayton, and Karl Meltzer.]
iRunFar: When I look at the training logs you’ve posted to your blog, the numbers and content of your training seem almost idyllic as preparations for a mountain 100 miler. You’re putting up high volume, high quality, lots of vertical, and you’re staying in what seems like a great emotional place about it all. Is that how your training cycle has felt to you, too? Are you feeling confident and physically strong?
Clark: Training has been going well. As you rightly point out, vertical, volume, consistency, and quality (with lots of easy jogging mixed in) are pretty much the keys to my training philosophy. It’s no secret that you need to run lots of miles to prepare to run lots of miles, so I run lots of miles. It’s also no secret that, if you’re running a race with a good amount of vertical gain and descent, you need to train with the same, and so I do, logging a lot of my easy recovery miles as gentle saunters up Horsetooth Mountain, my backyard training hill.
And, finally, if you’re training to race, then you also need to be as sharp and comfortable as you can be at an up-tempo effort, so I mix in a good amount of old-fashioned speedwork, both at the track (or equivalent) and in the form of a weekly, five-to-ten-mile, hilly tempo effort. You put all those pieces together with weekly back-to-back long runs over the course of a three-to-four-month training block, and before you know it, you’re fighting fit and ready to race. Last year, I think I got started a little too early with my training so I came into the race a little tired, but this year I’m feeling like the timing has been just about right. So, yes, I’m feeling good about my chances right now.
iRunFar: You’re one of several fast guys running the Grand Slam this year, so this is just the first of four 100-mile sufferfests. Will you be tempering your efforts at the WS100 in light of those other races? Or, will you rely on miraculous recovery afterward?
Clark: The Grand Slam will be fun this year. I’m signed up for all four races alongside my good friends Ian Sharman and Nick Pedatella, both of whom are exceptional 100 milers and know a thing or two about stacking races close together. I’m excited to share the ride with them and also the other 30 or so runners on the same mission this summer. My training has definitely been geared toward Western States, and I intend to race it with 100-percent effort, no holding back.
We’ll see how things feel the Monday after the race and devise a plan for the Vermont 100 from there, and so on down the chain until I find myself on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail ready for one last, grinding 100-mile effort. I have a shelf in the larder full of Ultragen and Optygen HP, the best recovery products in the business, and we’ll be stocking up on high-protein foodstuffs this summer, too. In combination with lots of rest and sleep, I’m hopeful that a quality diet during the recovery phases will help immensely in getting me ready for each race.
iRunFar: So, I’ve got to say, I’ve learned a lot in watching you race over the years. Probably what impresses me most about you is how you can do so much with yourself even when you’re not feeling good, via either a resurrection or just grinding through. I know this is a quality (Can we call is a quality?) of most ultrarunners to some degree, but your ability is far, far evolved. Where does this come from? Can you trace its origins a younger you? Is it just honed after many painful races?
Clark: Yeah, I’m a grinder alright. I may not be the fastest guy on the course at any given 100 miler, but I typically find a way to push through. I seem to have a pretty efficient body when it comes to burning fat for fuel, mainly due to the fact that I rarely eat on training runs regardless of distance, so in those late stages of a 100-mile race, I always seem to find a way to get through on fumes.
My formative years playing back-to-back games of rugby on any given Saturday and Sunday probably has something to do with it, too. You take a whooping on Saturday, then get up early on Sunday morning bruised and sore and get back out there to do it again. Repeat that cycle enough times and your body quickly adapts to working hard under duress, which of course is what 100-mile racing is all about.
iRunFar: Last year, you set the masters course record at 15:53:56. You finished fourth. That’s insane for an “old dude.” What other masters men do you have your eye this year on as potential threats to an age-group win and that masters course record?
Mackey: The old horses in the race besides me this year are Meltzer and Mike Morton. I think either one could beat my time, but Mike hasn’t proved himself in a mountain race in a long time, so if someone takes my time down, I think Karl would do it. Mike is totally capable, though, and maybe more motivated than anyone.
I would like to say my time will stand for awhile until the new crop of fast guys get older, but there really isn’t anyone else to my knowledge turning the 40 corner just yet. The next guy to challenge my time in the next couple years could be Clarkie or Mike Wolfe, who are later thirties now. Anyone younger than these guys has to have some motivation and luck to keep on rolling. For anyone to touch it, though, it will have to be a cool day like last year or at least under 90 degrees, and there is a 10-percent chance of that happening in any given year.
iRunFar: So, what happened at the San Diego 100? You said afterward that you were having a good run but misread some course markings. Have you reconciled what went down? Do you think that’ll end up being a decent training run for Western States?
Mackey: What happened was I took a left off a dirt road that was marked just like any of the prior turns in the race. This part of the course is a 15-mile lollipop loop, but these markers sent me the wrong way around the loop. I didn’t know the course and didn’t bother studying it as I wanted to “on-sight” the course and treat it as an adventure. I had a super fun time with this adventure until this wrong turn. Out on the loop, there were some chalk arrows pointing against me, but I thought these were mistakes as I knew I had followed the flagging correctly.
By the time I got half way around the loop and was told I was off course, I decided to continue to complete the loop in hopes of it still counting as completed. Scotty Mills, the RD, was super gracious about it all, and this past week I found out that someone had tampered with the course at my wrong turn. C’est la vie. I’ve reconciled it, but I am competitive as heck and it took me a few hours of crewing after I dropped to get the endorphins out and come down to earth and I hope my chemicals and focus didn’t turn anyone off after I dropped. I very highly recommend SD100… the course and people are world class.
And yes to the part about it for WS100, I felt fine in the heat, which was over 100 degrees.
iRunFar: Do you have any podium predictions for the men’s race this year? Who do you have your eye on for the win?
Mackey: Krar for the win and Clarkie for third again. Other than that, it is a bunch of pieces of paper in a hat.
iRunFar: You’re Grand Slamming this year. Does this affect your race plan for the WS100? I know you’re a prolific racer and you recover well, but 100 miles, contrary to what Karl says, is still kind of a long way.
Sharman: Since the body can only take so much and just one 100 miler is extreme by anyone’s reckoning, I’m working off the principle that training for WS100 is training for all four hundreds. Then running each hundred is training for the next one. So I’m going to take it one at a time but aim to race them each hard. Plus, I’ve purposefully raced less than usual in recent months to focus much more on the Grand Slam.
I’m sure Nick Clark is the same and we both want to win Western. What better way to start off the Grand Slam than a fast first race? Plus, if the rest are less than perfect there’s the big consolation of a good run at the most competitive and important of the four. Whether I run all out or at 90 percent, WS100 will wreck my body so I might as well go for it.
iRunFar: I think you’ve been having some physical issues of late. A knee problem earlier in the year, does that stem back to the weird tweak you did to your knee just before TNFEC50 in San Fran last December or is it something different? Your knee has caused you to drop from a couple of races this spring, including the Jungle Ultra, a stage race in Peru. Also, you recently tweeted about twisting your ankle. What’s your present physical status?
Sharman: I’ve had a few pieces of bad luck and the knee issue first happened before TNFEC last December, but I’m being overly cautious because the Grand Slam is the biggest and hardest challenge I’ve ever tried. So I’m making sure I do everything I can to reach the WS100 start line as rested and fit as possible. Then I twisted my ankle on June 5, which has been much more of a concern. It seems to be healing extremely well with less damage than I’d feared, but I may not know for certain whether it’s okay until Western. At the least, it’s forcing me to taper a bit more than usual although I’m running the San Francisco Marathon on June 16 as a test at a comfortable pace. [Editor’s note: He ran 2:45 and reported that his ankle felt fine.]
iRunFar: The WS100 course has three distinct parts, the high country, the canyons, and the runnable last 20 miles. What part of the course do you like the most? And, what part of the course plays into your strong suits the most?
Sharman: I think of it as four parts, adding in the hot run down to the river from 62 to 78 miles since that’s the place the race really gets decided, either with the legs working well and the heat not causing a slow-down or burning out and getting passed in a death march to the finish. If things go well, that’s where I think I’m at my strongest with easy, net-downhill terrain and heat. However, to me the beauty of a 100 miler is that it’s better to do all parts of the race well than to have even one really bad section. So the top runners are bound to have strong sections throughout the entire race and my aim is to be in the mix the whole way. It’s a great challenge every time, although it’ll be hell like always in the final miles.