YiOu Wang, 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview
It was only a matter of time before shorter-distance California speedster YiOu Wang put it all together to run 50 miles really strong. She certainly did so with her win of the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. In our first interview with YiOu, she talks about her previous attempt at Lake Sonoma last year, her mental strategy going into this year, how the race played out for her, and what she thinks about the Western States 100 Golden Ticket she earned with this win.
For the full story on how the race went down, check out our results article.
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YiOu Wang, 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m here with women’s champion, YiOu Wang. Hi.
YiOu Wang: Hi.
Wang: Thank you.
iRunFar: You were fun to watch out there today.
Wang: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: Some people’s runs are funner than others to watch. Yours was fun.
iRunFar: Was it fun to run?
Wang: It was really fun. I had a very fun day. My goal was to run happy, run within myself, and just put together, finally, a good 50-mile race.
iRunFar: You’ve given 50 miles a shot before.
Wang: Yes. I’ve given this race a shot before.
iRunFar: You were kind of in it for quite some time last year, but you rolled your ankle pretty bad.
Wang: Yeah, I had surgery on my ankle a couple of years ago, so I’m still kind of really careful with the ankle and am sensitive about it. I rolled it on one of the rutty sections. Actually, this spring, I’ve been working on ankle stability and proprioception and trying to be more confident on the muddy, technical downhills.
iRunFar: As this race progressed today, and as the conditions kind of degraded as the rain set in, how did all of that work that you’ve been doing settle out? Did it come to use today?
Wang: I’m really glad that I came to the training run that was a couple of weeks ago because the trails were actually much worse then because it had just rained tremendously for a month up until the training run. Between the trail run and today, it was totally dry.
iRunFar: Hardly any rain until this morning.
Wang: Actually during the training run, we had to wade through waist-high rivers, and John [Medinger] threatened… we couldn’t even run the south section of trails because they were under water. Today I’m running and I’m like, “The trail conditions are amazing!” I think it helped a lot to run when it was much messier out on the trails. Today, there really weren’t any super-questionable sections. If there were, it was pretty short.
iRunFar: So, the women’s race went out really fast—at least Camille [Herron] took it out really fast—and early on, she was many minutes in front of you, and then you were at times a couple minutes in front of the other women. What was that like? It must have been a bit of a strange dynamic to be… you were running basically at course-record pace or very close to it, but there was somebody wayyyy ahead of you.
Wang: My coach and I talked before the race about how we predicted that Camille would go out really fast.
iRunFar: So it was sort of as anticipated.
Wang: Yeah, I knew she was going to go out fast, and I also knew I shouldn’t go out with her because I know I have to run my own race and run within myself. With the humidity this morning, I just wanted to keep my effort level comfortable for as long as possible and take the uphills super easy and not at all go into the red until the final five miles. I thought a lot about how my legs were feeling and how my body was feeling and how I was breathing. I knew that if I would just be patient given how demanding the course is. No matter how fast you go out, people always come back around half way. I think I never saw Camille once we hit the trail section. I didn’t see her basically until the turnaround. People would tell me, “Oh, she’s five minutes ahead,” and then two miles later, “She’s two minutes ahead.” So I figured I was making time on her. Then going down to the aid station at the turnaround, I saw her coming out on the little singletrack. I was super close at that point. I figured I would probably catch her the next time we had a long climb because according to other people she wasn’t looking as good at that time. Going back up to Madrone Point, at that point I could see her and just reeled her in. Once I was in front, I just focused on the trail right in front of me. I sang a lot of Taylor Swift songs to myself in my head.
iRunFar: Out loud or literally?
Wang: Just in my head because aside from a couple of miles where Paul Terranova was close to me, I didn’t really have anyone to run with the whole race. So it was kind of lonely for some time except me and Taylor.
iRunFar: “Hey, Tay.” So did you ever… it was really interesting being up at the hill before you drop down to Madrone Point because our reporter at the turnaround reported that you were still in second place by just a couple minutes, so we kind of expected you to come first. You kind of had a rambunctious group of people cheering for you as you made that climb. It looked pretty cool. It looked like you were energized by it. You sped up. You kind of attacked the last part of the hill. Was there an emotional component going on at that point?
Wang: Definitely. I live in Marin, and I run with the San Francisco Running Company team and we do the Saturday morning runs, so I have a lot of friends in Marin who are runners—Dylan [Bowman], Alex [Varner], and Devon Yanko is a really good friend and training partner of mine. She’s the best cheer squad ever. You can hear her from so far away. I was really psyched to hear my friends and how excited they were. Just hearing, “Oh, you look great!” because I know Devon wouldn’t say that if I didn’t look great.
iRunFar: You can count on her for honesty.
Wang: Then my husband was out on the course crewing, so it was really nice to see him even though we’d exchange maybe one word at the aid stations. I think the best part was the last section where I heard everyone screaming because they saw me coming up the trail and you have to cross the road. That section can be so brutal. But to hear everyone, it just made it go by super fast.
iRunFar: You kind of built a name for yourself here in the California trail running scene for the speediness in your legs over shorter distances. Many people have told me the last year or so, “She’s going to put it together for a longer race. She’s going to put it together, but I don’t know when. We’re not sure when… she has to come to the mental place where she has to put it together.” Did you just come out this morning and say, “I’m just going to flippin’ do it this time?”
Wang: I did think about that going into the race. A lot of what’s helped me in the last couple months is I started working with Mario Fraoli as my coach. He’s now in charge of the long-term training, putting together the cycle of the weeks. So I don’t obsess about it, and I also have a plan. It’s not like a spur of the moment whatever I feel like training. I think I was fit the past couple years, but not in the sense of actually focusing on a race and having a good training cycle that is dedicated to one particular event or race. I’ve also been very stubborn about fueling properly and hydrating properly.
iRunFar: All the pieces are slowly working into the fabric.
Wang: To have a coach that’s like, “Look, you need to eat, and you have to drink, and this is how you should run your race,” really helped me just so I’m not in my own head thinking about all the details. Also, I like having someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of, to get inspiration from, and also just feeling, “Yeah, I can do that.”
iRunFar: I have two final questions for you. First of all, there’s this lovely Golden Ticket that’s waved in front of your face for winning a race like this. How does it feel to have that dangling out there?
Wang: Well, I knew it would be coming if I won. I need to think about it because it’s obviously a big decision, and it would definitely change a lot of other plans for the summer. I’m going to talk to some friends and other runners about it and see if it fits into what my overall goals are for the rest of the year and for life because it’s not an easy decision for me.
iRunFar: It’s a big deal.
Wang: Yeah, it’s huge. On one hand, it’s an amazing event. On the other, it’s 100 miles.
iRunFar: And it’s in not that much time now.
Wang: Yeah, the thing about this race being a Golden Ticket race is it’s so close. It’s only two months out.
iRunFar: Very, very close. Yeah, you win Bandera and you get more…
Wang: More time to think about it.
iRunFar: More time to ponder. Okay, my last question for you, why are you the ‘Magic Squid?’
Wang: So, it actually has stuck around from when I was in high school. In art class, we were doing surrealist paintings, and I really liked squid and octopi, the cephalopods because…
iRunFar: I love that you pluralized octopi in the right way.
Wang: I was really interested in cephalopods because they’re intelligent, they have these really dexterous tentacles, and they’re so interesting. They’re like the geniuses of the ocean. They solve puzzles, they escape…
iRunFar: Vertebrae-less, non-skeletal-bearing…
Wang: They solve problems, they escape from their tanks, they can squeeze through a hole one inch wide. So I really love them as animals. They’re probably my favorite animal.
iRunFar: I’m loving this right now. So ‘Magic Squid’ just kind of…
Wang: Yeah, it came from… I had this drawing I was doing and then I was stumped on what to put in it to make it surreal. My friend said, “Why don’t you just put squids all over it?”
iRunFar: “That’s a great idea!”
Wang: And maybe they’re magic!
iRunFar: Things are always magic when they’re the intelligent creatures of the ocean.
Wang: I know.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you, YiOu. It was a pleasure to watch you race today. It was a pleasure to see you put together the 50-mile distance.
Wang: Thank you. I’m so psyched. Thank you so much.
iRunFar: Good luck in that Golden Ticket decision. That’s a tough one.
Wang: Thanks. I’m going to Tahiti, so I’ll think about it there.
iRunFar: Are you serious?
iRunFar: Ha! Okay.
Wang: It’s our spring break. I’m a teacher.
iRunFar: I’m going to go to Tahiti and think about it.
Wang: That was one of the carrots for today, too. If I have a good race, I will be so much happier in Tahiti.
iRunFar: Okay, well, off to Tahiti for you then. Congrats again.
Wang: Thank you.