Editor’s Note: Twelve year’s ago, a young Bethany Hunter went into the Western States 100 headstrong and walked away with a DNF. The DNF is her one regret. Now, she’s back as Bethany Patterson with more experience, more respect, and, perhaps, a bit of an obsession.
Having coached and trained with her this year, AJW talks to Bethany about her 2004 race, where her life has taken her since then, and where she’s looking to go with Western States this weekend.
Special Video Edition of AJW’s Taproom
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
AJW’s Bethany’s Beer of the Week
Bethany Patterson Pre-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
AJW: Hey, everybody. This is Andy Jones-Wilkins of iRunFar here with Bethany Patterson on the eve of the Western States 100, 2016 edition. This is a special video version of AJW’s Taproom. Bethany is here—we traveled here together from Virginia—she’s here for the first time since 2004. Bethany, how are you doing?
Bethany Patterson: Better, I think, than 2004. I remember, I think I got in Thursday back in 2004, and I was just a bundle of nerves the entire time. So far, knock on wood as I still have tomorrow, I’m pretty calm. Pretty calm.
AJW: Pretty calm, and you got done the Squaw thing and did the hike and checked in yesterday.
Patterson: Did the hike. Checked in. We’re getting all our stuff organized. So far, I’m good. I’m excited to be here.
AJW: It’s been 12 years. The race in 2004 did not go the way you’d hoped or the way you’d planned. Maybe that’s part of why it’s been 12 years. Let’s set the stage. That race in 2004, where were you as a runner and as a person, and how did it go?
Patterson: 2004… the previous year in 2003, I had a really good year. I was kind of new to ultrarunning, but I’d had a pretty good year and won a bunch of races. I think, looking back—you have perspective when you’re older and a little wiser—and looking back, I came into this race a little overconfident thinking that I’d run some good 100 milers and this was just another one, and I was this awesome young runner, and I could just take anything. Very quickly, Western States taught me that the trail always wins. I did not win. I didn’t finish. I dropped at Michigan Bluff. Probably from the hike up the Escarpment in the beginning, it was bad. I was young and probably a little cocky. Immediately when everyone ran away from me and I didn’t feel good and I wasn’t up at the front, my mind went away. It never came up. I think I was… we talked about this a little bit, but I didn’t enjoy the day. I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t… just on the hike going up here, I don’t remember any of it.
AJW: It wasn’t really a physical thing that made you drop.
Patterson: It wasn’t physical. When I dropped, I had no problems. In fact, I was sitting at the aid station below Michigan Bluff (El Dorado), trying to convince them…
AJW: El Dorado, the hottest place on the course…
Patterson: Sitting there, which you don’t want to do, and they were telling me I was fine. I was trying to convince them I was not fine. It was mental. I wasn’t having fun. It was a hot day. I wasn’t in the race. Mentally I just kind of gave up. Looking back, I could still have probably finished under 24 hours. I just quit. I quit unfortunately there, so by the time I saw my crew at Michigan Bluff, I was done. There was no talking me out of it.
AJW: That was 12 years ago. You’ve run quite a bit since then, but you haven’t been back here. Talk me through the last 12 years as a runner, as a wife, as a mom, as a full-time professional… a lot of water under the bridge.
Patterson: Yeah, I’m a different person than I was back then. After that, that was 2004, I got married in 2005. Since then, I had a career and worked for a company for 10 years. My husband and I now have three kids—twin boys that are six and a little girl who is two-and-a-half—and so life kind of happened. You can still run ultras, but for me, and with my kids being that little, the commitment to run 100 miles and the time it takes to do it well… personally, I’m competitive, and I can’t ‘just run.’ I couldn’t just run to finish. I’m not wired that way. I didn’t want to take the time. Honestly, I think Western States was probably the start of it, but from Western States, I tried a couple other 100s after that, and I just kind of had… 100s just didn’t work for me. I hadn’t figured them out. I was young. I probably ran them pretty stupid. I didn’t have a love for them, so I took a break. I ran some ultras in those times. I joke because I didn’t really stop running ultras, but it seemed apparently that I did because now people kind of talk about me coming back for my second career in running, and I never thought I left my first one. But I’m different. Now I’m in my thirties; I’m 37. I’m in a different place.
AJW: I remember seeing you at what might have been one of your first races back after Allie, your two-and-a-half year old daughter was born, at Terrapin Mountain, the local 50k.
Patterson: That was my first 50k.
AJW: You were out there for fun. All the people from Virginia were there. You got through the day.
Patterson: I got through the day. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. I think the appreciation… each time going through pregnancy and then taking time off to have kids and to raise them that first year because you’re so busy, you find the love for what you had. I think I lost that. I was trying to be so competitive as a young athlete that I lost the love. I was all focused on performance, and I lost the love. You get the time away when you can’t run—I couldn’t run when they were little, and I couldn’t run when I was pregnant—and you get back on the trail, and it’s like a new beginning. The love for… look where we are. It’s beautiful.
AJW: Then you began a return to the Virginia race that’s in your soul—the Mt. Masochist 50 Mile which is longer than 50 miles. You’ve now finished it 10 times and won it twice, most recently just this last year. I tracked you down about a year and a half ago after your first real Masochist back two years ago. I remember distinctly that we talked about Western States because I’m obsessed with Western States, and I wanted to hear this story. I remember following Bethany Hunter…
Patterson: And we’d never met.
AJW: We’d never met. You’d come from your jobs and in your scrubs and we talked for an hour and a half, and I wrote a story for iRunFar, ‘The Bethany Patterson Story.’ From that point on, I was sort of poking and prodding at you about trying to get you to stop saying, “I’m not a 100-mile person.”
AJW: From that point, how did you get to Western States?
Patterson: I remember our talk. At the time, I had no desire to run a 100-mile race. It had been at that point eight or 10 years. I’d done 50 miles and 100k, but I really… the year before I’d thought about trying to do a 100, and there was no passion for it. I didn’t really have the desire to do it. Then after our conversation… I knew and we kind of talked about it, I knew some day I’d want to come back here and finish. It was the one race that I dropped that there was no good reason for me to drop. There was no reason… you regret those, right? If you have a real reason or you have an injury, that’s one thing, but there was no reason for me to drop. I wanted to come back and run around the track and get my finish and get my buckle. So, at the time, you were pushing, and I was not interested. Then I kept running. That was two years ago. I ran a bunch of races last year, and a friend of ours (Amy, this runner from Virginia) had started talking about this race down in Georgia. My original plan for this year was to run different races. I’d run all the Virginia races many times. I wanted something different and fresh. She mentioned this race called the Georgia Death Race. This was probably October/November, 2015. I decided it would be a fun race to go to. I’d kind of researched it a little bit and it sounded fun. Low and behold, in December, they announced it was a Golden Ticket race. I remember looking at the list and getting chills. There has never been a Golden Ticket race on the East Coast. Part of my resistance to you was that I’m not going to pay and travel to a race and maybe not get a ticket and spend all this money. I just wasn’t going to do it. I have a family to think about. This just… I’d already signed up. It was a Golden Ticket race. It was meant to be.
AJW: Now we’re getting into real time. It’s December and you’re doing your normal Hellgate. You won that… after winning Masochist. Bethany Patterson, the winner in Virginia, is back. You’re admittedly wanting to break out of that. Georgia Death Race provides that. Now it’s January and February and you need to train for that through the winter.
Patterson: My plan after Hellgate was to have some down time. All the sudden, come January 1, I have this race in March I have to train for.
AJW: I have to say, being around you during that time, you kind of got obsessed with doing well at the Georgia Death Race.
Patterson: Just a little bit. I love competing. I do. I love the sport for being on trails and enjoying nature, but I also love to compete. When you find a race that could be really potentially good for you… I also put in for the lottery this past year with one ticket, and didn’t get it. No surprise. I kind of expected, but I put in anyway. This happened. This year just seemed like the stars aligned for me to be able to come here. I’d had a good year. I came off an injury last year. It was getting better. I’d had a good year of training. My kids were getting older, so I was getting a solid block of time. It just seemed like a perfect storm.
AJW: Then the Georgia Death Race, I was there, and it worked out well. Admittedly it wasn’t a perfect race. At 28 miles in, you’re 28 minutes behind. You’re with a pack of women and you’re sort of racing for second because Sarah is off the front…
Patterson: And I’m not running well.
AJW: And you’re not running well. You have no energy. You’re like, “What the heck is going on here?” I’m sitting here trying to figure out how we’re going to make conversation for the nine-hour drive home when you’re depressed about not getting your Golden Ticket. Low and behold, you eat into that lead, one thing leads into another, you win the race, and you get the Golden Ticket. It’s like your life changed.
Patterson: I remember walking across—right before you finish, there’s a little creek he makes you wade through and then you have 10 feet to the finish line—walking through that thinking, Oh my goodness. I’m now running Western States, which wasn’t on the radar this year.
AJW: So now it’s March 20th, and you’ve got three months. You’re coming to Squaw. Now you have two days. What have those three months been like? How would you characterize them?
Patterson: For those that don’t know, he’s my coach, so there’s that. He’s a little obsessed, so there’s that. Once it sunk in, that first week after and I realized I was here you’re not guaranteed next year. You don’t know if you’re going to get a chance to come back. You want to appreciate it, but you want to run well. I think I might have become almost as obsessed as you are, maybe.
AJW: I think you might have.
Patterson: I think I might have. So it was a really good three months. Pretty much my life for the last three months has been running, sleeping, working, and my family, and it’s been really good. It’s been a consistent build-up to the race. It’s two days before now, and I’m just glad my taper is almost over. I get to run on Saturday.
AJW: Given the fact that you’re 37 years old and you’ve been running ultras 17 years, I think it’s safe to say you haven’t trained as hard for anything as you have this race.
Patterson: We’ve talked about it. In recent memory, time sort of fades things. I don’t know what I did back in 2003 and 2004, but in at least the last 10 years, I haven’t trained nearly the way I have now. Even when we talked about it early on around the Georgia Death Race and even earlier, we talked about what my training might be like, and it’s been even better than that. I wouldn’t have known I could do what I’ve been able to do which has been really fun. The training has been fun.
AJW: We are looking at this race, you especially are looking at this race as a lot of different things. There is a group of women in the front pack of which you are a part. We’re not sure what part as you’ve never run against them before. There’s the always present goal of a silver buckle. Then, I’ve got to say, there’s finishing what you failed to finish 12 years ago.
Patterson: If I have to walk and crawl and roll to a 30-hour finish, I will do it. I don’t care. I’m not going to… I’ve learned from my younger self, that you can swallow your pride. Even if you’re not performing like you think you should based on your fitness and what you think in your head, a finish is still better than a DNF. It’s been a long time. To live with that for this long and to have that regret, I’m not doing that again. You’re going to have to pull me off the course to make me stop.
AJW: I’m pretty sure of that. We just returned from the ceremony at the Escarpment where there was a tribute to Greg Soderland, the former race director, and one of the things he was most famous for saying is, “Running 100 miles is like living your life in one day.”
Patterson: It really is.
AJW: As I think of your journey over the last six months and that goal, whether living a life in one day is 20 hours or 24 hours or 30 hours, it’s finishing or at least getting some sense of closure to that opportunity you had as a different person 12 years ago.
Patterson: Completely. I’m not that person that stood here before.
AJW: That is a way that this sport can, I believe, remake people and remake lives.
Patterson: Yes. And my goal is to finish and it’s also to appreciate it and take in the day no matter what—to look around at where I get to run. No one is forcing me to run. I get to do this. My body can handle this. It’s a beautiful area. I want to appreciate the day because I didn’t last time. I didn’t even look around. I don’t remember anything of the course, so I want to appreciate the day.
AJW: I’ve got to say this before we close this up. There are many, many compelling stories going into this race that many of us are going to be following, but I can tell you, for me, and for a lot of other people, following this story is going to be something else.
Patterson: I’m excited.
AJW: Whenever you get around that track will be an exciting time for a lot of people.
Patterson: I can’t wait. Thank you.
AJW: Good luck.
Patterson: Thank you.
AJW: Bethany is going to name the Beer of the Week for this week as a special AJW’s Taproom Takeover. What do you got?
Patterson: I don’t think I can take over your Taproom, but for once, this is not going to be an IPA. From Richmond, Virginia, the Arden Brewery, their Honey Ginger is excellent.
AJW: A Honey Ginger from Arden Brewery—there it is, Beer of the Week.