YiOu Wang has had a great spring racing ultras and she’ll make her 100-mile debut at this weekend’s Western States 100. In the following interview, YiOu talks about how she hates hiking, how she’ll have to readjust her tactics from shorter distance races, how she’s modified her ultra nutrition plan through the years, why she has a laminated Western States binder, and much more. Oh, and Einstein jokes.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
YiOu Wang Pre-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with YiOu Wang before the 2016 Western States 100. How are you?
YiOu Wang: I’m doing great. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m great. It’s actually a gorgeous day out here.
Wang: It’s beautiful. It’s less hot than I thought it would be up here.
iRunFar: Yeah, it is. Even if it might get a little toasty on Saturday, it’s supposed to start off a little cool which should make the early running comfortable.
Wang: For the first 10 or so miles.
iRunFar: True. True. It’s going to heat up at some point. How’s the heat been in Marin this spring?
Wang: Well, it was actually cold and drizzly until about five days ago. So the spring hasn’t really been as hot as I would have liked to get ready for Western States, but I can never complain about living and training in Marin. I’ve been doing a lot of wearing layers in the last two weeks heading into Saturday and also doing more afternoon runs. We’ve had a few days where it’s been in the 80s.
iRunFar: Have you been out on the course at all?
Wang: I went out on the course on the first two days of the training camp, so I’ve done Robinson Flat to Foresthill and Foresthill down to the river.
iRunFar: Was it reasonably hot then or pretty mild?
Wang: The first day was actually pretty mild. There was still snow at Robinson, so it started pretty cold. By the time we got to Foresthill it had started to warm up. The second day was warmer, so I did get a nice experience of running that singletrack down to the river and some of the exposed sections there.
iRunFar: I think I heard maybe you and Devon [Yanko] may have had a pretty speedy run down to the river?
Wang: Yeah, we took it out hard down to the river. Well, it’s a good place to kind of open up your legs, and it’s all super runnable terrain. So we just took the opportunity to push hard and see… feeling like we had that 50k in our legs already and just to work with the downhill. It’s a good confidence booster heading into the race to know that it is possible to run fast in that section.
iRunFar: It is, and it’s really fun when you end up doing that. You just have to feel good at that point.
Wang: Yeah, so that’s one of the things I’m really going to focus on on Saturday is to get to Foresthill with enough legs to really run the last portion of the race. It’s going to be twice the farthest I’ve ever run which is pretty nerve-wracking and intimidating, but I’m confident in the training I’ve put in. I think that I am so conservative that I want to kill myself in the beginning of the race, that I’ll get to Foresthill and really push it hard to the finish.
iRunFar: Do you have any techniques or plans on how you’re going to hold yourself back?
Wang: That’s a good question.
iRunFar: It’s a challenge, it really is, for your first 100.
Wang: I willfully admit that I absolutely hate hiking. Even when I did Lake Sonoma, I really had a hard time if I ever felt like hiking in the last couple miles of that course. So I think one of the keys for me will be actually hiking the uphills in the first portion of the race. Even if I’m running at an effort and it feels easy, it’s all going to add up, and it’s all using up this finite resource of energy in your body that I’m not going to be able to get back. I think in the first part of the race, I just want to focus on being as efficient and almost as slow as I can possibly be. Talking to some of my friends who have done it who I run with, like Alex Varner for example, he told me it’s going to be the slowest race I’ve ever done and that the first part is going to be feel so difficult to actually hold that effort back.
iRunFar: Has anybody put it in perspective that on Cal Street, you’re not racing Way Too Cool pace, you’re not even racing… a fast Cal Street is not even Lake Sonoma pace. If you’re just continually running at that point…
Wang: I think it’s one of those situations where people can tell you all of these things, but you’re not really going to know until you get there.
iRunFar: Is that exciting at all to have a totally new experience?
Wang: It is exciting. It’s tempered also by the fact that everyone says how much it’s going to hurt.
iRunFar: I’m going to hold that and contradict that. I don’t think it has to hurt. Obviously you’re probably a competitive person and it’s going to hurt at the very end of the race like pushing any race does but maybe less intensely.
Wang: Yeah, it’s going to be definitely a different level of intensity than I’m used to. It’s going to be a lower level of intensity for a much longer period of time. So, I’m actually also more concerned with how I’m going to stay in it mentally versus physically. Some of the strategy is there’s a whole list of things I’m going to be checking off as I’m going through this race in terms of fuel and hydration. That will be something to try and think about and problem solve and keep my mind occupied. It’s a good thing. If you think about it, no matter how well you do, it’s going to be a lot of hours out there and a lot of time on your feet. And a lot of that time, you’re going to be by yourself for stretches. I think not getting mentally fatigued is going to be a major factor for me on Saturday because I’m not very good at not thinking about racing when I’m in a race.
iRunFar: So if you see somebody up there…
Wang: Yeah, it’s going to be really hard not to catch them.
iRunFar: But it’s really hard to be in sync with someone for that long. They’re going to have strong stretches when you’re just okay and vice versa.
Wang: What I learned from Lake Sonoma is that I can be patient and that in an ultra race, it plays out differently than shorter race distances where if you lose sight of someone, you really do lose sight of them. It’s a different kind of competing and a different kind of racing. I have done way more shorter-distance road races than I’ve done ultras, so I’ve kind of had to relearn how to be a competitive runner in a distance greater than 50k because I’m used to staying in contact and not letting the elastic snap because then you just have no chance of catching back up. But in an ultra…
iRunFar: Which is not the case in 100 miles.
Wang: Yeah, there’s so much time and so many things can happen, and sometimes if you try to stick with a group and they’re running outside of your comfort zone…
iRunFar: At that moment…
Wang: At that moment, you’re going to pay for it two hours later.
iRunFar: They could be paying for it… They’re writing those checks they can’t pay later on. You could be 15 minutes behind at Highway 49 with nine miles left…
Wang: And make up all that time.
iRunFar: Like that… if something goes wrong with somebody else.
Wang: Yeah, so I’m really excited to embark on this totally new experience.
iRunFar: Did you make any major changes mentally in your approach between The North Face 50 where you were a little aggressive and it didn’t work out to Lake Sonoma?
Wang: I definitely held back a lot more at Lake Sonoma. I focused on being super comfortable in my effort level at the start and also not chasing people and just running my pace and my effort level no matter who was behind or in front and letting people go by me if they wanted to and just letting them go and not chasing people who do pass me even if I do feel like I have the energy at that moment. I also have worked a lot on my nutrition because my first ultras I didn’t carry any water bottles. I think in my first 50k I had maybe three gels in the whole race, and I thought I was going to die at the end. Working on my nutrition—in Lake Sonoma, I came in with a plan where every 30 minutes my watch is going to beep and it’s going to remind me to take electrolytes and it’s going to remind me to take some nutrition whether it’s gels or whatever I want to eat at the aid station.
iRunFar: Did you make that self-realization or did you fellow Marin residents beat that into your head? Was anybody in particular responsible?
Wang: Well, I think fellow Marin-ites have been trying to beat that into my head for a long time. I think I had to get over my own stubbornness. Then I had to actually force myself to do it and then realize how much better you can run in the latter part of a race if you do fuel up in the beginning. Also, I started working with my coach in January, so I think the biggest factor that’s led me to be successful in my races this year is having more consistency and also the structure of working with a coach and also having someone to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from who is invested in how well I do but also objective in his opinion.
iRunFar: And you have seen quite a bit success. You won Way Too Cool. You won Lake Sonoma and set a course record at Quicksilver. How’s your confidence level coming into this race?
Wang: I’m confident in the sense that I know I can put together a good race, and I can execute a plan and that what I’ve been doing so far has worked through the 50-mile distance. I know I’ve had a good seven weeks or eight weeks of training between Lake Sonoma and now. I feel good physically. I’m healthy. I have a plan that’s all written out and laminated and in a binder, but you still don’t know…
iRunFar: Literally laminated…?
Wang: Literally laminated and in a binder. This is what I do when I’m tapering and I have too much time on my hands. But as in any ultra, you try to stick with the plan as much as you can, but you also have to be open to dealing with whatever problems come up. So I’m confident that if I execute the way I want to execute and stay focused on doing the fueling and nutrition and pacing and I don’t let the racing get to the forefront of my head until very, very late in the event, I think that I’m ready to have a good day at Western States. My foremost goal, because this is my first 100 miler and my first Western States, is I want to finish. I want to feel like I did everything I could to have a good day. So, that’s my main goal for Saturday.
iRunFar: You have a pretty good crew behind you to keep you on the rails?
Wang: I do. I wanted to have people who are experienced with the race itself. That’s where Kim and Topher Gaylord come in. Then I also wanted people who were going to be really calm on the race day. You know Emily Peterson. Her and Andrew are both really, really zen.
iRunFar: So, to maybe counterbalance?
Wang: Yes, you know how it is. It gets really crazy in the aid stations. Crew people go crazy. Racers are going crazy. I’m probably going to be saying the f-word every other word when I roll into Foresthill. I really needed people who were going to be calm and focused in the middle of this huge whirlwind of craziness and energy. They’re both very positive, very calm but still energized people. They can be authoritative when they need to be and get things done when they need to get things done—put Gu in my hand or whatever.
iRunFar: Eat. This. Now.
Wang: You need to eat now. Then, my husband, Sean, is also going to be out there. He gets a little more nervous during the race, so he’s not going to be doing any pacing, nor is he in charge of the crew. He’s there for support and to just spectate and cheer. Everybody in Marin knows this, but he kind of gets very anxious during a race when I’m racing.
iRunFar: So if you roll into Foresthill puking and Topher is saying, “It’s going to be okay. Have some water and go.”
Wang: “Just don’t sit down.” Yeah, the joke is because Andrew is a vet, he’s going to have some tranquilizers in the car just in case.
iRunFar: For who?
Wang: For Sean, maybe. He’s a little bit worked up during races.
iRunFar: What are you most excited about for the race?
Wang: I’m most excited to feed off the energy of the event in the race. I’m excited to actually see the high country part of the course. I’ve run this part just up to the Escarpment and a little bit over on the other side, but I’ve never seen anything from Robinson Flat to here. So I want to see the high country in the morning when I’m still feeling good.
iRunFar: It’s such a treat.
Wang: Then I want to just experience it. I moved to California eight years ago and have heard a lot of stories about Western States and read a lot of stories and seen all the videos. I just want to experience it.
iRunFar: Best of luck and enjoy the experience.
Wang: Thank you. Thank you so much.
iRunFar: A bonus question for you. Speaking of excitement—how excited are you about the discovery of gravitational waves?
Wang: Einstein was right. I was super stoked. Actually, this happened a couple months ago, and we had a whole announcement at our morning meeting at my school where we explained what gravitational waves were and how they were theorized and how they were finally proven. It’s a really exciting development in physics because people didn’t know whether or not they existed or whether or not they could be measured. Actually what really excites me about it is reading about how meticulous the experiment had to be to detect gravitational waves in the first place. It was just fascinating to me that they could build an apparatus that was so finely tuned. It’s just crazy.
iRunFar: It’s not the theory at all. The theory is almost a century old, but it’s the precision of measuring the interference of lasers for…
Wang: It really gives us… it actually gives me hope that we can discover so much more about the physics of the universe now that we’ve found this thing that everybody thought couldn’t be found.
iRunFar: All we need is some more black holes crashing into each other somewhere out in space.
Wang: It’s the universe. It’s infinite, right?
iRunFar: There’s a lot going on out there. So apparently you’re pretty excited about gravitational waves.
Wang: Right now, I’m more excited about Western States. If you ask me after, I probably won’t be able to pronounce “gravitational waves.”
iRunFar: Maybe I’ll just have to have the video camera at the finish. “So, those things with Einstein… what are those?”
Wang: Einstein bagels?
iRunFar: Lox for everyone!