Barely a week to go before Western States and we’ve got interviews with four of the top women’s contenders! It follows up our interviews with Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka, and Geoff Roes, three top men’s contenders. We start of this article by interviewing 3-time Western States (WS) champion Nikki Kimball. Next up, Devon Crosby-Helms fills us in on how her training has gone. Joelle Vaught then tells us about her transition from cycling to running and how she feels going into her first 100 mile race. Meghan Arbogast finishes things off by letting us know how she keeps getting better with age. (Click on a runner’s name above to jump to her interview.)
If you’re as excited about Western States as we are, enter our Western States 100 prediction contest!
Nikki Kimball: The field was no more stacked last year than it was in 2007, I simply didn’t run well. Being beaten has nothing to do with coming back. Running poorly last year plays some part. I wasn’t running well right from the start last year, and should have dropped. I hope never to finish a race when I shouldn’t again. I got much more sick in the weeks following WS last year than I was on race day. Anyhow, I just want to have a good race again at WS. Good is a term relative to one’s fitness at any given time. Last year was my tenth year racing several ultras a year, and my body just had a serious slow-down. I’ve been getting better all spring, but I’m not as fast as I was through 2008. I simply want to run the best I can given what my body is capable of at the moment.
iRF: How has your training gone leading up to this year’s Western States?
Kimball: Nothing shocking. I’m just trying to regain, and hopefully surpass, previous speeds. WS is just one of many training races I hope will contribute to this goal. This is a long term project and I hope to being running very well again in the next 6-24 months.
iRF: You ran the Comrades Marathon a few weeks ago and likely recall the tremendous heat during last year’s Western States. Did you include any heat training this spring? If so, what did you do?
Kimball: I’ve run WS 100 on much hotter years than last year. The second day of WS last year was horribly hot, but the canyons were really not bad. The day before the race last year. Greg [Soderland, the race director] told me that since temps had been unseasonably cool prior to the race, and the canyons would by cooler as they had not had the chance to “collect heat over days or weeks.” I thought he was full of it! However, I found he was absolutely right. Then heat was MUCH worse in 2006.
Anyhow it’s been really cool here this spring. I ran in the snow last week. Since I work and live in a cool area, I cannot get, or travel to get, heat training. Just as I have an advantage racing on snowy courses, those who’ve been able to train in hot areas have an advantage at WS. I actually wish I could travel to get some heat training, but since I cannot do so, I’ll do the best I can.
iRF: Hi, Devon. From following you on Twitter, it seems like you’ve been running a ton of mileage. What have some of you biggest weeks this season looked like in terms of miles run and intensity?
Devon Crosby-Helms: I don’t actually think I run that high of mileage (Anton, now he runs a lot!), though I guess it is comparatively higher than most. I have been averaging about 400 miles per month this year. I usually incorporate 1-2 intense sessions of speed, tempo or hills a week; do a weekly early morning trail run with an amazing crew of runners; and then do longer back-to-back runs on the weekends. I really got into doing back-to-back runs last year while training for TransRockies. I love the unique challenge of trying to get your legs back under you on the 2nd or 3rd long day. My highest week this year was 126. I would like to, later in my career, average about 120 miles per week.
iRF: When was your final big training week and what did it look like?
Crosby-Helms: My biggest week (since Miwok) was the week before last, that was my 126 mile week. I run 6 days a week, so I took Monday off then ran doubles Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with morning workouts having more intensity and evening workouts being recovery. Friday was recovery and had one run, getting ready for Saturday’s long run which was 48.5 miles. Sunday, I just did a short recovery run, opting not to do a double for that day.
iRF: I’ve also noticed that you’ve logged a bunch of runs roughly 25 miles or longer and a couple 40+ miles runs. Have you based your training around these long runs? How many have you run?
Crosby-Helms: I have progressively tried to build up my back-to-back long runs. In general, these long runs increase in mileage depending on where they are in my training cycle. They are part of my training, but the basis of my training? Not really.
iRF: You’ve run a single 100 mile race and, with your speed, you’ve not been out there for more than 10 hours in any of your other races. Do you think your long training runs this season will help make up for this relative lack of experience in longer (timewise) races?
Crosby-Helms: I have had a few “off the record” (i.e., pacing) excursions over the past few years that took more than 10 hours and so I feel comfortable being at it for that long. The long runs help as much as they can but, ultimately, part of running this is for me to have the experience so that I can gain experience, learn and understand. Sometimes lack of experience is a blessing in disguise.
iRF: You’ve had some impressive domestic (VT 100 win in ’08, JFK 50 course record) and international (4th ’09 IAU 100k championships) performances in the past. Would you say this is your best training season to date? If so, why?
Crosby-Helms: I’ve enjoyed my training more than ever, partially because now that I have a few years of running under my belt, I can actually do the mileage and work that I thrive on and love. Best ever? I don’t know about that. I have never had such a satisfying workout as last year’s 40 mile road run before my 4th place at the 100k, but I have had a lot of workouts that definitely come close. Seriously, I have been enjoying my training so much, the races themselves don’t really feel like the pinnacle but instead just feel like another opportunity to enjoy a challenge and the joy I derive from running. It’s the journey after all!
iRF: Howdy, Joelle, you consistently race the most competitive ultras in the country and are always competitive for the podium, if not the win. You’ve won three of the past four ultras you’ve run: the Where’s Waldo 100k last August, Way Too Cool 50k in March, and Silver State 50 mile last month, while Caitlin Smith edged you out at The North Face championships last December. Would it be correct to say that you enjoy the challenge of testing yourself against the best ultrarunners more than a winning a less competitive field?
Joelle Vaught: I think that I, like most other ultrarunners, like to pick challenging races with difficult climbs and great scenery. The races I usually do have this and a lot of the top runners out there seem to pick similar races. I have been running Way Too Cool for about 9 years now, many years before I was competitive! It is just a great race and a fun vacation for my family since my dad lives in Sacramento. I do enjoy running against a competitive field and am excited when I am in the mix!
iRF: You’ll see plenty of competition when you toe the line of the Western States 100 in less than two weeks. This will be your first attempt at 100 miles. What are you most excited about? What’s got you nervous?
Vaught: I am most excited just to be a part of Western States. It seems like WS is the culmination of being an ultrarunner and the vibe around the race is very exciting. I am looking forward to finishing my 1st 100 mile race and hopefully enjoying the experience and the people I am able to share it with.
I am most nervous about something happening and I end up not finishing. That would be a huge disappointment.
iRF: How has your training season gone leading up to the race? How have you modified you training from the lead up to previous key 50 mile and 100k races?
Vaught: I have been happy with my training, I have been primarily running and have not been mountain biking as much as I used to, which is allowing me to get in more running miles.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a set back a few weeks ago that shook my confidence a bit. I came down with fever 3 days before the Pocatello 50. I ran the race which had very cold conditions and got hypothermic. Following the race (which was actually called off at 32 miles) I got very sick with some sort of chest condition and continued with the fever. I was unable to run for a week (I tried and couldn’t even go up a hill!) and that was tough considering that was going to be my last hard week of training. I am most recovered now, although I still have a cough and some chest congestion.
iRF: When was your biggest training week and what did it include?
Vaught: My running is for the love of running and enjoying my time on the trails. I don’t keep track of mileage and have no idea how far most of my routes are. I planned the Silver State 50 and Pocatello 50 in the end of May to get in two long training runs with some support.
iRF: You’re a long-time endurance athlete who came to ultrarunning from adventure racing. Since joining the ultrarunning ranks, you’ve run Way Too Cool every year. After considering in the lengthening of the course before the 2009 race, you’ve run better every single year since 2005 (and maybe before). (from 2005 through 2010 4:41:54; 4:17:56; 4:15:03; 4:10:15; 4:19:41 (course lengthened); 4:13:54) To what do you owe this consistent improvement?
Vaught: I think the improvement is due to spending more time running and less on the bike. I used to be pretty much 50/50. Also, in an adventure race in 2005, I was on a team with Dave Mackey and Travis Macy and saw what it was like to really run downhill. I have improved my downhill running which has improved my times.
iRF: Hi Meghan, you’re riding a string of three straight top 10 finishes at Western States, so you’ve had success at the race. How does this training season compare to the lead up to those races? Have you made any major changes to your training regimen for this year?
Meghan Arbogast: The main difference is that I have been really healthy and have had good energy – maybe from increasing Vitamin D. I feel better on my hiking than ever, and more comfortable pushing the pace on the downhills. The training regimen has more or less been the same, but without having a road 100k the week before Western States this year.
iRF: When was your peak training week for this year’s race and what did it look like?
Arbogast: I had 3 weeks of 110+ miles – about 50 miles in M-F, and 55-60 miles on the weekend. Five weeks out I ran 50 miles on the Western States course, and four weeks out I ran the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (50 miles) in some decent heat. I haven’t done as many track sessions due to some unforeseen health issues with my husband, but I don’t think that will impact my last 250 meters of the race.
iRF: You ran just over 8 hours to set the course record at the Mad City 100k road race this spring and have run great road 100ks at the past two IAU 100k world championships. What do you do in training to convert your obvious speed and endurance to strength for a long trail ultra?
Arbogast: Even when training for 100k road races, I do most of my long runs in the hills and trails. I will do one or two long runs on the pavement (30-35 miles at race pace) for the 100k, but those are mostly mental preparations. I run most of my short, easy days on the pavement, regardless of what I am training for.
iRF: You’ve been running ultras for almost a decade and running competitively for twice as long. Despite you significant training base and experience, you continue to run faster times and better performances in ultras? How do you explain this improvement? Have you modified your training? Is it more experience at 100k and 100 mile races? Something else?
Arbogast: I just haven’t peaked yet! I have always been a late bloomer. I guess if I were a flower I would be an aster. ;) An ultra is so, so long that I think anyone and everyone has room to improve. I really think it is experience. I haven’t been one to take chances, go out hard, and see what happens, but more of a cautious runner, trying to stay with a reasonable effort. Most of the time I don’t reach my time goals, but I always give 100%. Then when I prepare for the race(s) the next year, I just look back and compare how my training is going, and for now, I am just getting a bit stronger and able to sustain efforts for longer. Accumulative effect, I guess. I do think the training and racing for the road 100k has made me mentally tougher and I am learning to micro manage my nutrition, hydration and salt intake.
Call for Comments
So what do you y’all think about these ladies preparation and chances on race day? How do you think the top women will stack up?