There’s going to be one heck of a battle between the women of this year’s Western States 100. For starters, the entrants list includes all four women’s winners in the post-Ann Trason era. Unfortunately, Annette Bednosky won’t be on the start line, but that leaves Tracy Garneau, Anita Ortiz, and three-time WS100 champion Nikki Kimball to see who’s queen on the day. These past champs will be challenged be a slew of more-than-able contenders, some of whom we’ve interviewed in a companion article.
Below, we catch up with the three most recent women’s champs, Tracy Garneau (’10), Anita Ortiz (’09), and Nikki Kimball (’04, ’06 & ’07).
iRunFar: Last year, you won the HURT 100 mile and American River 50 mile prior to winning Western States. You started the aborted Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc last August, but we can’t find you in any race results since then. Have you raced since last year’s Western States? If not, is there a reason behind not racing?
Tracy Garneau: I started HURT this year and fell at mile 5. I ran another 40 miles before my back really started to seize up and breathing became very difficult and I made the almost impossible decision to drop. It was a tough one to make, but it was the right one for me that day. My next race after HURT was to be Rock and Ice in Yellowknife which they ended up canceling. I ran in the North Face Endurance Challenge in Salta, Argentina on May 7th and came 2nd overall and 1st female. It was a tough 50 mile course, but very beautiful. It was a great course for me, technical with lots of climbing. I really enjoyed the race. I just spent the weekend in Grande Cache helping out with the Death Race training camp. Always a fun and challenging weekend. Next stop Squaw Valley.
iRF: You’ve won plenty of ultras over the past few years and successfully defended a number of race titles. That said, do you feel any added pressure returning to Western States as the defending champion?
Garneau: I have to say yes, there is that added pressure of people knowing my name now. That saying, I like to go into every race as prepared as I can be and just run. I learned after HURT that it may not always go as planned and that stuff happens out there. It’s a long day and you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and get to the finish line. I really want another belt buckle!
iRF: At last year’s Western States you ran a remarkably even race, staying between 18th and 23rd place through the entire race. Will you shoot for a similar race strategy this year? Did you learn any lesson’s in last year’s victory that you’ll employ this year?
Garneau: I really don’t have any great race strategy. Like I said, it’s a long day and I just want to stay healthy and focused on getting to the finish line. I have always struggled with getting enough calories in while running so I have been working on that a bit this year. It’s always interesting to see how it goes once you start.
iRF: How are you feeling going into this year’s race?
Garneau: I feel healthy and fit, a little nervous but also excited to be back there. It will be nice to get some heat, I think I have been cold since HURT. It has been a really cold year so any chance of heat training has not been an option. I’m looking forward to the energy of the days leading up to the race. I really enjoyed talking to some of the other athletes and being apart of such an exciting event. It is a very cool race and I feel lucky to be able to be there again this year.
iRunFar: You spent the second half of last year on the sidelines due to injury. How long did the injury keep you from training at all? Did you mix in cross training while you were injured or during your recovery? When were you finally able to hit the trails again?
Anita Ortiz: After my micro fracture surgery, I was non-weight bearing for eight weeks and then in a straight leg brace for another eight. Then, I was allowed some knee bend. Four more weeks and I was allowed to run. Of course, it was a slow return to run program! I really did no x-training. I was not allowed to, for the most part. I could use the arm bike thing. Ugh! I did some strength work, but that is it. When I got knee bend (around 16 weeks) I started walking like crazy!!! That was my training.
iRF: Since jumping back into racing at the Red Hot Moab 55k in February you’ve won three of the four ultras you’ve run and your Red Hot time was within a few minutes of your time in 2009, a few months before your Western States win. How do you feel about your season so far and your fitness heading into Western States?
Ortiz: I felt pretty good about my fitness and my season until about six weeks ago. Then, I started to feel super tired and depleted. Worried that I was overtraining… Turns out I am super anemic. So now I am in trouble. :-( I’m eating a lot of steak these days!
iRF: Western States in 2009 was your 100 mile debut. What did you learn from that race and what will you do differently in 2011?
Ortiz: I think the different course will immediately lend to a different plan. Less climb, faster road = not good for Anita. I think I’ll have to be super careful to run my own race and not get pulled out with all the speedy women! I’m trying to convince myself that it’ll be a victory just to finish. (The doctors said I’d not be able to run another 100.) Still, the competitor in me finds it’s way out. I think the biggest thing I learned in 2009 was that 100 miles is a long way.
Nikki Kimball: Brutal winter: Loved it. It didn’t change my training much. The late season snow just meant more skiing, which after 13 years of intensive ultra racing, is a really good thing.
iRF: This spring, you’ve won the Buffalo Run 50k and placed second at The North Face Endurance Challenge – Bear Mountain. How do you feel about your fitness heading into Western States?
Kimball: My fitness is where I want it to be. Bear Mountain not withstanding, I’ve had good races consistently since February.
iRF: You’re a long time nordic skier, but just took up ski mountaineering this winter. What made you want to try skimo and do you think it will help your running?
Kimball: Skimo is the best sport ever. I finally got my race gear about a week after my last race. I cannot wait for next winter. I think, also, that it was the best thing I could’ve done for my running. I’m now running much of the time without pain in my knee, which I hurt in an accident over 3 years ago. I haven’t been the same runner since I got hurt, but this spring I could finally train with nearly the volume and intensity I did before.
iRF: Bringing your skis to Squaw Valley?
Kimball: Don’t think I’ll bring the skis, but I’d love it if the snow course involved skiing the first 30 miles!
Call for Comments
So, do you think one of the returning women’s champs will take the race? How do you think these three women will fare?