Both trail running and ultrarunning are seeing an incredible infusion of talent these days. There’s been chatter about folks transitioning in from competitive track and road running backgrounds, but there’s talent coming in from other endurance disciplines, as well.Take, for instance, the second and third place women at this year’s Lake Sonoma 50. In her second 50 miler, Tyler Stewart finished second, picking up a spot in her goal race for the year: the Western States 100. Until recently Stewart was a professional Ironman triathlete specializing in the cycling portion. She holds the women’s record for fastest ever Ironman bike leg and even spent a year as a professional cyclist. On the other hand, Stephanie Howe was a collegiate Nordic skier. She placed third at Lake Sonoma in her 50 mile debut.
In the following interview, find out why these women have taken on the challenges of trail running and ultrarunning, what they’re learning and what they’re applying from their previous disciplines, and where you might see them next.
Tyler Stewart and Stephanie Howe Post-2012 Lake Sonoma 50 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: I have Tyler Stewart on the right from Patagonia Ultrarunning and Stephanie Howe from The North Face on the left. This was Tyler’s second 50 miler and Stephanie’s first. Tyler comes from an Ironman background and Stephanie has been racing shorter runs for quite some time. We’re looking to learn a little about these women and their transitions into the sport. We’ll start with Tyler. You’ve run one 50 miler before but you’ve done Ironman’s for awhile. You’ve been a triathlete. Tell us about the transition and what brought you to ultra running.
Tyler Stewart: I’ve been doing Ironman’s for 8 years and I’ve been a pro triathlete for 4-5 years now and at the end of last year I was at Ironman Hawaii, which is the World Championship, and I had a really rough race. My step-dad died while we were there, he died the day after the race, and we knew he was really sick. I just kind of looked at everything and said, “You know what, I can do an Ironman any time, I can go, I know what it’s about.” I’ve probably done 15 Ironmen in my life, I know everything about it. There was nothing that was unknown about it. “Oh, can I go 5 minutes faster today than last month?” There was nothing, challenging isn’t the right word, but there was nothing unknown about it to me and I wanted to try something new. I wanted to put myself to the test of signing up for something and not knowing if I could finish, which is how I started triathlon. When I volunteered at Western States last year I thought, “This is what I want to do.”
iRF: People probably don’t know, but you have the cycling record for women’s Ironman, so you are a cyclist, correct?
Stewart: I’m a cyclist, yes.
iRF: So this isn’t just about being an Ironwoman transitioning to ultrarunning, but this is about being a cyclist and switching.
Stewart: Yes, I actually took a year off and just rode my bike. You know, I like to change it up, I’ve got ADD, what can I say? Ironman, cycling, now we’ll do a little running… I can tell you I’ll never be a swimmer.
iRF: You’re not swimming from France to England anytime soon?
Stewart: No. I don’t think so.
iRF: Well, you did pretty well in your second 50 miler placing second today.
iRF: And we have Stephanie Howe here who ran her first 50 miler today. Tell us a little about your running background because you’re new to ultras.
Stephanie Howe: Yeah, I’ve run a little bit in the past, like I ran in college, but I’ve always been a cross-country skier. This last year I moved to Corvallis, Oregon (I’m from Bend, Oregon), and Corvallis doesn’t have snow, so I decided I wanted to be a runner this year. I’ve kind of been dabbling in running races a little bit more and I really like trail running. So ultras were kind of just the next big thing to try. I’ve done three 50k’s now, and this was my first 50 mile. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot, especially today. It was hard.
iRF: So what about trail running draws you to it? What do you enjoy?
Howe: I just really like being out in nature. There’s more to think about. It’s just beautiful. You can’t just mindlessly turn left-right. You have to be conscious of what’s going on. There’s just something to being out in the woods by yourself. I don’t know, I like it.
iRF: So throughout the winter were you mostly Nordic skiing or were you running?
Howe: This year I ran through the winter, being in Corvallis. I did do a couple ski races, just jumped in them for fun. This is the first time I’ve run the whole year. It’s been good. I have to thank Meghan Arbogast. She kind of took me under her wing and showed me the trails. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
iRF: What have you learned in your transition over to ultras or to trail running.
Howe: Well, I was just saying that today I learned that 10 miles is a long ways at the very end. I guess in my transition… I don’t know… maybe patience… feeding is important. In shorter races, you can get by without doing them, but in ultras it just bites you in the butt. You have to take care of that stuff early on.
iRF: So how did you learn that because this was your first 50 miler and you were patient. You moved up through the day.
Howe: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I was bonking pretty hard for a while and I just totally slowed down and took care of myself. Then the last 5 miles were awesome actually because I could run again. So that was a good learning experience that you can bonk hard and come back.
iRF: Did you ever have that experience in Nordic skiing?
Howe: Not really, because a 50k is really the longest distance you race in skiing and that takes a lot less time. Skiing is nice because when you go up the hill then you go down the hill and you’re tucking and you’re resting, so it’s a little bit different. And then gliding is not as hard on your body. I’ve never really bonked in a ski race.
iRF: So Tyler, you have 4-5 years of pro-Ironman experience and pro-cycling experience. That’s really from the longer end perspective, comparable or almost longer than you ran today. Were you able to apply any of those lessons to ultrarunning?
Stewart: I would definitely say that what you learn in Ironman, and especially as an amateur and before you really start racing Ironmen, is it’s all about patience. You have to be able to find your one comfortable spot and be able to stay there all day long. Then when you start racing pro you have to take chances and you’ve got to lay it on the line sometimes and see how long you can last. But I would definitely say that in the two 50 milers that I’ve done, it’s so funny because I start with people and people just go out of the gates like bats out of hell and people are always saying to me, “Why are you back here? Why are you running so slow?” “Because I’ve got 50 miles to run. There is no rush to anything,” which is the way I started doing Ironmen as well.
When you do something that you don’t know how your body is going to react, the best thing you can do is to be super patient and if you’ve got energy at the end, great, let it go. But it seems so many people do these things and they make the same mistake every time. They come out of the gates, they get excited, they go too hard, they try to stay… they want to win the first mile, exactly. I went back and forth with a bunch of people and they finished an hour after me. Just hold your pace steady all day long and you’re going to end up having a much better result. That’s definitely something you learn in doing Ironmen.
iRF: So speaking of patience over a long period of time, you earned a Western States 100 spot today. Any thoughts on whether you’re going to use that spot?
Stewart: I have to say this year is all about the unknown for me and running 100 miles is definitely unknown and very scary for me. So, I’m absolutely going to be there.
iRF: Awesome. Stephanie, how about you, what are your race plans for the year ultras or otherwise?
Howe: I don’t know. I wanted to see how this race when and then kind of plan. I’m in school until June so I’m not doing a lot until then but I am doing Pole Pedal Paddle in Bend, which is a very big deal in Bend. Then there are some races I like to do like Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Half Marathon. I think I’m doing TransRockies again. It was a fun time last year. I’ll probably do The North Face 50 mile in December and some 100 miler or 100k in the next summer.
iRF: Congratulations to both of you ladies on your great runs today. Welcome to the sport of ultrarunning. We’re glad to have you!