This could be the don’t miss pre-race interview of the 2012 Western States 100. Aside from hearing AJW talk about the men’s and women’s fields, the conditions, and random minutiae about the WS100, if you stick around to eight and a half minutes in, you’ll hear AJW “be honest” about what he thinks the Western States 100 needs to do over the next first years.
[Warning: This is a Bryon Powell/AJW interview. You will hear much laughing and maybe a bit of nonsense.]
[Click here if you can’t see the above video.]
Andy Jones-Wilkins Pre-2012 Western States 100 Interview
iRunFar: Bryon Powell here with AJW here in AJW’s Taproom. How are you doing?
Andy Jones-Wilkins: Bryon, good to see you.
iRF: It’s Statesmas week.
AJW: It is. My favorite week of the year.
iRF: It’s Thursday night. We love the ambiance here… we’ve been busy all day.
AJW: We’ve been busy all day and quite frankly, it’s darn cold here.
iRF: It is, and it’s only going to get colder. People going up the ridge on Saturday morning, it’s going to be below freezing. With the wind chill, it’s going to be chilly.
AJW: It’s going to be chilly. I think it’s going to be a different year here weather-wise than we’ve seen in 15 years if not longer.
iRF: If not ever.
AJW: Maybe ever, yeah.
iRF: First off, thoughts about the race. What is Western States 2012 going to look like?
AJW: I think the big story this year honestly is the women’s race. This is a hot women’s field, even though the weather is cold. There are 10-15 women runners who are going to be in this thing from start to finish, and that’s a compelling story. I think Ellie (Greenwood) is a strong favorite, but the group chasing her, experienced women and new-to-Western-States and almost-new-to-Western-States, is going to make getting a top-10 women’s spot almost as tough as getting a top-10 men’s spot.
iRF: Definitely. In the past years there have been some years where there’s been a huge spread in the women’s field in the top-10. It’s quite possible, even with the real course this year, they’ll need to be under 19 hours to get in the women’s top-10 this year. What’s the top-10?
AJW: Yeah. I think the real course is going to make a big difference. I can see it going a little over 19 hours, but I can’t see it going over 20 hours and being in the women’s top-10—19:30 is probably more like it. A lot will depend on what’s happening up there. We’re hearing reports of wind that might be affecting things along the ridge and so forth. But if I were a woman right now and I was planning my splits and I wanted to be top-10, I’d be thinking low-19 hours.
iRF: It’s conceivable that the top-10 women this year should be faster than the top-10 men in 2006. Is that possible?
AJW: You know that would be a really interesting comparison to do. I think it was 18:26 that won the men’s race in 2006. My 20:04 got 6th place. So yeah, come on!
iRF: It’s the real course.
AJW: With a capital R and a capital C.
iRF: How much of a difference does that make on race day?
AJW: You know, what I think it does is it raises the specter of wearing people out early. Running all the way to Robinson Flat, which we did in 2010 but not in 2011, and running the true ridge, Lyon Ridge to Red Star Ridge, and then down and around and through Duncan Canyon, is going to test people. I don’t know if it will divide the field, but it will certainly spread the field more than the road course that we’ve had the last couple of years. I think that will have an impact. The truth of the matter is Last Chance to the finish is the same course as it’s always been. It will be interesting to see especially if the pace is hot out of the gate.
iRF: On the men’s side, who does that more mountainous course favor?
AJW: Well, it’s obviously unfortunate that Kilian [Jornet] is not here because that would certainly favor Kilian, giving him a chance to run that ridge and run those high mountains. I have to think that the mountains and the high ridges there in the early part favor Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, Jez Bragg. Tim Olsen, you know he’s a question mark coming in. He raced heavily this spring. He races with a ton of heart and he puts it all out there. But I’d like to see Mike and Jez and Nick go after it. Ian [Sharman] is going to wait in the wings and come from behind.
iRF: Who’s going to be the… who’s new to Western States?
AJW: I’m intrigued by Ryan Sandes. I really am. I’m intrigued by him, his multiday race, his Leadville win; I’m intrigued by him. He’s not been here before. We’ll have to see what happens. There are a slew of guys who have come in through the Montrail Ultra Cup. Whether it’s [Joe] Uhan, or Jorge Maravilla, or Dylan Bowman, or David Riddle, or those two guys from the East, Katzman, and Dixon—there’s a depth there and any one of them are going to surprise us. It’s really, really fascinating to see the untested men in this race. And let’s not forget, hello, Mike Wardian, who’s probably going to win the 6k tomorrow.
iRF: Who do you think is going to win the 6k uphill challenge tomorrow (Friday)? We saw a bunch of men lining up: him (Wardian), Jorge Maravilla…
AJW: Yeah, I’m really interested in seeing how this unfolds tomorrow. But I think we’ll know a lot more as they roll out of Foresthill, on the men’s and the women’s side. Whatever the conditions are in the high country will impact the racers, but also how they’re settling in. Are they running their own race or are they doing something else?
iRF: So that begs the question, say if everyone that is a contender for the men’s and women’s field come into Foresthill together, who wins the men’s and women’s races? Who’s got that closing speed?
AJW: Ellie is going to win the women’s if they’re all even coming into Foresthill. Kami is going to be on her tail. Amy Sproston is going to be on her tail. If they’re all together at Green Gate, if I were Ellie, I’d be worried about those fast-closing, flatlander runners coming after her. And there will hopefully not be a bear this year.
iRF: How about on the men’s side, if they’re all still together at Foresthill? Who’s Cal Street…
AJW: I like Tim Olson on Cal Street; I like Nick on Cal Street; I like experienced guys on Cal Street. I like Mike Wolfe on Cal Street. I like Jez Bragg from the river in. The guy is a closer. Some of his splits from ALT to the finish, back when they had that battle in 2009 with Kevin Sullivan and Jasper and some of those guys, I mean, Jez knows how to finish. And so does Tsuyoshi, by the way. If Tsuyoshi is in that pack, then they should be worried. I think Tsuyoshi himself would admit that he’s not going to win this race, but anything can happen on race day, and in that hypothetical situation, I’d be worried. You know, Dave Mackey isn’t one that I’ve mentioned yet, but these conditions are Dave Mackey conditions. If it stays cool, if he can run his race, he’s been under the radar, he runs a smooth race… he’s never really nailed a hundred. This could be his year.
iRF: Besides the fastest second place time ever [at Western States before 2010].
AJW: Okay, nailed a hundred win. But maybe this is Dave’s year. I wouldn’t want to be chasing him down Cal St. either.
iRF: So, this year represents a lot of transitions. It’s the first time in a long time you won’t be on the starting line. [AJW: Yeah.] There’s the start of a transition towards a new race director, Craig Thornley, coming in in the next few years. There’s sort of the new guard of the raw potential of the athletes here. Where do you see Western States going in the next five years? What is the future of Western States?
AJW: Well, I’m of course disappointed not to toe the line this year. I hope to be back, and God willing, I’ll be able to be back. Putting that aside, I think the next five years at Western States is an exciting time for the race as much as it’s an exciting time for the sport. Craig is poised to be an outstanding successor to Greg Soderlund, and he’s going to be great. What he and the board do with the race, how they place the event in the overall scheme of the sport, I think will require some strategic thinking. I’ll be honest, I don’t think the board has been very strategic in their thinking about where their race is and where they want their race to be. I am a guy who likes to think strategically and I think they have…
iRF: So if you were doing this, what’s the change(s) that needs to be made?
AJW: If I were doing this… Well I don’t think there’s a specific change that needs to be made; I think that there are several changes that need to be made. First, I think you ought to look at the overall entry requirements to the event. I’ll say again what I’ve said for years, I think Western States needs a 100-mile prerequisite. I know Gordy didn’t have to do that when he first ran it, but a 100-mile prerequisite would bring the lottery numbers down by a third.
iRF: So not in a one-year time frame, but …
AJW: No, if you’ve run a 100-mile race one time in your life, you can enter. Second, I think there are some things the race can do to increase the competitive nature of the race without selling out to sponsors. But that would require really taking ownership of what the race is and what the race isn’t and not trying to be all things to all people.
iRF: Which, if we’re honest, kind of has been the case.
AJW: Yes, kind of has been the case. And I’m being honest here, don’t lose the egalitarian nature of Western States. It is a race that should be an open, free race—an event that one aspires to do. But as with everything in life, there are limits, there are expectations that come along with the race. There are disappointments and frustrations and challenges. But Western States, if they really want to poise themselves, not so much for the next five years but for the next 20 years, they need to be as concerned about perpetuating the race which is what they do very well, with being a beacon of hope and a beacon of development for the whole sport. If they don’t do that, other races will.
iRF: Well, Cheers!
iRF/AJW: Bottom’s up!
iRF: Don’t forget to finish.
AJW: I always finish.