While wily Western States 100 veterans return to the race year-after-year in search of glory, the race also regularly sees an influx of new talent. This year is no different. Dylan Bowman has run States once before, but he shares in his interview how he thinks he can do so much better than in 2012. Though Cameron Clayton says he might temper his pace a little bit after after all, he still plans to run in the lead if the other guys are being bashful. And Karl Meltzer, the 100-Mile King who is making his WS100 debut and who rounds out this set of interviews, discusses his injury.
[For more on the top men in this year’s Western States, check out our full men’s preview, as well as interviews with Timothy Olson, Hal Koerner, and Mike Morton as well as Nick Clark, Dave Mackey, and Ian Sharman.]
iRunFar: In a near-miraculous turn of events at last year’s WS100, six guys finished under 16 hours, and you were the first 16-plus-hour finisher. I think you ran with the leaders early and suffered late. What kinds of lessons did you learn from that race that you took back to your training, planning, and strategizing for this year?
Bowman: I’d say “suffered late” would be a major understatement! All kidding aside, I learned more at Western last year than any race in my career and I feel very fortunate to be able to come back for another shot. More than anything, I was reminded that 100 miles can never be underestimated. Last year, my attitude and strategy was very much to go for it, which caused me to race pretty recklessly. I’m in much better shape this year and have resolved to race more intelligently, so hopefully that translates to a faster run, particularly in the last 20 miles.
iRunFar: Still, your run last year was stellar, and you’ll be wearing the M7 bib as proof of that. I think you’ve had a great WS100 training season. Can you give us some of the highlight races and runs that you think have contributed most to the fitness and confidence you bring to this year’s race?
Bowman: My training for Western has, indeed, been very strong. I’ve raced less this year, which has allowed me to train pretty much uninterrupted for several months. Of course, Miwok was shortened, which threw a little wrench into the grand plan. Luckily, that unfortunate situation opened up an opportunity to head to the Grand Canyon for the first time with a group of fast guys. I was able to run a pretty good time there on a really hot day, so hopefully that bodes well for WS100. Also, my recent move to the Bay Area has allowed me to train on the course several times, including a stellar run from Robinson Flat to Foresthill on Memorial Day weekend; that did a lot for my confidence. I feel much better prepared this year.
iRunFar: Last year, you were living at high altitude in Colorado. This year, you’ve moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and you’re sleeping in a Hypoxico altitude tent to offset the sea-level life. I know you’re a believer and a spokesperson for the tents since you’re now a Hypoxico employee, and you’ve gotten a lot of ultrarunners into them, too. You strike me a little bit of a lab rat when it comes to the anecdotal efficacy of the tents, as to whether or not you’ll still feel strong in the early, high-country miles of the race this year. What say you on all this?
Bowman: I am, indeed, a lowlander now, which is a little hard to believe. Obviously, I am a major believer in Hypoxico technology and am happy to be associated with the company. I’m certainly not the only one who has been using it in training, though. A certain defending champion has also been plugged in for several weeks among many, many others. We are really well represented at WS100 this year and are very confident in the group we have. I will say, though, if I’m well behind the pace in the first 30 miles, it’ll be because I’m racing smarter, not because I’m suffering from the altitude. Whether or not I’m able to exercise this restraint is the only question!
iRunFar: For all of us fair-skinned folks out there, I have to ask, do you wear sunscreen?
Clayton: I’m terrible at wearing sunscreen. I know that I should; I am a cancer magnet after all. I’ve gotten better about putting it on my nose and ears but hate the feeling if I put it everywhere. The sensation that I’m suffocating under my own skin is too strong.
iRunFar: Okay, that wasn’t a real question, but this one is. In a Run Tramp interview on iRunFar this spring, Robbie Tramp called you White Lightning. Lightning-like is how I think of your arrival onto the ultrarunning scene. I think your first ultra was only about nine months ago, have I got that right? Like several top men’s and women’s entrants, you’re a 100-mile virgin. What makes you eager to dive right into the longest-distance stuff?
Clayton: I suppose it has been only nine months! I’m not sure if it seems to be more or less than that. It feels as if it’s been a long but very fast-moving year. I was never a person who would put his foot in the water to gauge the temperature. I’ve always felt you might as well jump in and get to where the action is. I’m not doing anything new with a 100 miler than I did with a 50 miler. It’s running! It’s how the sport started up anyway, the old, tough guys didn’t think, “I should do a 50k, then a 50 miler, maybe dabble in the 100k, and then try a 100 miler…” It’s a bit intimidating, yes, but that’s what makes it exciting. I don’t know if my first 100 miler would have the same magic if I waited a few years into my ultra career.
iRunFar: You’re a wicked-talented runner, as evidenced by your ultra performances so far and your time as a CU Buffalo, so what do you think are the strengths you bring to the WS100 race day?
Clayton: I sweat a lot. Alright so that’s not something that you want to be sharing with everyone, but for this race, which is notorious for having 100-plus-degree temperatures, I think it’s my biggest advantage. With aid stations every three to seven miles, as long as I manage my race, hydration, and food, I can take advantage and maybe push harder than other guys who simply don’t sweat as much, as I can remain cooler. (I’m also bigger, though… which creates more heat…) Other things I’m good at are: eating a lot, running tough, and being aggressive.
iRunFar: In that same Run Tramp interview, you also said, “I’d rather go for 14:00 flat and blow up finishing in 18 hours than go for 15:10.” Do you mean this literally? Are you going to go out on 14-hour pace? Or, are you going to go out in the lead? Or, have you rethought this very bold statement? What’s your race strategy?
Clayton: Hmm, if everything had been perfect in my lead-up to Western, I probably would go for that 14:00 flat pace and see what happens. I’ll definitely still go out with the lead guys, or lead it myself if everyone is playing coy. I’ve talked to a lot of guys; I’ve asked them what they went out for their first 50 and no one knows their splits. Thus, I don’t even know what 14:00-hour pace would be, because that first 50 could be faster than the second because it’s cooler, or it could be slower due to the altitude.
iRunFar: Well, well, well, the 100-Mile King is finally going to run Western States. After so many years of getting shut out of an entry, how does it feel that the stars are aligning for the star of 100-milers to toe the line at the most storied 100-miler there is? Also, you’re a pretty low-key guy and the WS100 is full of hype and pomp. How will you balance these inherent personality differences on race day?
Meltzer: To be honest, it doesn’t feel any different at this point in terms of running WS100. To me, it’s just another race (at least at this point). I’m sure I’ll start to feel all the hype when I go get my number, and if anyone chooses to interview me. Because I’ve been hurt and not really able to focus much on this year’s race, my attitude will remain the same as if I’m running Pinhoti for the first time, or WS100. I’m gonna’ run it like I run all the rest of em’, and hope not to get passed after mile 35. The hype and the pomp only bothers me when I’m the favorite, that is kinda sad, but it is reality. I am not even close to being the favorite here. Even if I were in great shape, I’m still not on many of the media’s “interview the favorites” lists. How do I balance the inherent personality differences? I just turn on the music and do my thing. It’s just like any other hundred to me.
iRunFar: The men’s masters race is going to be sick. You, Mackey, Morton, AJW, and I’m sure I’m missing others. What do you think is going to go down among you over-40 men?
Meltzer: I would say Mike Morton is probably the favorite master, if he’s healthy. Mackey just ran over 100k in San Diego, not sure if that’ll hurt Dave, but I pick Morton. AJW is not in the category of Mike, Dave, and I, but again, he’ll probably beat me with the way my training has gone. Twenty-mile weeks for six weeks after Sonoma is the deal.
At Sonoma, what I thought was a bad cramp in my soleus became an issue about two weeks after the race. So I’ve been able to run a little, and some riding. I went to the Red Bull Camp on May 11 and rode my ass off for five days, came home, and still it was bothering me. Only the past two weeks have been good. So I’m hoping to hit autopilot and run for fun. I will say I have some base… and 100 miles is hardly a far distance, so we’ll see. I am feeling a lot better right now, so who knows, the rest may just do me good, and I am the best “off the couch” runner I know.
iRunFar: How do you think the race is going to go? Care to offer up some odds on podium spots or thoughts on who we’re going to see among the top finishers?
Meltzer: It’s pretty hard to predict the winner, but we have to give Olson, Mackey, Bowman, Clarkie, and a slew of others that’ll all be together for 30 or so. A few will fall off, a few will blow up and drop, and a few guys like me and AJW will start to sweep up carnage late. Ryan Sandes being out kinda’ hurts a little. Olson is the favorite, but I think Clarkie is gonna’ win. If anyone is due a big 100-mile win, it’s Clarkie.
There is a slew of others that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but the first four I listed, I see that as the peloton breakaway early, along with a couple of other speedy guys like Cameron Clayton, Rob Krar, just waiting to see if they’ll blow or not.