The women of Oregon have a long history of success at the Western States 100 and last year was no exception with them taking eighth through tenth. In the following interviews, we connect with Amy Sproston, Ashley Nordell, and Meghan Arbogast, who will be sporting F8, F9, and F10 bibs respectively on race day. Read on to learn what Amy thought of her race last year, what being a mom and a high-level runner is like for Ashley, Meghan’s version of a perfect race, and more.
[For more on the top women in this year’s Western States, check out our full women’s preview along with interviews with Rory Bosio, Aliza Lapierre, Nikki Kimball, and Tina Lewis as well as Cassie Scallon and Kerrie Bruxvoort.]
iRunFar: Eighth in 2011, eighth in 2012. Is there going to be an eighth in 2013? When I look at your race last year, I can’t help but think you weren’t running to your absolute potential. I think maybe you had some quad failure? You were running really delicately when I saw you at mile 93 and the finish. What do you believe your absolute potential at Western States to be?
Sproston: I experienced quad death really early on last year. My quads were starting to suffer in the canyons and were already pretty trashed by Michigan Bluff, and then were dead shortly after Foresthill. Once they went, it made for a tough finish. I definitely wasn’t running well from the river to the track, and when I was running, it wasn’t pretty. And with quad death came other issues like kidney problems and the nausea I felt, and my post-run feeling was definitely in line with unhappy kidneys and too much waste to process.
I’m not sure exactly why my quads died, but they died, and died hard. At the time, I blamed it on the cold, and how numb they got the first couple of big descents and that they were really pounding downhill without feeling it. Not sure if that was the case, but quad death seems a bit of a mystery to me yet. Sometimes I feel like my quads should die and they don’t, and other times, they die when I feel like I’ve done the work beforehand to get them in shape.
I’m in good shape, but I’m not sure if I’m in mountain shape. Running a flat road 100k [the Shibamata 100k] four weeks out might not have been the best-focused downhill training. But I do feel like I recovered from two back-to-back 50-milers in April [the Lake Sonoma 50 and the Orhangazi 80k at the Iznik Ultras in Turkey] and pretty quickly, and the 100k as well, so I’m hopeful.
I’d like to think that if my quads didn’t die, I could run somewhere around 18:30, but the heat will also be a factor there. I love heat when I’m living in it. When I lived in Kansas, I loved that feeling of going out for a run in the heat of the day and feeling on the verge of heat stroke. But living in Oregon, that feeling of being “on the verge of heat stroke” comes at a much lower temperature.
iRunFar: You have a very busy life outside of running. Your professional work takes you all over the world, on frequent and long business trips. You run incredibly well even though your job takes up the majority of your time. Some might argue you could run better if you worked and traveled less, while others might say that it’s the adaptability that traveling requires that is so beneficial to ultrarunning, or that working keeps you from focusing on your running too much. What say you on this balance equation?
Sproston: It’s probably best that I can’t focus 100 percent on running. I can’t imagine the stress of focusing on running and not working a full-time job. And what about health insurance? With as many fingers as I’ve broken trail running (one break resulting in hand surgery) and other health issues (DVT/pulmonary embolism from a long flight), I wouldn’t want to give up health insurance. I have a good job with great benefits that allows me to see the world, for a great organization that is working in challenging environments, and sometimes I’m lucky to combine both my running and working lives.
I spent a week in Istanbul for work in April, and was able to combine it with an 80k trail race on the front end [the Orhangazi 80k]. I still have time to train as much as I think that I’d want to train. When I’m on the road for work, I lose a few days with travel and my weekly totals might dip, but I always find a way to train and it breaks up the monotony of running in the same place. I’ve run in the mountains in northern Iraq and the famous Entoto hills high above Addis Ababa in the past six months. It’s not like I’m taking two or three weeks off for each trip, and it’s fun meeting runners in other parts of the world.
Back at home, I hit 80 to 90 miles on a high week and try to average around 70 or so, and don’t know that my body or mind could handle much more than that. I’m also without a family, so I’m guessing I have more spare time than many. Being single, and needing health insurance, I don’t see not working full time as a feasible option, and the travel doesn’t put that much of a damper on training. Plus, I need the balance; if one goes out of whack, I always have the other.
iRunFar: You keep coming back to WS100. What’s the draw to this race, this course, this competition, this geographic place for you?
Sproston: It’s a mix of things. I think I’m drawn back because I’d like to have a good race on the course. I’d like to break through F8 and have all the stars align. Place doesn’t matter so much, but running the entire day and feeling good does. I think it’s also the competition and the atmosphere; all of my friends will be there so it makes me want to go back.
It’s also become a really fun trip with my sister, who has crewed (and paced from Highway 49) both years. She’s a teacher in Wisconsin and has summers off, so she sends her kids, Calvin and Henry, to “Grandma Camp” and then the two of us get to hang out in the mountains of California for a few days. The first year she paced, it was her first experience at an ultra, first time running on trails, and first time running on trails in the dark. Luckily, I was moving really slowly, so she kept up easily. I’d like to have a dream day and drop her. I think she looks forward to Western States almost more than I do. With regards to the future, and if I get in next year, I’m not sure. There are other races I’d like to go back to, like running the Massanutten 100 and Laurel Highlands again.
iRunFar: Your ninth place and 19:26 at WS100 last year was pretty stout. Were you pleased with how that went? And, when you look toward this year’s race with that as your last-year history, what are you thinking is in the realm of possible for this year?
Nordell: I was definitely pleased with the race, especially considering that, up until the Leona Divide 50, I had not planned on running a June 100 miler. I didn’t feel ready mentally, or physically, and so I went into Western States with an open mind. I actually think it worked in my favor because I ran with some hesitation and didn’t really get sucked into racing in the early miles.
I honestly had no idea what to expect. It was my first hundred back after having Ryah; my mileage was so much lower than what I would want to be at with racing in mind, and so I just ran on how I felt. I think that by running a bit cautious, it saved my stomach and legs for later in the day. I am going into this year’s race with a similar mindset. I have a year’s more time getting used to the whole training/mommy balance, but I still feel like I don’t put in the mileage that many do, especially gearing up for a race like Western States.
I now have a time reference from last year, but there are so many factors in a hundred, I don’t like to get too burdened down with really rigid time goals. Of course they are in the back of my mind, as well as place goals, but what it comes down to for me is just running the best I can on that day and making sure I am grateful for the chance to be out there. The nice thing about this race is that there are so many amazing fast and talented runners, I find it easier to run my own race and sort of hide back behind the action and drama in the front. I don’t get pulled into other people’s paces the way I might in a smaller-scale race.
iRunFar: Last year was a cold year, and it’s been heating up on the course in the last couple weeks. What do you think, if you could play meteorologist for a few minutes. What are we in store for this year?
Nordell: Well, I definitely lucked out last year with the weather because I had done zero heat training. I am not betting on two years in a row of ideal Oregon-like conditions, though I can always hope! Just like I do with my thoughts on goal time, I try to keep an open mind about conditions. I can’t change them and everyone will deal with the same conditions, so if I don’t get too caught up in hoping for a certain forecast, hopefully I won’t be thrown off if I don’t get it! I won’t complain if we get hail again, though.
iRunFar: You’re a fairly new mom. Well, you have a two-ish-year-old, which is a whole unique adventure. What has it been like for you, being a mom and trying to keep your running at a high level? How have you changed in these two years as a runner? How do you make it all “fit?”
Nordell: I think you asked the million-dollar question in how to make it all fit! For me, it’s a learn-as-we-go strategy. My daughter, Ryah, just turned two, so this year in some ways has been easier than last. I am not recovering from over half a year off from running, surgery, and getting back in shape. I am also done nursing, which is a whole other set of balancing when you want to run for a long time, so I feel like I should be able to get more in, training-wise.
However, this year I also started back to work part time, and my husband, Josh, took on coaching as well as teaching, so just as soon as we think we have a system figured out, we throw a curve ball at ourselves. Training for us often means family runs with the baby jogger, baby swaps at trailheads, and occasionally begging really supportive grandparents to help out. I haven’t raced as much this year due to our schedule, and I had to miss my most favorite race, Three Days of Syllamo, because Josh had just jumped into coaching. But I have still had the opportunity to do many amazing runs and trips because of all the support that we have. I occasionally have to remind myself that I am very lucky: I have an incredible little daughter, a really supportive family, and running is just running. It’s easy to get swept into comparing and worrying about what I am not doing, or wishing I could somehow fit in another race or long training run somewhere. But then I remember all that I still GET to do, and it puts things into perspective.
I would say the biggest way I have changed as a runner since having Ryah is the perspective that I have now, that reminder that running is just something I do because I love it. It is good for me to get out and have some time to myself, but it is not so important that it takes priority over family. Ryah has been at almost every race and she loves it, so I hope that I am instilling a love of trails, fitness, and nature in her. She learned how to cheer last year at Western, so who knows what she might learn this year! =)
iRunFar: You come to this year’s race with an F10 bib number. Ideally, what bib number would you like to walk away from the 2013 WS100 with for next year?
Arbogast: Ideally? Really? Who doesn’t want to walk away with F1? I think I have a decent chance at F1 and will be ecstatic to place top 10. How is that for range?
iRunFar: You just raced (and won) a 100k road race in Japan [the Shibamata 100k] a couple weekends ago, probably your last big training run before Western States. How do you think a road race has helped prepare you for WS100? Was there heat? Mental training? Time on feet?
Arbogast: Oh God. Running 100k on the road is brutal. I think it is way harder than Western States because it is GO GO GO and you can SEE SEE SEE forever. And if you slow down, well, then it just takes that much longer to get done, so you push on. I think it was great mental prep for Western States, to keep me going perhaps a little bit harder, just tap into that last experience and stop whining.
iRunFar: You’ve run WS100 a number of times. You’ve seen heat. You’ve seen hail. You’ve seen your body work well. You’ve seen your body perform “less well.” What does a good race look like to you, start to finish?
Arbogast: Great question. A good race for me, I feel good on the climb out of Squaw, in that I’m not huffing and puffing over the elevation. When I get into Granite Chief, I feel in control. In the high country, I can manage the altitude. I get to Robinson in low five hours, and continue to pick it up on the downhill sections. The climb to Devil’s Thumb is FUN! I revel in the descent into El Dorado, and I run sections up to Michigan Bluff that, in the past, I’ve only walked. I’m keeping myself cool with water and ice throughout. Michigan Bluff to Volcano is conservative, but on task. From Foresthill to the river, I’ll fly with a pacer. Crossing the river is magical and cooling and then it is a race against the darkness, trying to get to Brown’s Bar in the daylight. As the temps cool, I pick it up more and more, and at Highway 49, I’m on fire, running the last seven miles hard. I have no blisters, no stomach issues, and I eat every 30 minutes. My crew is flawless. I run with joy and spread it to everyone I see. Life is good.