Larisa Dannis took second at the 2014 Western States 100. In the following interview, Larisa talks about how she became a runner, what she likes most about the atmosphere of a race, and how the race played out from her perspective.
Be sure to check out our results article for the whole race story including links to the rest of iRunFar’s post-race coverage.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Larisa Dannis Post-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Larisa Dannis after her second-place finish at the 2014 Western States 100. Great job!
Larissa Dannis: Thank you so much!
iRunFar: Were you expecting anything like that?
Dannis: Absolutely not.
iRunFar: We haven’t interviewed you before, so we’d love to hear a little about your running background. You’re obviously quite a strong runner.
Dannis: Sure thing. I got into it somewhat recently, about four years ago. I started out as a hiker in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I increasingly put together longer and longer hikes. Eventually, I learned that I could go a little faster if I ran the downhills. It’s like ultrarunning was natural progression. One year I paced the Vermont 100k and I kind of found my calling. Since then I’ve just been looking to be the best I can be and figure out how to train for this stuff.
iRunFar: That’s amazing. That’s inspiring to be four years into a running career and run an incredible Western States. How have you done in 100s in the past?
Dannis: My first few were absolutely non-competitive. I guess to step back, inherently I’m not a competitive person. I love to have fun with these things. That’s the reason that I run. It’s really been the last year and a half that I really found my groove with the training and things and I really have been able to improve. So my first two 100s were Rocky Raccoon and Vermont. I think my first Rocky, I finished 25 hours. I just broke 24 hours at Vermont. Since then I’ve just been able to improve.
iRunFar: How many years ago was that, two or three?
Dannis: Three years ago.
iRunFar: Three years ago. Wow. What a progression. Since you have that hiking background, do you find yourself drawn to longer workouts or do you mix some intensity in your training?
Dannis: I’ve actually switched things up recently. I follow largely a marathon training plan. I do easy days Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. I’ll do a workout on Wednesdays, and then I’ll do a lot of long runs on the weekends. I’ll tweak those depending on what I’m training for. If I’m doing something shorter like a 50 or a marathon, I’ll do those with more of a speed-type focus. If I’m doing something like a 100, and this one was quite funny because I literally got in and had five weeks to train, I’ll do something a little more challenging in the mountains that’s slower but more elevation and time on your feet.
iRunFar: So were you planning to run a 100 miler this season?
Dannis: I got into Cascade Crest, so that was the race on my radar. Then I ran Ice Age 19 days after Boston, and I wasn’t fully recovered. I was like, I’m just going to do it for fun, and I got the Western States entry, and it was just too good to pass up. I was like, Alright, I have five weeks. We can work with this.
iRunFar: So you’re not too competitive, but you do like to race. You ran Boston in 2:44?
Dannis: I did, yes.
iRunFar: Then a week ago you ran Mount Washington?
iRunFar: Ice Age after Boston, then Mount Washington.
Dannis: I love being at races, and I think it’s more of a personal challenge for me. I love seeing what I can do, but I don’t like racing against other people. That’s why I really try to pace by my heart rate and I kind of have a goofy style. I’m very upbeat. I think it really helps with the 100.
iRunFar: I remember you finishing and telling your family or your crew that you kept it aerobic all day! That was your only goal!
Dannis: That was. That’s the whole heart-rate thing. I love to climb–Mount Washington, you know. I knew going up the Escarpment, this is something I’m going to want to just get into low gear and just haul up that thing. I was like, Alright, goal for Western States, 100% aerobic, keeping it in that range. Every time I’d kind of hit that upper range, I’d just go into a powerhike for a bit. I think it really saved my legs and enabled me to run a steady race throughout which was my top priority.
iRunFar: There was a little confusion. People had thought you had dropped out.
Dannis: I heard this.
iRunFar: Did you not see your crew there?
Dannis: What I heard happened is my fiancé was running and he dropped out at mile 16 and was trying to find my family. There was some miscommunication because he was using my number that I had dropped because he dropped. That’s what I had heard. I don’t know the details. All I know is that I turned on my phone after the race and everyone was like, “I’m so sorry you dropped.” I was like, “No I didn’t. I just finished!”
iRunFar: All day, especially coming into Robinson, you were just smiling and whooping it up and having fun with it.
Dannis: I think it’s so important with 100 miles in particular just to keep that positive approach and stay in the moment because it’s so easy to fall into those lows. And if you let them get to you especially if you’re just being negative, it can really ruin your day. So my approach, first and foremost, I do this because I love to run. If I didn’t love to run, I wouldn’t be doing this. Even when I’m doing a 100, of course I’m going to hit points where I’m not feeling super awesome, but just staying positive, it reminds me of why I do this. Yesterday, I just can’t believe what happened.
iRunFar: Did you have any low points?
Dannis: Yes, between Foresthill and Rucky Chucky I hit a little bit of a low, but I was surprised that I was still able keep a pretty steady pace going. I had a wonderful pacer with me. She came out from Connecticut. She’s another big ultrarunner out there, and she really helped me get through that. But I love that challenge as well. It’s the reason I kind of love-hate 100s. You know you’re going to hit low points at some point, and you want to prepare for how you’re going to deal with those. I love that kind of mental preparation because it makes it more fulfilling—the race is more fulfilling.
iRunFar: What was the best moment from yesterday?
Dannis: Oh gosh, crossing the American River.
iRunFar: And why?
Dannis: Because it was so nice and cool. I love it. Actually, it was really fun. Before Devil’s Thumb there was a pretty good water crossing, too. I didn’t realize we were going to have to go in the water. There was a rope set up. Ahh. It was a big surprise, a welcome surprise. I’m running down there and I’m like, I see the rope and I’m like, Oh, yes! I’m just there and I’m just keeping myself nice and cool. It was awesome.
iRunFar: Obviously you were taking care of yourself and running by heart rate, but did you ever get into sort of a competitive mode? It must be hard not to.
Dannis: I had no intentions of trying to go really hard and catch Stephanie [Howe] because she’s so strong. At the end you hear people behind you and I’m like, Oh, I wonder if that’s Pam [Smith] or Kaci [Lickteig] because they’re such good closers. So I was letting it get to me a little bit at the end, but once again, I was like, I’m here to run my own race. It’s my first year at Western States. I told all of my friends before the race, “I just want to enjoy the experience.”
iRunFar: Did you?
Dannis: I did. I had a ball out there. I had so much fun. It’s just… there’s just so much energy. You go into the aid stations and everyone is just so excited that you’re there. They go above and beyond to support runners. I just, I had a blast.
iRunFar: So you are still so new to 100s or running period, you’re on a really quick ascendance. What can you dream up?
Dannis: What’s pretty crazy is that I’m trying to figure out what I should focus on because I’ve had a lot of success with road marathoning. I love the hill climbs. I just love running uphill. I seem to be best suited to 50s and marathons when it comes to my distance. I love 100s. So I just feel lucky that I can do it all. Life’s too short not to. That’s why I did Mount Washington the week before Western States because it’s a race I love.
iRunFar: I hang my head because I saw that and I was like, “Oh, she’s not going to take Western States seriously.” But you just love it.
Dannis: It was a compromise. Can I run up, but I won’t run down? I promise I won’t run down. You have to do what you love. I love to run. Sure it’s a week out but I was just like, I’m just doing both of them for fun, so let’s go.
iRunFar: So do you have something lined up for next weekend?
Dannis: Not yet. I think I’m going to take a little break from racing because I’ve just done so much this year. It’s been a great year so far.
iRunFar: You’ll go to Cascade Crest though?
Dannis: I think so. So this is my year of DNF redemption. That’s the reason I did Rocky because I DNF’d there in the horrible rain year. I was like, I need to go back, and I signed up way before it was a Montrail Ultra Cup race. I signed up and was just like, I’m just going to go there and have fun, and all of a sudden it becomes a super-competitive race. Why did I sign up for it this year? So I’m definitely going to go back to Cascade even if I walk the whole thing from mile 60. I want to redeem myself.
iRunFar: There are some great views after mile 60.
Dannis: I’ve actually done the whole course because I’ve paced it from Hyak on, and I’ve run up to mile 60 in my own race.
iRunFar: So you don’t want to relay this. You want to do it in one shot.
Dannis: Exactly, and just have a ball with it. It’s such a beautiful course. Washington is a cool state, and I love to travel.
iRunFar: Any other races or adventures you’ve got lined up for the summer?
Dannis: That’s it right now. I guess the big adventure is I’m moving to San Francisco next month. That’s a pretty big adventure.
iRunFar: What’s drawing you to San Francisco?
iRunFar: That’s a long way from the White Mountains.
Dannis: It’s a long way, but it’s a good opportunity. What’s the worst that can happen? I have to move back.
iRunFar: What’s your work moving you out there for?
Dannis: I work for a software company called Autodesk, and I do web marketing. So it’s an awesome job. It’s a wonderful company. They give me that work-life balance so I can pursue my running and also have the flexibility to work when needed.
iRunFar: Are you excited to move into yet another very vibrant running community?
Dannis: I can’t wait because New Hampshire doesn’t have so much of an endurance community. There are people who trail run, but there are not a lot of longer distances. So I’m training a lot on my own, so I’m super excited to go out there. I’ve already been making friends online and exploring their trails. I’m happy I’m going to have people to run with for once!
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, congratulations on your great run yesterday.
Dannis: Thank you so much.
iRunFar: Have fun in the future.