As we approach the 2014 Western States 100, we speak with Emily Harrison, Stephanie Howe, Nathalie Mauclair, and Sally McRae who are among the ‘newbie-ish’ (meaning new to running WS 100 or 100 milers) women’s contingent for this year’s race with enough leg speed and toughness to put a hurt on the rest of the field if they can crack the 100-mile nut. Stephanie, Nathalie, and Sally are all WS 100 first timers while Emily brings one race worth of 100-mile experience, her debut at seventh place last year.
In the following interviews, Emily considers her lessons learned last year, Stephanie talks about her goal to finish, Nathalie debriefs us on the injury she’s been recovering from, and Sally discusses her all-in attitude toward this race.
Be sure to have a look at our women’s preview for the balance of the women’s field!
If you like, you can jump down to a specific interview with:
iRunFar: Take us through the last two-plus months, from your win at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) forward. You recovered. You told us you would stay pretty focused on your training between then and now. You did some tune-up races. Walk us through the last couple months of your training/preparations.
Emily Harrison: I consider Lake Sonoma the kick off to Western States-specific training. From Caumsett (post-race interview) to Lake Sonoma, I didn’t have a set training schedule and was taking every run day by day. Since Sonoma, the main focus has been on sustainable mileage and getting to the start line healthy. WS 100 training camp was my biggest mileage weekend. I did do one tune-up race as a hard effort about a month after Lake Sonoma, Run For the Mountain 10k in Flagstaff, Arizona.
iRunFar: You are in a totally different place at this year’s WS 100. You have about triple the ultramarathoning experience as you had last year, where you finished seventh in 20:28. You also have the perspective of having gone through the experience. And now you have several additional successful training and racing cycles under your belt. Can you compare where your mind and body were a year ago versus where it is now?
Harrison: This year I go into the race having completed a 100 miler (last year’s Western States). That helps take some of the unknown out of the equation. However, now that I’ve completed a hundred, I feel expectations are higher. I still consider myself a newbie at the 100-mile distance and there are so many variables to consider for race day. I’m certainly more physically and mentally prepared this year, but I still have a lot of respect for the distance and what it can throw at you.
iRunFar: You attended the WS 100 Memorial Weekend Training Runs for the second year in a row. Can you tell us about the experience? What did you run each day and how did the outings go? How was it being in familiar territory?
Harrison: The week before camp, we did Double Hump in Ashland (25 miles with 5,500 feet of gain) and a run on the Pacific Crest Trail to come into the weekend with tired legs. Even with these additional runs, I had a very positive experience at the Memorial Weekend Training Runs, running with Ian [Torrence] and Paul Terranova. Like last year, Meredith Terranova was a huge help acting as support crew. It was nice to have a refresher of the last 70 miles and to feel strong on each section. We didn’t do anything fancy and ran a similar daily structure to the training camp, with the exception of flip-flopping Sunday and Monday’s runs.
iRunFar: You had some tough times in the second half of WS 100 last year, if I remember correctly. There were blown quads in particular that were holding you back. Given your results at the 50k and 50-mile distances so far, your potential is far faster than last year’s result. What were your biggest issues last year and what are you doing this year to rectify them, to put yourself in the place where you can race the second half of the race?
Harrison: The quad trouble started upon leaving Robinson Flat last year and seemed to only get worse. The idea is that I do have more ultras under my belt coming into this year’s race and I started focusing on WS 100 much earlier this year. I’ve also done more strength work to make me a more solid runner and less injury prone. From the combination of these two aspects, I’ve noticed a big difference this year compared to last year.
iRunFar: You have a very interesting coaching dynamic through your coach and significant other, Ian Torrence. He’s got decades of ultra experience with which he can help guide you and your training. But we all know that ultrarunning is an experiment of one and what works for you might not work for others. What are some examples of things you’ve learned from Ian and his experience that have shortened your learning curve? And what are some things you’ve learned about yourself as an ultrarunner more through trial and error?
Harrison: Ian has been a huge asset in guiding me through the training for the longer distances. I personally like to have a structured training program that I can follow and not to have to second guess. It’s one less thing I have to worry about, and his training has led me to many successes rather quickly.
On the other hand, I have learned that I take longer to recover than some runners post-race. Also, I was very hard headed about taking in enough calories and hydrating properly during the longer races, despite Ian constantly telling me I needed more. Finally, I’m beginning to take better care of myself during races which makes such a big difference in the end result!
iRunFar: The last time we saw you, you were running to a strong second place at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) in April. What have you been doing in the interim 2.5 months between then and WS 100 race day? Have you been in training hibernation, staying super focused on your day-to-day work/preparations? Tell us about the last couple months of your running.
Stephanie Howe: I have been building up my mileage over the past few months. At Sonoma, I was just starting to get back into the swing of things. I was injured a lot last year and didn’t want to repeat the pattern. This year has been all about being smart and keeping my body healthy. At the time of Sonoma, I was only running about 50 miles a week. I’ve been working to slowly up my mileage while staying healthy. That plan didn’t include a lot of racing, so it may seem like I’ve been off the radar as of recently. I’ve really been getting, as Emelie Forsberg would say, lots of miles and smiles!
iRunFar: The Lake Sonoma women’s race was fascinating. You were sandwiched between two other women on the podium who are both also running Western States, Emily Harrison and Kaci Lickteig, with an only 11-minute spread in between the three of you. You were clearly very evenly matched on that day, distance, and terrain. Do you think we’ll see something similar at States?
Howe: I think there are a lot of talented women running Western States this year. I have no doubt it’s going to be an exciting race to watch unfold. I’m not sure how similar it will be to Sonoma as I think 100 miles is a whole different ballgame. My racing strategy is going to be a lot different for WS 100 than it was for Sonoma. Except for the smile part, I was pretty happy and felt great during Sonoma. In every photo I had a smile on my face. I would love to repeat that!
iRunFar: This is your first 100 miler, really exciting! Probably your main goal, then, is to finish. Given that you are a competitive runner running one of the most competitive races by choice, you probably also want to be in the mix. What is your plan for rectifying those possibly disparate goals?
Howe: YES! Oh man, am I nervous and excited! My number-one goal is to finish. I really want to cross the finish line for my first 100 miler. Even if I have to walk it in, it’s really important to me.
I am a competitive runner, no doubt about it, but I’m respectful of the distance. I have no idea what to expect from my body. I am going to try to run my own race rather than worry about others. That is going to be very difficult for me because I love to race and I love competing. I’m not sure how competitive one can be in their first 100 because I feel there is a lot to learn. I’m talking inspiration from Emily Harrison and Rob Krar’s performances at WS 100 last year. They both ran spectacular debut 100 miles! I’d love to have a similar experience, but again I’m going to stick to my first goal… which is to finish.
I am trying to think of WS 100 not as a race, but as an experience. I want to finish and enjoy the process as much as possible. For me to do this I need to stay away from the pre-race craziness. I do better when I’m relaxed and not caught up in the all hype. I’m going to try to keep my social butterfly-ness in check leading up to the race. That’s hard for me at races! I love seeing everyone. It’s like Christmas, except instead of presents it’s all my favorite people. So if I seem anti-social it’s because I’m trying to keep myself sane!
iRunFar: You have done a lot of training on the States course. Two bouts of training there? You must have by now good ground feel of the course. What parts of the course suit your style of running the best, or inspire you the most? And what parts of the course do you think will challenge you?
Howe: I’ve been on the course twice this year. Once with a group of friends and then again for the Memorial Day weekend training camp. Recently, I’ve become a better downhill runner, so some of the long descents will suit me well. I love long, grinder uphills (think Speedgoat or UROC), but there aren’t many of those on the WS 100 course. I’m going to have to rely on my newfound strength as a downhill runner.
In the past few weeks of training I’ve had some great speed workouts. It’s come as a bit of shock to be running some of my best track workouts when I’ve been training for long and slow. I feel good about my fitness right now.
I’m most intimidated by the distance. Sorry Speedgoat Karl, I still feel 100 miles IS that far. Aside from the distance, I think the heat will be another challenge for me. It’s been crazy cool up in Oregon this spring. I’m talking like 50’s and 60’s Fahrenheit. This past week I ran midday in a long-sleeved shirt and a jacket. I love this type of weather but it’s not helping me prepare for the heat.
iRunFar: Tell us about your crew. Who is the team you’ve put together to support your journey?
Howe: Anyway want to join my crew? Just kidding. Sort of. I was hoping to have one more person, but my crew is going to be so awesome that I only need two of them. :) One of my good friends from Bend, Oregon, Elisa Cheng, is going to crew for me. She’s also my wedding planner, so I’ll know she’ll do a great job organizing. One hundred miles will be a piece of cake compared to organizing a wedding! And Zach [Violett] will be pacing me! I’m excited to have Zach running with me because he knows how I suffer and how to push me. Plus, we do so much running together that it will be a comfort to me to have that familiarity.
iRunFar: Last iRunFar saw you, you were dropping from UTMF after halfway with a problem in your plantar fascia. What happened that caused you to drop out?
Nathalie Mauclair: This winter I had an inflammation of the plantar arch in the left foot. I managed a cure with insoles, chiropractics, and physiotherapy.
iRunFar: I think anyone who ‘watched’ UTMF unfold is wondered this, you ran an incredibly fast pace right off the starting line at UTMF. Early on, you were running in the men’s top 10 which is just incredible. Everyone said that you were running a pace that was unsustainable for 100 miles. What was going on in your mind that caused you to run so aggressively in the early miles of a tough, long 100 miler?
Mauclair: The UTMF was the first race of the season for me. I had a great desire to run, and I did not realize that I was going so fast. I didn’t have a race strategy.
iRunFar: The Western States 100 is another race that doesn’t seem to favor the early rabbit. Because of there being so much downhill paired with several difficult climbs and early exposure to high altitude, it’s a triplicate of factors that can cause runners to blow up in the second half of the race. Given your aggressive style of racing, do you think you will approach this race any differently or do you think you will stick to your style?
Mauclair: I see that I need to be cautious at the start. I hope I will succeed in doing this. I’m telling myself that I’ll go for a long hike and I want especially to cross the finish line. The abandonment of the UTMF was too difficult for me.
iRunFar: You said when iRunFar interviewed you ahead of UTMF that you loved traveling for trail races with your family. Who from your family or friends is accompanying you to California for crewing or pacing? Pacing is a unique concept in the U.S. that you probably haven’t experienced before. Will you have a pacer to run with during the race’s second half?
Mauclair: As usual, I come in California with my husband and my two children (my son Hannibal, 11 years, and my daughter Mileva, seven years). I know the concept of pacers mentioned to me by other French runners. I’ve never had this experience and I could not bring other runners to help me. If you know someone, I’ll discover this American adventure!
iRunFar: The Western States 100 is a race with incredible history, the first trail 100 miler. What kind of attraction do you have for a race like this, a race that represents where and how the sport of trail ultrarunning was born? Are you excited about experiencing history?
Mauclair: I have come on vacation in California with my husband, but without my children, in 2010. I found this wonderful region and I wanted to find an opportunity to return with them. Running in the United States was a dream for me, to have a bib for the Western States 100 is a true dream come true. When I saw that the Western States 100 was in the planning of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, I made it my priority for the season. I would like to thank the organizers for accepting my registration. Discovering the trail and the atmosphere of race is truly magical for me. I want to put all my work in so that it goes well.
iRunFar: You gained entry to the WS 100 through the Montrail Ultra Cup at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile in very early February. That’s given you a full five months to prepare for States, the perfect amount of time for a full-fledged goal-race training cycle. What have these five months looked like for you? We saw you running to sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. What else has been going on training-wise? Can you give us some insight to the process from a global view?
Sally McRae: The past five months have been nothing short of good ol’-fashioned hard work. After Lake Sonoma 50, I committed to staying focused on Western States which meant no racing, just training. It’s been a raw cycle of learning, testing, and lots of humbling. I don’t have a coach and I mainly train alone so discipline was key to getting myself out the door each day–often twice a day.
From a global view, I logged a handful of 100-plus weeks, spent a phase climbing around really steep mountains to strengthen my legs, and then I balanced it all out with lots of time in the gym or on the track getting my body strong through a strength- and injury-prevention workout I created–lots of body-weight exercises, stretching, and push-ups. So many push-ups!
In the past few weeks I’ve been hanging out in the sauna. I don’t mind the heat and usually do really well running in it, but sitting in a 180-degree sauna for 30-plus minutes at a time, I’m pretty sure that’s more mental training than heat training! As a whole, I have loved the training and I am incredibly grateful to be able to do what I do day in and day out.
iRunFar: I follow you on social media. To be blunt, you seem to be 100% immersed in States. Maybe we could call it single mindedness? I won’t say obsessed, not quite. ;) Your focus is singular. Where has this drive come from? How does it move you?
McRae: Yes! I am very excited and focused on States. However, if I wasn’t a mother, I might agree with you about the obsession and single mindedness! Ha! As a coach, I tend to share more running/training info via social media and with the build-up leading into States, I have enjoyed sharing glimpses of my training and perspectives of my journey with those who follow me. I have so appreciated the interactions with fellow runners; they are inspiring and encouraging to no end! (Thank you!)
My kids are the ones who keep me balanced and simultaneously keep me driven. I have to work hard and stay disciplined if I am going to fit everything in. I will quickly include that it is not easy… at all! But I suppose I have been driven my whole life, really since I was a young child. I was raised in a big family (I’m the middle child of five kids) and we all had to work hard for everything we wanted. I started going to work with my dad when I was in elementary school; I would help him lay flooring, paint, put together ceiling fans, I loved it! I was also always playing sports and thrived on the competition. I found great fulfillment in pushing myself to the limits, seeing what I was made of. By the time I was in middle school I had developed a fairly solid work ethic.
I didn’t grow up with much but I believed that I could get what I wanted if I worked hard enough. I’m a dreamer, I suppose.
iRunFar: You have called yourself a big underdog in this race, and I would agree. You’ve proven your strength at 50 miles over the last couple years, but I believe you have just one 100-mile finish, 27-odd hours at the Angeles Crest 100 in 2012. Where do you see the chips falling on race day? Will being an underdog with less 100-mile experience than other ultra distances inform your racing style? Do you feel pressure to show the best of yourself? You kind of just went for it with your second place the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile this year; will we see any of that boldness at States?
McRae: Looking at the list of my competitors, I think everyone would agree that I am very much an underdog going into this race. I think it’s wise to remain respectful of those we toe the line with. The race belongs to no one at the start line and that’s how I’m going to approach it. We all start with the same chance to win.
Being an underdog with less 100-mile experience will not dictate how I will race. I have and will continue to race the same way I have since I was a child… with enormous passion and great belief! My race at AC100 in 2012 was likely the most heartbreaking race of my life, as I realized late into the race that I had fractured my leg; I chose to finish the race and hobbled the last 30 miles to fourth place in excruciating pain. I had trained so hard for that race; I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around quitting.
So, yes, like Sean O’Brien and AC100, I will continue to race boldly. And as far as feeling pressure to show the best of myself, absolutely! But that pressure, or better yet conviction, is what I feel day in and day out.
iRunFar: Did you read Joe Uhan’s ‘The Killing Machine’ about what makes putting together a good 100 miler at the WS 100 so difficult? Was there anything that hit you the strongest in there? That you will be particularly mindful of? That you’re afraid of? That you know you’re going to have no problem with given your own strengths?
McRae: Yes! Joe is a fantastic writer as well as a stellar athlete. He’s had some incredible performances on that course so I was stoked to read such a well-thought-out and insightful article.
The title of the article hit me the strongest. I know it sounds silly, but I’m a bit of an optimist so I was very intrigued by Joe’s stance on the course and his seemingly strong focus on fear or perhaps doubt that one should think he/she can execute a good race plan. But this is also why I love the 100-mile distance. It’s much like life; you can plan until you’re blue in the face and then ANYTHING can happen.
That being said, I think there are two types of fear: the fear that paralyzes and the fear that keeps us respectful and humble. And that’s really what I will particularly be mindful of. I will choose to keep a healthy fear at the forefront; however, if I approach this race with the belief that I’m about to be killed, it will eventually paralyze me. When things get rough in the later stages, I might find myself succumbing to what I feared, and that’s mentally weakening.
Aside from that, Joe’s take on the first 50k was a nugget of gold. I am a bit of a research junkie and after reading other articles, race recaps, and chatting with a handful of States veterans I am sure that if I don’t heed that advice that I could very likely throw my race away. I do like the downhills and I need to be smart when I hit those more aggressive descents. (I’d also like to corner Joe and pick his brain for a couple hours. He knows his stuff!)
iRunFar: You always run with a smile. You call yourself the Yellowrunner and make references to sunshine in your personal descriptions. You have two kids who always have huge grins in your photos on Facebook and Instagram. Should fans be ready to see the McRae-family smile on race day? What does your support team look like? For what will you rely on them come go time?
McRae: Yellowrunner! Yes! It’s a constant reminder to me as well as the way I raise my children to live a life not for yourself, but one that shines in whatever you do and onto whoever you meet. We’re all given talents and natural passions for things and they should be used to their fullest.
As much as I’d love for everyone to meet my little family during race weekend, they will be cheering from home; logistically we couldn’t make it work, but we’re hoping to bring them to a race in December. It would bless my socks off to see them at the aid stations and the finish line.
My crew and pacers are a handful of my very dear friends/training partners. I can honestly say that I have the absolute best crew at the Western States 100, David Daley, Colin Cooley, Billy Yang, and Ethan Newberry. As a whole, these guys are my friends. a little like my big brothers. We’ve shared hundreds of miles together and I have learned so much from all of them. They’ve pushed me, challenged me, and have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I feel very fortunate to have them in my life and I am incredibly humbled that they would give up a long weekend to fly north to focus on getting me to that finish line.
The important things I’ll be relying on them for, definitely nutrition, keeping me cool, and motivating me to push hard. In the later stages of a 100 it’s really easy to just start forgetting what you need or how much time has passed since you last ate. I’ll need them to help me stay focused. One of the most important things I told them just the other day was, “Do NOT coddle me!” They know not to just say, “Wow, you’re doing great… you look good out there.” That does nothing for me. I told them to say, “Sally, you need to pick it up… c’mon let’s move!” If you’re at an aid station when I come in and my crew starts yelling at me like they’re drill sergeants, don’t be alarmed, that’s totally normal!
iRunFar: Lastly, where do you put your mind for race day? What is your intended headspace? When we see you running past, where can presume your mind is?
McRae: My mind for any race is very focused. I have big goals for States and I’m very passionate about fulfilling them. Typically my mind always goes to the same place on race morning: prayer. I wake up and before I step out of bed, I lie there and pray and then I keep praying as I get ready and all the way to the start line. It keeps me calm and focused, and it also helps me to not care about who or what is around me.
Once the gun goes off, I’ll be completely immersed in the race set before me, every step, every mile, every aid station. This race means a lot to me for many personal reasons and in some ways, I know it’s going to tell the story of what I have been going through personally these past few years. Stuff that I haven’t shared much… pain, strength, and triumph. If you see me running past, I’ll likely be smiling, even if I’m hurting, because when I run I feel joy and joy is something we can feel even in the midst of the worst pain. I know from many accounts. And I know it’s that joy that’s ultimately going to get me to the finish line. It’s gotten me to many finish lines in my life thus far and I have great hope it will on race day.