Ahead of the 2014 Western States 100, we’ve interviewed previous top placers Ryan Sandes, Nick Clark, and Dylan Bowman. Ryan has run States once, in 2012, where he finished second. Clarky’s finished the race four times and landed in the third position after two of them. DBo is a two-time top-10 finisher.
In these interviews, Ryan talks about whether or not he’s got winning on his mind, Nick compares his training from last year to this year, and Dylan goes all Sports Center and tells us how he thinks the men’s race will play out.
Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s preview to see who else these gentlemen will be racing.
iRunFar: Last we spoke with you, you’d just taken second at UTMF (post-race interview) in April. And that was following a speed record on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (post-event interview) and a win at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview). Many people would pretty much eat their hat for a year like you’ve had already. Yet we’re only halfway through the year and you’re still going. Where does the inner drive to keep going and keep pushing coming from, month after month? Event after event? Exotic location after exotic location?
[Editor’s Note: We now have a pre-race video interview with Ryan Sandes.]
Ryan Sandes: Yeah, it’s been an awesome year for me and I have had loads of fun. I have planned my schedule to take the second half of the year quite easy. I just need to stick to that now as there are always so many awesome opportunities. I head to Madagascar for a multi-day race at the end of August and that will be my last international race for the year. I love traveling and exploring new places so getting to run in places like the Canary Islands, Mount Fuji, and Lake Tahoe is a dream come true and fuels my drive. I am constantly running in new places and really enjoying the experience so I am in a great headspace.
iRunFar: At UTMF, you ran a strong second place. But François D’Haene ran an even stronger first place. You said when we interviewed you afterward that you just didn’t have the legs to compete with François, and that you were feeling a bit of the Drakensberg, which you’d completed just three weeks prior, especially toward the end of UTMF. You know as well as I do that you’re not going to get second place on a set of fatigued legs at WS 100 this year. The person who takes second is going to have a damn fine day. What have you done following all of your 2014 adventures to ensure you’re in a place to run with your best set of legs come race day? That there are no residual fatigue or issues in there?
Sandes: Going into Western States this year my main focus has been on recovery. It is easy to get carried away and ramp up the millage too quickly after a big race (UTMF). I have taken some time off and kept a lot of my training very easy to give my body a break. Western States is the type of race that if you go into it on tired legs, it will eat you up whole.
iRunFar: You’ve run this race once before, a 15:03 second place in 2012 behind Timothy Olson as he set the current course record. Your time is the third fastest on the course. I have a feeling that you think you could do better with this race, even though there’s just not much room for doing so. Are you, thus, here to win? To set a new course record? To just do what you can to have your best day out there? Are you willing to put out there your tangible goals? Are you envisioning having to take risks in order to improve upon your previous experience?
Sandes: I have too much respect for the race, and that goes for any 100 miler in fact, to set any time goals. So much can go right or wrong out there. I want to run the course as fast as I can and in order to do so I will need to take a few risks. In taking risks you still need to run a really smart race as one mistake can mean a very long day (or should I say day and night) out there. In 2012 we were lucky to have quite cool weather and I think that had a big effect on the fast times. Ideally I would like a hot year even if it slows my time down. If there were one race I would like to win it would be Western States–there is something really special about this race.
iRunFar: I think you’re a close study and fan of trail ultrarunning, and that you know who your competition is likely to be. The man who wins will be among the top five at Foresthill, and likely the top three at the river. Who do you think will be in those groups, and how do you envision the late race playing out?
Sandes: I think it will be a really interesting race! Normally when you get a whole bunch of fast guys racing, a couple of them will set off at a very fast pace which they can’t always hold. In order to stand a chance of winning I think you would need to be within striking distance of the leaders at Foresthill and really run strong from the river onwards. There are so many strong guys running it is hard to say who will be amongst the top guys! There’s Miguel Heras, Thomas Lorblanchet, Rob Krar, Dylan Bowman, Michael Aish, Ian Sharman, and many more. I think there will be a group of two to four fighting it out for the win from the river.
iRunFar: By race day, you’ll have been in California training on the course and adapting to the heat and altitude for close to a month while your home of Cape Town, South Africa is enjoying the cold of winter. You’ll have had a chance to do some running on the course with some other fast guys you’ll see on race day. You’ll have done a bunch of your own training yourself. You’re putting a lot of heart and soul into this. What’s going to be your biggest emotional driving force on race day?
Sandes: I love the sun and summer and hence I decided to escape a very cold Cape Town winter to come to sunny Lake Tahoe. The Lake Tahoe area has so many awesome trails and is very close to the WS 100 route so this has been our base for a few weeks. We spent a week with some friends just onside of Auburn who we met in 2012. We have stayed in contact and they have been so friendly and welcoming to us. Thanks Bill, Theresa, Tony, and Cathy! I was super bummed when I had to pull out of WS 100 last year due to an ankle injury. It was so frustrating having to follow the race online and not be able to run it, so that will give me lots of motivation come race day. I have a whole group of South African friends (Ryno [Griesel], my DGT partner, is one of them) who have come out to help crew and support me so it’s going to be a really fun experience.
iRunFar: 15:45, Mike Morton’s masters course record. I saw you put out there on your blog about a week ago that you’d like to beat it. I also saw a number of elite men racing WS 100 react positively about your statement on social media. You’ve run that time before, 15:44 in 2012, the cool year, but when you were 38. A couple years older and wiser, and a real good chance of hot weather, you think that’s in your reach?
Nick Clark: I turned 40 last month, which conveniently gives me a couple of master’s goals to shoot for, in addition to the overall goals. As you mention, I’ve run quicker than the current master’s record before, albeit in abnormally cool conditions (versus the furnace Mike set the record in last year), and been in the general ballpark on two other occasions, so I definitely feel like it’s within reach. Anything between 15:30 and 16:00 is really no more than a solid all-day jog, but as we all know 100 mile-ing tends to be a lot more complicated than the actual running part.
My stomach is the biggest X factor, and my races usually hinge on how far it goes before shutting down. I’m hoping it goes 100 miles this year (I have a plan), and if so, I’m confident that I can better the record and (finally) beat Scott Jurek’s best of 15:36–another time goal I’ve somewhat randomly had in my head the last four years.
As far as being a couple years older goes, I’m not seeing any dramatic signs of slowing down (across all distances), so I think those two extra years of experience are an advantage rather than a detriment.
iRunFar: After watching you race all these years, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you make a mistake that’s killed your race, which seems to happen to the best of everyone from time to time. A bad race for you is dropping back to third or fourth or maybe seventh. Do you remember the last time you blew up like a fireworks finale?
Clark: I blew up pretty hard at UTMF this year after feeling really strong through the first 100k. After spilling my guts through the 12-mile Tenshi Mountain section for four hours I was pretty much done with the race and ready to quit. A mile out of the mile 75 aid station, I did what I always tell people not to do when racing hundreds and sat on a rock for half an hour trying to figure out how I was going to extricate myself from my predicament. Finally Dave Mackey came through and encouraged me to walk it in with him. That was enough to induce a mild, slow-motion rally, and I was ultimately able to get around the mountain. Other than that, my biggest blow-up was at UTMB in 2011 where I cried like a baby, curled up in a ball, and said no mas after 80 miles. I couldn’t walk at that point, let alone run, so I don’t really have any regrets on that one. I have a whole tirade on my blog from that race, which I probably don’t need to repeat here.
iRunFar: This year will be your fifth WS 100 in a row. You’ve already had a pretty big 2014, by many people’s standards. The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, UTMF, a couple other shorter races. This was starting just a half year or so after your ginormous Grand Slam of Ultrarunning-esque ;) outing last year. You’ve been at this sport a while and yet you keep going hard at it and keep returning to the big-gun races. What are you hungry for that you haven’t yet achieved?
Clark: I enjoy all kinds of races, and honestly prefer the small-time community events where I get to hang out with close friends and make new ones over the bigger races. That said, there are so many great opportunities right now in long-distance trail racing that it can be hard to turn offers down when they’re presented. I love to travel, I love to run, so when I’m offered an opportunity to go race in Japan or South Africa, for example, I’m just not going to turn it down.
Those offers will dry up soon enough (I’m an old fart now, remember), and when they do I have a lifetime’s worth of alpine-adventure routes in the mountains that I want to take on. The biggest of those is a 200-mile traverse of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Salida, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’d also like to show Tony [Krupicka] how to complete the Nolan’s 14 line (ouch ;-)), and then there are many other smaller, sub-range traverses in the Rockies that I’d like to take on. In addition to those non-race goals, I’d also like to run 10 consecutive top-10 Western States races in under 17 hours, so the C goal for the end of June is to ensue that–at a minimum–I finish somewhere in that top 10 and in under 17 hours.
iRunFar: Every year at WS 100 there’s a rabbit who leads off the front at below course-record pace. It’s never you but it’s always someone, and there are plenty of dudes in this year’s field who could fill that role. Who do you think will be leading at Red Star Ridge this year? And will that person still be ahead come Robinson Flat?
Clark: Yeah, this year’s field is interesting. You have a lot of legitimately fast guys running who are unproven at the 100-mile distance. One of them might get ahold of the ball and knock it out of the park, much like Rob Krar did last year, but there’s an equally good chance that they all fail (relatively speaking). If I had to put money on it, I’d say the winner will not be a 100-mile rookie this year. I have no doubt that the casual trundle up the hill in the first few miles will frustrate at least one of the faster guys and he’ll be off to the races feeling great and wondering what all the fuss is about. Then somebody puts the proverbial sofa on his back at Last Chance and he either DNFs or limps to a disappointing finish. You don’t really get a sense of how your competition is feeling/running until that first stiff climb up to Devil’s Thumb, mile 45 to 47, which also tends to be the point when the heat really starts to get going. Up until that point the splits are pretty much meaningless and nothing to get concerned about. The leader at Devil’s Thumb may win the race, but likely not the leader at Red Star or Robinson if somebody gets off to a flyer.
iRunFar: And, who do you see as the game changers, the guys who make crucial moves at Foresthill, the river, or mile 90, guys that would make you really nervous if they were behind you at that point?
Clark: Rob Krar had a phenomenal run last year, and I expect more of the same this year. Dylan Bowman, I think, is due for a big run and I put him up there as a podium contender, although he’ll have to figure out the last 20 miles in order to do so. Ian Sharman is motivated for a big run and he knows how to do it, so I think he’s a podium contender. Ryan Sandes is a guy who always seems to run a smart race, so I’m sure he’ll be unleashing over the last 20 miles much like he did two years ago. Lorblanchet, Heras and [Yoshikazu] Hara could all go well, in addition to a couple of other strong international runners. Matt Laye and Jared Hazen I think could both have good runs, coming off impressive Rocky Raccoon efforts earlier in the year. Then you’ve got the rookie leg-speed guys: [David] Laney, [Alex] Varner, and [Max] King. And let’s not forget guys like Mike Aish and Jorge Maravilla who’ve shown they can run fast at sub-100-mile ultra distances but perhaps haven’t quite figured out the all-day thing just yet.
Additional to the names I’ve already mentioned there’s a list of 10 to 15 other guys who I’m sure are all eyeing a top-10 finish. It’s a great mix of veteran 100 milers, veteran Western States guys, newer, and somewhat-proven ultra guys, and then the really quick guys who’ve never run a century before or never run one well.
The prediction contest should be fun this year. And that’s just the men’s race. The women’s field looks equally as compelling. I’m not going to name names, but I think a WS 100 first timer wins that race.
iRunFar: 2012, seventh place, 16:03 (colder year). 2013, fifth place, 16:32 (hot year). 2014, any bold personal predictions or goals? Are you willing to put something specific out there?
Dylan Bowman: I’d really like to go under 16 hours this year. On a good day and with the right conditions, I think I could go 15:45. Maybe a touch faster if the stars align.
iRunFar: You’ve been on a tear in the spring of 2014, racing-wise, a win at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile (post-race interview) and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile – New York, basically uncontested in the last miles of each race. How’s the training going in between these races? You publish your training on Strava, and it sure looks like it’s been going well. Good, high mileage. Good speed workouts. Pulling course records on routes regularly run by other studs. What else has coach Jason Koop had you doing? Are you pleased with the overall feel of your training?
Bowman: My preparation this year has been rock solid. I consider Sean O’Brien and TNF Bear Mountain to be two of my best-ever performances, which I think is testament to the genius of Jason Koop. My overall volume this spring is way down from years past, with a huge increase in quality. At this point last year, I was way overtrained and completely lacking explosiveness and athleticism. This year I feel like a whole different person. Training volume has been up in the last few weeks with longer interval sets, but I still have only one 100-plus mile week in my legs, which I think is a good thing. My body seems to respond much better to lower volume and higher intensity which I hope translates into a much faster Western States. I have a lot of confidence in the work I’ve done and feel like I’ve left no stone unturned.
iRunFar: There’s quite the contingent of San Francisco Bay Area dudes racing in a couple weekends. Sharman, Maravilla, DBo, Laye, [Gary] Gellin, Varner, I’m probably missing a couple more? You train with many of these guys. Is there any racing strategy coming around via all of you having spent so much time together? Are people going to race together? Every man for himself? You must know these guys’ strengths and weaknesses relative to yours since you train together so does that more intimate understanding of them as racers change your own experience?
Bowman: Plus Brett Rivers and Topher Gaylord, too! I’m so excited to be racing with all these guys and I anticipate sharing a lot of time with them on race day. We’ve been training together all spring and talk strategy often. There won’t be any team tactics but we’ll be supportive of each other which I think will help. There’s no question that we’ve all improved as a direct result of being able to train together and I wouldn’t be surprised if four or five of us crack the top 10.
iRunFar: The Western States course is one that took its toll on you your first go ’round, a la Joe Uhan’s ‘The Killing Machine’ article. How has this course specifically eaten you alive before and how have you learned to best approach it as you’ve gained more experience with it?
Bowman: Historically, I’ve had my best races on hilly but runnable courses. In that sense, I feel like Western is a race that suits me really well. I’ve yet to put the pieces together, though, which speaks to the mystery of the course how to best attack it. Joe’s article is one of my all-time favorites on iRunFar and communicates this very well. Bottom line is that you have to be able to run hard in the last 20 miles which I just haven’t been able to do the last two years. In my mind, there is no 100-mile course more fair than Western States. It presents every variable and favors no one style. Though it looks relatively tame on paper, underestimating it is a grave mistake. When things go bad at Western, they go really bad. Even with two finishes and two major collapses, I still have no idea how I’ll approach my race this year. Such is the nature of the WS 100 beast.
iRunFar: Why do you keep coming back to WS 100? You must have invites and opportunities to race around the world at this point. NorCal is now your home territory; the course is just a couple hours from your house. What are the big draws for you?
Bowman: Because I want to race the fastest guys in the biggest races and Western provides that platform. I also think it’s my kind of course and I’ve yet to stick a good one. Racing WS 100 is a true privilege and I intend to keep returning until I nail it or until [Craig] Thornley says I’m no longer welcome.
iRunFar: The men’s field has 20 guys who could go top seven and 30 guys who could go top 15. Have you seen Clarky’s bold statement on going for the master’s record of 15:45? And I’m sure you’ve seen that Ryan Sandes, a guy whose been on fire in the long races/events in 2014, is dedicating a month of his life to Western States? Then there are guys like Laney and Varner who will be 100-mile newbies with all the energy of greyhounds out of the gates. There’s fantastic depth, a wild mix of experience and inexperience, and a number of people who are training super specifically for this event. How do you see the race playing out? Give us the DBo Sports Center preview.
Bowman: I have huge confidence in Clarky and wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well under that mark. I also ran Michigan Bluff to the river with Ryan a couple weekends ago. He’s predictably fit and approaching it like the consummate professional he is. In my mind, Ryan and Rob [Krar] are coming in as the deserving favorites and I’d expect both of them on the podium. I wouldn’t anticipate either of them to be in the lead at Foresthill, though. I envision Mike Aish going off the front early, taking a handful of guys with him. Attrition will inevitably ensue and things will sort themselves out in the canyons as they always do.
I’d also put Alex Varner on the podium if I had to guess. He’s easily the most talented of our Bay Area contingent and has truly impressive smarts and toughness. I see a big parallel between him and the Rob Krar that showed up in 2013. Laney is a total stud but I think he’s still a year away from podium contention. He’ll get the top 10 and experience he’ll need to crush 2015. Ian Sharman will run his usual textbook 100 and Max King will dictate a lot about how the race develops. If he and Mike go off the front early, there will be biblical carnage. If one or both of them has a good day, they could run away with it. I love this stuff.