Stephanie Howe has seen great success in ultrarunning the past two years. This weekend, she’ll take on the 100-mile distance for the first time at the Western States 100. In the following interview, Stephanie talks about what she’s looking forward to in her first 100, how she’s prepared for the leap up in distance, what her goals are, and how she stays in check in both training and racing.
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Stephanie Howe Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Stephanie Howe before the 2014 Western States 100. How are you, Stephanie?
Stephanie Howe: I’m good.
iRunFar: It’s your first 100 this weekend.
Howe: I know! It’s crazy. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
iRunFar: What’s the hardest part to wrap around?
Howe: Running that far, I think, and the heat.
iRunFar: Is it the distance or the time?
Howe: I think it’s the distance. I mean, that’s a long ways to drive my car, I feel like. So running that far—it’s going to be a long day.
iRunFar: And the heat.
Howe: The heat, yeah. In Oregon it’s been 50 to 60 Fahrenheit which is awesome for running, but it’s going to be a little warmer here.
iRunFar: What’s the hottest race you’ve done in the past?
Howe: Well, when I went down to Phoenix this spring it was pretty warm. Lake Sonoma a couple of years ago was pretty warm, but I mean, we’re talking like 80’s.
iRunFar: Yeah. Add another 15 or 20 degrees.
Howe: I know. No big deal.
iRunFar: No big deal. This is your first 100. What are you looking forward to most in the experience of it?
Howe: I’m just looking forward to the journey. I’ve been here the last two years and just kind of taken it all in. I’ve just been really excited about all the energy and all the people. I’m really glad I get my turn this year.
iRunFar: So you’re looking forward to the Western States experience?
Howe: I am—the Western States experience. I’ve been doing ultras for a couple years now, and it’s time for me to step it up. I think getting my first 100 checked off the list is a big deal for me.
iRunFar: So you’re not just headed in the direction, but it’s something you want to make part of your repertoire?
Howe: Right. Exactly. I’m still learning what distances I like best. I love 50 milers right now, but I need to give this a shot to really figure out what is my best race.
iRunFar: You might end up liking 100’s.
Howe: I might end up liking 100’s!
iRunFar: I’ll ask you sometime late Saturday or early Sunday.
Howe: Okay. Sounds good.
iRunFar: Your fellow Bend-ite, Max King, took a lot longer to make his first jump. Was it that you wanted to check out a new race distance?
Howe: Well, I guess just being in the scene, it’s kind of just one of those things that you do. This race especially, I’ve seen so many people do it. I just wanted to be a part of it. I have some race goals for the future that include 100 milers, and so this is a good starting point. I want to do UTMB, but that’s not a good first 100. I want to do this and hopefully it goes well, and then I can do a few others.
iRunFar: Not this year.
Howe: No, not this year. I’m not someone who likes to race a lot, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do more than one a year ever.
iRunFar: You seem to have raced even less this year or at least raced competitively.
Howe: Yeah, totally. I learned a lot last year.
iRunFar: But you didn’t race a lot then.
Howe: Well, I was injured. To me, it’s more important to come to a starting line healthy. I have a lot of other stuff going on in my life, and I just realized I can’t do it all. So I pick important races and then I do a good training block and I recover.
iRunFar: You prepare well physically, but you also seem to be really well-prepared mentally and knowledge-wise for your races. What have you done to prepare yourself for making this leap to 100 miles?
Howe: My training has changed quite a bit just because I was relatively low-mileage in the past couple years. So that was a big jump for me. To do that, I backed off in intensity which I think we talked about at Lake Sonoma (post-race interview). My plan was to do some big-mile weeks and then back off and do intensity, so I did that. Nutrition has been a huge thing for me. Luckily, one of the things I know a lot about is sports nutrition. So it’s been cool to take what I know and apply it. It’s really made a big difference. Mentally, especially going into this race, I’m just trying to relax. I’m just trying to have fun. My number one goal, well I have three goals, my first goal is to finish and enjoy the experience as much as possible.
iRunFar: And the other two?
Howe: Finish is the first one. Second one—sub-24. Then if all things are going right, I’d like to be top five?
iRunFar: Top five?
Howe: Top 10. Yeah.
iRunFar: Top 10. But you’d like to be competitive, if things are going well… you’re going to run within yourself, but…
Howe: To be competitive for what I can do.
iRunFar: You’ve been really competitive… you’ve been at the front of 50 milers and Speedgoat (post-race interview) and that sort of thing. How do you approach the first 50 miles here. It’s a slower pace and…
Howe: Yeah, so I can’t do that because I am very competitive and I just want to go after it and be in the front. But I think, and just from talking to people who have done this before, I need to be patient. I can’t bite. That’s going to be really hard for me. I’ve told myself, “You’re going to do these things, and you’re going to hold back,” but that’s going to be really hard for me.
iRunFar: Have you built in any hard limits? “I’m not going to go in front of X.” There are going to be some women who go out.
Howe: I promised Zach I will not be the first woman to the top of Squaw. That’s a really hard limit for me. There’s no person or time that I’ve set myself up for. But I want to check in a lot. Can you run this hill in the second half this fast? If the answer is “no,” then I’m going too hard.
iRunFar: That’s a great way to gauge it.
Howe: Yeah, I’m hoping.
iRunFar: Speaking of hills, one of your goals was to become a better downhill runner.
iRunFar: Talking to people who saw you out running on Memorial Day weekend, you’ve succeeded in that goal. How have you done that?
Howe: So the past couple years… I used to suck at downhills. I’ve made it a goal to practice every time I run down a hill. Don’t just sit there and run down the hill but actually focus. Especially in the last few months, I’ve practiced hammering downhills. It’s funny because I think of myself as an uphill runner. That’s my strength. But it’s kind of changed a little bit and now I’m kind of a downhill runner. That’s been really cool.
iRunFar: That makes you a lot more dangerous.
Howe: Yeah, for this race it does. The steep uphills are actually kind of a challenge for me right now. I like the long, grinding uphills, but there aren’t very many of those on this course, so it will be hard for me to use that. So I’m going to use the downhills.
iRunFar: Clearly you didn’t have too much problems with steep climbs with your success at Speedgoat.
Howe: Yeah, but those, to me, are like long climbs. I guess there are a lot of long climbs out here, too, but it’s just a little different.
iRunFar: Did you pick up any tidbits when you were out at… you’ve been on the course a lot and you were also at Memorial Day training weekend. What have you learned in that experience?
Howe: I’ve learned so much. I’ve had some great mentors. Meghan Arbogast and Scott Wolfe are two people that have especially given me a lot of tips. I did a run with those two and Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW) right before the Memorial Camp. It was great because they were telling me all the sights and landmarks on the course. It was running right next to Meghan in the front, and then there was a long line of us and AJW was bringing up the back. Meghan would be like, “Stephanie, this is mile marker whatever.” A few seconds later, AJW in his loud voice would be like, “Stephanie, this is…” So I got double tips.
iRunFar: On the Ice Cream Sandwich Run.
Howe: On the Ice Cream Sandwich Run. Yeah, that was a really good confidence booster.
iRunFar: From what I understand, you hadn’t trained this season over a marathon distance.
iRunFar: And you got a long one in that day.
Howe: I got a long one in that day. Then I did a couple other big things for me—like a couple 40 milers, 30 milers, which to me is a lot of running. So… big step.
iRunFar: Obviously you’ve trained a little bit differently, but do you feel as strong as you’ve been coming into an ultramarathon?
Howe: I do. The bar has been raised now, so a 20-mile run now is no big deal. I feel slow right now, but honestly, I’ve been on the track a couple times, and I’m just as fast as I used to be. So it’s been kind of cool to be able to feel comfortable running longer distances but also still feel like I’m fit. So I’m excited. I’m ready.
iRunFar: You’re ready for the experience. You’re ready for the test.
Howe: Yeah. I’m ready for the test. And my body is healthy and that has been the most important thing. Ian Torrence coaches me, and that’s one thing we talked about. How are we going to build up my mileage and get my body healthy and also stay healthy? Somehow it’s worked so far.
iRunFar: How do you do that whether it’s with a coach, with Ian, or with friends? How do you actually check in with him and make sure you’re not doing too much? What does he ask you?
Howe: Well, I email him a lot. I’m really conscious of when things feel off or when I feel tired or run down. I usually send him a panic email, “Oh, I was really tired today.” He’s more like reassuring me and holding in the reins. But yeah, I communicate with him quite often. I think that makes a good coach/athlete relationship. If you just have a training plan and you run with it, you’re not going to be as effective.
iRunFar: Does that mean talking about how your workouts go, or are there other aspects that you have to incorporate with coaching?
Howe: Kind of everything. I mean, mostly how the running is going, but also things like mental stress, nutrition, hydration—those things are all important, too.
iRunFar: You’ve brought a lot of tools into this mix. Best of luck this weekend.
Howe: Thank you. I’m excited.