Last year, Alex Varner finished seventh in his 100-mile debut at the Western States 100. In the following interview, Alex talks about why he’ll be more aggressive this year, what went wrong at the IAU Trail World Championships, and how his growing experience will benefit him during the race.
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Alex Varner Pre-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Varner before the 2015 Western States 100. How are you doing, Alex?
Alex Varner: Good, thanks, Bryon. Good to see you.
iRunFar: Last time we were both here in Squaw Valley was the first time I got a good chat with you. A year later you’ve had quite the run. You had a good run here at Western States last year in your first 100 miler; Lake Sonoma. Do you feel a little more confident coming into 100 miles this time?
Varner: Yeah, I guess so. It’s still not a distance to be trifled with by any means. Yeah, having raced a couple more races over 50 miles or of the 50 mile distance and kind of learning a little bit more with training and nutrition and fueling, yeah, I’m a little more prepared this year in terms of executing on race day and playing it a little… last year was hyper-conservative. My main goal was get to the finish line and don’t blow up. This year, now that I kind of know what’s coming, I can be a little more aggressive with it.
iRunFar: How much more aggressive? Last year you were back… do you think you can push the pace up front?
Varner: I don’t know that anybody really wants to push the pace. There are certain people who might. I think ideally this year I’d kind of be closer to but not with the leaders depending on how fast they’re going and how comfortable I am with it. I’d like to be closer than I was last year. Last year I just kind of lost contact on the climb and never saw them again. Finishing and realizing that third place was 17 minutes in front of me was… “Holy jeez, they’re really not that far ahead. I might as well make the effort and try to stay connected and stay in contact with them.” I’m going to try and play that a little more this year.
iRunFar: Back in April, you had a win at Sonoma. Obviously, you showed you had the fitness to run with all the guys who were up front last year—Rob Krar, Seth Swanson, and so on. Then you had a rough go at IAU Trail World Championships. What happened there?
Varner: I just wasn’t ready for that. Physically I was prepared and my fitness was good, but just that type of course—there was nothing I could do to prepare for that sort of thing. Where we live, Tam is 2,500 feet. I think the smallest climb on that course was taller than that. Try as my might, I wasn’t ready for it just in the sheer magnitude of the climbs, the length of the descents was really mind-blowing. Getting to the second to the last and last climbs and basically having three or four miles of straight down—that was completely foreign. Hitting that 35-40 miles in, I was just in a world of pain. So, it wasn’t the greatest race, but team silver was pretty sweet. David Laney and Alex Nichols really pulled through. They both had fantastic races, and that kind of wipes away any sort of personal angst I have with that.
iRunFar: You did step it up. You almost threw in the towel.
Varner: Yeah, I went by you about half way and kind of thought, Alright, this is kind of a training run now. When I realized Tim [Tollefson] had dropped and saw Meghan [Hicks] at the top of, what was it 50k? It was at the end of the next climb after I saw you and after I saw her. Ok, Tim’s out and I’m the third guy now; I’ve got to run. I can’t just kind of lollygag this in. That definitely lit a fire under me. Seeing you guys along the course, you and her giving updates using choice words, helped a lot.
iRunFar: In the end, it probably was a good training run. You were racing individually for that, but all the long steep descending and climbing…
Varner: Yeah, I think it was great. My legs were shot afterwards, but they recovered pretty quickly. A week later I was running, whereas last year after my first 50 mile at Sonoma, I was in pain. I did Boston nine days later, but halfway up I locked up. This year the same thing and I felt strong nine days later. My fitness, and it’s just a different kind of fitness I want to say almost. I’m used to doing shorter, faster stuff, and this is kind of much more strength based. My legs are kind of coming around to that. It’s nice to see the results in not necessarily the performance but in the recovery at least.
iRunFar: You’re becoming accustomed to that distance.
Varner: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: If you can become accustomed to 50 miles at the end of the race, you also should feel better at 50-60 miles while you’re racing.
Varner: Exactly. I remember last year here I think my knee started hurting 35 miles in just because my IT Bands tightened up so much. They’d never had that kind of descent. They’d run Sonoma, but Sonoma is just this; there’s no prolonged descents. So hitting that for the first time, 20 miles of descents, Oh, my goodness. What is going on here? I think all of the combination of the races I’ve done and the preparation has helped with that.
iRunFar: It was your first 100 here last year. Is there anything you’re going to do different aside from running more aggressively? In terms of logistics or fueling, is there anything you’ll do differently?
Varner: Not as of now. That might change on race day. I think this year I’m considering running with a belt just to have a little bit more storage space. It worked a little better carrying a bottle and not having to have it in my hand the whole time.
iRunFar: A belt with a bottle holder?
Varner: No, it’s a belt like a Spy belt with a hand held bottle that kind of sits… that I can tuck in it. Then there will be gels and some Picky Bars in there. That will just free up a little bit of hand motion. Other than that, my crew was great last year. They were spot on. Rochelle is back, but there are three new people this year. She’ll know what’s going on and be able to direct them which is good. They’re all great folks and great listeners.
iRunFar: Your pacing team?
Varner: Pacing is Tim Tollefson from Forest Hill to Green Gate, and then Jamie Staples is Green Gate to the finish. He’s a Mill Valley guy who… [Chris] Vargo was originally planning to do it, but he messed his knee up unfortunately and had to bow out.
iRunFar: No Magda [Boulet] this year.
Varner: No Magda this year. I tried and tried to get her not to race, but that was not happening. I’m pumped to see how she does. That will be a fun race on the women’s side to watch.
iRunFar: Yeah, her (Magda), Michele [Yates], and a whole host of others.
Varner: A couple people gunning for it and it always makes it interesting when it goes that way.
iRunFar: On the men’s side, it’s very rare that someone would win in their first 100 miler, but on the women’s side it’s kind of common.
Varner: Exactly. You play it right and you can knock it out of the park. The men’s, at least the last couple of big ones, it seems like on the men’s side, experience has been a little bit more of a factor. It’s certainly not that Stephanie [Howe] last year was unprepared. She’d run 50 and had raced well and has a good head on her shoulders, so she knew what was going on and was able to execute.
iRunFar: Nice, thanks and have a blast out there.
Varner: Thank you. Appreciate it.