Dylan Bowman is coming into the 2015 Western States 100 in the best shape of his life. Already this year, he’s won the Tarawera Ultramarathon and the TNF100k-Australia. With three top-10 finishes at States, including fifth and third the past two years, Dylan could be poised for a breakout in the race. In the following interview, Dylan talks about why he keeps coming back to Western States, how his strategy has changed over the years, what went well and not so well in his preparation for this year’s race, and how his nutritional approach has changed for this year’s race.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Dylan Bowman Pre-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Dylan Bowman before the 2015 Western States 100. How are you doing, Dylan?
Dylan Bowman: Good. Good to be back.
iRunFar: You are back. This is, what, your fourth time here?
Bowman: Fourth in a row.
iRunFar: What keeps you coming back?
Bowman: It’s Western States. This is my favorite race in the world. It’s the highlight of every season for me. It’s my number-one goal every year. It gets me excited. That hasn’t changed for the last four years, so I figured I’d give it one more shot.
iRunFar: What is it about Western States that gets you so amped up?
Bowman: As you know, I’m a fan of sports and a student of the game. I appreciate the history. This is the race you sort of learn about first when you enter the sport. For that reason, it’s got a mystique that no other race has. Obviously, the competition is a huge component as well. I want to race well in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the greatest race in the world with very few rivals. Yeah, it’s a very attractive race, and it’s easy to find excuses to keep coming back.
iRunFar: You’ve had an incredible spring. Your wins at Tarawera and TNF 100 (Australia)—you’ve got to be feeling pretty good.
Bowman: Yeah, I feel great. Both races went about as well as I possibly could have imagined, particularly TNF 100. I was really, really happy with that race. It’s helped from a confidence perspective. I’ve actually raced less this year coming into Western States which I think is going to be beneficial. The two races I have done have gone really well. I’m on the right track judging from my training last year as it compares to this year. I’m a better runner now. My racing has reflected that, and so I just hope I’ll be able to capitalize on that on Saturday.
iRunFar: You’ve improved your fitness. Has your ultrarunning IQ and experience and confidence increased over the years? I know you sort of changed your strategy over the years that you can kind of look and say, “I want to win this this year, and I’m going to make that my goal.”
Bowman: Yeah, 100% the IQ component has evolved over time. I remember my first time here. I got in at Leona Divide last minute. I came in with the mindset that I’m just going to go for it. This may be my only time that I can run Western States. I was 25 years old. I blew up hard. I still managed to stay in the top 10 which has allowed me to have this streak of races here. That was a huge learning opportunity for me. Because of that race, I don’t race that way ever anymore. To your point about whether or not I can contend this year, that’s obviously something I’d love but isn’t going to be at the front of my mind during race day. I have a particular style that I like to race. I have a particular strategy that I like to employ. If I’m in contention, great. I’ll do everything I can to be in that position. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be happy as long as I give it my best shot.
iRunFar: You did have one bump along the road to Western States. Tell us a little about that.
Bowman: Yeah, so I had a little bout of heat exhaustion that happened in a little local race in Marin, a 25k. Effectively what happened is I just blacked out a mile from the finish line. Not exactly sure what happened, but they found me about a mile from the finish line. It was an exertional thing. It was maybe 75 degrees in Marin. It wasn’t particularly hot, but it was more a matter of me revving my engine at hotter than it wanted to go at that point. It was really scary, but to be honest, I think it may have been a really good thing when it comes to Western States. Before TNF Australia, I really only had five weeks of training because I had to take a few weeks off from the heat-stroke incident. Having only five weeks of training and then having my best race ever, having the forced break might end up being a positive because I think a lot of people who get into Western States either last year or at the beginning of the season, tend to show up a little bit overcooked.
iRunFar: That could have been the case with you because you had already raced well in early February.
Bowman: I was in great shape when it happened. Yeah, so for that reason it could be a fortunate thing although it was incredibly scary and incredibly expensive. Yeah, it will be sort of in the back of my mind, but I will be focused on keeping cool on race day.
iRunFar: At TNF Australia, you beat François D’Haene, and he’s kind of a benchmark especially at the 100-mile distance right now globally—maybe the best. How does that leave you? Did that sort of change your confidence to a whole other level?
Bowman: Yeah, I got to know François a little bit at the race. He’s a great guy and obviously an incredible athlete. You’re right, he’s a 100-mile master. Last year he was untouchable. I’ve a lot of respect for him. At Australia, he was coming in with a little bit of a foot issue; it was his first race of the season. It’s not necessarily a course that fits his style. So I wasn’t necessarily all that surprised that he didn’t have a dominant performance there. I’m sure being the professional that he is, he’ll approach this… he’s done the appropriate training in the last five or six weeks before this race. I’m sure he’s going to be a factor on race day. Yeah, the race in Australia was huge for my confidence.
iRunFar: We have nine of last year’s top 10 back with Max King being the lone exception. Who do you think stands the best chance to really surprise out of that group, to move up?
Bowman: That’s a good question. Out of the top 10 from last year, I think [Alex] Varner definitely—a guy who could easily be on the podium and I think a guy who could actually win the race. Ryan Sandes, last year fifth place which for anyone else is fantastic, for him, he was definitely a little tired coming into the race. It may have showed a little bit.
iRunFar: Have you run with Varner since the IAU World Championships?
Bowman: We haven’t really run together all that much mostly because of our racing schedules being totally opposite with Sonoma and I was in Australia and he was in France. We hang out a lot. I follow him on Strava, so I know this is a big goal of his. I’m sure he’ll have a good day.
iRunFar: The heat is going to be a factor. There’s not a whole lot of heat in the Bay Area. Have you been prepping for it?
Bowman: Yeah, I have. I’ve been in the sauna for the last three or four weeks. That’s effectively it, though. I haven’t had any particularly warm days where I can get out and exercise in the heat, but the sauna really helped last year. It looks like the weather will be similar to last year. I have a strategy that I’ll employ for cooling. I think I’m going to wear some arm sleeves and just keep them wet and shove ice in there. The thing about Western States, too, is a lot of it is shaded, so if you’re able to keep yourself wet, the heat is not all that noticeable on race day. Obviously 2013 was really, exceptionally hot.
iRunFar: A week ago it was looking like this year could be on part with that, but the forecasts have retrograded a bit.
Bowman: I looked at it a couple hours ago, and it looked like 90 degrees [Fahrenheit] at Auburn.
iRunFar: That’s quite a seasonable and nice day for Western States.
Bowman: Yeah, I think that’s about what it was last year. I’m not really all that worried about the heat even with the little episode I had earlier in the spring. Obviously it does help to keep yourself cool, so I’ll focus on that.
iRunFar: Aside from improving your fitness for this year, is there anything you’ll change heading into this year that you think might move you up a little bit whether it’s time or position or self-judged performance?
Bowman: To be honest, I’m not going to change all that much. I’m the type of runner who likes to be somewhere in the mix but not at the front early and then just kind of stay there as long as I can and hopefully somewhere in the latter half of the race start to move up in the field. From a nutritional perspective, I’ve evolved that just incorporating other products. The new CLIF Organic Energy Food things with the sweet-potato packets—I was eating sweet potatoes out of a bag last year. I’ll use that, and also their banana-mango-coconut and beet-banana little whole-food things. I’ll use those. Yeah, in the second half I’ll probably rely mostly on gels.
iRunFar: You do, not that those are solid food, but you do some that aren’t just gel and liquid.
Bowman: Yeah, but it’s mostly gel and liquid. I’ll have at least a few of those things that I mentioned. For the most part, I plan to run the same race I’ve run all three years I’ve been here, and I’ll just hope that it ends up being a little bit faster. I have ideas where I can go a little bit faster, but I’ll just try to run the best race I can.
iRunFar: Dylan, best of luck out there.
Bowman: Thanks, man. Appreciate it.