Defending champ Stephanie Howe make a strong attempt at winning her second-straight Western States 100, but ended up with a hard-fought third after suffering late in the race. In the following interview, Stephanie talks about how she felt good early and what went wrong, how she kept herself going when she felt awful, whether she’ll be back at Western States again next year, and why she’s excited to run UTMB later this summer.
For more on how the race went down, check out our Western States results article.
Bonus: We’ve also got video of Stephanie finishing the race.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Stephanie Howe Post-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the finish line of the 2015 Western States Endurance Run. I’m with third-place finisher, Stephanie Howe.
Stephanie Howe: Yay!
iRunFar: Hi, how are you doing?
Howe: Hi, I’m good.
iRunFar: You looked a little bit rough at places in the last 40 miles of the race. Now that you’ve had some hours to reflect on and move past feeling a little bit rough, how are you feeling about yesterday?
Howe: I’m really excited about it. It was honestly a mental battle from probably 40 miles to the finish. There were places where I didn’t think I could finish. I kind of found my limit and just kept going which was really cool for me mentally to be able to do that.
iRunFar: To kind of go to that place…
Howe: Yeah, to go to that place where you think you can’t take another step and just keep going.
iRunFar: Let’s back up a little bit and talk about earlier in the race. You were, 30 to 40 miles in, in with the front girls. Were you feeling good early on? When did you start not feeling great?
Howe: I felt really good early on. I started conservatively and it was great. Probably about 40 miles I started to feel really rough. It was partly my fault, and I’m really embarrassed to admit this. I had some nutrition issues which is funny because I’m always talking about, “I’m so good at nutrition!” I just had some challenges, and I wasn’t able to get the fuel down that I needed, so I got behind. That kind of set me up for… the canyons were just rough, and then I just never came back.
iRunFar: Sometimes with nutrition you know as it’s happening what’s going wrong and sometimes you never figure it out and sometimes you figure it out later on. Have you figured out what happened?
Howe: Yeah, part of it was I grabbed a new pack, and I hadn’t put the food in it that I wanted. I just had solid fuel, and that was not going down. So I was not able to fuel with what I had, so I was just taking Coke and Sprite from the aid stations, and that wasn’t enough.
iRunFar: That wasn’t enough. Running on fumes.
Howe: Live and learn though. It’s good to look back and say, “Here’s what I did wrong. Let’s not let that happen next time.”
iRunFar: You went into the canyons under-fueled and came out feeling not so good?
Howe: Not so good. I walked up to Michigan Bluff with Dylan [Bowman] and we were both dizzy and, oh boy, but then I knew what was going on. So when I got to the aid station, I took in a bunch of calories, and that helped to get me back to not where I should have been, but it helped me feel a lot better.
iRunFar: Correct me if I’m wrong, in Michigan Bluff you were not feeling good, but you were still leading the race?
iRunFar: Then in Volcano Canyon after that, that’s where Magdalena [Boulet] passed you?
Howe: She passed me on Bath Road. I was walking. She was running. I was like, I can’t even respond right now.
iRunFar: She passes you during a really rough stretch for you. What’s happening there mentally?
Howe: Yeah, I was in survival mode at that point. It was really important for me to finish. I would have liked to come back and race her, but that was beyond me. I let her go and just focused on myself and my race. Okay, we need to rectify this. How can I salvage where I’m at and get myself to the finish?
iRunFar: As we tracked and saw you through the night last night, it’s not like you fell out of the atmosphere. You fell back, but then basically stayed the same distance back all the way through to the finish. How did you resurrect? How did you make it?
Howe: Yes, I gritted it out. It was tough. There was a lot of whimpering and a lot of Zach giving me really positive feedback. When I started moving and started running, it went pretty well. I was moving at a pretty good clip, but my stomach was just so sour that I would fuel and then I’d have to walk a mile. Once I got moving, it was just like, Keep going, and I think it helped keep me interested in the race. I’m still excited to finish third on a rough day for me. It’s pretty cool.
iRunFar: I think that’s something anybody would love to put their fingers on—have a really bad day and finish third at Western States.
Howe: Nah, I’ll take it. To me, this race is more than just the finish. I’m going to have good days and bad days, so this was maybe not one of the better days, but it’s just part of it. You learn a lot. That makes me appreciate the good days even more.
iRunFar: People, “regular ultrarunners,” “the rest of us,” look up to people like you for your successes and making your way through difficult situations. Take us for a second to a really dark, hard spot on the course and what happened and how you got through it.
Howe: Coming into Foresthill, I was just out of it. My quads were shot, my knee was hurting, I was low-calorie, and I kind of came in and just took in a bunch of fuel and just needed to keep moving forward. So I walked. I walked all the way down the Foresthill Road. I just took my time. In those dark places, I try to be positive. I do a lot of positive self-talk, as silly as that sounds.
iRunFar: In your head or out loud?
Howe: Both. Sometimes I say it out loud. Usually if I’m by myself I’ll say it out loud just to have something around me. I’ll say something like, “Run as best as you can to that tree.” “You’re doing such a good job.” I don’t know. It really helps just keep me in it. When you get negative, it’s just done. You’ll spiral.
iRunFar: So, two Western States—last year you were the champion and this year you were third place on a really rough day. Do you look toward a Western States future?
Howe: I think so. I’m really drawn to this race. I get goosebumps thinking about it. I don’t know if I’ll do it every year, but I’m definitely going to be back. I have to come back next year now.
iRunFar: Do you?
Howe: I kind of feel like I need to not end on that. We’ll see, but there’s definitely going to be more in my future.
iRunFar: Looking toward the nearer-term future, you’re now going to focus on recovery and then turn toward UTMB?
Howe: Yes, I’m really excited. It will be fun to go over there. I’m going over a little bit early so I can get “acclimated,” aka eat croissants and drink wine.
iRunFar: And cheese!
Howe: Yeah, I need to try it out. It will be different kind of race for me. I’ve been more focusing, it’s kind of funny, more on the faster races which is not my natural style. I’m not the fastest runner out there, so hills suit me. The past year I feel like I’ve done a lot of faster courses, so this will be really totally different. It will be fun.
iRunFar: Like the opposite basically.
Howe: The opposite, the exact opposite.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you.
Howe: Thank you.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your third-place finish in what was… I mean, I think the race itself and all the runners still need to sort out what happened out there, but yesterday’s conditions were weird.
Howe: There was a lot of carnage.
iRunFar: There was a ton of carnage. So congratulations on gutting it out in really difficult conditions. Being on the podium—can’t beat that.
Howe: Thank you. I’m excited.