Last year, Stephanie Howe won the Western States 100 in her 100-mile debut. She’s back and excited to have another run at the race. In the following interview, Stephanie talks about why she thinks she’ll run conservatively again this year, how she’s simplified her nutrition and gear plan since last year, and how she thinks she’ll match up with Magdalena Boulet.
In a lengthy bonus segment starting at 7:24 into the video, Stephanie and Tara DelloIacono, a sports dietician at CLIF, talk about CLIF Organic Energy Food, including where the idea for the product came from, how Stephanie used Organic Energy Food on her way to Western States last year, how the product is formulated, and when you might want to use it.
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Stephanie Howe Pre-2015 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Stephanie Howe before the 2015 Western States 100. You’re the defending champ, Stephanie.
Stephanie Howe: Yep.
iRunFar: How are you feeling about that?
Howe: It’s exciting. I don’t know. It maybe makes me a little more nervous this year than last year, but it’s really cool.
iRunFar: You’re coming back with some 100-mile experience.
Howe: I know. I’m a veteran… sort of.
iRunFar: What did you learn in your first 100 miler last year?
Howe: Going into it, I wanted to be patient and just kind of really take care of myself, and I think that paid off. I learned I should repeat that. One hundred miles is much different than 50 miles.
iRunFar: A lot of people who run their first 100 miler, especially on the elite side, do go patiently and under control wisely. The next time, they do get the inkling to push it a little bit harder. Is there a little bit of that there?
Howe: I’m a little worried that there is a little of that, but I think I’m still terrified of 100 miles. It’s a long ways to run. I’m hoping to keep that in check at least for the first part. This year, I’ve pushed a little bit more in the shorter distances and that’s been going well, but I think this is still patience is going to pay off.
iRunFar: Will you change any of the other aspects of your racing from what you learned last year?
Howe: Nutrition—a little bit. It was interesting to me how much the heat affected what I wanted and didn’t want. So that’s… last year I had 10 options and I came into an aid station and it was, “Oh, uh, I don’t know. I have all these options.” Now we are just keeping it simple. I know there’s like three things I’m going to take, so I’ll just have those three things. Then there won’t be any other options.
iRunFar: That is a classic adjustment for people running their first 100 or in running in general. Running 100 miles, you can pack, not just with food, but with gear and everything, you’re like…
Howe: Five pairs of shoes… I actually… my poor crew last year. I had three pairs of shoes that they brought to every checkpoint. I wasn’t going to change shoes. They just… “Sorry, guys!”
iRunFar: I’m laughing because I remember that experience exactly. Western States was my first. Tarp laid out with…
Howe: Yeah, this year it’s a little more dialed. I feel like I know what to expect, so it’s easier to plan, whereas before it was this unknown. What if I need this? What if I need this? Now I’m like, Okay, these are the basics and let’s just have that.
iRunFar: What did you pare down on the gear side?
Howe: I will just maybe have one pair of shoes. I’ll probably have my crew take one pair. My food options are smaller. Other than that, I don’t have ‘this jacket’ or ‘this shirt’ or ‘switch into this pack or these handhelds’ or ‘this concoction of fuel.’ It’s just the basics.
iRunFar: Just go run.
Howe: Just run. Less is more. I think, for me especially, when I start adding too many elements, I get anxious. I get nervous. When I keep it really simple, it’s like, This is just a long run in the mountains.
iRunFar: Have you kept the crew and pacers pretty much the same?
Howe: Yes, sort of. My crew, one of my best friends, Alisa Chang, she comes with me to every race and she’s in Spain, so I have a little bit of anxiety that she’s not going to be here. She always braids my hair the night before, and we just have it dialed. The minister who married Zach and I, he’s going to be my crew. He’s not a minister by trade. He’s a good friend and he’s a runner and he’s going to be great. Zach is pacing me. He knows me.
iRunFar: He knows you. You won out at Lake Sonoma not too long ago. How’s things gone since then?
Howe: Good. Ups and downs as with training. I had a few more obligations this spring than last spring, so maybe my training wasn’t… I don’t want to say as good, but it was different. I’m a different runner this year. I’ve definitely had some different focus. I just feel like my body is in a different place than it was last year. It is what it is. It’s good though. I feel fit, and I’m ready.
iRunFar: You have another first-timer in the race this year with Magdalena Boulet, a very big unknown and a very fit person. How have you stacked up in racing her in the past?
Howe: We’ve only raced each other once at The North Face 50 Mile. She beat me quite solidly. That was 50 miles though and this is a different type of race. I really respect her as a runner. There are people who are new to a distance and you kind of don’t worry about them too much, but I really respect her and I think she’s very smart in how she’s prepared. So I think she’s going to do well.
iRunFar: Maybe a run like you last year is possible?
Howe: Yeah, exactly. I think she has the potential to do that. I really like her as a person. We’ve gotten to know each other. If she does run away with it, I’m going to be very happy for her.
iRunFar: Do you think she’s probably the main person who could be up front with you if you’re at the head of the race?
Howe: I do. Yeah, I think she will be. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s going to be there. It will just be a matter of how it plays out. I’m going to start conservative for me. I’m going to go my pace. I think there will be people ahead of me. There will be some rabbits. I don’t know if Magda will go with them. If she does, hopefully I’ll see her later, but I think she’s going to be really smart.
iRunFar: If I were her, I’d just sit right here.
Howe: Yeah, if that happens, I’m really excited to run with her. It will be great. I love the beginning of a race to just run and chat. That would be fun.
iRunFar: You seem really excited.
Howe: I am excited. Once… as it gets closer and closer, I have less anxiety and more excitement about this. I’ve said in my written interview, coming back as the defending champion is tough, but for me it’s more than just a race. I’m so drawn to this—just being here and the excitement and the history and the people. I just have so much passion for the race. Even if I don’t have the race of the day, like it’s just not my day, I’m going to be happy just to be here and to start this journey and to cross the finish line.
iRunFar: If need be, you think you’ll be able to switch the focus and the goal and enjoy the experience no matter what it is.
Howe: Yeah, I think so. “Enjoy,” yeah. No, totally. I just want to get to the finish. Whatever that journey is going to be, hopefully it’s a good one. If it gets really tough, I’m in it. That’s important, too.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, Stephanie, and enjoy your race.
Howe: Thank you.
iRunFar: Bonus conversation here. Stephanie, last year you ran Western States and won and, I didn’t know at the time, but you had tried something that’s completely new—CLIF Organic Energy Food. What did you take and when during the race?
Howe: It was kind of interesting how it all happened. As one of the athletes, I got to test some of this product. I happened to test it on the Western States Memorial Camp run. I was like, “This is awesome.” I was just like, “Can I get some of this for States?” It hadn’t been released yet, so I had these white unlabeled pouches that I had stuck in my pack—Sweet Potato and Pizza Margherita. Everyone, my crew had to be really secretive about it and couldn’t really talk about it. It was awesome because it was the savory fuel. I started taking it probably about 15 or 20 miles into the race. I just alternated it the whole time. I’d do a savory pouch and then I’d do a gel and blocks and then back to savory. It just really helped keep me from getting palate fatigue and just kept me looking forward to the next thing. I just had savory, so now I can have sweet. Especially when it got really hot, it was just such a reprieve from the sweet stuff. It helped me in the race because I didn’t really get behind on fueling. I was able to keep getting stuff down.
iRunFar: You actually took the savory ones on the trail with you as well.
Howe: I did.
iRunFar: Tara works at CLIF. Can you tell us a little bit about how the concept or the idea came up for CLIF Organic Energy Food?
Tara: Yes. CLIF Organic Energy Food really came out of the idea of athletes wanting something a little bit simpler, using real food. You go to aid stations and you see a lot of the salted potatoes, even sweet potatoes sometimes, pretzels, and things like that and on the savory side. Really it was working with athletes like Steph and Scott [Jurek], and they helped us to hone in flavors as well as bringing in some of the science as well. Nutrition science is also part of what we do. So it’s bringing in the real food ingredients along with the necessary nutrients that athletes need out on the course.
iRunFar: How did you come to the ratio or formula in terms of the balancing of nutrition? There’s salt in the savory ones, but in terms of carbohydrates versus fiber versus fat or protein in the mix.
Tara: We came up with two sweet and two savory. The sweet are more like gels. They’re fruit-based and based on smoothie flavors that Steph makes in her kitchen, and we made it very portable and easy for runners to take out with them. You can alternate them with gels. It has a little bit different taste and texture which is nice when you’re out there eating gels and blocks, you just want to break that up. Then we have the two savory that are higher in calorie, a little bit bigger. They also have protein, carbohydrate, and fat. That fat and protein is something you don’t see in gels and blocks and the sweet, but when you’re out there for more than six hours at a time, that fat can actually help with some of the stomach and GI issues that folks are having. It also helps with a little bit of satiation, so keeping hunger at bay. I know when I’m out there running, the hunger comes in and it kind of makes you feel a little bit nauseous. So those are the things we considered.
iRunFar: So a little bit of the fat and maybe a little bit of the fiber change the ratios not so much for the energy component, but it’s for the feel and comfort to some degree.
Tara: Yes, again, it provides a little bit different mouth feel. Along with the savory flavors, we get also higher sodium, so you’re breaking up with mouth feel and higher sodium content, Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato Sea Salt, you’re getting around 600 milligrams of sodium in each of those pouches where you don’t really get that much in gels and blocks.
iRunFar: On the Sweet Potato Sea Salt side, it’s pretty simple to figure out what the basic formulation is. But for getting pizza in a little plastic pouch, how did you guys…?
Howe: Pizza is my favorite flavor, by the way. It’s, like, amazing.
Tara: First of all, the first thing I look at when I say we have a Pizza Margherita flavor is the expression on people’s faces. Some people are like, “YES!” Other people are like, “Pizza?” We recommend that you be into your run about three or four hours into it because that’s when it’s going to taste the best. It breaks up that sweet. Where did we get to that pizza flavor? There are some cheesy notes coming from a little bit of yeast. There’s tomato puree in there and other natural seasonings in there. It just works.
iRunFar: Now that you’ve had a little over a year to consume CLIF Organic Energy Foods on your runs, have you tweaked how you used it at all?
Howe: A little bit. There are the four pouches now, so there are more options. I definitely keep the same routine of going sweet to savory, but it will depend on the temperature. If I’m going to go for a really warm run, I know that I’m going to want the savory. If it’s cool, I sometimes crave the sweeter. They actually do taste like a smoothie. I call them my smoothies. Those seem to go well when it’s a little bit cooler for me. I just kind of use them as I feel like what sounds good, because I think that’s your body’s way of telling you a little bit what it needs.
iRunFar: Coming from a well-informed nutrition background, making a choice is as much a desire or motivation to consume as opposed to the exact components?
Howe: Kind of both. It’s really important to me what I’m fueling with. There are two parts to that. One, I think the nutrition profile is really important. You want something simple so it can get across your gut into your blood so you can use it for energy. Then, two, if it doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to get it down. To me, even if you have this ideal product, if it doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to really use it. For me, it has to taste good so that when I’m running and my appetite is really suppressed, I can take something and be okay with it. So both of those things are important. One thing that I wanted to mention is on the ultra study last year that looked at the incidents rate of GI distress—this was an observational study—one of the things they found was the runners who took in a little more fat and protein had less GI distress than those who just took carbohydrates. So I think in a 100-mile run like Western States, something like the savory pouches are going to be a really good option.
iRunFar: Do you have a general ratio in terms of the number of gels and shot blocks you’ll have and then have a savory one?
Howe: Yeah, I’ll try to do at least either two gels or a package of shot blocks per hour plus a savory pouch. So, I aim for 300 calories per hour.
iRunFar: So 200 from sweet plus or minus 100 from…
Howe: Yeah, and that will get tweaked as the day goes on. Sometimes later in the day… I’m so weird. Sometimes it’s, like, Gels, and then sometimes, No, blocks. So you just feel it out a little bit, but that’s my plan right now and then switching flavors.
iRunFar: Thank you very much, guys, we appreciate it.
Tara: Yeah, you’re welcome.