Bethany Lewis is a quiet talent who could shake things up at this year’s Hardrock 100. If you don’t know Bethany, she’s won handfuls of ultras from 50k to 120 miles over the past seven years while remaining well under the radar. In the following interview, Bethany talks about what she learned running the Fat Dog 120 and pacing Hardrock last year, why she runs the races she does, her history with the San Juan Mountains where Hardrock is run, as well as her broader running history.
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Bethany Lewis Pre-2016 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Bethany Lewis before the 2016 Hardrock 100. How are you, Bethany?
Bethany Lewis: I’m good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m alright. This is going to be your first Hardrock 100.
Lewis: Yes, I can’t believe it.
iRunFar: Are you pretty excited?
Lewis: Yes. Pretty nervous, but pretty excited, as well.
iRunFar: A lot of people might not know you. We haven’t interviewed you before. We have had an article about you back in 2011 when you set the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim record which still stands.
Lewis: That was awhile ago. Yes, surprisingly, but yes.
iRunFar: Pretty good testament to your run down there.
Lewis: I guess so, yeah.
iRunFar: Since then you’ve run a lot of races and run a bunch of 100+ mile events winning The Bear, Wasatch, Fat Dog… that’s a pretty good lineup. Do you feel really strong and confident at 100 milers at this point?
Lewis: I think you have to be humble in any 100, but I have to say Fat Dog last year solidified some confidence in the 100-mile distance. It was just such an epic that having conquered that, I feel a little bit more secure coming into Hardrock, but not totally.
iRunFar: How was that? What made it Fat Dog last year?
Lewis: It was a combination of the weather and going at it last minute and having nobody there to help me. I was completely on my own the whole time. The weather was just epic the entire time. Then, I actually had a torn muscle, so I was limping for 30 miles, as well. I kind of suffered through most things that one person can suffer through in 100 miles and still had a fabulous, phenomenal experience there.
iRunFar: If things go wrong at Hardrock, you’ve gone through some adversity at a 100-mile race.
Lewis: Yeah, my other 100s… well, that’s not true… the Bear was pretty adversity-free. It doesn’t often go that way. Wasatch was sort of a struggle one after another, but it wasn’t serious struggles. It was more mental. Fat Dog was everything thrown at me, but I came out on top at that one. So it did make me feel a lot more confident coming in here.
iRunFar: You’ve obviously had success with the Grand Canyon record. You’ve won Speedgoat 50k, Jemez 50 Mile, Zane Grey 50 Mile. Do you feel you have any particular specialty in ultras, or do you consider yourself pretty well-rounded?
Lewis: That’s a really good question. I don’t race a lot. I just narrow in on whichever race looks and sounds the most scenic and rugged. I feel like I have not much time left that I’ll probably be doing this, so I’ve become very selective about what I want to do. I’m only going to be running two races this year. Hardrock happens to be one of them. I’m so lucky. Yeah, I don’t know that I have a specialty. I just like the pretty ones. I like the low-key ones. I like the rugged ones.
iRunFar: It anticipates one of the questions I was going to ask you. You’ve run some really great races at a variety of distances, but in terms of really big stages… you’ve run Speedgoat which is a local race for you, but you’ve only been to like The North Face 50 once.
Lewis: The hype doesn’t really draw me. I was actually at Western States pacing a friend a couple weeks ago, and just looking at it and getting an idea of what people are drawn to, and I’m just not drawn to that.
iRunFar: So it’s not so much the competition here that draws you, it’s the course?
Lewis: It’s the course, yeah, absolutely. I’m an incrementalist. Doing my first 100 was a big deal. I’ve taken little baby steps towards more rugged courses as time has gone on. I like challenging myself in that way. I think, yeah, I’m ready for Hardrock in that respect.
iRunFar: What excites you most about this race?
Lewis: The San Juans, man. We’ve come back year after year after year for some race, some excuse, and I think like most people here, this terrain beats everything else. I love my Wasatch, and I love where I come from, but they pale in comparison to this.
iRunFar: Have you had a chance to pace at all during the race?
Lewis: Yeah, last year you might remember I was second on the wait list. We had kind of a stressful week because my husband ran the race. So I ended up not running which turned out great, because I got to pace Ben for 40 miles. That was a schooling for sure. I happened to be sick that day, too, so it was hard keeping up with him. I got to experience a little weather. I got to experience some frightening terrain in the middle of the night. Oscar’s Pass is a little questionable.
iRunFar: It was dicey last year.
Lewis: Yeah, for sure. That was a great learning experience. It made me realize I probably wasn’t quite ready last year, so I was in retrospect really glad I didn’t run.
iRunFar: That’s a nice realization to make. You’re not the first person to make that. I’ve definitely had that, “I’m not ready for Hardrock.” Now your husband, Ben, had a great race last year. Did you get to see some suffering as well, Hardrock style?
Lewis: I paced him from Grouse to Chapman, so not the last 40, but the middle 40. No, that guy was a trooper. I don’t know. I know it’s hard to believe, but even when we were lost…
iRunFar: Up in Wasatch Basin?
Lewis: Yes, he wasn’t too frustrated. He had a great attitude.
iRunFar: Was it a good lesson and inspiration maybe?
Lewis: My husband is always a good lesson and inspiration.
iRunFar: You’re both running this year, and you have a daughter. Normally one takes the race, but you had to have figured this out last year.
Lewis: We did. She happened to break her arm last year the week of the race, too, so I again feel like last year was not in the cards for us. The stars were not aligned. This year, we actually have a dedicated daughter crew, a couple people who are going to take care of her. I don’t think she’ll be out on the course much. She’s not super interested. Hopefully she’ll be at the end. I’m hoping for that. It will be nice.
iRunFar: You do race very selectively. You ran Zane Grey. How did that go for you?
Lewis: It was good. It’s just sort of solid. I thought it would be more rugged than it was. There was a lot of running, and I’m kind of over that.
iRunFar: You might be the only person to say that.
Lewis: It felt like a lot of running compared to what I was prepared for. It was lovely and beautiful, and I had a good time running with some awesome women especially in the beginning. We had a great group of us. So that was fun. I’d call it solid. I didn’t feel particularly inspired, but it was good.
iRunFar: How do you consider your fitness right now?
Lewis: Good. My stoke for Hardrock is high, so I’ve been pretty inspired. I ski most winters and don’t run much. This year I skied most of the winter, but I did start doing workouts earlier than normal. I usually don’t start running until March, and that was the same, but I did start doing some workouts and quality before that. Yeah, I feel like my fitness is higher than it has been in years.
iRunFar: Awesome. You come to the San Juans for Hardrock and the beauty here, but there’s also some strong women. Do you get into a little bit of competition mode?
Lewis: I can. I think with a 100, it’s been hard for me to do that. I really just run my own race, because it’s too long to sustain a competitive drive. I lose that by about mile 40. I just turn into this smiley, happy thing who’s just out there for the day.
iRunFar: That’s not a bad perspective to have.
Lewis: We’ll see if it happens tomorrow. I’ve only run four of these, but that’s really been my m.o. for these 100 mile races. It’s a little different for a 50 or something shorter for sure.
iRunFar: If you’re out at Maggie or Cunningham and Emma [Roca] is around or…
Lewis: We’ll see. I haven’t been in that situation yet.
iRunFar: You’ve had a gap and a lead?
Lewis: Usually. We’ll see. Trust me. There’s a competitive girl inside me, so we’ll see what happens. I’m just excited that there are more and more competitive women out there. It makes me happy to see that.
iRunFar: It’s definitely one of the strongest women’s fields ever at Hardrock, and if Darcy [Piceu] gets in off the wait list, fingers crossed, there’s no question that it’s the best Hardrock women’s field.
Lewis: Fingers crossed for sure. I feel for them having been in that position last year. It’s not fun.
iRunFar: No, and there’s not been a lot of movement on the wait list this year.
Lewis: No, it’s surprising, even less than last year.
iRunFar: Totally. What’s your background with endurance sports and athletics? How long have you been doing endurance sports?
Lewis: Are you trying to get to know me?
iRunFar: It’s the first interview. We might as well get to know you.
Lewis: Let’s see. I did not grow up in a super athletic family. I started running mainly because I don’t have a lot of coordination. I started running in high school and made some of my best friends in cross country, track, field, and I had some success. I did run in college. I ran D-I, but it was a non-scholarship situation. I kind of half-assed it, I would say. I liked it, but I did it more for social reasons.
iRunFar: What kind of distances were you running?
Lewis: I ran the half mile if you can believe it, which did not suite me. I had my most success in cross country actually which makes more sense. I was a little on the lazy side and didn’t like to run long, so I would do the half mile mostly. Then, I married my husband who loves running more than anything. Just to keep up with him I started running more. Then, I really found that I like long distance stuff. Moving to Salt Lake really solidified that. We found this great community there—great people.
iRunFar: You’ve been running ultras since 2009 or so?
Lewis: I’m trying to think… that was my first one right after my daughter was born. Oh, I did go through a phase of marathoning. I forgot to mention that—road marathoning in medical school.
iRunFar: Stress release?
Lewis: Stress release, and I always liked having a hobby.
iRunFar: How did that go? How did you fare on the roads?
Lewis: Not bad. I got injured a lot. It’s hard to manage doing it with medical school. I had one or two good road marathons when I was taking it seriously.
iRunFar: What did you top out at?
Lewis: I ran a 2:48. That was pretty good. I think I could probably have run faster given my training, but I never had enough uninjured periods of time to do that. That was really frustrating. Then when we moved to Salt Lake City, I just started running on the trails there at three or four in the morning before my rotations because I was an intern then, and I never looked back. I haven’t run on the roads hardly since.
iRunFar: And you mixed skiing in more recently?
Lewis: That started when we moved to Utah. I’m a horrible skier. I’m from Iowa, so there’s no chance that I’d ever be good, but I love cross country skiing… anything long and endurance oriented. That’s been really fun. Cross-country skiing… I’ve done a bit of skimo stuff. I have a lot of friends who do that. Again, I’m not particularly graceful at that, but I love throwing myself into stuff like that during winter.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, and enjoy the course.
Lewis: Thanks, Bryon. Have a good time yourself.