YiOu Wang returns to the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile as the defending champion. In the following interview, YiOu talks about her work as a teacher, how she feels stronger this year, and how she’s not good at settling for second.
YiOu Wang Pre-2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a couple days before the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m with women’s defending champion, YiOu Wang. Hi!
YiOu Wang: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: I’m in your hood right now. I’m at your school.
Wang: Yes, this is part of our campus. My school is located on the St. Vincent’s campus which is an old Catholic Church property that now rents its space to a lot of different schools and educational facilities.
iRunFar: We’ve interviewed you a couple times now, but we’ve never asked you what you do for a living. You’re a teacher.
Wang: Yes, I teach eighth grade and I’m also the Director of Curriculum at Gate Academy, which is a small private school in San Rafael.
iRunFar: That must mean that you’re gifted with a lot of patience.
Wang: Yes, every time I tell people I teach eighth grade, they say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience and fortitude.” I always say, “It’s a job that’s never boring. I really enjoy the challenges that come with it.”
iRunFar: I really have to know, teaching the upper end of middle school, what percent is actual teaching, and what percent is navigating human-being social-interaction stuff?
Wang: At our school, we emphasize skill building and social-emotional learning. We luckily have a student population that is in general very open to learning and very excited to learn. As far as being in a teaching environment, I think it’s probably the best set up I could possibly imagine. I feel very fortunate that I don’t have to deal with a tremendous number of behavioral issues that other teachers face. I’m very lucky in that regard that we can focus a lot on education and academics, but a large portion of our curriculum is also how to be a good human being.
iRunFar: Bryon, is it okay? I recently learned about you that you’re a doctor.
Wang: I’m a doctor?
iRunFar: Aren’t you a doctor?
iRunFar: Do you have a graduate education in physics?
Wang: In chemistry… well, I studied chemistry and then biology.
iRunFar: How much of your time do you spend working back in that field now as a teacher?
Wang: Our school curriculum is pretty science focused for much of the year. We have a pretty non-traditional school calendar where our school year is divided into six blocks. Each block focuses on a particular topic. Half of them are sciences, and half of them are humanities. For half of the year we are doing physical science which is chemistry and physics or life science which is biology. Then half the year we have a more humanities-centric curriculum centered around art and culture or literature or society and government.
iRunFar: That’s a really interesting school lay-out.
Wang: I really enjoy it because I teach a lot of math, so all of us teachers do one math class. The rest of the year I get to sort of design my own curriculum around these interesting topics that will serve the kids in their growth as learners but also intrigue me.
iRunFar: That’s interesting. I like it!
Wang: It’s pretty cool.
iRunFar: Let’s talk a bit about this race this weekend. You’re the defending champion.
iRunFar: You’ve got a bunch of women coming up into your hood.
Wang: I know. Fortunately, two weeks ago I was able to get out onto the course and do basically a full lap of the lake.
iRunFar: You mean, ‘your course?’
Wang: My course? No it’s John Medinger’s course. Let’s be honest, he knows it better than anyone else. As everybody probably knows, we’ve had a pretty rough winter in Northern California. We’ve had a lot of rain, a lot of storms, and a lot of downed trees. I really wanted a chance to get to see what the trail conditions were because for a lot of the races I’ve done this spring—FOURmidable, Chuckanut—the trails have been a mess.
iRunFar: You come off looking like you’ve rolled around in mud.
Wang: Yeah, and actually, Lake Sonoma is in fairly good shape with the trails. The main problem they had was with downed trees. I think John sent out an email earlier this week saying there were 30 downed trees on the trail, but I’ve got to say, he and his trail crew have done an amazing job cleaning up after the storms. Last weekend there was maybe only three places where you really had to sort of climb or… they did one quarter-mile reroute section that’s more like a goat trail than a running trail, but that’s really the only section that suffered. I was reminded again two weekends ago when I ran the course how hard it is. It truly is unrelenting. There’s the two big climbs toward the turnaround part of the course, and then… so I did it as if it was the second half of the race. Just those last 10 miles are grinders all the way.
iRunFar: It’s kind of a mean uphill finish, isn’t it?
Wang: It is, although I’d say the last mile or two is not the worst part. It would be between… before you get to Island View. I think that’s the hardest part of the course because you haven’t gotten to the last aid station yet. You’ve seen the same thing for miles and miles. The lake is on your left and you go in and out and up and down. Also in that part of the course, it’s really hard to see if anyone is in front of you or behind you. I noticed that last year. It turned out there were two men who maybe were just a minute in front of me that whole time, but I had no idea. It’s a little bit harder to motivate in that section because you can’t gauge yourself. You don’t have anyone to shoot for. It’s very mentally challenging in that section. I think this year one of the things I want to be better about is pushing myself harder in that section of the race. I think last year I think I settled in to a groove where I was comfortable, but I think I could have pushed harder in the last couple miles of the course.
iRunFar: Explore the hurt box a little bit more?
Wang: Explore the hurt box a little more—I think it would really help if there was someone else there as it does in every race.
iRunFar: So you’re wanting it to come down the final couple miles. This will be fun.
Wang: I don’t know. You never know how the race is going to play out. I know I can’t go out too fast because of the unrelenting nature of the course. It doesn’t feel like you’re working that hard in the beginning because there aren’t these huge climbs but everything is adding up to your fatigue at the end of the race. You have to focus on your fueling and just stay alert. I know that there are a lot of fast women coming.
iRunFar: It’s kind of a big weekend for women. Sorry, but I almost think it’s the more competitive race.
Wang: I think so. I just briefly looked at the preview you put together for iRunFar, and I’m really impressed with the depth of the field that will be out there on Saturday.
iRunFar: Awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about your mindset because last year you came into this race having dropped from it the year before. Now this year, you’re a year more experienced in trail ultrarunning. You have this great race from here under your belt. You have other great races from 2016 and early 2017. How would you compare your mindset now to a year ago?
Wang: I think I’m a lot less scared for this one because I know I can run 50 miles, and I know how to get to the finish. I know that I’m healthy, and I know that I’ve put in good training runs. I think my training is a little bit different than where it was last year. Last year I came into it with a lot more speed, but I think this year I’m stronger, and I’ll be stronger in the latter half of the race just with how I felt with both the 50ks that I’ve done this spring. My legs were responding really well after mile 25 in those races. I’m looking forward to the last part of the 50 miles. I just think that for this year, my goal is to get a Golden Ticket because I want to go back to [Western] States.
iRunFar: I was going to ask you about that. Last year you earned your Golden Ticket here. You not only won the race with a competitive field, but you got your Golden Ticket. You went to Western States, but I don’t think you had the day you wanted there. Headspace-wise, you want that Golden Ticket? You want to be able to go back to Western States and give it another shot?
Wang: Yeah, I definitely want to go back to Western States. Last year I feel like I was prepared fitness-wise, but I really had trouble managing the heat once we got to the canyons. That sort of gave me a very low mental period from…
iRunFar: For a long time?
Wang: Thinking back on it, it was for a long time. It’s not like PTSD or anything. I really want to go back and create better memories from that experience… and also because I know I can get to the line fit and ready, and I learned all these things from last year’s experience at Western States—granted, who knows what’s going to happen with the course this year with all the snow in the Sierras—but I just feel like I want another chance to have a better day at Western States and also prove to myself that I can figure out what the problem was and solve it.
iRunFar: Does being the defending champion and also wanting a Golden Ticket, are those dueling desires or priorities? In the women’s field, it’s so deep this year, and there are women who have a Golden Ticket, who want a Golden Ticket, and who don’t want a Golden Ticket and who just want to run their brains out and go for it. Is wanting to get back to Western States, is that going to influence how you race? Possibly will you take it more conservatively so you will get a Golden Ticket?
Wang: I’m not very good at just doing a race and not trying to win. My coach and I have already talked about strategy a couple of times, and he knows I can’t go into a race and just settle for consolidating third place, and if Kaci [Lickteig] is in front, I already know she’s in States, so I don’t have to go for it. I want to go for the win always.
iRunFar: Yeah, so a necessarily slightly more conservative game to ensure a Golden Ticket is probably not going to happen? You’re going to run to defend?
Wang: I think the overall goal would be to run within myself as much as possible and give myself a chance to have a strong race. I think as I’ve done more ultras, my mindset has changed a little bit in how I approach the racing aspect because it is such a long period of time, you can’t really focus on just the racing aspect for seven hours-and-change. For the first part of the race, it will be a lot about effort management and fueling and just focusing on these little things, so at the turnaround, I can assess where everyone is and how the race might play out in the second half because 50 miles is still a really long way.
iRunFar: Whatever Karl Meltzer says, it’s a long way.
Wang: It’s a lot of miles to go. A lot of things can happen over those miles. I just have to put myself in the best position I possibly can.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you. We look forward to seeing you make the out-and-back around Lake Sonoma. Thanks for hosting us at your school.
Wang: Thank you! You’re welcome. Thank you so much.