YiOu Wang returns to Western States 100 after finishing 13th at last year’s race. In the following interview, YiOu talks about what went wrong at last year’s race, how she intends to improve upon her mistakes from last year, and what she hopes to get out of this weekend.
YiOu Wang Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with YiOu Wang before the 2017 Western States 100. How are you?
YiOu Wang: I’m great. How are you?
iRunFar: Tired, but that’s alright.
Wang: Sounds like you’ve had your ultra-interview day today.
iRunFar: Today is that day. You ran Western States here last year and finished 13th. Tell me a bit about that day.
Wang: It was a great day until the top of Devil’s Thumb where I might get PTSD.
iRunFar: Why was that? What went wrong there?
Wang: I started the descent into El Dorado and just puked all over the side of the trail pretty much right after the Devil’s Thumb aid station because I was feeling good and my stomach was really settled, so at the aid station there, I just ate way too much. I basically stuffed my face full of cantaloupe, and then it all ended up on the side of the trail.
iRunFar: At least it was on the side of the trail.
Wang: I was considerate enough to move all that to the side of the trail. Then I started getting really bad sort of a full stomach cramp not even an intestinal issue but diaphragm and core cramping. The whole thing seized. So I couldn’t really run because it turns out you need your core to run especially downhill.
iRunFar: Which there’s some of here.
Wang: Yeah, there’s a little bit of that on that descent after the top of Devil’s Thumb. It was kind of a strugglefest. I could walk, but I couldn’t breathe deeply to run, and I also was in a lot of pain on the descent if I tried to run from the pounding. So, I walked from there until Michigan Bluff where I saw my crew. I told them what was up because they’d gotten a little bit worried about me taking so long to get to Michigan Bluff. I basically told them that I’d been walking since Devil’s Thumb. It was super hot at Michigan Bluff, but I decided to go to Foresthill because it’s only a 10k and there was plenty of time. I think tried some watermelon and coconut water at Michigan Bluff. I left the aid station. Topher Gaylord walked with me a little bit until you hit the gravel road going downhill and then went back to the aid station. Ten meters later, I puked on the side of the trail again.
iRunFar: Are you going to eat any sort of melon during this year’s race?
Wang: I don’t think so. I think I’m going to be a lot more careful. I think part of the puking problem was me doing a poor job of heat management. I was not very diligent last year about heat training. I’m like, “It’s plenty warm in Marin. It’s 75 degrees [Fahrenheit] today.”
iRunFar: The sun’s out. Yay.
Wang: “The sun’s out. I can run three hours when it’s 70 and sunny. I shouldn’t have any problems in the canyons.” Yeah, it’s not the same as the canyons.
iRunFar: What have you adjusted? What have you changed before or during the race to help you deal with that?
Wang: Going into this year’s Western States, first of all, luckily we’ve had a massive heat wave in the Bay Area and all of California which I’m sure everyone’s been all over social media talking about that. It actually did get up to 90s and 100s in Marin which is really unusual. To have that be a sustained heat where it doesn’t even cool off at night—I think our hottest day yet was this past Sunday where it got to 101 or 102. I waited until 1 p.m. and did my run—Hi, dog—did my run in the afternoon and am doing the arm sleeves for cooling and a hat. I tried out a bunch of different strategies. I think during the race I’m also going to have a lot of ice in my pack when I get to the aid stations.
iRunFar: To melt? Not in a bladder?
Wang: Sort of a cooling vest strategy. I will have it in the bladder. The bladder will be in my Camelbak. I probably also will just put extra ice in the back pocket for cooling. I think especially for this year, I’m going to focus a lot on heat management during that super-hot section in the canyons. I think that will help me to be able to get down the calories.
iRunFar: Which will then help you to not puke and continue running.
Wang: Yes, and I likely will stop eating solid food after Robinson and just stick to gels.
iRunFar: So when it’s cool in the high country, you might be able to get a little in.
Wang: Yeah, I’ll eat some bars and munch on things in the high country because when the temperature is low I can do that. I even noticed during some of my training runs when it’s been super hot, I’d start getting uncomfortable having eaten a solid meal before the run. So, I’m going to really just stick to gels when it gets hot.
iRunFar: Did the race ever turn around for you at Western States last year or at least get manageable for you at some point?
Wang: It did. I got to Foresthill, and I hadn’t been able to keep anything down between Devil’s Thumb and Foresthill. I’d had no calories. I’d been super hot, and I was feeling not angry or anything but just really sorry for myself. I got to the Foresthill aid station and saw my crew, and I felt like my legs were still there. I just had this really bad cramp in my stomach. I laid on the ground and just closed my eyes and almost had a nap. I’m not really sure how long I was at Foresthill, maybe almost an hour or two. But then I got up, and my pacer, Emily, kind of started walking with me down the street. Suddenly I found myself all the way down Cal Street heading down toward the river. I was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll start going.”
iRunFar: Did you ever get back into normal running again?
Wang: I would say my abdominals just felt sore the entire rest of the way, but it had loosened enough that I could run and shuffle. Once the sun went down, it also got a lot easier for me. I think my race did turn around at Foresthill through a combination of having a nice little nap at Foresthill…
iRunFar: It’s a bit of a circus here. Sorry.
Wang: And not eating any more solid foods. I went just to gels and Shot Bloks and water. Having it cool down a lot also helped.
iRunFar: Over the last two years, you’ve crushed Lake Sonoma both years. You had a great run at Fourmidable 50k at the beginning of the year and a good run at Chuckanut. You set a course record again at Quicksilver. How are you trying to translate that success at 50k and 50 miles into 100 miles, especially after having experienced 100 miles?
Wang: I think for me, even with the 50-mile distance, I’m sure people know that it took me three tries to actually finish a 50 mile. I learn a lot from every race, but I think for me I do a lot of things wrong the first time. That’s okay because it fires me up even more to go back and try to do it again and try to have a successful day. They say you learn a lot more from your mistakes than you do from having a successful race. I feel like because I didn’t have 100% of the race I wanted last year, this year, it’s just a really great opportunity for me to improve on that performance and do a lot of things better than I did last year. I also had a little different philosophy in my own training leading up to Western States because I tell myself that I hate hiking. I’ve always hated hiking or walking or doing any of that. I just tried to change that mindset heading into Western States this year. I actually did practice hiking with friends and then also as part of running runs just to force myself to hike.
iRunFar: How did that go?
Wang: Well, when you think about it with a more positive attitude, it’s fun because it’s easier than running up a really steep grade.
iRunFar: Perhaps more efficient.
Wang: More efficient, yes. I think just changing my thought process around some of the challenging aspects of Western States, and also during the heat training, I was the sketchy person in the hoody and sweats at 3 p.m. walking around feeling uncomfortable and hot. I think last year, I didn’t do any of that because I was like, “Oh, that sounds like it sucks.”
iRunFar: It does, but did you come to accept it eventually?
Wang: It does suck. I came to accept it, and I also find, what’s the silver lining? I’m out running and it’s 100 degrees and it doesn’t feel great, but I’m moving and I feel okay moving in this. Also, there’s nobody out running or biking or dogs. There’s none of this craziness going on. I get everything to myself right now.
iRunFar: Your own little playground. What do you want to get out of this weekend?
Wang: I want to feel like I put together the best race that I could on this day. I want to feel like I performed to my ability and to my fitness level. If that means being competitive at the front of the race, then yeah, I’m going to go for it. I’ll see where I am at Foresthill because I know the last half is runnable. I’ve run a lot of those trails. That’s where I can really step on the gas pedal as long as I have legs and am not puking or cramping at that point.
iRunFar: So maybe getting the most out of yourself involves getting to Foresthill.
Wang: Yeah, and just not having those moments where something happens that adversely affects my ability to run for that long of a period of time. It’s one thing to have a little cramp and down some electrolytes. It’s another thing to wallow in self-pity all the way from Devil’s Thumb to Foresthill.
iRunFar: If you’re going to wallow somewhere, wallow in a creek.
Wang: At least I was moving forward.
iRunFar: Until you got to Foresthill.
Wang: Yeah, I took a little break at Foresthill.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there this weekend, and enjoy the experience.
Wang: Thank you so much.