Kaytlyn Gerbin will contend at the 2018 Western States 100. In this interview, which was part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, Kaytlyn talks about how she got into running via a college running class, her meteoric rise in the ranks of international-level trail ultrarunning including her fourth place at Western States last year, and what it’s like returning to the race with last year’s experience and perspective.
Kaytlyn Gerbin Pre-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar—Dylan Bowman: We are back here at the Coffeebar. It’s iRunFar Live before the 2018 Western States 100, and a glorious Thursday morning. We’re joined by last year’s fourth-place finisher, Kaytlyn Gerbin.
Kaytlyn, we’d never met until about two minutes ago, but I know this is your first iRunFar interview. You popped up on my radar and a lot of people’s radars last year at this race. Being, as this is, your first iRunFar interview, can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from?
Kaytlyn Gerbin: First of all, I’m really excited to be here. Thank you for giving me the chance. It’s also a lot of fun to do this in a live-interview setting. I’m originally from Wisconsin. I moved to Seattle, Washington, for graduate school and I’ve been there for almost eight years now.
I was running a little bit in college for fun and then did a bit of marathon running, noncompetitive, and then I got into trail and ultramarathon running pretty much once I moved to Seattle. It’s been fun.
iRunFar—Meghan Hicks: I discovered a couple of things about you online. One was that you discovered running through a college running classs for credit. You got college credit to run?
Gerbin: Yes I did. This is a great opportunity for me to give a shout-out to Ronnie Carda. I’ll send him this later so he can watch [laughs]. It was a physical-education course I’d heard about from friends. You could get two credits for marathon and distance training. For me, at that time, I thought, Maybe I’ll run a half marathon. That was a distance run to me. So I signed up for the course and on the first day, Ronnie told the whole class, “To pass this course, you’re going to need to run a marathon.” I think everyone in the class was like, “Oh my gosh, [braces herself against the table] are you kidding me?”
Throughout that class, one day a week we did group runs and another day we were learning about things like nutrition and training strategy. It was awesome because I didn’t run in high school or college. It was a good way to make some friends in running and have some training partners. I learned a little bit about the foundations that are important when you’re building up your running distance. I actually failed the class the first year because I got injured snowboarding and did not run a marathon. Luckily, Ronnie let me in the following year to redeem myself.
iRunFar—Bowman: Last year, you raced your way into Western States by winning a Golden Ticket at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. You’re back because you got an automatic entry by finishing Western in fourth last year. You’ve been pretty dominant in the Pacific Northwest and you just finished 10th at the Trail Running Championshipsin Spain just four or five weeks ago. Does your fourth-place finish last year and your recent success on the international stage give you confidence going into this year’s race? How are you approaching it strategically compared to last year?
Gerbin: Both Western States last year and the recent World Championships gave me the confidence that I do deserve to be racing in the front. Last year at Western States it was a lot of, “Oh my gosh, look at who I’m running next to!” I was running next to a lot of people who I look up to in the sport. There’s a lot of impostor syndrome of, Do I deserve to be here? What am I doing?
Everyone was so nice, so that was one of the coolest things last year–running alongside women who are idols to me. That was really cool. Coming into this year, I feel less pressure, less nervous. I just feel excited to go out and run. Running in the Northwest, I’ve done a lot of local races and the people I’ve met through those. So last year I had that support, a lot of people back home rooting for me. But coming here I felt like I didn’t really know anybody. So it’s fun now this year – there’s a lot more familiar faces. I’ve been on the course. I think I’m going into it knowing that I’ve had quite a few good races so I can trust myself, run my own race and then put that together to have a solid finish. I’m hoping I can do the same.
iRunFar—Hicks: Strategically, how did the race go last year? Numbers-wise, you started decently far back in the field, like 15th place or so and then you gently moved up throughout the race. Then it looked like there were turbo chargers that just turned on when you were on California Street. That’s how it went numbers-wise. Then, when you crossed the finish, you had so much bounce as you were coming around the track, I thought, That girl’s got a couple of intervals left in her. How did it feel strategically and physically for you?
Gerbin: Last year, Western States was my second 100-mile race. So I had a feeling of what those later miles in the race would feel like, but there’s still so much that’s unknown. It’s hard to know what to predict, but you have to know what your strengths are and keep that in mind as you’re planning out the race.
I know that I tend to be a second-half runner. Especially with the high-country conditions last year, I’m like, Okay, I’m going to run by feel, run conservatively but at a pace that would still put me in a good striking distance to make it into the top 10. I got some good advice that a lot of people know, too: the race starts at Foresthill. That’s where I was picking up my pacer. My husband, Ely, paced me from Foresthill to Green Gate. So I wanted to get to him still able to run so we could have some fun, and that’s where we started passing people.
Then my friend Ladia Albertson-Junkans, who just ran the Broken Arrow Skyrace last weekend, paced me from Green Gate to the finish. She’s such a speedster, I was like “I need to get to her being able to run. I don’t know if she can run slow.” That was fun. And it’s always fun feeling–relatively speaking–stronger toward the end of the race. It’s fun chasing people down.
iRunFar—Bowman: You and Jeff Browning almost had identical races, looking back at last year. You were both outside of the top 10 and then at Foresthill started moving through the entire field and both finished fourth. Looking back, it’s cool to see that. You mentioned the snow last year and the difficult conditions. It was a slow year comparatively. This year is setting up to be one of the hotter–if not the hottest–races in Western States history. Have you done anything specific to prepare for the elements this year that you think will help you be more successful?
Gerbin: I’ve been trying to get in the sauna. Luckily we’ve had a few hot days recently in the Seattle area, but it’s generally pretty mild temperatures there. I did basically the same things that I did last year – I spent time in the sauna, tried to get a few runs in the heat. That’s hard, because usually it’s hottest in the middle of the day and that’s when I’m at work. But I feel pretty good about my heat training going in. Last year I tried to use ice as much as possible and stay wet. I’m going to do the same.
iRunFar—Hicks: Let’s talk about the other women in the race. You said last year you were surrounded by women you look up to. This year, there’s going to be women looking up to you. Do you have a plan for what you’re going to do with the other women around you, or are you going to stick to your own race? Are you going to try to enjoy some early, easy miles in the company of other women. There’s a cool picnic women do on the Escarpment at sunrise–are you going to participate?
Gerbin: Part of the thing that’s so cool about running these races is there are so many fun people to run with. That’s definitely part of the experience, which is why I was really excited to come back to this race this year. I definitely hope to connect with some other runners out on the course. At the same time, I want to go into this race trusting myself, trusting my fitness, making sure that I don’t get too comfortable early on. I think that last year, running along thinking, These are all the women who finished top 10 last year, this is great, this is a good place. I still want to have a little bit of that. But I don’t want to fall into being too comfortable if it feels good.
iRunFar—Hicks: This is a race that tends to feed people’s addictive personalities. There’s a lot of people who are like, “I want to finish this race five times, 10 times, 25 times.” Is there any of that, “Ooh, I want to keep coming back and seeing incrementally how much better I can do at this race”?
Gerbin: After last year’s race I was looking forward to coming back this year. I tend not to repeat a lot of races because I really like running in new places, especially for 100 milers. I feel like you can’t do that many 100s in one year. There’s so many awesome courses that I’d like to branch out. I’m not going to make any calls until after this race happens. So, one race at a time.
iRunFar—Bowman: Great. I think a lot of people are interested to see how you do this weekend and I know that I, personally, will be keeping my eye on you.
iRunFar—Hicks: You were in my iRunFar prediction contest entry top-eight women, so I have my eyes on you, too.
iRunFar—Bowman: So no pressure.
Gerbin: It’s okay.
iRunFar—Bowman: A round of applause for Kaytlyn Gerbin. [Audience applauds and cheers off-screen] Good luck this weekend. Take care of yourself and all the best.
Gerbin: Thank you.