Brittany Peterson had a big breakout to take second at the 2019 Western States 100. In our first interview with Brittany, get to know the Idahoan’s background in running, why she was drawn to compete in the WS 100, her down-to-the-wire battle for the win with champion Clare Gallagher, and if she plans to run WS 100 again in the future.
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Brittany Peterson. You’re the second-place finisher of the 2019 Western States 100. Wow, congratulations, Brittany.
Brittany Peterson: Thank you so much.
iRunFar: How are you feeling right now?
Peterson: Just kind of still shocked from the whole experience and then feeling the remnants from the 100-mile race.
iRunFar: So this is our first time interviewing you. I’d love to get a background on who you are as a runner.
Peterson: My background lately has been the shorter, technical skyrunning.
Peterson: I did the Skyrunner World Series last year.
Peterson: And that kind of fits with the training grounds I run on in Idaho.
iRunFar: Where are you from in Idaho?
Peterson: Pocatello, Idaho. Eastern Idaho. Cody [Lind], my boyfriend, is from central Idaho which has three or four different big mountain ranges around it. We go up there all the time and the bulk of our training is just long adventure runs.
iRunFar: Big, burly stuff in the high country.
Peterson: Yes. Yes.
iRunFar: Technical terrain.
Peterson: It was a nice, natural segue into skyrunning
Peterson: And then after that, the Lind family, Paul [Lind] being my coach, Cody being my boyfriend, their father and grandfather was Bob Lind, the old medical director. We’ve come to Western States the last, since I’ve been with them, the last two or three years.
Peterson: So every year I come, I get that fever of like, “Alright, I want to do this now, sign me up, I want to jump in.” So last year after completing the [Skyrunner] World Series it’s kind of like, “What do I want to do next year?” So it was time to shift over and just see something different, because I also feel dabbling in the fast 50k like the Way Too Cools, I do well there. I do well at the skyrunning. I feel like I don’t have the edge on some of those European girls that can just go so fast on those gnarly descents.
iRunFar: I was going to say, the technical downhills in Europe, I mean you’ve got to live on it, practice on it, be it.
Peterson: Yes. And I can hold my own, but my best result was a first place, but that was the least-technical course. Other than that I was like third or beyond that. So it was kind of like, “I don’t know where my strengths are exactly, where I really shine, or where my heart really lies with what I want to do with ultrarunning, so it’s kind of, let’s look at the 100ks, the 100 miles again.”
iRunFar: Try something totally different and new.
Peterson: Absolutely. Well I think the other thing too is just racing in Europe all year, I wanted to come back to the U.S. and just tackle some of the biggest races here, too.
iRunFar: Be home.
iRunFar: Try the home stuff.
Peterson: And the travel is so much nicer.
iRunFar: So you came into this season with the goal of running Western States.
iRunFar: Getting a Golden Ticket, being able to come here.
Peterson: Mm hmm.
iRunFar: What was it like to fire off yesterday morning from Olympic Valley? Being part of the Lind family, you have heard, talked, lived…
Peterson: Yeah, it was cool. Paul was like, You’re standing on the line and you’re standing right next to me,” as he’s shooting the gun.
Peterson: Which I kind of didn’t want to be right on the front line. That was pretty special, and Paul having run it twice, his first year in 1986 when he was 18, he just lives and breathes, like it’s more than just a race. So that’s how I’ve come to know it, and he was reminding me race-day morning of like, “That first time on the line is something you’ll never get back and something just so incredibly special.” He was like, “Take that moment up at the Escarpment, turn around, see the [sunrise], enjoy, look for Robinson Flat”–not that I had any idea where it was…
Peterson: But really enjoy that high country. We purposely didn’t train in the high country, because he was like, “That first 30 miles people don’t really know, and it’s just such a special thing to get that day on the race.” Which he was right.
iRunFar: It was fresh.
iRunFar: A surprise.
Peterson: Uh huh.
iRunFar: So in my mind, it’s the first part of the course that would suit you the most.
iRunFar: There was a little bit of snow, there’s some altitude.
iRunFar: Some rocks and some mud.
Peterson: Uh huh.
iRunFar: How were the high-country miles?
Peterson: Our whole race plan was you’re not racing until Foresthill, so you basically have a 100k where you’re on…
iRunFar: A long time to chill.
Peterson: Yeah. You are on a long training run.
iRunFar: Like the longest training run ever.
Peterson: Right. And it was pretty cool because it actually worked out that there was a pack of us going up to the Escarpment, and that was pretty special and cool, and then it kind of singled out where because of, I wanted to move efficiently without wasting energy, like holding back or without being too crazy on it, but knowing that that was a strength, where, so I positioned myself in a way where I had open room and I could go.
iRunFar: Room to roam.
Peterson: Yeah, yeah. I could glissade down something without putting the brakes on and wasting quads.
Peterson: So really I felt like that, I caught back up to the gals that were faster than me up to the Escarpment, and then made conscious effort of I’m not pushing too hard, once we started getting into the dirt and climbing a little bit more. Because actually I’ve been in California a fair amount so my climbing is not where I would have liked it and just being injured earlier this spring.
Peterson: But the muscle memory is still there.
iRunFar: It’s still there. You very early on, it wasn’t too far into the race where you were in the women’s top five, running in third, fourth place. We are being surrounded by bees right now. Just stay over there, bees. Was that part of the race plan to be as far up as you were as early as you were?
Peterson: No. Paul had said–we knew this was an area where we wanted to capitalize on my strength. He said, “I trust you that you know yourself where if you’re going out and you find yourself in first place, in 30th place.” He gave me kind of the okay of, “You’re going to be fine if you do find yourself higher up.”
iRunFar: Where you are is where you are.
iRunFar: Just run with this plan and whereever you are…
Peterson: I was in third pretty quickly, or no fourth, pretty quickly and then going back and forth between third and fourth.
Peterson: Where I just kept the whole time just mental check of, “How am I feeling, am I running with my own training run?”
Peterson: And I mean, I was every time so it’s just utilize this, because I know that the flatter, faster miles that taps into other peoples’ strengths, and the 100-mile distance is just something you never know what the latter half is going to be like, so I wanted to use my strengths early on.
iRunFar: That’s a perfect segue into talking about the end of the race. You never know what the latter half is going to be like. [laughs]
Peterson: Nope. [laughs]
iRunFar: Somewhere around mile 93 is it?
Peterson: Uh huh.
iRunFar: At that point you had moved into second place, is that correct?
Peterson: Going up to Green Gate, Clare [Gallagher], when Courtney [Dauwalter] was injured…
iRunFar: Uh huh.
Peterson: Clare shifted into first. I shifted into second. And then it was this continual, “How far ahead is she?” And Cody my pacer was like, “We’re gaining on her, we just took off two minutes in that section.” So I knew we were making gains.
Peterson: Between 85 to 90 and then we actually saw her, less than a half mile before the Highway 49 crossing.
iRunFar: And then so the way that she described it was that, you know, her and her pacer were looking for you guys and there were no lights, there were no lights, there were no lights, and then suddenly you were there.
iRunFar: Were you hunting in the dark without headlamps?
Peterson: We might have been.
iRunFar: Oh, you may have been!
Peterson: I think we had headlamps on because it was starting to get pretty dark. And we were on that narrow, and Cody was like, “You can put your light on if you need to.” But then once we saw theirs, it’s like, “Cut your light.”
iRunFar: So you turned your lights off, you roll up on them in the dark, and then you haul past.
Peterson: Tried to haul past.
iRunFar: Well you did haul past.
Peterson: I made the surge, took into first.
Peterson: She hung right tight with me.
iRunFar: Well she said she just held on for dear life to your pacer Cody’s ankles for a little bit.
Peterson: Sure. Yeah, yeah. I mean it was frazzled, hectic. Like I’m trying to actually pass with authority, which was the best I could muster at that time and she held on super, super strong. We were just talking this morning with Paul and my crew and everything where they were up at Pointed Rocks and they said it was–your picture captures it but Paul was like…
iRunFar: There’s shouting,
Peterson: Clare and Brittany crossed paths and like bumped each other, which I don’t even remember. You know, bottles are flying, the crew just haphazard, so he said that that picture only captures a small glimpse of just the utter chaos.
iRunFar: What was happening.
iRunFar: Like true chaos.
Peterson: He said that it was like, just the race of who’s going to set pace on that singletrack, which I was like, Clare had to have just been hanging onto my heels knowing she was going to make a gutsy move dashing down. I mean, she just hauled total ass and made a statement, which was pretty awesome.
iRunFar: Yeah, so leaving the aid station, did she leave right in front of you? Did you leave together? What happened?
Peterson: We left together but Cody and I were saying it was one of the most impressive surges we’ve ever seen, because she was literally, I mean I was struggling because she demoralized me. But she, honestly we couldn’t even see her light, just instantaneously it felt, which granted there’s all those turns and everything.
iRunFar: Twists and turns and trees.
Peterson: Yeah. But she did a good job of passing with authority and making her move and then following through with it and then held strong the entire way to Placer [High School] track.
iRunFar: But also like you held strong, too.
iRunFar: You crossed the line in the fourth fastest time that a woman’s run in a 40-plus-year history.
iRunFar: There’s no bones about it. You had a hell of a race.
Peterson: Pretty special, yeah.
iRunFar: How did that feel, coming into the track? You probably weren’t aware of quite how fast your time was going to be until afterward.
Peterson: You know there’s all that talk of being sub-18, and honestly I had battery-save mode on my watch so I didn’t see my time at all.
Peterson: So like Foresthill, it could be noon, I have no idea. And then Paul was like…
iRunFar: The darkest noon ever.
Peterson: Yeah, right. We talked about needing headlamps at, between approaching ALT. And we didn’t turn headlamps on until nearly Highway 49 so obviously I knew I was doing okay.
iRunFar: Okay. Yeah.
Peterson: I started asking Cody toward the end of like, “Am I going to get that sub-18? Because I’ve worked this hard, let’s make sure.” And I owe a lot of that to Clare because we were pushing so hard the last 15, 20 miles, which is why I got that time, and showed me what I was capable of which is pretty cool.
iRunFar: To me, what the two of you did last night is one of those examples of, when you look up the word competition in the dictionary, it’s not like you’re competing against somebody…
Peterson: Oh, yeah.
iRunFar: Competition is working with somebody to bring out your mutual best selves.
Peterson: Yeah. Exactly. And I it’s just cool watching the videos of finishing. Clare’s just so excited, and we go right into this awesome hug, where it’s just like, second place, that was an awesome race.
Peterson: And I’m super, super excited she owned that race and deserved that first place, and both of us are super happy.
iRunFar: She couldn’t have done what she did without you.
Peterson: Exactly. Yeah.
iRunFar: You couldn’t have done what you did without her.
Peterson: Exactly. Which is why I love this sport so much.
iRunFar: Yeah. Your first Western States.
Peterson: Mm hmm.
iRunFar: You run 17:30-something, a pretty ridiculous time. Does this get you thinking about just crazy possibilities or what you might want to do next or are you sitting on your laurels at this moment?
Peterson: I’m saying I’ll be back at Western next year.
iRunFar: Okay, you’re going to claim the F2 [bib].
Peterson: But I said I’m not thinking about that until next year at this time.
Peterson: Or at least give myself a few days. Because even at Bandera [100k], when you hit the 60 mile mark, I’m like, “Forty more miles, this is nuts, why do people do this?”
Peterson: And then yesterday I’m like 100 milers are crazy. But.
iRunFar: “But here I am.”
iRunFar: “I’m seeing this one through.”
Peterson: I’ll be back but I’m not thinking about that for a while.
iRunFar: Yeah. What are you going to do? Drink a couple cocktails?
Peterson: You know, I am, my big next focus, well one, Cody and I are putting on technical mountain running camp.
Peterson: So that’s early August. So we’ll be gearing up for that. So, super excited. I think honestly as I’ve been reflecting on this, it’s like, how did I accomplish what I accomplished yesterday? I really feel like the technical running keeps coming back into my results and my successes that the technical running plays a part of that, and I really think whether you’re skyrunning, whether you doing Western States, whether you’re doing a 50k, Speedgoat or whatever, technical running helps you. So many people talk about blowing their stabilizers early because of rocks or because of snow. If you just have that well-rounded strength, I think it’s super fun and really important and it’s helped me a ton and I recognize that, where I’m hoping that we can really have some excitement with our camp.
Peterson: But then my next A race is CCC.
Peterson: Mm hm. Which I think will be a nice bump, like keep the runnable, add some climbing mountain stuff in there.
Peterson: And have some fun times in the mountains. But I’m not thinking about that for a little bit either.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well congratulations to you at your second-place finish at the 2019 Western States.
Peterson: Thank you.
iRunFar: We look forward to seeing you here and around the world.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…