Matt Daniels will debut at the 100-mile distance with the 2019 Western States 100. In our first interview with Matt, he talks about his long history with different kinds of running, why he decided to give ultrarunning and 100 miles a shot, how he’s adapted his training to prepare for this distance, and if he has a race-day strategy.
Matt Daniels Pre-2019 Western States 100 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Matt Daniels before the 2019 Wester States 100. Good morning, Matt. How are you?
Matt Daniels: Good morning! I’m good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m doing well. You arrived in Olympic Valley yesterday. You are at the starting line of your debut 100-mile race. How’s the mind feeling right now?
Daniels: It’s filled with excitement at the moment. I’m taking it all in. I think I’ve seen five celebrities since I set foot in Olympic Valley this morning. It’s been an exciting one already.
iRunFar: So, in my mind you are a runner who has tried just about everything at this point. I was trying to think about things you haven’t tried. I came up with swim-run races and maybe obstacle-course racing, but otherwise it seems you’ve done everything. Why ultrarunning now?
Daniels: Yeah, I got my start in the shorter distances, like the half-mile and mile growing up. I knew that eventually I wanted to be good not just at the shorter distances, but the longer distances. Through my running career, ultrarunning has gotten popular so I figured the next step after the marathon was to get out on the trails and experience that and see what kind of range I can have. That’s kind of been the excitement for me, is being that guy that can set foot on a track on any given day and run a fast time and get out on the trails and compete with some of the best in the world, too. What better trajectory than to just keep going up? One hundred miles is where I’m at now [laughs].
iRunFar: Next step 200 miles, who knows?
Daniels: [Laughs] We’ll see. Maybe in a few years, I don’t know. We’ll finish off with the Triple Crown, right? Three 200-mile races. By that point, there will probably be 500-mile races popping up, too. But yeah, it will be a while before I do any 200-mile races.
iRunFar: The Badwater double crossing or something crazy like that?
Daniels: Yeah, we’ll see.
iRunFar: Okay. So, this is iRunFar’s first interview with you. I’d love to back up. You’re originally from Texas. I thought I’d hear maybe a little bit more twang in your voice, but you’re also a global citizen. You’ve lived all over the country.
Daniels: Yeah, I have. [Adopts a thick Texas accent] I can bring out some of that twang if you want me to. I can start by saying howdy.
Daniels: Yeah, since I was 18, I’ve been fortunate enough to live all across the world. I was in the Navy and served in Japan. I’ve lived in Hawai’i, I’ve lived a short stint in California. I’ve been all over the place. I’ve found myself calling Colorado home now for the past few years. Yeah, when you’re in Colorado, you try not to act too much like a Texan, so the accent’s gone away.
iRunFar: It’s true. Texans are not so popular in the Rocky Mountain states, are they?
Daniels: Not at all.
iRunFar: You found running as a kid, right?
Daniels: Yeah, I started when I was 11 years old. One of my good friends growing up introduced me to summer track. I fell in love with it and quit all the other sports I was playing. Quitting football while living in the state of Texas is a kind of sin.
iRunFar: It’s a true sin.
Daniels: It is! I lost a lot of friends at a young age. Then I started showing up in the newspapers for being a fast runner. I started earning new friends that way. Yeah, it was a full transition at the age of 11 or 12.
iRunFar: And, if I understand it right, you realized pretty quickly that you had some talent.
Daniels: Yeah, my first race on the track was a mile and I was able to run 5:03. I remember a gentleman coming down from the stands and saying, “I don’t know what other sports you play, but you should really focus on making running your main sport.” That was kind of a wake-up call to me. I went all-in and from there I just kind of kept progressing.
iRunFar: You went through the collegiate track-and-field program. Then you did some road running, and then some more track-and-field racing after college?
Daniels: Yeah, I didn’t do a whole lot of track racing after college. I kind of went straight to the road scene. I did a half marathon a few months out of college and was able to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. Yeah, I had a really short post-collegiate career on the roads, before I decided to try and hit up the trails.
iRunFar: Before ultrarunning, you tried shorter-distance mountain-running stuff. That’s what you gravitated toward first?
Daniels: Yeah, right after the Olympic Trials in 2016, I was convinced by Andy Wacker and Hayden Hawks to go to the U.S. Mountain Running Championships. We all went out there and had a good time and qualified for the world team. That’s when I really fell in love with trail running. Mountain running, you know, it’s a different sport, but I knew I enjoyed being out on the trails and in the mountains. I did a few years of that. I’ll still go out and do some mountain races, I’m doing Sierre-Zinal after this and have my shot at a 30k race. I like to do all distances.
iRunFar: Pretty quickly after jumping into ultrarunning, it seems you decided, “I want to get to Western States.” Because you raced a couple 50k races, then all of a sudden it was 100k, then 100 miles.
Daniels: Yeah, so the plan wasn’t to run Western States for a few more years. I wanted to take my time getting into the ultrarunning stuff. I knew that this year I wanted to give 100k a try and see how that went for me. It went really well my first race, my first real 100k. So, yeah, I made the jump from 50k, skipped over 50 miles and enjoyed it so much that I figured I’d take advantage of getting that Golden Ticket and come out here.
iRunFar: So you signed up for Black Canyon as your first 100k. It’s a Golden Ticket race. If you got one of those tickets, you get that entry. Were you thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to get a Golden Ticket?” Did you think you wouldn’t take it? “If I get it, I’m going to wait”? Where were you at Black Canyon?
Daniels: Yeah, for Black Canyon the whole plan after talking with my coach, David Roche, was: “Let’s get through the race and not even think about the Golden Ticket until afterward. We can have discussion on if it’s going to be right or not.” Then we made a decision, “Let’s go experience Western States this year and see what it’s all about, and find out how much you can enjoy the process of training for a 100 miler and then being out there and then set yourself up for a really good year here next year.” The wind’s picking up. I feel like my moustache is about to fly away here.
iRunFar: Okay, so we need hairstylists and somebody to hold the camera. Yes, it’s an incredible weather day here. So, we’re at the starting line of your first 100-mile race. The way I look at somebody like you, somebody with your inherent and honed running speed, is that speed can be like a diamond, or it can be like kryptonite. One hundred miles is just a long way for everybody.
Daniels: It is. There’s a lot of variables that go into 100 miles. I had the opportunity to talk to Scott Jurek last week and he told me, “Respect the distance. One hundred kilometers is one thing and 100 miles is another thing.” For guys with a lot of speed like me, you can see that. We’ve seen guys like Jim Walmsley go out and use his speed, and sometimes that plays to his advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think a lot of us guys with that leg speed and road background know that going into it, so it’s really hard to figure out the game for the full distance, but that’s the whole point of it. That’s what makes it so much fun, is seeing what’s going to happen.
iRunFar: Yeah. So, people like you that I’ve talked to in the past after races like this, they’ll say, “I really struggled with the slow pace. I don’t train at that pace. It didn’t feel natural, so I didn’t run it.” Have you been training at 100-mile pace? What do you think 100-mile pace is for this race?
Daniels: Yeah, I’ve done a little bit of everything. My training volume hasn’t been too high this year. It’s just because we’re being careful and looking at the long-term approach to having success in 100 miles. I have done a lot of stuff where… a lot of pace-variation stuff. It’s hard for me to drop down too much in pace. It’s just not what I’m used to. I haven’t done it for years. A big focus in this training block has been to kind of re-train the muscle-fiber development and build that slow-twitch, fat-burning mode. And I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains, getting in vert and stuff like that. Yeah, it has been a big transition. Hardly any sub-6:00 miles on training runs anymore.
iRunFar: It’s probably kind of funny for you to look back at your training log and see these paces that look like they’re not you.
Daniels: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of those things where I’m wondering, “Am I still fit?” I just had to remember fitness isn’t as big of a deal for a 100-mile race. You have to be more ready physically and learn how to handle different situations. You know, I’m a coach myself and I have to remind myself what I remind my athletes all the time. That’s been the biggest learning curve for me.
iRunFar: Sometimes it can be so much easier to say things than to actually do things, right?
Daniels: Definitely. It’s funny, because I think that growing up, that’s probably what my parents were thinking about parenting and stuff. Trying to apply that to myself is where I’m at.
iRunFar: “Here I am, Mom and Dad! Now I understand!” Okay, let’s talk about the logistics of this weekend. We’re standing at sort of a blustery, cool weekend here at Olympic Valley. The weather is not predicted to be hot. It’s going to be kind of a different race this year. Have you been resetting expectations about how Saturday is going to go based on this changing weather forecast?
Daniels: I wish I could say yes. To be honest with you, I’m going into the race with no expectations or big game plan. I do best with these ultra distances when I kind of feel it out and let things happen and adjust on the fly. Everybody’s a little bit different, but that’s how I’ve figured out how to kind of nail ultrarunning for myself: Don’t let anything come into play. As far as the weather goes, I’m excited it’s a little cooler because I had some issues with my heat training and some sauna sessions.
iRunFar: It didn’t go well, or you didn’t get there?
Daniels: Yeah, I started doing them and then passed out real quick. I think it was very similar stuff to what Courtney Dauwalter dealt with last year. I grew up in Texas, so I’m confident that if it does end up hot, I know how I’ll feel.
iRunFar: “I’ve got the environmental history.”
Daniels: Exactly, and training in Hawaii a year ago–I think that made a big difference, too.
iRunFar: Right on. When I look at the men who are going to be on the starting line of this race, I think there are 20 guys who could go top eight. Of those runners, I feel like everybody sits in one category or another. They are the kind who go out and chase off the front, or they are the kind who sit and wait and say, “I’m coming for you later on.” Where do you fall in that?
Daniels: I don’t know yet [laughs]. For a lot of it, we’ll see when I wake up on race morning and how the first miles up the Escarpment go. I was just talking to Craig Thornley and he said the snow conditions are looking good and it’s looking to be fast. I know there’s a little bit of snow to run through, but, yeah, I guess we’ll see. I’ll probably have a little bit more of a conservative approach because of the distance and there’s a lot unknowns that I’m going to be facing, but I also love to race and compete, too. Who knows if I’ll get caught up with it or not? We’ll just kind of see how things play out. Yeah, I think it’ll be a mystery.
iRunFar: A mystery even for you.
Daniels: Yeah, definitely.
iRunFar: Right on. Well, enjoy the mystery. Enjoy the extra miles between 100k and 100 miles. We look forward to chasing you down the course on Saturday.
Daniels: I appreciate it, thanks!
iRunFar: Good luck.