Nicole Bitter’s seventh-place finish at the 2019 Western States 100 was her fourth–and fastest–finish at this event. In the following interview, Nicole talks about how she’s changed as a runner since her early days at the WS 100, how her move to Arizona has allowed her to train better for this race, and why she keeps returning to the WS 100.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story.
Nicole Bitter Post-2019 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Nicole Bitter.
Nicole Bitter: Yes.
iRunFar: You are the seventh-place finisher at the 2019 Western States 100. Wow, congratulations, Nicole.
Bitter: Oh thanks, I mean I’m thrilled. That was quite the day.
iRunFar: You have had a hell of a run at this race.
iRunFar: What keeps bringing you back to Western States?
Bitter: You know, it’s such a challenging event, I think the course is just very difficult to execute well and I’ve had some really good years and some really bad years. So I think I was just looking to see what I could achieve on the course. So when I got the opportunity to run this year, I just kind of felt like it was meant to be. I needed to give it one more shot.
iRunFar: Now since the last time you have been at Western States, I kind of think of you as a totally different runner. You have moved?
Bitter: Yeah, my life has certainly changed a lot. There’s been a lot of change since 2015 when I did the race.
iRunFar: In life and in terms of where you run and how you train?
Bitter: Yes, I’m very fortunate so I finally now live in a place by the Phoenix Mountain Preserve [in Arizona] and can actually do trails. So my husband Zach [Bitter] and I have been actually climbing and practicing that. So historically when I started doing the race all I did was train on the roads of Dallas[, Texas], and I was fortunate to have a lot of good training partners so that’s kept us honest. But I think now just having the ability to practice the climbs and descents makes it a whole lot more manageable.
iRunFar: Do you feel just so much more comfortable being here? Like having so much more hill training on your legs?
Bitter: Yeah I really do. I think that’s just telling given the field itself. So I don’t think I would have been in the same place this year as I was in 2015. It’s just become such a more competitive race. Especially on the women’s side, I’m just floored by the caliber of runners out there and there were just so many women around me the whole time, it was remarkable.
iRunFar: You’re not running with men you’re running with a field of women.
Bitter: Yeah. I really did not see a lot of men on the course, to be honest. There were just so many tough ladies out there, it was very cool to see actually.
iRunFar: What was really impressive to me in the women’s race this year was the dynamicity of it from start to finish. I mean, nothing was settled until the end. What was that like being on the inside of that when there are women coming and women going?
Bitter: Very nerve-racking. My goal is always just to–if I can get into the top 10 I’m thrilled. So I was just almost nervous about hanging onto my spot. I just felt like there were so many women that I had seen early in the race that probably were going to be close. So it was great, it was a good challenge. I’m glad I have the opportunity to do another Western.
iRunFar: You have a lot of experience on this course, you have seen it in all kinds of conditions. Can you talk about the specific weather and how the snow and mud were yesterday?
Bitter: So I actually did not think the snow was as bad as in 2017.
iRunFar: 2017 was pretty bad.
Bitter: Yes, I thought I was a lot more difficult to navigate. I thought the snow this year was more manageable. In talking to others though, it slowed us down about the same amount which–I don’t wear watch so I was not aware of.
iRunFar: You don’t run with a watch?
Bitter: No. It’s all by feel. As somebody who lives in Phoenix I was obviously hoping for a warmer year.
iRunFar: You are like, “This is going to benefit me if it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Bitter: Yes, I would love as hard as you could have the weather, I would probably see that as an advantage.
iRunFar: You are crazy.
Bitter: Yes. And I guess it’s just a testament to where I live. So I really did not feel hot all day.
iRunFar: Did you feel cold?
Bitter: A little cold.
iRunFar: To start?
iRunFar: Some people had on jackets all the way until mile 15 and 20.
Bitter: Yeah. It was a little chilly, I had arm sleeves on probably until 30.
iRunFar: Wow. Incredible Western States year.
iRunFar: Talk about how the women’s race played out around you. I felt like maybe there was some shifting going on sort of in the Michigan Bluff, Foresthill, Cal Street area. And then maybe it settled in after that?
Bitter: Yeah. Going into the race I was so fortunate because there were so many women around. And so it was a nice conversation just to keep things relaxed and talking through the snow. I think Kaytlyn [Gerbin] passed me coming out of the canyons onto Foresthill. Which I was not surprised about it all. She’s obviously an excellent competitor and amazing runner so she went by and I was excited for her because she’s such a good closer every year. So that changed and then going down to the river, two strong runners passed me and I felt like I was running a pretty good pace but I just couldn’t compete with them, they were amazing.
iRunFar: You know this race course by the back of your hand and when I think of you, I think of you as a real flat runner. How was the close?
Bitter: You know, I struggled on that last 20 miles. Always. Just the terrain is hard for me especially in the dark. But I was lucky my husband was there pacing me.
iRunFar: One of the best pacers in the business right?
Bitter: Yeah, I was very fortunate.
iRunFar: But I think your day ended up being a PR by quite a bit, 80 minutes or 70-something minutes?
Bitter: So I was floored by that for sure.
iRunFar: I mean, what does it feel like to cross the line–it’s literally a whole new time category?
Bitter: Yeah, I did not think I was capable of that so I guess it’s a testament to training actually on the terrain that we’re running on. So I felt really excited.
iRunFar: Awesome. Congratulations to you on your seventh-place finish.
Bitter: Thank you, I’m thrilled.
iRunFar: We look forward to seeing what you do next.
Bitter: Thank you.