As of Sunday morning, Scotty Mills has now finished the Western States 100 20 times over the course of 37 years. This year, he did it in 26:08:46 at the age of 68. Let all of that sink in. And, at least in my mind, that’s not the most incredible thing about Scotty. That’d have to be how big of a mentor he’s been to so many in the sport… including me.
In the following bonus interview, Scotty talks about how he prepared differently for this year’s race after all this time, how the sport has changed over the years, what he enjoys the most about the sport, and whether you’ll see him toe the line again at Western States.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story.
Scott Mills Post-2019 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Scotty Mills. After his 20th Western States finish in 2019. How are you Scotty?
Scotty Mills: I’m tired but I am ecstatic with the ability to have completed the race in a time, but quite honestly was one of my better for my age.
iRunFar: You trained your ass off for this. And I can say from afar.
Mills: And in the last two years did not go well for me at the finish of this race. A lot of back issues and leaning so I kind of committed myself this year, since it was number 20 to say I need to do this right. And one of the things I was able to do, I passed up the San Diego 100 RD-ship to two new co-directors and that allowed me much more time to focus on training.
iRunFar: And especially in May and June.
Mills: Yeah, when you need to.
iRunFar: And not only your running training was great but you did, finally started adding more stuff into your training.
Mills: Yeah, I think one of the things I’ve learned with older age is you can’t just do it on running, you need to incorporate other things and for me what really worked well probably from January through June was combination of yoga, going to a gym in a fitness thing called orange theory, more stretching, some weights and kind of trying to not necessarily focus on high mileage but trying to incorporate training that trains my whole body.
iRunFar: You did a lot of really impressive long runs.
Mills: Yeah, but slow ones. Not trying to race hard but slow.
iRunFar: Now when did you realize, maybe not incorporate right away but when did you realize that you really did need to start to include beyond running as part of your running?
Mills: Based on my finishes in 2017 and 18, which I finished but they did not go well and anybody who saw me would attest to that, they did not go well.
iRunFar: And you probably weren’t happy with the fact that, you finished but.
Mills: It was kind of embarrassing because you don’t want to finish the race where you’re kind of falling down or leaning. You know the president of the Western States Board who does the announcing made it real apparent to everybody that I was leaning to the right, leaning to the left and so, anyway.
iRunFar: I chuckle a little bit only because I was with you for your first listing experience.
Mills: What year was that?
Mills: Yeah, so I didn’t lean a lot from 2006 until 2012, but yeah, you and I finished that year, great picture of you but a terrible picture of me because I was leaning badly.
iRunFar: That has made a few Western States programs.
Mills: Who do I blame? You?
iRunFar: Me, no. So we talked a little bit about the last couple of years but this has been a 37-year journey.
Mills: Yeah, my first Western states was 1982 and then it took me 20 years to get my tenth buckle, so 10 buckles took me 20 years and then the next 10 buckles took me another 17 years. And that’s due to the fact that it so difficult to get in the race with the lottery and everything.
iRunFar: There were some long stretches where you just didn’t get in.
Mills: Yeah. And especially the last couple of years, the last time I actually had a finish and got in the race was 2012 – that’s not true, I got in ’13 and I was my only DNF in 2013, same thing I went out at mile 90.
iRunFar: It’s interesting, you mentioned that, over this last weekend I thought about one of the regrets I had an ultrarunning is you and me not teaming up again in 2013 and getting to that finish.
Mills: You’re too fast.
iRunFar: I didn’t finish that year.
Mills: Now, you’re too fast. For sure, anyway.
iRunFar: So what have you seen evolved over these, presumably you had a race before Western States?
Mills: You had to have a qualifier in 1981 to qualify for the 1982 and all it was, was one 50 miler. So my first ultra was American River 50 in 1981. And the first year I had a very respectable time, 21:29. Ironically ,ten years later when I had my tenth belt buckle, my time was almost identical, it was 21:22 so from the tenth buckle through the twentieth though my times slipped radically.
iRunFar: I would say more like 15th to 20th because honestly you are in like 21st place to early 30s for 15 or so finishes here.
Mills: Yeah. But I think what’s really evolved, not only how difficult it is to get in the race at the quality of the runners, today’s event at Western States is quite honestly hard to get your arms around the performance levels of these young elites. It’s amazing, I just can’t even understand how they can run that fast. It’s all relative I’m sure but the sport has really changed from not only the popularity but the performance levels.
iRunFar: How did you ever hear about an ultramarathon or Western States in particular?
Mills: It’s an interesting story. I lived in Sacramento, at the time I was in the Air Force and everyone said you should go up to Auburn, every Saturday or Sunday there’s a group up there doing trail runs training for Western States so a good friend of mine Cheryl Summers and I went up to Michigan Bluff and sure enough there were people up there and we went on a run with a guy named Tom Zavortink, he was one of the first people to get like seven buckles in the very early years and he kind of mentored us into it. We fell in love with the sport even before I ran the first year so that was kind of the beginning.
iRunFar: So, I can’t believe I can actually say it but about 17 years I can remember you going for your 10th and I believe around that time there was a, I’m going to do 10 and be done. And I remember a couple of times of late hearing, I’m going to do 20 Western States and I’m done. And then…
Mills: Don’t go there. Yeah, we’ll see. I love the sport and I need to – my wife Jean, she’s been so supportive and understanding because she knows I love the sport, she knows I have a passion for it and it’s hard on her. Anybody who has crewed her, crewed for someone they love, crewing stands for cranky runners endless waiting and Jean has been there for every one of my hundreds so she’s kind of, this is it right? And I said well it is for now, we will see what happens.
iRunFar: That’s got to be hard too, it’s different for a crew to see a runner struggling with some stomach issues or some blistering as opposed to the last couple years, not this year so much but previous years.
Mills: My crew this year and I have wonderful friends who have been with me several of them overall 37 years. They were all extremely excited with the finish this year because I was upright, I finished strong, I had a good time, that makes them happy too because they don’t like to see friends struggle.
iRunFar: Now on the flipside of that, to be able to be an inspiration to everybody to show what’s humanly possible, are you 68 right now?
iRunFar: I mean and you finished four hours under the cut off.
iRunFar: And had a solid race. Do you ever think about the fact that you can inspire people at 68 now but at 70, 72, 73 whatever? To show that this is possible.
Mills: Sure, you know and my wife I say one thing, yeah I do. I think what I get the most pleasure out of in the sport’s mentoring people, setting the example that you can do this with commitment and you know this sport is characterized by the friendships that you create in the event and not for me will still be the most special thing about ultrarunning and specifically Western States.
iRunFar: Now on the flip side of being the inspiration and maybe doing some more Western States or other hundreds, the flipside is so few people get to run this, have you thought about that?
Mills: Absolutely. It’s really sad for me because you want to motivate and encourage people to do this but the reality of the situation is it’s very difficult for some of the more popular races like Hardrock and Western States for people to get in so it’s kind of a double edged sword from my perspective.
iRunFar: I know it in the past you have done that Western States / Hardrock double and, fortunately, I think Jeannie has talked you out of that.
Mills: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: You still have that kind of decisions to make in future years.
Mills: Yeah, I’ve got nine Hardrock’s so I want to get one more. That will be the end of it for Hardrock, but you know I even told the people here at Western States, I love coming out to this event whether I’m running it or not and helping. And all the years that I did not get into Western States I was at this event helping out or in some capacity.
iRunFar: Helping out, heckling a little bit.
Mills: Yeah, of course.
iRunFar: Do you have a favorite memory or two from all your years here?
Mills: I have several great memories, if I had to characterize one it was probably as much as anything else when you and I finished together. We met up at mile 30, you are having a rough day and I said come on Bryon let’s run this in together and we did, we spent 70 miles and unfortunately at the end you looked great and I was leaning.
iRunFar: But that was after we both had back and forths, we each had our highs and lows. I remember picking up our pacers at that race and when we picked up our pacers we both said get in the back. Because you and I had already had five hours of running together.
Mills: As you recall, you were running towards the end much better than me and I implored you to go on and finish but you had no part of it and that was a great friendship memory.
iRunFar: I was a good time. Congratulations on 20 finishes Scott.
Mills: Thank you so much for all you do for this sport.
iRunFar: Thank you, we’re probably both going to end up crying. I was telling somebody I was going to interview and you have been such an ultra mentor and they’re like, he is to everybody. And you put on a bunch of races, you’ve done all these different things for the community but like on an individual basis you have mentored, if you were to look around this tent today, countless people.
Mills: Yeah, well you know that is as much for me as it is for others because I get a lot of gratification.
iRunFar: It reflects back for sure.
iRunFar: All right.
Mills: Well thank you, nice talking to you.