Anna Mae Flynn is one of the women’s favorites for the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile Championships. In this interview, Anna Mae talks about her 2019 season since winning the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April, how she’s learning by trail and error how to race ultramarathons, and why she’s closing 2019 with the TNF 50.
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Anna Mae Flynn. It’s a couple days before the 2019 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. So it’s raining outside now, so we’ve brought the interview indoors.
Anna Mae Flynn: Yes, we are here in the garlic room.
iRunFar: We are in one of the meeting rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Mill Valley and somebody ate garlic in here.
Flynn: Yes, it’s definitely very potent.
iRunFar: All right, you’re here to race the 50-mile race on Saturday. Now, I like to think of you as a, I don’t know, like a rare mystical cat, that you spend most of your time hiding up in the mountains doing hard workouts and then once in a while you come down and pounce on the competition. So you decided to come down.
Flynn: I guess you could say that, I’m trying to be like the Zach Miller of the female – female version of Zach Miller. Like living up at 9,000 feet just people don’t really know what I’m doing up there, so if it’s snowing am I just walking around snowshoeing you know.
iRunFar: Living like a snow yeti.
Flynn: Yeah, doing the snow yeti life and then coming down from the mountains to race with the women.
iRunFar: Yeah, but sort of what I’ve seen from you from the last couple of years is that you are less frequently turning up at races, but when you do it seems like you know you’re ready to give it and the performance is there.
Flynn: Yeah, I think I, I used to race a lot more frequently and I think I was just trying to understand the ultra racing, how to perform in an ultra race.
iRunFar: Which you never actually figure out.
Flynn: You never actually figure out, but I think after a little bit you’re like, okay I can race 50k and you kind of dial in your training for that and then now that I’m getting into the 50 milers it’s like, okay I know that I’m going to have to spend a lot more time training in a training block that I would for a shorter race.
iRunFar: So let’s talk about your 2019. I think we last saw you race in person at Lake Sonoma where you had a hell of a, superhot finish to take over the lead within sight of the finish and then after that was Speedgoat then tell me, you had some other shorter races here and there.
Flynn: Yeah, I had a Cirque Series race before Speedgoat and then one after and ever since then I’ve just been – I took about three weeks to a month off of running and then have just been building back into base training and with what I learned with base training is that I’m still doing workouts, but it’s just a little bit more like, lower intensity volume.
iRunFar: More volume but the workouts are a little bit less intensity than when you’re trying to sharpen up at the end?
Flynn: Right, yeah, just getting a little bit of intervals, but not as many tempo runs and building my long-run but not worrying so much about how fast I’m going.
iRunFar: Got it. So from what I understood you have been on the entrance list of The North Face for a while, but you’d been kind of hemming and hawing, am I going to do it, am I not going to do it? What made you pull the trigger and decide to show up and do this?
Flynn: I think I’m just really thinking about my next seasons goals and I want to – eventually want to be on the start line of Western States and feel like I can prove that in a golden ticket race, but then to double the distance, or I guess it would be longer. Well TNF is 50, Sorry, so if I were to double it to 100 it’s a lot different in terms of training and I think for me it’s just a different skill set that I don’t think I have and that’s the strength component I think that I needed. I’m working in strength training into my training, but I’m noticing that there are some weaknesses that I need to work on in order to execute 100 so anyways.
iRunFar: You want to run Western States in the near future and you want to try to build skills in the longer ultra race, building towards that?
Flynn: Right, and so when I looked at 2020 I kind of, I need to just not think about Western States I think. Because if I did then I don’t think it would make sense for me to do TNF 50 right now.
iRunFar: But here we are.
Flynn: Yes, here we are.
iRunFar: The start list for the women’s race in my mind is pretty fun. Like it’s got some, women who are proven at this distance, women who are proven in other 50 milers and then a couple like, ehhh… you’re a fast marathoner but you haven’t raced over 50k, how is this going to go? What are you thinking about the competition?
Flynn: Oh man, I was actually pretty surprised that I was so far off on that iRunFar preview. Someone said something.
iRunFar: Why was that?
Flynn: Someone was like, oh my God you’re like third and now Ruth Croft’s not running so you’re second so that means it’s between you and Clare [Gallagher] and I’m like, what? Then who’s racing and then I looked and then I was like, YiOu [Wang] has a fast year 50 miler. Devon [Yanko] – well she’s not racing.
iRunFar: But you just beat YiOu.
Flynn: I know but still it’s like, and then Keeley [Henninger] has a faster 50 mile or time so I think it just depends on the day even though I’ve had a successful race performance against some of those females in spring they are still, there’s been three months or four months since then and you know it’s still an ultra so, and it’s also YiOu’s backyard so home turf is kind of hard to compete with.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s hard to race against the hometown favourite on hometown terrain, but we didn’t just have the World Series where the World Series was one on away terrain so it can happen.
Flynn: It can happen, so you’re saying there’s a chance. That’s why I’m here.
iRunFar: So you’re saying there’s a chance.
Flynn: You’re saying there’s a chance and so I showed up.
iRunFar: Awesome. You set off camera right before we started this interview was that you aren’t here to mess around like you might to run more aggressively and maybe take more chances than usual in ultras. What is that, what does that actually mean?
Flynn: Well I have a Plan A and I have a Plan B goal.
iRunFar: And a C, D, E, F.
Flynn: And a C, D, E, F, yes. But I’m hoping A or B works out but yeah, basically when I decided I was going to race I was like, like I said the Western States – if I’m not focusing on Western States or thinking about Lake Sonoma or a golden ticket race then it’s like, I’m here I might as well just go out like a crazy I don’t know, mountain woman, and see what happens. Not a crazy mountain woman, but I’ll definitely try to push with the lead pack.
iRunFar: Now, from my perspective, the women’s race at the very front is interesting, so among the favourites are you and YiOu.
Flynn: And Clare.
iRunFar: Yeah, but neither you or YiOu have nailed this race. You both nailed other 50 mile races, but neither of you have had your day after this race yet.
Flynn: Yeah, so true.
iRunFar: Any reflections on that? And then you have Clare who was second last time.
Flynn: I would say having that kind of pressure that you put on yourself of course to perform at or, a distance that you’re known to be successful, but then a course that you haven’t succeeded, accomplished. Yes, it can be, it’s a hard – it’s hard to think about in terms of preparing mentally. I know that I’ve gotten to the 50k mark and I felt good there and then I didn’t.
iRunFar: And they’re still 20 miles.
Flynn: And they’re still 20 miles to go. Yeah, I think it’s just trusting in yourself and that you can do, that you can run the distance and it’s fast and flowing and I have been training for that so I feel like I can do it.
iRunFar: A lot of people say that 50 miles is an easier ultra because it’s not so long, it’s not so short, but in my mind the middle distances in track and field are in my mind the hardest races and this is kind of the middle distance of ultra racing.
Flynn: It totally is.
iRunFar: It’s not slow, it’s not fast, it’s not over pretty quick, it’s not over tomorrow. I think it’s really tricky.
Flynn: I’ve been talking to some friends about that, that it’s the middle distance. Like you’re a middle distance ultr runner and I’m like, I think that’s kind of where I fit. That’s my place.
iRunFar: Is that how we want to term it? That sounds really messed up.
Flynn: But I was like, I think someone had mentioned something about Speedgoat and they were like, oh you’ve still got it and I’m like, what, it’s only been two years, what does that mean? Yeah and they are like, you have got some legs. I’m like, what because I ran a 50k? It is kind of interesting how there’s that terminology.
iRunFar: Well best of luck to you to putting everything together on Saturday. We look forward to chasing you through the Marin Headlands.
Flynn: Yeah, I look forward to seeing you out there.
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