Anna Mae Flynn wants another shot at the Western States 100, and so she’s running after a Golden Ticket at the 2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k. In the following interview, Anna Mae talks about why she wants to try the Western States 100 again, how she sees the course and its spring conditions playing out on race day, and what life outside of running looks like for her these days.
Anna Mae Flynn Pre-2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Anna Mae Flynn, it’s a couple of days before the 2022 Canyons Endurance Runs by UTMB 100k. This has been a while coming, getting to interview you. Hi!
Anna Mae Flynn: Hi.
iRunFar: So, we have taken refuge indoors, but outside it’s raining cats and dogs right now. You’ve just shared with me that you know it’s snowing a lot in the high country. There is an adventure ahead.
Flynn: Yes, there is an adventure. I didn’t see that there was mandatory snowshoe gear [laughs], but China Wall is looking pretty snowy. So it should be a fun, mountainous mountain adventure.
iRunFar: China Wall is the finish line. I think it’s about 5,000 feet elevation. And maybe 4,000 feet higher than we are now.
Flynn: Yes, so it is currently raining outside, meaning it’s probably still snowing at 5,000 feet.
iRunFar: So, you are a mountain lady, Colorado dwelling. This is now going to be much more familiar territory for you.
Flynn: Yes. Yeah, a little bit of mud, a little bit of rain, a little bit of snow. Something that I’m pretty familiar with, especially this time of year.
iRunFar: Mud season in Colorado.
Flynn: I was looking forward to running on some dry singletrack.
iRunFar: I signed up for the California race.
Flynn: I did, and I was here two weeks ago training on the course and it was 75, 80 degrees high. So, I was heat trained. And now I’m having to shed layers. Yeah, it will be good.
iRunFar: It’s been a while since I’ve seen you in person because of COVID. But catch us up on what’s been going on in your life the last couple of years. Your coaching business has really taken off.
Flynn: Yeah, I kind of pivoted in 2020 when races were at a halt to focusing in more on the online coaching business that I started a couple years, it would be about four years ago now. So, I just kind of focused all my energy into that, and I’ve really built a community there with mountain endurance coaching. And I have assistant coaches, Ryan Montgomery, you’ve probably heard of. He got a Golden Ticket at Javelina [Jundred] last year, which was really exciting. And Margaret Spring, she lives in Denver so she’s basically my neighbor. So, we see each other a lot. Yeah, now COVID seems to have come and gone.
iRunFar: Come and gone and come and gone and come and gone.
Flynn: Come and gone and gone again. But we are here racing now. Yeah, just trying to switch up gears and put the racing shoes back on and yeah, get back to work.
iRunFar: And you’ve also … did you move from one Colorado mountain town to another one?
Flynn: Yes. It’s what people do in Colorado. [laughs]
iRunFar: It’s like a migratory bird.
Flynn: I was in Marble, which is at 8,000 feet. Situated in between Carbondale and Crested Butte. And I was there for, I think it was, six years. It’s like a time warp there. Was I there for a year? Six years? I’m not sure.
iRunFar: Or forever.
Flynn: Forever, yeah, it’s totally off the grid so you know, what is even a day? You don’t know. It’s a time warp. Yeah, and then I just moved to Salida, with my partner Paul Hamilton. I think that was last year. So we sold a home, relocated, did that whole, yeah, figuring out how to reestablish ourselves in another place. So that took a lot of energy. But yeah, things are good now, really loving Salida, being kind of closer to community. Yeah, it’s been a wonderful transition.
iRunFar: Right on. We are here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. This is not unfamiliar territory for you, you’ve been here a couple of times. You’ve started Western States, and I think you’ve done Canyons or maybe one of the shorter distances before, right?
Flynn: Yeah, so it was another, yeah, hopping from mountain town to mountain town, I was living in Lake Tahoe for I think about the same duration.
iRunFar: I had forgotten about that.
Flynn: Six-year stint. That I do.
iRunFar: Every six years.
Flynn: Yeah, so yeah, I was in Tahoe for six years. That’s actually how I got into trail running to begin with.
iRunFar: Okay. It’s coming back to me, Anna Mae.
Flynn: Was years ago.
iRunFar: So, this is even more familiar territory for you than I was thinking.
Flynn: Yeah, I reconnected with Chaz [Sheya], or connected with Chaz. He was part of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, running trail group. It’s a mouthful.
iRunFar: I thought you were going to say he was part of the Donner Party. [laughs]
Flynn: He was in the Donner Party mountain — he actually survived, he was one of the only survivors, descendants of the — anyways. Okay.
iRunFar: So many tangents.
Flynn: So many tangents here.
iRunFar: We haven’t seen each other in like three years.
Flynn: And we’re catching up. Okay. Yeah, so he introduced me to trail running essentially and got connected with the trail running group there. That’s when he first, I guess, Canyons, I think they started their first race series in 2015. So, I think I raced at their 50k in 2016.
iRunFar: Okay. And are you doing this race to gain experience? Are you looking for a Golden Ticket? I mean, I’m just wondering.
Flynn: Just putting it out there. Yeah, I have some unfinished business at Western States. Yeah, so, hoping third time’s a charm and I can get myself back to the start line. So yeah, I’d like to but at the same time I don’t have a lot of experience in the 100k distance. Yeah, came out here and reacquainted myself with the course. Just been really working on my mental game. Yeah, just needing to not race like I normally race.
iRunFar: What does that mean exactly?
Flynn: Well, I guess I normally go out pretty hard. From the beginning.
iRunFar: Front runner.
Flynn: Yeah, so I’m just kind of, yeah, just kind of relaxing a little bit more and really honoring the distance just because I’m a newbie. Just going to kind of …
iRunFar: Funny to hear you say that because I don’t think of you as a newbie.
Flynn: Well, I mean, yeah I think you just have to respect the distance. And I feel a lot more comfortable with the 50-mile distance.
iRunFar: It’s just a little further.
Flynn: Just a little further.
iRunFar: 20% further.
Flynn: And like 5,000 feet more.
iRunFar: Oh, there’s that.
Flynn: There’s that part, too. And I did check out that last third or last quarter of the course and it’s going to be tough.
iRunFar: It’s a bit burly of a finish, huh? I mean the work is, a lot of races you get this glory downhill to finish and the work does not end until you are literally across the line of this event.
Flynn: Yeah, I’m feeling like there are two parts to the race. There’s the first 50k that you kind of get that Lake Sonoma-esque vibe or feel to it. Where it’s singletrack, that California singletrack everybody loves. You’re on the Western States trail and you’re running by the river and you start climbing up toward Cal 2, and Forest Hill and then …
Flynn: Boom. Drop down to the canyons, then the climbing begins. Again. But it’s just different because it’s longer, steadier ascents and descents. You just kind of, it’s just a different kind of gear. And it’s a different kind of strength. You definitely want to have some reserves and have some legs coming into that.
iRunFar: I haven’t seen as much of the course as you have, but got to see some of it in the last couple of days. And what was really interesting to me was how different as soon as you like leave the Western States trail. You know you’re up into, sort of, the higher country. It then becomes a different kind of trail entirely. You know, it’s from a trail that is graded for horses in most places, and built for horses, to true, tight singletrack. Yeah, it was very interesting.
Flynn: Yeah, it’s incorporating I think it’s the six-mile loop, that once you go up to Devil’s Thumb you hang a right and you loop around. Yeah, it’s just a little bit more techy. Like what you would kind of see in Colorado. But still very runnable. But then yeah, once you cross back over the Western States trail, before you have to go up to Deadwood aid station for the second time before you drop back down, into the canyon essentially.
And it’s super steep, steep descent. And then after that, you’re essentially off the Western States trail and there’s the last climb to the finish, doesn’t have any switchbacks. And it’s pretty rugged and techy. So, it’s going to be … you’re going to have to work for that last 10 miles, for sure.
iRunFar: It sounds like true ultrarunning in that, just do some work.
Flynn: Yeah, there’s a lot of work. The finish line is not going to be coming easy and you definitely have to pace yourself and really focus on, yeah, the nutrition, hydration piece. Not blowing through the aid stations. Just making sure that you’re monitoring yourself the whole time.
iRunFar: Excellent. Well, it’s going to be really fun to watch you run uphill. Yeah, it’s just great to see you after COVID.
Flynn: Yeah, it’s great to see you too, no masks!
iRunFar: Best of luck out there.
Flynn: Yeah, thank you.
iRunFar: We look pretty good, don’t we?
Flynn: Yes, we look wonderful, we always do. We have like the same color hair.
iRunFar: And, no, yours is longer. Very close.
Flynn: Almost exactly the same.
iRunFar: Do you have any gray hairs yet?
Flynn: Not yet, do you?
Flynn: I don’t see any. Are you Irish?
Flynn: Okay, we must be related.
iRunFar: We must be related. There’s only two families in Ireland and we are of one of them.
Flynn: We are definitely related. Our hair is the same color.
iRunFar: It is, yeah. Very fortuitous.