After ultrarunning for just over two years, Cat Bradley, who lives in Colorado, has written her name in the sport’s history books with a win at the 2017 Western States 100. In the following interview, Cat talks about what her ultrarunning history is, how frustrated she was by the sloppy conditions in the race’s early going, how the final 40 miles played out, and how she takes a long view on her running.
Cat Bradley, 2017 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here in Auburn, California. It’s the day after the 2017 Western States 100. I’m with women’s champion, Cat Bradley. Congratulations, Cat!
Cat Bradley: Oh, thank you!
iRunFar: Holy smokes! You won Western States! How are you feeling on the inside right now?
Bradley: I can’t believe it. It’s all been so surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but that might be the lack of sleep, too. We’ll see.
iRunFar: A lot of people out on the internet yesterday were saying, “Who is Cat Bradley? We need to know more about this woman!” Can you talk about your background with our sport?
Bradley: I got into this sport in 2014 in one of Luis Escobar’s races—not Born to Run, it was another 50k. I’d just gotten my tax return back and signed up for a first 50k and a first 100.
iRunFar: “I have cash!”
Bradley: Yeah, I know—first 50k and first 100 in the same sitting. I did that and got really involved in Luis’s whole community in Santa Barbara. Then I did Bryce 100 which took me 36 hours.
iRunFar: You really did?
Bradley: Yeah, I walked every… I had terrible bronchitis. I met Tim Olson there who is the one who convinced me to move to Boulder. I was there, and walked every step. It’s cool to be on both sides of it.
iRunFar: Start with some rough races and eventually speed up and figure out how ultrarunning works over a couple years?
Bradley: Yeah, I was working a lot. I was working a lot of 60-hour weeks. It was zero training, jump into a race, and survive. I did that a couple times. After the Bear 100, I took it a little more seriously.
iRunFar: “I’m okay at this. I should try or focus a little bit.”
Bradley: Not only that, but I really fell in love with the 100-mile distance. Before when it was just survival, it was hard. It’s so gratifying when you leave everything out there. If you don’t train, you can’t leave everything out there. After Bear, I trained a little bit more. I was still working a lot. I’m a teacher, so it got a little hard. This year I got a coach, David Roche. It was more the accountability thing.
iRunFar: You need someone to tell that you got your workout done today.
Bradley: Yeah, or someone to just be like, “This is how many miles you should be running.” Otherwise, I live in Boulder, so an hour run could be two miles. It’s so steep. I’d just be doing that. I’d be hiking a lot. I need someone to be like, “You’re running too little miles. You’re hiking too much.” It’s just that transition and learning about the sport and learning about me as a runner.
iRunFar: You have a whole life outside of running. You do live in Boulder, which is one of the endurance capitols of the world at this point for ultrarunning, but your’e a teacher to little kids!
Bradley: Yeah, I am. I love it. It’s really, really special.
iRunFar: Are you one of the most patient people in the world?
Bradley: It depends on the day. I always seem like the most patient person, I think, but it does get hard especially around the middle of the school year.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about how yesterday’s race played out. You were kind of just in it the whole time basically. It looked like very early you were kind of trying to play cool maybe?
Bradley: Yeah, I was struggling a lot in the snow. It wasn’t just… it was really hard for me. I was slipping a lot in the snow. It was stupid. I got really frustrated, which is so silly in the first 15 miles of the race. But I saw everyone take out so fast and thought, There it goes, which is silly because everyone tells you to just chill on the first 15. Then I got over that. Cat, you’re being silly for being so frustrated, and made a commitment to myself to having an attitude change, and it worked. I think that’s the key thing is just switching that attitude.
iRunFar: Where did that actually happen on the course?
Bradley: It happened right after Red Star Ridge. I started moving a little better. I was falling a lot. I lost my shoe in the mud.
iRunFar: You lost your shoe?
Bradley: Twice, and it took me five minutes to fish it out. Of course, that’s a little frustrating, but I probably could have handled it a little bit better, but it worked out. I just said, Okay, you’re done. No more pity parties for the rest of the time. It’s just running. It’s just fun. It’s something I like to do, and it doesn’t matter that much. It’s silly to get so frustrated and so caught up.
iRunFar: Did you start running with any focus? It seemed like you were kind of in it and just there and just there and just there. Suddenly, you just kept getting closer and closer to the front. Did you make a committed racing effort, or did that just organically happen?
Bradley: A little bit of both. I guess I did make a conscious effort. When I was talking about that mental switch, I was just like, Okay, for x amount of time, you’re not going to let anybody pass you at any cost.
iRunFar: Where was that?
Bradley: Same place—Red Star Ridge. It was just a goal to get me out of that mindset. Just the momentum from that, I was having a blast. My crew was doing a really good job of keeping me cool, so that kept me happy and my spirits up. That middle section was fun for me.
iRunFar: You came into Foresthill, mile 62, in second place but literally breathing down then-leader YiOu Wang’s back. You took over the lead going down California Street. Then did you say, Okay, this is where I’m really going to start to race and maintain this?
Bradley: I actually held back on Cal Street. She made kind of a move to get in front of me on that singletrack. I was totally fine hanging back. It’s so early still. I just want to maintain until I get to the river. Then I ended up having to duck off into the woods, and she passed. Then we ended up coming into Cal 1 together and left together. That’s where I kind of took over. That was organic. It was a change of stride. I wanted to hang back a little bit, but I also didn’t want to change my stride trying to slow down. I luckily had legs left for downhill.
iRunFar: That’s what everybody dreams of for Cal Street.
Bradley: It couldn’t have worked out better. I was so grateful. I was having some really bad back problems in the beginning, too, and that sometimes refers to my quads, so I was so grateful.
iRunFar: For the last quarter of the race, you had an Olympian chasing behind you. It was close the entire time. It was like if something happened and you had a physical low, Magda [Boulet] would have been right there.
Bradley: Who is fierce.
iRunFar: Who is fierce—the woman knows how to suffer.
Bradley: And how to race.
iRunFar: What was it like racing to the finish of Western States?
Bradley: Intense. I’m not typically a very good closer. The first race I ever thought I nailed the closing section was at Canyons 100k on this course, but yeah, it was just really intense. I know these canyons pretty well now. I don’t know. It was really good having her push me. It kept me honest, and it kept her honest. It was just so cool that Magda is a hero of mine, of course, and a friend.
iRunFar: Now I suppose you’re a hero of hers.
Bradley: That’s what’s so cool about this community is that everyone is so crazy supportive of each other. We were competing like crazy breathing down each other’s neck, and then we got here and at the drug-testing spot, we were sharing a cot and cuddling. It was great. Yeah, the racing part was intense.
iRunFar: Cat Bradley, you’re the champion of Western States. What are you going to do now with yourself?
Bradley: It’s crazy because I’m on summer as a teacher, and I’m not going to be training for awhile because I’m going to take an extended break. We’ll see. On the way back… Ryan and I, my boyfriend, drove out, so we’re just going to take a long time driving home, and we’ll figure it out from there.
iRunFar: Do you have any other races on your schedule?
Bradley: I’m doing TransRockies with Ryan. That will be super fun. That’s just a fun race. I think I can only… being so young, I don’t want to put out these kind of efforts that often. I want to make sure I really recover from this because it took a lot out of me.
iRunFar: Longevity is something you have on your mind then?
Bradley: Absolutely, and not so much for competing—of course I want to do my best at every race—but I don’t want to hate running.
iRunFar: Healthy body and being able to get out there when you want to.
Bradley: Exactly, and still love it. In college running a little bit, I got so burnt out and hated it. I don’t want to go back to that ever. That’s the most important thing to me. I think over-racing can do that sometimes.
iRunFar: Takes the passion out?
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your win of the 2017 Western States.
Bradley: Thank you. Thanks, Meghan.
iRunFar: We’re here in Auburn.
Bradley: Oh yeah, you’re right.