Drew Holmen continued his success of the past few years with a third-place finish at the 2021 Western States 100. In the following interview, Drew talks about what his path to running looked like, why he’s slowly progressed up in race distance, how he stayed patient for much of his first 100 miler, and how the wheels almost came off at the end.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story and for links to other post-race interviews.
Drew Holmen Post-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Drew Holmen, after his third-place finish at the 2021 Western States 100. How are you Drew?
Drew Holmen: I’m doing well, surviving.
iRunFar: Surviving, a little shaky.
Holmen: I’m a little shaky, I had to sit down. Feeling a little dehydrated but we’re starting to get more in the system. Overall doing all right.
iRunFar: Nice, will this is the first time we’ve had a chance to chat with you so I’d love to know where you live, a little bit about your background, what you do?
Holmen: Yeah, absolutely. So I live in Boulder, Colorado. Spent five or six years in the Bay Area, which is where I really discovered trail running for better or worse.
iRunFar: Got it. Hung out with the [San Francisco Running Company] (SFRC) crew some?
Holmen: Yeah, the SFRC crew was really where I fell in love with trail running and was there for five or six years. Got to spend a lot of time with that incredible community and then we moved out to Boulder in September 2019. So I’m there and I work remotely for a company out of San Francisco.
iRunFar: Gotcha. Were you a runner before you met up with the SFRC folks? What’s your history with running?
Holmen: I did a little bit of running growing up, grew up in northern Minnesota. Grew up playing hockey from age five until 18 and would run cross country to be in shape for hockey, but would, never really took it seriously and then sort of run a bit more in college but really, it was when I moved to the Bay Area.
iRunFar: But when you you’ve been in college you weren’t like on the team or anything?
Holmen: No, no.
iRunFar: Ultimate Frisbee?
Holmen: Yeah, I played ultimate Frisbee through, I went to Carleton, small liberal arts college…
iRunFar: Oh, heck yeah, Malt-o-Meal.
Holmen: Yeah, exactly, exactly. MOM brand. But yeah, played Frisbee and really started running just when I moved to San Francisco and discovered the Marin community.
iRunFar: Got it, well over the last couple years it seems like you’ve very slowly moved up in distances in terms of ultra racing, was that very intentional on your part?
Holmen: Yeah. I work with David Roche as my coach and we’ve just very much taken the approach that there’s no rush and especially with the longer distances, trying to be methodical about building up the base and understanding that I don’t come from a background of miles, so let’s take it easy. Let’s be a little bit more conservative, but that’s lead to some really fun, fun racing. Starting with Way Too Cool back in 2017 and kind of just working my way up to the 50 mile and then the 100k and then yeah, had a really good day at Bandera last year.
iRunFar: Which was your first 100k?
Holmen: Which was my first 100k. Had a hell of an awesome race with Cole Watson and Alex [Nichols] and it played out super well and lead to being here at Western States.
iRunFar: So, it shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone that you nailed your first 100 miler, which is hard to do but you did and part of that was being really patient. How did you actually go about that?
Holmen: Yeah, I knew it was going to go out fast, there was a lot of residual memories of 2019. That was a cool year, but that kind of put a lens on how a lot of people were approaching the race. So I assume that it was going to go out super-fast and it did. And I really wanted to get in with, just try to be consistent, I still think I probably went out harder than I would have liked to but yeah, I think that The North Face 50 a couple years ago and then Bandera, both of those races I was mid pack at the halfway point and so it allowed me to build up some confidence and being patient and knowing that races would come back later on. And so that was what I was really trying to just kind of meditate on yesterday.
iRunFar: And was there a point during the race where you kind of took off that inhibitor, that limiter?
Holmen: Tyler Green caught me coming into probably Cal 2 or Cal 3 and then from there I think both he and I started burning some matches and probably earlier than either of us would have wanted to. But we came into Rucky Chucky together and then the next 10 miles, we kind of dueled back and forth a bit, a bit harder than we probably should have.
iRunFar: Do you two know each other? You’re teammates, but have you spent much time interacting with him?
Holmen: Yeah, we are teammates on Nike Trail and he and I both raced at Tillamook Burn about a month ago so I got to know him there, but, yeah, I think we just got in a nice slow kind of pushing a bit and I got to Hal’s aid station and realized I’d probably gone a little too hard and started doing some hiking. But at that point it was like, let’s try to survive this last 10 miles.
iRunFar: The wheels weren’t falling off, you were just getting pretty tired?
Holmen: They were falling off, they were falling off a bit.
iRunFar: Were you worried that things were going to collapse?
Holmen: Yeah, I mean I started hiking and was thinking at that point, well maybe I can just hike it in this next 10 miles and survive for a top 10. Had no idea where anyone else was, in retrospect the wheels were falling off most of the field.
iRunFar: I think I saw one rolling down the track as you are coming down, you kept trying to jog it in and you’re like, no.
Holmen: I got to the track and it was like, six steps and then full cramp. But I also thought Cody [Lind] was like two minutes behind me and there was a little more time. I could’ve walked it in but I mean it was just, this race is such an incredible experience, it’s really the heart of this wonderful community and I feel so incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to race here so early in my ultra-career and to be able to have an experience that really, I think lives up to what is Western States 100.
iRunFar: Does it live up to your potential do you think nailed it out there or do you think there’s room for?
Holmen: I think there’s always room for growth. Right now, I can’t imagine running another 100 miler.
Holmen: Ever. Especially in the heat.
iRunFar: Yeah, before we got on camera you were talking about what’s on your schedule for later this year and how that might change.
Holmen: Exactly, exactly.
iRunFar: So you signed up for CCC?
Holmen: Signed up for CCC, we’ll see, I’m going to try not to dig a hole here so let myself recover from this and just see what happens. See what happens.
iRunFar: Even if it’s not in the short-term future, is there any other races you’ve got your eyes on?
Holmen: Yeah, definitely want to come back here to Western States. Would love to race CCC, UTMB competitively. Yeah, I mean there so many incredible, incredible races in the US and abroad that I hope to be able to toe the line and give it my all.
iRunFar: What were you hoping to get out of this weekend?
Holmen: I just wanted to experience Western States. We’ve been out spectating the race many years and I wanted to come to the race with a lot of respect for what Western States is and what it means for this community and then I just wanted to go out and have a good first 100.
iRunFar: So do you think that was a successful weekend then?
Holmen: Yeah, it was definitely successful. I think I went a little deeper than I expected to but I think that’s part of why I was here.
iRunFar: You thought you were capable of something and you are actually capable of more?
Holmen: Yeah, exactly. I think I would’ve been happy to have finished the race and talk and was always kind of the stretch goa,l but I also knew that if I had a good day and I was hoping that it was going to be hot because I kind of figured that would change the race dynamics a bit and it wouldn’t just be a pure foot race, that things could come together and they really did.
iRunFar: Well congratulations on nailing it on your first try at 100 miles. Well done, Drew.
Holmen: Thank you so much, yeah, yeah.