Last year a dark horse who took third, Drew Holmen is now on everyone’s radar for the 2022 Western States 100. In the following interview, Drew talks about why it’s both awesome and hard to return to the same 100 miler a second time, what he learned during the 2021 race that he’ll apply this year, and who will support him with crewing and pacing on Saturday.
Drew Holmen Pre-2022 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Drew Holmen. It’s the Thursday before the 2022 Western States 100. Good morning, Drew. How are you?
Drew Holmen: I’m great, Meghan. Thanks for having me. And thanks to you and Bryon and the whole iRunFar crew for everything that you do for the sport. You’re a big pillar to help people learn about what’s going on.
iRunFar: You are very sweet but are you deflecting this interview away from you?
Holmen: That’s what I do. I grew up in Northern Minnesota. You know, we don’t talk about ourselves here, so.
iRunFar: I’m Minnesotan, too, which means we’ll never talk about anything. [laughs]
Holmen: We’ll just go in circles all day.
iRunFar: All right. So, you are arriving at the starting line, a different … I mean, we’re all different people, but you’re a different person. You were a little under the radar last year, and now you’re coming back with a podium finish in the back pocket. Does that change anything about Saturday?
Holmen: Yeah. To be honest with you, I think it’s less about the podium finish and more about, there’s something magical about your first 100 miler. And the unknown of going into last year’s race and kind of, you know, the child-like view of what that could be like. And this year, it’s more of like, oh, like I know what it means to do well at this race.
iRunFar: I know how to suffer.
Holmen: It’s like you got to go deep. And so, I think more than podiuming like, you know, I think there’s so much out of our control in a 100-mile race when it’s 100 degrees, 100+ in the canyons, where yeah, I could have a great day and finish on the podium again, and I can have a great day and finish out of the top 10.
Because that’s the nature of Western States and how competitive this race is. And so really, when I think about coming back, it’s more about, “How do I come back and have an incredible experience and enjoy myself out there while also putting myself in a position to compete and get the most out of myself?”
iRunFar: Now this might be slightly more existential than one should talk about on the Thursday before a race, but is there and can there be joy in the real suffering of 100 miles? Because it’s not like a 50 miler where it only hurts a little bit. There’s some hurt in a 100.
Holmen: Oh yeah, there’s the physical pain but I think there’s also joy of, like, all the people that are out there supporting us. I mean, the fact that there’s what, 380, I don’t know the exact number of racers and then there are thousands of people that are there just to allow the lucky few that get to run the race, the opportunity to be there.
And , I don’t know, I think there’s joy in that. In embracing those people in that community. And you know, it’s also, there can be joy in embracing the suffer that is inevitable in a 100 miler, so I think there can be joy, there has to be. Like, why else would we do this?
iRunFar: Somehow, we just keep showing up.
Holmen: We keep showing up. So.
iRunFar: All right, so you have 100 miles of the Western States course under your belt. You also came back for Western States training camp this year. Is that right? Where are you at headspace-wise with that course? Like, the highs and lows of it for you? What are you thinking about when it comes to the course itself?
Holmen: Yeah. So, I’m really excited about the high country. The only time I’ve ever run that section of the course was at the race last year. I just remember it was the most magical experience to crest the escarpment and then drop into the high country, and there’s just wildflowers and so much running water. And so, I’m really excited about that. And then I’m not really thinking about any specific section of the course, because I know there’s going to be highs and lows that didn’t happen in different places from last year.
And yeah, just kind of going to take it step by step and you know, section by section. I don’t know, I’m excited to, I’m hopeful that you know, I don’t know. It’s just, it’s just so hard to know. There’s so much that can happen in the 100 miles that you know, I’m really excited about different sections of trails. But I think I’m more excited about … you know, last year I got to run 20-some miles with, you know, Alex Nichols, you know, Max [King], and that was like running with two legends in the sport.
And I think that that’s one of the beautiful things of Western States is that there are so many incredible people and athletes that are racing it that like that’s what I’m excited about. It’s like sharing the miles with these people that I look up to in the sport. And just kind of seeing where that takes me.
iRunFar: Well, now you’re a legend yourself so people are going to be looking to run with you.
Holmen: Yikes. I don’t know about that. I think that, I just chatted about this earlier, that it’s just always such a stacked field that, yes, I ran a good race last year. But you know, Jared [Hazen] has run the second-fastest time in this course ever, you know. And yeah, he didn’t have a great day last year, but he could break the course record. And there’s just so many other men and women that I look up to in this sport who I respect so much that yeah, like I ran a good race but, you know, I’ll put myself in a position to compete.
But at the same time, you know, I think we just need to acknowledge that there’s 10 to 15 different guys that could win the race this year. So that’s fun. And so, I think I’m still flying a little bit under the … maybe I’m, you know, reality distortion fielding myself, but I’m still considering myself a dark horse a little bit.
iRunFar: I love it. You’re the lightest dark horse.
Holmen: Exactly. I can’t really say that I’m a dark horse but I would like to maintain that position in the field.
iRunFar: You’re a dark horse with a bright light shining upon you. All right, so one of the blessings of having run a race before is that you’ve run the race before. We were talking a little bit off camera before the interview of like, sort of efficiencies that you want to find this year that you didn’t. Without giving away the game-day strategy, what are some things that you’re thinking about? Like, well, I did that okay last year, I want to try to do that better.
Holmen: I mean, I think the biggest thing is that I really love the competitive aspect of ultra and trail running and one of my learnings from last year is that like you can’t get too wrapped up in that, because it really is about taking care of myself and, you know, really being honest with where I am in any given moment. And, you know, not marking moves by other men in the race. And so, I think that’s been one of my big learnings is really like trying to meditate on being incredibly present with where I am at.
Really, you know, seeing reality in its clearest form, and being able to say like, “Okay, this is a moment where I can push.” Or, “This is a moment where I need to just let somebody go.” And I think that that’s what I’m taking most from last year is that, you know, 100 miles is, you know, Western States is one that we get to compete because of the nature of it being downhill and fast. But then you add 100+ degree heat, and so you can’t really just go you know, I’m going to race this thing from the start line and we’ll see what the weather does but it’s going to be hot. So just kind of taking that into account.
iRunFar: It’ll either be a little bit hot, kind of hot, or hot. It’s going to be hot.
Holmen: You know, like it was cool last weekend, and everyone’s like, “Oh, it’s going to be cold and so fast.” Like, it’s still going to be 90 in Auburn, which means like, 95 to 100 in the canyons, if we’re lucky. Like, it’s still going to be bloody hot. So, you know, like, ice, man. I think that’s something else I think a lot more about is like last year, there was a little bit of, you know, maybe it’s naiveness. But I was like, I’m just, it’s just running. I’m just going to go out there and run.
And this is a race where you have to, like really pay attention to all the little things. And so, you know, I spent some more time thinking about like, what are my cooling strategies and how does my crew support me in those moments, and then how do I, you know, show up for them and in the best form possible. And, you know, keep reminding them that I love them and that they’re here because, you know, this is a special day that we’re all experiencing together.
iRunFar: Well, that’s a good way to end this interview. A quick shout out to people who are coming and pacing you on Saturday.
Holmen: Yeah. So, my incredible partner Sasha is going to be crew chiefing. Wouldn’t be here without her. Incredibly lucky that I have her by my side. And then same pacers as last year, I’ve got Paddy O’Leary and Fernando De Samaniego Steta coming out to run the last 40 with me. And then I have my brother and my parents are out here this year.
My parents were here last year too so they got to experience it. Andrew and Sherry are a couple of good friends from the Bay Area who are going to be running one of the crew stations and then our friend Eddie. So, it’s a great little crew. And coach David Roche and Megan [Roche] are out here, too. So, they’ll be part of the day, too.
iRunFar: Most excellent. I wish you the best of luck on this one-way journey downhill, mostly downhill, sort of downhill.
Holmen: So not just downhill. This is a bunch of crap. Also, everyone’s like, “Oh, it’s just a buffed-out fire road.” And it’s a lot of like, you’ve got to pay attention. So.
iRunFar: Ultrarunners are funny. Good luck on the downhill race that has 18,000 feet of climbing.
Holmen: Exactly. And Meghan, thank you for everything that you do. And you got a big race in a couple of weeks here too with the Hardrock 100 so I’m excited to follow along.
iRunFar: Like a good deflecting Minnesotan. Best of luck to you.
Holmen: Thank you, Meghan. Talk soon.