Emily Harrison has crushed most of the ultramarathons she’s run. Last year in her 100-mile debut, Emily ran a strong Western States 100, but it wasn’t the dominant performance that we’re coming to expect from her. With another year of ultra experience under her belt, she’s a much stronger factor when considering the potential women’s podium. In the following interview, Emily talks about how she still respects the 100-mile distance, how she’s changed her training and race-day approach this year, and what it’s like having her coach Ian Torrence pace her for the final 38 miles.
For more on this year’s race, check out our women’s and men’s previews as well as our Western States 100 page.
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Emily Harrison Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Emily Harrison before the 2014 Western States 100. How are you, Emily?
Emily Harrison: Pretty well, thanks.
iRunFar: Last year you came in here with pretty limited ultra experience. It was going to be your first 100. How much more confident do you feel coming to the line this year?
Harrison: A lot more confident this year. I completed the race last year which was a great stepping stone for this year. Some more ultras under my belt as well. Some more training under my belt. Definitely more confident but still very respectful of the distance.
iRunFar: Yeah, you’ve had some great races over the last year—the run at JFK, the Caumsett time in the 50k, winning Lake Sonoma. In those races, I’m guessing, you have to be aggressive. But here, how do you balance the being aggressive with respecting the distance?
Harrison: Yeah, I think it’s still a learning curve for me in figuring out this 100-mile distance—how hard can you go and what can you expect on race day? I think this year I can be a bit more aggressive from the start than I was last year. I think I learned that. Again, being more confident in that and just kind of going with the flow still and not doing anything dumb early on.
iRunFar: You have a great mentor in Ian Torrence, mentor and coach. I’m sure last year that was probably the plan was to be conservative and finish as good as you can. Has he unleashed the reigns a little bit in terms of…?
Harrison: Yeah, I think this year unleashed the reigns a little bit. Okay, expectations are a little higher this year. I’ve done the distance. I kind of know what to expect now, so will try to go forward a little bit more.
iRunFar: So that means, with your talent, thinking about winning has to be on the table?
Harrison: Sure, that’s always… that will always be the great end goal. Any race I line up to, I always love to compete for the win. Last year realistically I was, Okay, probably not this year, but maybe this year I can start to flirt with that idea more and try to be more in that position.
iRunFar: You have such talent and you’ve run off the front of races. Are you just going to go with the day or are you still going to try to hold yourself back and maybe run with a group for awhile?
Harrison: Yeah, I think I tend to run somewhat conservatively in general. Sometimes that does put me up front. That’s just kind of how it happens. I think I’ll see what the day brings as well, but also just trying to stay in contact with that front group of women is the goal and seeing how that plays out and still running my own race. I know that my strengths are going to be a little bit different than other people’s strengths on this course and I really need to play to my strengths to have a good day.
iRunFar: And what are those?
Harrison: Probably the climbs are a little more my strength.
iRunFar: The climbing, and you’re pretty fast on the flats, so I’d have to guess the last 40 miles…
Harrison: Yeah, this year I’d like to get to those last 40 miles and have the legs under me to really take advantage of that. I think last year I was suffering a little bit at that point and my legs were kind of shot, so it was hard to really make time through there which was unfortunate.
iRunFar: Who’s bringing you through those last 38 miles?
Harrison: Ian will be doing all that good stuff again. My parents are crewing and he’ll be crewing the first part until he starts pacing at Foresthill, and then he’ll be bringing me home.
iRunFar: How is that having him pace you? It’s got to be hard sometimes if maybe he’s trying to hold you back. He’s run so many of these, to have his goals and as a coach and as a friend…?
Harrison: I think it’s great, though, just because he knows my potential. We have done a lot of long runs together and he knows when to push me and probably when not to. I remember last year I was like, “Oh, I can’t do this anymore.” He was like, “You just keep going.” He knew I could keep going, but in my mind I was like, “Oh, my gosh. There’s no way I can keep going.” I remember last year on that last mile on the road and he was so excited because I was almost finished. He was like, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” He’s starting to run faster and I’m like, “I can’t run faster. I hurt.” So, yeah, it’s awesome having someone out there with the experience and he knows when to push you and kind of what to do if things are starting to slide a little bit and how to remedy that. He can handle the situations.
iRunFar: In terms of training for the race, did you prepare any differently than last year?
Harrison: Yeah, I think I started my preparation earlier. This year I ran Sonoma which I kind of considered my kick-off to the true Western-specific training. I kind of got that rolling, mountainous course under my legs. I’ve never really done a mountain 50, if you will, that’s got some hills in it. So that kicked things off, and then I just spent more trail time. Still not as much as I think some of the other runners have done, but for me it was a lot more. I just built that confidence up more on the trails this year.
iRunFar: So you still include a bunch of road racing or road running?
Harrison: Actually not really as much this year. So, I kind of dialed that back. I think we’re still learning the balance that works for me especially preparing for the 100-mile distances. We’re still fine tuning that. This year was a lot more trails and climbs and descents, and I think that’s benefited me greatly this year.
iRunFar: You said your climbing was a strength and obviously the flats are a strength. What have you done to improve your descending, especially trail descending?
Harrison: Just a lot more trail running that includes some downhill runs in it. We’ve been road-tripping here the last few weeks and anytime we could get to a run that’s kind of straight up and straight down on the way back has just been good for me to just get in some long descents. Just get more comfortable on it than anything. It’s more of a confidence issue for me.
iRunFar: You’ve got the turnover to make corrections and that sort of thing, but it’s experience, right?
Harrison: It is experience, yeah. For some reason I don’t always want to let go on the downhill, so I’m trying to…
iRunFar: Just go with it.
Harrison: Just go with it and just…
iRunFar: Obviously everyone runs in the same weather on the same day, but are you excited to have a cooler year?
Harrison: Yeah, I am excited. I seemed to do okay with the heat for the most part, but any time I can get a little cooler weather, that’s huge. High 80s this year compared to triple digits last year is a big difference, I think.
iRunFar: If you have a near-perfect race tomorrow, what kind of time does that put you at theoretically?
Harrison: We actually haven’t really talked about a time. I think definitely improving upon last year is the goal. Yesterday I was putting together some drop bags and going over some crew stuff and just… even my headlamp placement, “Oh, I guess this means I should be a lot further ahead than where I was last year if I’m putting it at this point instead of this point.” So, just some other things like that.
iRunFar: Where do you have your headlamp?
Harrison: I’m still going to get it at Green Gate.
Harrison: Yeah, last year that’s where I picked it up and it worked out perfect, so that’s where I’ll get it again.
iRunFar: No stashing it at Highway 49?
Harrison: No, no. Ian’s like, “Just finish in the daylight and it will all be good.” “Yeah, I know.” That would be awesome.
iRunFar: That’s would be good. What are you actually most excited about this year’s race? It’s not a first for you now.
Harrison: Yeah, it’s not. I’m still really nervous. Oh, my gosh. What am I doing? But I think I’m just excited to be here this year, and I’m feeling more prepared and ready to go out there and have a solid day.
iRunFar: Alright. Well, best of luck out there and enjoy.
Harrison: Thank you very much.