Eric Senseman is racing the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile with the hopes of earning an Altra Golden Ticket into the Western States 100. In our first interview with Eric, we talk about his history in trail ultrarunning and what he does for work outside of running, how he is strategically approaching the race, and how he sees the men’s competition playing out.
Eric Senseman Pre-2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Eric Senseman. It’s the day before the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Good morning.
Eric Senseman: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: So, we’re friends. We’ve worked together for a couple years, but this is my first time interviewing you.
Senseman: That’s right.
iRunFar: This is kind of a turn-the-tables-type of thing because usually you, when we’ve worked together, it’s because you were interviewing other people.
Senseman: That’s right, this is an interesting twist.
iRunFar: So, you’re at Lake Sonoma looking for a Golden Ticket. This is your second try at getting a Golden Ticket this year. What’s going through your head the day before the race?
Senseman: Not a lot. I feel relatively calm in a good way. I find that when you try to think about it too much it doesn’t really help. So I just try to stay relaxed and wait until race day.
iRunFar: Let’s back up. This being your first interview on iRunFar, have you been doing this ultrarunning thing for a while?
Senseman: Yeah, a while. Longer than people realize. I would say I was mediocre for a very long time, and then kind of good for a little bit. I think people only know about that part.
iRunFar: What was your first ultra?
Senseman: It was the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile in 2011.
iRunFar: Oh, you have been around for a little while.
Senseman: Yeah, I’m old.
iRunFar: I can tell [laughs]. So you said you weren’t very good for a while and then kind of good for a while. Can you elaborate a little bit?
Senseman: I suppose. I just didn’t have any results that… I guess they suggested I could be good, but the results themselves were not all that great. I guess that started to change a little in 2016 when I ran 3:06 in the 50k at the Caumsett 50k, which was the [USATF 50k] National Championships. That’s pretty good. I mean, that’s not even national class, but it’s pretty good. And then from there, so I made the 50k world team. That made me feel like I should be good, even though I don’t think I necessarily was yet. Then I think last year was kind of… that was actually a really good experience. Tony Migliozzi was on that team. He was the repeat national champ and we talked a lot the week of the world championships. He kind of changed my perspective on what it takes to be good at ultrarunning and running in general in terms of how much you put in. In my mind there was this upper limit on how much you should be running that was way lower than it should have been. So basically, he was like, “Yeah, dude, you need to run more. Don’t put in like 80 miles/week, run like 100 miles/week.” I was like, “Hmm, what a thought.” So I started doing that around the end of 2016 and then coming into 2017, I think I had, certainly not world-class results and maybe even national-class results but I got good results at Black Canyon 100k and then JFK 50 Mile. If anyone were to know anything about me it would be JFK because I won that, and that was a very cool experience. Yeah, I guess that’s how it happened. Just running more. It’s crazy what that will do. The best way to become good at running is to run a lot.
iRunFar: Don’t think deeply about it?
Senseman: No, just do it. Run!
iRunFar: People who are iRunFar fans and followers probably know you as one of our monthly columnists. But we all know a monthly-columnist job at iRunFar does not pay the bills, so what do you do for real life? How do you make money?
Senseman: I’m excited to say I have a new job with Squirrel’s Nut Butter. The world’s best all-natural anti-chafe salve. This is a marketing pitch. So I am very excited about that. Chris Thornley, if you’re watching this, I hope the check’s in the mail.
iRunFar: I hear the best part of your new job is the new job title.
Senseman: Yeah, my new job title is Lube Specialist. Like, you just know you’ve found the right thing when that’s your job title.
iRunFar: I think the whole world should send Eric Senseman an email just so they can get a reply from the Lube Specialist.
Senseman: That’s right. My email signature says “Eric Senseman, Lube Specialist, Squirrel’s Nut Butter.”
iRunFar: Super awkward [laughs]. This is like traditionally a fun spring American barn-burner. But it does have some consequences to go with it. A 50-mile race, any way you look at it, it beats up your body. This is a race that a lot of people take out hard because there are the two Golden Ticket prize pieces at the end. How are you looking at the way the competition is going to go and flow tomorrow?
Senseman: It will be interesting to see. Ultrarunning is somewhat unique in running, in that you can only do as much as you can do.
iRunFar: Is that unique from anything in life?
Senseman: Okay, good point. It is the same as all of the rest of life, actually, in that way. I’ve always felt that I race my best when I just worry about me. I think that’s what I have to do. The way I was able to race JFK where I just went to the lead right away and then led the whole way and then won, I love racing that way. I think aesthetically it’s such a beautiful way to race. But I can’t do that at Lake Sonoma. Given the field of competition, given the course–it doesn’t suit me as well as JFK. At JFK that was on feel, and I just happened to be in the lead the whole time. I think I’ve just got to take the same approach tomorrow and just worry about how I’m feeling and go from there.
iRunFar: So how do you actually see the men’s race going out? Do you see Jim Walmsley setting the pace from the start?
Senseman: Yeah, I mean, Jim waits for no man. I would suspect he’ll be in the lead very quickly. Within 10 miles I think he’ll be off the front. That would be my guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was eighth at the turnaround, to be honest. I think a lot of the race is in the second half. That’s when you’ve got to be able to race. So if you’re not in a position to race the second half, you’re not going to be getting a Golden Ticket or in the top five.
iRunFar: Does having a guy like Jim Walmsley in a race like this potentially benefit you, in that he can tank most of the field [laughs]?
Senseman: I hope so. I’ve been joking with Jim that he needs to stick with the field long enough to string everyone along. But I think people will just let him go. Jim in 2018 is not Jim in 2016. People understand what he’s capable of. I think people are just willing to let him go and not worry about it. Especially in the case of the Golden Ticket situation, he’s already got a spot at the Western States 100. So he can win by 20 minutes [and it doesn’t affect those of us competing for a Golden Ticket].
I don’t know what kind of shape Mario Mendoza is in, or David Laney. Jared Hazen is in extremely good shape. I think he could get the win. Yeah, I don’t know how those guys are feeling, because they’re on a similar plane.
iRunFar: Mario’s got a ticket already.
Senseman: He does, that’s true. So I’m not worried about Mario, either.
iRunFar: You’ve got to finish among the first two Golden Ticket wanters/needers, and top five.
Senseman: Yeah, so I’ve said my goal is top five. So when Black Canyon 100k didn’t work out and I didn’t finish, and obviously didn’t get a ticket, I turned my mind to Lake Sonoma and it was always just “go for top five.” If you look at the race historically, if you’re fourth or fifth, there’s a decent chance you’ll get a Golden Ticket. And if you’re fourth or fifth, I don’t want to use the word “only” because I know it’s a really tough course, but you can run 6:40 or 6:50. It was 6:53 in the case of last year.
iRunFar: Not that you’ve looked at what it takes.
Senseman: [Laughs] I’ve done no research. This is all off the top of my head, speculating. Yeah, I would love to run six hours and win, but I don’t think I’m capable of that tomorrow.
iRunFar: Given that we’re friends and we’ve known each other for a while now…
Senseman: I’m so happy about that, too. I should add that in.
iRunFar: I feel like for several years of knowing you, the idea of running 100 miles, getting a Golden Ticket, going to Western States was appalling. Like, an offensive type of ultrarunning. But now, talking to you in recent months, this is what you want. What’s the deal? What’s the reason for the switch flip? Why run 100 miles now?
Senseman: I think it’s always been in the back of my mind. For me, I started running in college. I did cross country, 8k and 10k, and was not good. As I started to race longer after college, I just seemed to get more competitive. And that’s more or less been true up to 100k with varying results. In the back of my mind I always thought, That’s going to be the distance for me, if that trend were to continue.
I started ultrarunning at 22, which is pretty young. I met people along the way who offered me good advice. Ian Sharman was one of those people, I met him at one of the first ultras I ran in. He said, “Hey, if you’re getting faster at this stuff, keep running those distances before you go up [in distance]. You’re a younger guy.” That always stuck with me. But like I said, now I’m getting old.
iRunFar: It’s really rough, being past your mid-twenties.
Senseman: I’m 29.
iRunFar: That’s so old [sarcastically].
Senseman: Right? I’m almost 30.
iRunFar: You know that’s the end, right? Not really, just joking of course.
Senseman: I’m going to retire next year. Just kidding. So I think it’s time to move up in distance. I ran Black Canyon last year with the hopes of getting a Golden Ticket but I didn’t. So yeah, it’s been more or less a year-long thing to get into Western. And Western States, the history and the course, it’s all very enticing to me. That’s why I’m interested in Western.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you.
Senseman: Thank you, Meghan.
iRunFar: We look forward to chasing you around the hills of Lake Sonoma.
Senseman: I look forward to seeing you out there.