Go West (and Run Western States), Young Man

Bryon Powell will be running the 2011 Western States 100.

By on June 13, 2011 | Comments

Western States 100 logoI will run the Western States 100 this year. There. Writing that is the first time I’ve outwardly projected that thought. I guess it was the first time I was sure of it myself. Saturday was my self-imposed final deadline for making a decision… but I still couldn’t pull the trigger. Even as I sit here on Sunday night, I write with apprehension and nervousness. I’m scared.

Facing the Demons
As I’ve previously laid out, I have numerous more-or-less logical (or at least concrete) reasons for and against running Western States this year. It’s fine to have those reasons and until today, they’d been informing my decision making, although I recognized that the decision would likely come down to whether or not I WANTED to run the race.

Bryon Powell Western States 2005

Me finishing the 2005 Western States 100. Photo by Brightroom.com

Well, today I figured out and, in so doing, faced the largest point in the con argument and it’s one I hadn’t previously admitted even to myself. It took reading post-San Diego 100 mile Facebook status updates from Topher Gaylord and Rod Bien today to figure it out. Both referenced being “stripped to the core” during their 100 mile days. It’s so true. No matter your approach, a 100 miler will strip you to the core. You will face the demons. You will have to make hard decisions.

I’ve only run one 100 miler since 2006, Leadville in 2009. The upside of that relative layoff is that I’ve mostly forgotten the details of the pain and suffering that come with the distance. The downside is that I’m no longer partially numb to the trauma of soul searching. When I was racing much more, I faced the demons often enough that I could recognize them and banish them… or at least make a deal with them. I’m now afraid to face them … and afraid that they will prevail during their multiple assaults over the course of a 100 miles.

Ah, but in getting to the root of my apprehension and admitting it, I can move on. Yes, I will be stripped to the core and face my demons in 12 short days. Yes, there’s a chance I might not prevail. So what! I will go out there and face the tough moments and the tough decisions. To keep going through these tests, I’ll rely on logic, experience, patience, and, just maybe, I’ll remember of the tricks I used to have up my sleeve. If those aren’t enough, then I’ll have at least given it a shot.

UTMB or Bust
In giving it a shot, I’ll log the one run that will mean more to my focus race this season, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, than any other (non-100 mile) run I could log. Seriously. Even if I spend five days tapering and need a week or two to recover, it’ll be worth it. Why? See the above discussion. Even if I’d run one or two 100 milers last year, the lessons wouldn’t be recent enough. UTMB will be a test unlike any other I’ve ever faced and will surely take me longer than any other race I’ve run. If both races go well, UTMB will take 30-50% longer than Western States. We’re easily talking an extra 6 to 10 hours and that’s means a whole lot more time with the demons. I need to relearn my slaying skills.

Ever since I signed up for Western States, I viewed it as a training run. However, until today, I didn’t realize what exactly needed training. Sure, I’ll likely gain some physical training benefits of the whatever-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger variety, but that will be partially offset and could be more than completely offset by post-race training reduction even if I take it easy. I’m not sure how I ever came to think of the physical benefits as the primary training benefits of such a race. Instead, it’s the mental training and the logistics practice that will pay the biggest dividends as I circumnavigate the Mont Blanc massif in late August.

iRunFar Rules!
One of my dilemmas regarding running the race was that I wanted great race day coverage on iRunFar’s twitter feed. The good news? We’ll have it! Meghan Hicks, who’s written for Trail Runner mag, Runner’s World, and, of course, iRunFar, will be livecasting from the course. You see, when Meghan asked what I wanted for my birthday and I told her I’d like to have her to cover the race. I’ll run easier knowing that she’s keeping the iRunFar community in the loop!

[Until our live coverage, we’ll have some kickass previews and our annual Western States prediction contest up this week with video interviews next week.]

Just ‘Cause…
There is another factor underlying my decision to run Western States – the “just ’cause” one. Over the past few weeks, the idea of running Western States has grown on me. For starters, it is Western Frickin’ States. Whatever the course, it’ll be one heck of a memorable journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn. I’ve also finally filled in the past six months into my training log Friday night and found that I ran my first 100 miler, the 2004 Western States, in 21:50 on less slightly less mileage year-to-date. [If I get a chance, I’ll write a piece looking at my training and pre-race strategy. Let me know if you’re interested.]

Yeah, I’ve had a great time covering the race and hanging with my friends for hours at aid stations the past two years. I’ll miss that. However, I know from experience that it’s even sweeter seeing them but for a few seconds as I pass by… from the business side of the course.

See you Placer High!

[Caveat: If the race day forecast high in Auburn is over 100F, I will seriously reconsider running. I am the furthest thing from heat acclimated at the moment. A dry and sunny 70F feels hot to this mountain town resident.]

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.