Go West (and Run Western States), Young Man

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.]

There are 22 comments

  1. olga

    You go, Goat!!! Thrilled to hear that! Thanks, Meghan, too – by the way, her writing style beats yours, so I expect not only coverage, but good story as well:)

    Really, Bryon, great move on all counts, and great reasoning.

  2. Anonymous

    AWESOME! You will ROCK! Really looking forward to your post-race report and the coverage as well. Last year I was glued to my computer during the late hrs of the race! Best of luck! Run Strong-Run Smart and run like you can't fail!!

  3. dogpaddle

    I have only run two 50k races, and will run my first 50 miler at the end of June, then a 70 miler the end of July. Physically, I know I can do it, but I am most interested in how my body and mind will respond to the mental aspect of the distance. I think it is great that you are running WS to help train/prepare you mentally for UTMB. Regardless of your WS time, I am sure you will see the benefits for UTMB. Good luck, and I look forward to the article on training and pre race strategies. BTW, the book has been great motivation and very informative for a newbie!

  4. Jason

    I would love to hear about your training and you r pre-race stratagy. Also could you write out your nutrition plan. I just crewed for a friend of mine and his dad at the laurel highlands ultra and my friend had GI issues the entire time. I tried many things but in the end it beat him. getting advice from others on what they do will be helpful. good luck and thank you for your book. It was very insightful for an aspiring ultrarunner.

  5. Glenn

    I knew you would do it, I never doubted it, even if you did. Now go have a wonderfully painful time!!!!


    Telluride, CO

  6. Patrick

    I also join everyone in congratulating you on your decision and wishing you the best. I love the "demons" description, as it is exactly the reason I will be trying my hand at Leadville for the first time this year. I would also love the pre-race and strategy post!

  7. Gretchen

    Yeeeeee HAW! Super stoked to hear this, Bryon. I kind of thought it would turn out this way. :) Glad to know you have the best on your side for iRF race coverage, too. Looking forward to seeing you both next week.

    Oh, and sorry, but there's a "no bailing" clause enacted once you type that first sentence. Day time highs be damned. I am about on par with you for heat training, so we'll just see what our demons can do with that!

  8. anita

    Demons-a great way to state it. I have a bunch of them buggers haunting me right now too. So my motto: 'just get 'er done.' See you there! We can squash demons together!

  9. roger

    nice one – takes big steely balls to just say 'come what may' aka 'f&#% it!!'. Offerings of cola should shake some of those demons : ) And wicked that Meghan Hicks is covering it too – hoping that the Aussies get some coverage so we know how they're going. Will have to be e-noying asking for updates on the day ;) And definitely – aspiring 100-milers out here gearing for their own firsts would be keen to hear about your own early training Bryon.

  10. Tony Mollica

    I am so glad you decided to run Western States! In a contest between you and the demons; my money is on you!

    Run it for all of us ultra runners who want to run Western States; but just aren't good enough to (yet anyway)! Embrace the experience Bryon!

  11. Jared Sweet

    Great decision!! I especially like the part about relying on logic to help you succeed. If that is the way that you are going to approach this race once the gun goes off then I have no doubt that you will do what you set out to accomplish. I hope you have a cooler day so you get that feeling back and prevail over this iconic race again!

  12. Bevo

    Good call, fight those demons.

    I would also like a follow up to your run and training.

    FYI, there is a great book on this site about getting through an Ultra ;)

  13. Anonymous

    Bryon, I missed this article when you wrote it; just catcging up now.

    I'm with you on this one. My training this year has not been as good as last.

    But I'm still comfortable with lining up at Courmayeur on 26 August because the events of last year are still so very clear in my mind, and both body and mind take strength from the fact that I did what I did in the weather I did it in.

    I am over next week to do a 2 day training run over the course. Can't wait.

    Looking forward to buying you a beer in Cham in August.


  14. Jpl

    Posting this after the race, so I know you survived! Congrats ! I would love to see an article about your training ! Thanks, you go Goat!

Post Your Thoughts