Leah Yingling took a commanding second place at the 2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k, earning a Western States 100 Golden Ticket in doing so. In our first interview with her, Leah talks about how she got into mountain running when she moved to Utah, how she tried to earn a Golden Ticket for two years, and how racing within this competitive field on on this challenging course played out for her.
For more on what happened at the race, check out our Canyons 100k results article for the play-by-play and links to other post-race interviews.
Leah Yingling Post-2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Leah Yingling. It’s the finish line of the 2022 Canyons Endurance Run’s 100k. You just podiumed. Congratulations.
Leah Yingling: Thanks, Meghan. It was an exciting day.
iRunFar: And you very eagerly took the Golden Ticket, too.
Yingling: I definitely did. Got the offer and couldn’t turn it down.
iRunFar: That’s where I want to start this interview, because you have been endeavoring for a Golden Ticket for how long now?
Yingling: At least the last two years. I ran my first Golden Ticket race actually at Sean O’Brien [100k] in 2018.
Yingling: So, I wasn’t really shooting for one then, but that was my first Golden Ticket race I ran. But then ran Canyons last year, and then Bandera [100k] earlier in January, this year.
iRunFar: And missed the Golden Ticket at those two races.
iRunFar: But like came in second, guns blazing.
Yingling: Guns blazing.
iRunFar: Taking no mercy this time. It just seemed to me like it was your day out there. Did it feel like your day at all?
Yingling: Yeah, I felt really confident coming into this race. I think I was one of the few women who had raced it last year. So I had experience on the course. I knew when it got tough and really how to pace it. So, I think early on, I just set my ego aside and let the lead pack of women go and just said, “I’m running my race because I know the race doesn’t start until Michigan Bluff.” So I think by following that, it ended up pretty well for me later on.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, let’s talk about that a little bit, but I want to know a little bit about who you are. I know you live in the Salt Lake City area. How did you come to mountain running, and ultra-distance mountain running?
Yingling: Yeah. So, I’m originally from Pennsylvania, western Pennsylvania.
iRunFar: Appropriate last name, then?
Yingling: Yeah, Yingling like the beer. So I moved out to Salt Lake City in 2016 for grad school. And I would say that began my mountain and trail running. Before that, I was into mostly road marathons. Got on the trails a little bit when I lived in Washington, D.C., but really took off when I moved to Utah. So, started dabbling in more of the mountain races, probably around that time as well.
Yingling: And I think just being in that type of environment, you thrive. So, it’s been a great place for me to live, and then also train.
iRunFar: And what do you do professionally? What’d you go to grad school for, and stuff?
Yingling: So, I’m a biomedical engineer in my undergrad, and then I went to grad school for biomedical informatics. And then right now I work in electrophysiology for a medical device company.
iRunFar: Oh, okay. What does that mean you do, exactly?
Yingling: So, when patients have different heart arrhythmias, I work for a company that … We create the computer software and the catheters that help treat those different arrhythmias. So, most days I’m in the operating room, and facilitating the procedure with electrophysiologists.
iRunFar: Oh, that’s really cool.
Yingling: Yeah, it’s very interesting work and no days are the same.
iRunFar: No days are the same. Living in, or on, the Wasatch Front pairs really well with mountain running, and steep mountain running. This race, however, has a combination. There’s a lot of running to be done in this race, and then a lot of strength, uphill running, downhill running. How … You said you were here a year ago, so you saw what it was like. How’d you tailor your preparation to get this right this, well, this time?
Yingling: Yeah. I would say my training largely started back for Bandera actually. So, I ran Bandera in January and I did a speed block leading into that because that’s a fast, flat race, and that’s not what I really specialize in. So then after Bandera, I was signed up for Transgrancanaria, the 62k. And that’s got a lot of vert, but it’s actually …
iRunFar: A lot of vert.
Yingling: Yeah. It’s actually net downhill, though. So, I mean trashed my downhill legs, as well. So, after my Bandera training, I cycled into a big vert, five weeks or so.
Yingling: Ran that, and then ended up doing Gorge [Waterfalls] 50k a couple of weeks ago.
Yingling: And didn’t…
Yingling: Runnable, yeah, very runnable actually. I think I ran nearly every step of that race. So, kind of the combo of all three of those things, it was actually, definitely way more than I normally race. I think having that mindset of my 50k pace, my 40-mile pace, was really helpful today because at any given point in time, I could tell myself, “You’re running too fast,” or this is actually a 100k pace.
iRunFar: That’s cool, that you have had that such recent experience at those distances that you’re like, this is a little over of the meter, this is a little under the meter.
iRunFar: Okay. So, talk a little bit about how the race played out. You did take it easy early. You were not up in the front, but middle of the race, that’s when you arrived.
Yingling: Yeah. I think at the first aid … The first main aid station where we had crew, I was probably sitting around 13th and 14th.
Yingling: And that was right where I wanted to be. And then I think when I rolled into Foresthill, I moved into probably about 7th.
Yingling: So, I had a really strong section. That’s a long one without crew there, and I had a really strong section there. And then I had a little rough section between Foresthill and Michigan Bluff. But, I think I moved up into 5th on that section. And then after Michigan Bluff, that’s where I wanted to really start racing. So, I went to work after that. And I think in front of me was Sarah Biehl, and Ladia [Albertson-Junkans] wasn’t too far ahead, either. And then the Spanish …
iRunFar: Aroa [Sio].
Yingling: Aroa. Yeah, the Spanish woman who got third place, she wasn’t far ahead either. So, I just worked on the downhills, but Aroa was very fast on the downhill so she was gapping me. But it wasn’t actually until, I think, Deadwood, Ladia, and I actually got to share a bunch of miles together. And that was the highlight of my day.
iRunFar: Okay, awh.
Yingling: And we saw Sarah not far behind us, so we just couldn’t let up. And then with a mile and a half to go, I passed Aroa.
iRunFar: You caught Aroa. Okay. Because we were at about three and a half to go. And I think you were in third by almost a minute.
iRunFar: But you made up that minute in half the distance to the finish.
Yingling: Yep. Yeah. So last year when I ran this, I got sixth place and I always tell people, I felt like I raced it like a 100-miler, where I moved up very well in the second half, but just ran out of real estate, and didn’t really keep myself in touch with the lead pack as much. So my goal this year was to definitely stay in touch with the lead pack, but kind of still set my ego aside early on so I could just have some legs later.
iRunFar: Well, you did just that.
Yingling: Yeah. It was exciting.
iRunFar: You finished second.
iRunFar: And now you have that big Golden Ticket. Probably just going to sit with that for a couple of days.
Yingling: I think so.
iRunFar: Yeah. But, you are going to run Western States, yeah?
iRunFar: You’re right. How do you foresee the next two months going? It’s kind of a little time, but it’s kind of a lot of time too.
iRunFar: Especially when you’re so fit for a 100k now.
Yingling: Exactly. I think I’ve done a lot of racing lately, so I need some time off.
Yingling: And not racing. So probably won’t do any racing between now and then, because I think this is a pretty good training stimulus.
Yingling: But yeah, just probably recovering for a good week or two here. And then probably just pretty standard training for me, just so I don’t overdo it. I think this race poses some challenges for runners getting to the start line of Western States healthy, so …
Yingling: My number one goal is just to get there healthy.
iRunFar: Yeah. To let your body recover.
iRunFar: And see where you’re at. Well, it was really fun to watch you race today.
Yingling: Thank you.
iRunFar: You were like a machine. And it’s, when people try a couple of times for the Golden Ticket, it’s so thrilling to see you get one and it’ll be fun to see you race Western States. So, congratulations.
Yingling: Thank you. I’m really excited.