Matt Daniels is back at the 2021 Western States 100, trying to improve upon his fourth place in 2019. In the following interview, Matt talks about what his final six weeks of training (since our May interview with him) has looked like, what has changed since he last raced here, what incremental improvements he’d like to make in 2021, and whether he’s as tall as everyone thinks he is.
Matt Daniels Pre-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Matt Daniels. It’s a couple of days before the 2021 Western States 100. We’re back.
Matt Daniels: We’re back. How cool is it? Finally in person, no computer screens, no masks, this is great.
iRunFar: Amazing. You were here in the same spot two years ago. It was your first 100 miler. What were the feelings then compared to the feelings now? How are things different and the same?
Daniels: Not that different. You know in 2019 I was really excited because it was my first 100, first Western States. 2021 I’m just as excited. You know we had that year off and I think that that allowed me to get even a little bit more amped and more excited. It’s like doing it all over again, you know, for the first time.
iRunFar: Does it feel like that sense of, gosh, I’m starting this over?
Daniels: It kind of does. You know, 2019 was my first 100 and the only 100 I’ve run and so it’s been basically two years since I’ve done a 100. And so it kind of does feel like, yeah, this is a first 100 again.
iRunFar: Now you and I talked just a little over a month ago after you ran the Smith Rock Ascent up in Oregon, and we will link to that interview in this one so people can sort of catch up with you there, but you were coming back into some strong training after a period of injury and talking about yeah, just a month of solid training. Can you catch us up on what’s happened the last month?
Daniels: Yeah, it’s been good. I finally got the injury niggles out of the way and had a really solid really six weeks of training that went well starting with a couple weeks at home and going out to the Western States training camp. That that three-day block during Memorial Day weekend really kind of set the tone for the rest of the training block. I was able to put in some decent mileage for me and stay healthy and really just kind of put the icing on the cake. Yeah, worked out well.
iRunFar: The 100-mile distance is just so, I don’t know, it’s so unique. And then the elements of this race add to that. What has been sort of the details that you’ve been playing through your head in this last month of like, yeah just the little things you’re trying to nail?
Daniels: Yeah, I think patience for me is the biggest thing. I’ve talked about it a lot. I really struggle with patience. In some of these longer races I get anxious and worked up early and want to run fast from the get go. And I think with races that last 14-15 hours, you got to be a little bit more careful with that. So in training I’m kind of practicing on areas that I know I should probably be hiking in a race. I’ll hike and just tell myself, okay, you know, treat this as if I’m going to be out here all day sort of thing. And I’m working on patience but also just mentally getting prepared and visualizing being up in the front and later stages of the race and being ready for anything that comes at you. Western States is one of those races where things happen quick when they do happen. So for 100, it runs almost kind of like a 50k so you have to really be aware of moves that are being made within the field and just be ready to pounce when the time comes.
iRunFar: It’s funny to listen to you say that you have a hard time with patience because it seemed like you exacted pretty good moderation two years ago here.
Daniels: Yeah, last year the goal was the first 50k let’s just run it really easy to get through it and then you can kind of move through on the more runnable sections until you get to the canyon and then, canyons. I love the climb, so do what you can do. And I think I maybe ran the canyons a bit too hard and struggled a lot from Foresthill down the river and then kind of regained my speed. I think this year I’d really like to get to Foresthill ready to really start racing there, and utilizing that fast section of the trail, more so than maybe burning myself out in the canyon, so a lot of it is just being a little bit more strategic with the race plan this year and staying patient like I did last year, but also I’m a little bit more mature and older and I understand what the Western States course is about so using certain parts of the course to my favor that I could.
iRunFar: Yeah. In my mind, I think the race is not going to be won until the end. I don’t know. I mean, it could go so many different directions, but the field is so deep with so much experience at this point that it’s just hard for me to imagine the race not being played out at the end. What are you thinking?
Daniels: Gosh, I thought about every scenario. I think, you know, everybody’s mentioned it. There’s no snow in the high country this year so the start’s probably going to be fast, but also everybody’s kind of weary because we know it’s going to be hot and we got to be able to have the ability to get through the canyons, so we can be able to race at the end. So, it’s going to be weird. I kind of almost see the race kind of being as like an accordion where it’s going to go out and then it’s going to slow down and then there’s going to be blow ups. but a lot of the race is going to be determined probably between Michigan Bluff and the river. I think in that little section through the Cal Street one, [Call Street] two, it’s going to be like, okay, who are going to be players, once we get maybe 10 or 15 miles to go. But it’s impossible to make predictions in this race. You never know what’s going to happen.
iRunFar: I love to try though.
Daniels: For sure. I mean that’s what it’s all about.
iRunFar: It’s unfair to say that heat wasn’t a factor in the 2019 race. It was a warm day, but heat is definitely a factor on Saturday.
Daniels: Yeah, it’s definitely different. I mean we’re looking at probably I mean 15 to 20 degrees difference. It was hot, but you know, it wasn’t the highs we’re expecting this year. The biggest difference I think is going to be there’s no, I don’t think there’s going to be as much cloud coverage as there was in 2019. We had through the first probably 60 or 70% of the race in 2019 we had cloud coverage, especially through the canyons, which helped a lot.
iRunFar: That’s a good reminder. I had kind of forgotten that.
Daniels: Yeah. So, I think that’ll probably, the biggest factor is just trying to stay within yourself early and making sure you have the ability to make it from Foresthill to finish.
iRunFar: It’s a little hard to imagine a hot day. I mean it’s Thursday morning and we’re standing here and it’s like perfect weather.
Daniels: Beautiful. I know I remember in 2019 we were out here with, you know, jackets on and the wind was blowing.
iRunFar: That’s true.
Daniels: So I think everybody’s kind of, you know, 100 miles you always expect the worst and then sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised when we’re actually out there on the course it’s not as bad as we expect, but you never know.
iRunFar: Well, I hope there are a bunch of pleasant surprises for you this weekend. Good luck to you, and it’s going to be fun to be out there covering races again and watching you run down to Auburn.
Daniels: Thanks. Appreciate it.
iRunFar: See you out there.
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Matt Daniels. It’s a day or two before the 2021 Western States 100. How are you, Matt?
Daniels: [standing on a rock to appear extra tall] Good, Meghan. How are you down there?
iRunFar: Good, the weather’s well.
Daniels: It’s really nice up here, that’s for sure.
iRunFar: Alright so I have to ask you, who should we be watching for? Who does iRunFar not know about? What have we screwed up so far?
Daniels: Well, Jared Hazen, it’s hard to see him way down there but he’s a competitor. He wan second in 2019. I think we should watch out for him.
iRunFar: He’s a good one to watch out for.