We’ve been fortunate enough to catch up with a number of top competitors to see how they’re feeling heading into the race. Below, we chat with top Americans in the race, including Geoff Roes, Hal Koerner, and Dave Mackey. In a companion article, we get updates from top foreign competitors such as Kilian Jornet, Nick Clark, Jez Bragg, Ian Sharman, and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki.
Geoff Roes: Less running on snow this past winter than when I’m in Alaska through the winter. But I’ve now been back in Juneau for a month and been doing tons of stuff up high in the snow. Other than this, not much different than last year, just going out for runs in the mountains every day.
iRF: You’ve showed you’ve got speed this year with your win at the Chuckanut 50k and that you’ve still got your strength and endurance with your run at the DRTE 100 mile. How are you feeling about your fitness?
Roes: As good as ever. At least as far as I can tell.
iRF: Can you explain the reasoning behind your decision to forgo a crew and pacers at this year’s Western States?
Roes: This is my usual style for races. Having a crew and a pacer last year was quite unusual for me. Had a great time doing it that way last year, but I’m really excited to do this one in the style that I’m more used to. I want this race to feel as much like just going out for a long run in the mountains all day as possible.
iRF: Over the past year the fact that you’ve won each of your first eight 100 milers has received some attention. How do you deal with the expectations that come from that and the fact that you’re the defending Western States champion?
Roes: To be honest with you, I’ve been so focused on my day-to-day running for the past several weeks that I haven’t even really thought about any of the expectations of Western States this year. Right now, I’m thinking a lot more about the run I hope to do tomorrow than Western States.
Hal Koerner: I’m feeling quite good. It’s been a busy season so far and still all my races have gone according to plan, I see nothing different for Western States. Rocky Raccoon was a pleasant surprise in that it taught me I’ve had a solid career in ultras and a knack for letting 100 miles come to me, even when I’m not at my best. Miwok confirmed that I am getting stronger and that I continue to find ways to improve on the same courses (for the most part). Mostly, it’s that I still enjoy the hell out of it and that I’m excited to get to race against the best on the biggest stage once again.
iRF: Most of the top finishers from last year’s historic race are coming back while previous top finishers such as Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Jez Bragg will return, as well. Unlike last year, this won’t be a race highlighted by first timers. Still, you’ve got five finishes and a decade of experience at WS. Do you think that experience remains an advantage?
Koerner: As far as how I’ll run the race it remains a huge advantage. I still try to visualize the entire course while I’m out there, calculating pace and effort on every climb and descent, it’s pretty much hardwired now. I don’t know how well the first 40 bode for me this year, but the race will not have begun by then in my estimation. With so many ready to lay it on the line, the expectations and anticipation may get to some, but perhaps that’s where my many years of experience and the ability to psych myself up without the nerves may hold a slight advantage. You’ve got to stay relaxed yet charged, confident and ready to attack.
iRF: You won two straight Western States (’07 & ’09) and laid it all on the line again last year before dropping at Green Gate. Do you plan to go for broke again this year or to take a more conservative approach?
Koerner: I know one way to race at Western States and that’s the approach I’ve used since 01, all out. I feel it’s one of the reasons I have two cougars and a podium finish to boot. Last year definitely showed that there was no mercy to be had even after 4 miles, so many fast runners but separation had already begun by 20 miles. I tried hard to weather the pain of a recent ankle injury, but was in no shape to contend or race with Geoff, Tony, and Killian despite how fast I may have made it before calling it quits. Ultras aren’t being run anywhere close to conservative any more and there isn’t enough time to make it up on these fast fields, despite what transpired last year after mile 80. It’s possible that times could go sub 15, I can’t imagine not gunning it from the start.
Dave Mackey: Wow.. thanks for the early vote of confidence on UROY. I feel like I am having a good season so far, but I surely have been feeling tired lately because of it. Luckily, this past spring my schedule allowed me to race hard. I’d wanted to run Chucknut, but just couldn’t race at all in March. That turned out okay though as I probably ran a better AR 50. I tried to time things so that I could run well at Bandera in January, then have 3 months of no races until AR 50 so I could peak this spring. I’d hoped to carry this peak through to Western States, but I had to run harder than I ‘d planned at Miwok in order to get a win there. It will have been seven weeks between a tough Miwok race and the AR 50 just prior to that, so I am in a bit of a no-man’s land in terms of recovery for WS. I may have overdone it on a four hour run this past week and I bonked, but I am taking the 2.5 weeks before the race as a serious taper.
So in regards to my fitness, it is there; I just need to recover now.
iRF: You’ve been running ultras for nearly a decade, but you’ve only attempted two 100 milers (that we know of) – both at Western States. When you toe the line in Squaw Valley, do you think you’ll feel more like a veteran or a relative newbie to the 100 mile distance?
Mackey: Honestly, I still feel like a humbled newbie at Western States, but the wizened vet until Foresthill. This is mainly due to the fact that the past two times I raced WS I didn’t even come close to my expectations. The heat takes it out of me up there every time I touch that course, even while pacing Roes last summer. It’s weird. I try to win every ultra I enter, but I still realize that from adventure racing there is a slow learning curve and success doesn’t always just happen. Look at Geoff Roes, he was pretty unknown only a few years ago and barely cracking the top 10; now he is one of the best.
I was never in a hurry to race 100’s because I have always been happy running 50k to 100k distance, which is easier to train for than 100’s. I could see myself running more 100s in the next couple years,
hopefully in Colorado and elsewhere.
iRF: In the past, you ran a ton of 50ks and trail marathons. Over the past two years, you seem to have focused more on 50 mile and 100k races. Has this change been conscious and, if so, why? Also, how do you think that this focus on longer races will help you at Western States?
Mackey: I actually have run a couple less known half marathons in the last year, the Lynch Canyon Half, Highland Ranch Half, and also the Breckenridge Crest Mountain Marathon last fall. These fast races and tempo training sessions that are about 13-18 miles in length are the core of my training. They build speed and pain tolerance, but still leave me feeling okay the next day. In terms of ultras, I haven’t run any 50k’s lately, so that leaves 50 milers and 100k and 100 milers, but this hasn’t been a switch per se to longer stuff. I have been running 50 milers and 100k for 10 years, so it isn’t new ground being broken by any means. I am sure that running a couple 100ks and one 50 miler this spring and winter is just the perfect combo of events leading up to a hundred, but, as mentioned, I may have overdone it!
iRF: With such a wealth of world class talent at the race, how will you approach the race? Will you run from the front or run your own race?
Mackey: I want to be like the Russian, Ivan Drago, from Rocky 4, when he goes up to Rocky in the ring and says “I must break you,” in that Russian accent. I think I’ll walk up to Kilian and do that at the 5 am start line, just for fun.
Naw, I am going to be a pansy this year and sit back and not get all worked up to race to Foresthill and then lose my lunch. I need to pace smarter and save it for later in the race. No cresting the top of Squaw in first place for me, nor Robinson Flat for that matter.
Call for Comments
How do you think these competitors will fair at Western States this year?