At a race like Western States, it’s easy to get caught up in past champions or who was Top 5 last year, but that only scratches the surface of the world class ultrarunners who’ll be toeing the line. Witness the following four fellas: Dave Mackey, Timothy Olson, David Riddle, and Ryan Sandes. Looking back a decade, Mackey would be a Top 3 candidate for North American ultrarunner of the decade. Timothy Olson burst onto the scene last year with a sixth place at Western States and has only improved since then. David Riddle broke the hallowed JFK 50 Mile record last November and led the American contingent at this year’s IAU 100k World Championships. Ryan Sandes won last year’s Leadville 100 as he continues to transition from dominating stage races to dominating single-go ultras. All four men share their thoughts below.
[For more, check out our full men’s field preview as well as our set of interviews with Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark, and Jez Bragg.]
Dave Mackey: Thanks for the props, but I don’t think I have had a great season this year… winning Miwok was nice, but the level of competition was nowhere near last year. Still, a long year yet so hope I can kick it in the rest of the year.
My “preparation” for WS has been about zilch so far besides racing a ton. And don’t plan on doing much else until Friday evening when I mix my Vitargo and make ten PBJ sandwiches. If I hit a crew at Robinson, Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, the River and 49 to hand me these things and bananas and electrolyte caps, then I’ll be golden. In past years, I did saunas and tried heat running, but had mixed results every time, plus I don’t have time for that stuff, so I am going to just focus on pacing race day. Last year, I was first into mile 19 off the snow, which was a mistake, so once again, I will try to tell myself slow and easy and save it for later. Easier said than done.
iRF: You’ve run well at 100 miles with a second and eighth at Western States, but I believe you’ve said that you’ve not yet nailed the distance. What’s the hardest nut to crack about running 100 miles?
Mackey: I may just need to run more 100’s in order to crack the nut… might still run a couple others this year, but I seem to eddy out on the 50 miles and 100Ks. I REALLY want to go for some multi-day adventures next year, when I am done with clinicals. I also want to focus on Colorado running, as I have raced so little here and too much in NorCal.
iRF: What tips regarding longevity can you offer the youngsters coming into the sport?
Mackey: The youngsters… you mean Dakota? Timmy? Well, they got things figured out pretty well. For the others, I am lucky my parents were who they are as I don’t get hurt, but otherwise, maybe not obsessing about the sport has let me linger longer in it. I love mountain running and have averaged about 60-70 miles per week for the past ten years, but also did other sports. I feel fresher than ever in running, but know I am not as fast. Quality instead of quantity, and the thrill and drive of competition keeps me out there day in, day out. I used to do more shorter races, like Bolder Boulder and Pikes Peak Marathon, which keeps the baseline of pain pretty high.
iRF: You’ve seemingly been running hard since the ball dropped in Times Square. How does all your high level racing (Bandera 100k, Chuckanut, Lake Sonoma, Leona Divide, and Ice Age) have you feeling heading into Western States?
Timothy Olson: I feel ready to roll. I’ve felt strong all season; my last three 50-mile races back to back set me up for what my body will feel like late in a 100 mile race. I’ve had plenty of time to rest up from those races and put in some more solid training. I feel healthy and solid going into this race; we’ll see how it unfolds.
iRF: One of the reasons we’ve seen you at a number of high level races is you’re competing for (and leading) the Montrail Ultra Cup. Obviously, you want to run your best race next weekend, but how do you balance that with the significant payday ($5,000) that’s more or less guaranteed if you just took it easy and finished? Does the pending birth of your first child affect that?
Olson: I wanted to compete at the Montrail Cup races because of the high level of competition these races bring out, to push myself to my limits. I will not run conservatively. The cash would be nice, but I’m running Western States to go beyond what I know is possible, I am going to give it my all. Once my body has had enough, my heart will take over and it will lead the way. Even if I have an OK day, Mackey still has a chance to beat me in the Montrail Cup because he’s raced an extra 100k which gives more points than some of the 50’s I’ve done.
The pending birth of my first born son only stokes my internal fire that much more. When I’m feeling low in the race I’ll be thinking of my son. His presence makes me want to dig deep and show him what his dad is made of. I hope to make all of my family proud and inspire others to love and explore the natural world all around them. If I do win some cash, it will all be for my son… I might buy his mom a dress, too!
iRF: Many labeled you as the surprise of last year’s race. Who’s it gonna be this year’s big surprise?
Olson: It was a surprise to others, I worked my butt off last year. I think this year will definitely highlight others who have been working hard all season long. I would watch out for Dylan Bowman, Jorge Maravilla and Joe Uhan. I name these guys because I know them personally as good friends and know they are strong dudes! I know there are a plethora of others I’ve not had the chance to race, who are going to turn some heads at Western.
iRunFar: At this year’s Western States, you’ll be running your first 100 miler as well as only your second mountain race out West. Which do you think will be your biggest challenge, the distance or the terrain, and what have you done to prepare for it?
David Riddle: I actually think my biggest challenges will be getting my nutrition right and managing the heat. Of course, the length of the race makes nutrition much more important than any race I’ve done before. Although climbing is definitely not my strength, if I can just survive the climbs, I think there’s enough runnable trail after Foresthill that I can keep myself in the race… assuming I’m taking care of my nutrition and handling the heat.
My only race-specific preparation was running the Quad Rock 50 miler and the official Memorial Day training runs. Quad Rock was only three weeks after the World 100k. My nutrition was a disaster at QR50 and that was a large part of why I ran poorly. But I learned a ton from that race, and it’s part of the reason why I am focusing so much on nutrition now. At training camp, it was great to get to see 70 miles of the Western States course. The first 30 miles will be a surprise, but knowing what’s coming up in front of me is invaluable knowledge to have in a race like this. I ended up doing about 90 miles over those 3 days and got some much needed training in the mountains that I couldn’t have gotten at home.
iRF: You obviously trained hard and, presumably, quite specifically for your fifth place finish at the IAU 100k World Championships. Do you feel like the two months since then has been enough time to prepare for quite a different discipline?
Riddle: No, it’s not enough time to prepare as much as I would like. But, I felt like it was more important to run Western States this year, with somewhat inadequate preparation, and get some experience so I could try to come back in 2013 and run it well. The reality is that as long as I live in Cincinnati, I will never be able to prepare like the guys who live in the mountains. So I’m not really sure how much six months of dedicated WS100 training would have bought me even if I had the time.
iRF: To end on an upbeat note, what are you most looking forward to at your first Western States?
Riddle: I’m most looking forward to lining up against some of the best ultrarunners in the world and seeing how I stack up. And to be able to do what I love on a gorgeous trail with some beautiful views – that’s the icing on the cake.
iRunFar: For a number of years, you dominated stage racing. You were the guy to beat. While all the top competitors will know who you are at Western States, you’ll still be a big question mark in racers’ and spectators’ eyes alike. How does it feel going into such a race?
Ryan Sandes: I am really excited to be taking part in such an iconic race with so much history. The competition is going to be super strong and I think it will be a very interesting race. My main focus is to have a fun day out on the trails and focus on my own race. Its going to be an awesome experience!
iRF: What knowledge from your stage racing days was most useful at Leadville last year or do you think will be most helpful at WS?
Sandes: A lot of the stage races I ran were in very hot conditions so that should be useful at WS. Stage racing often comes down to strategy and planning your race carefully – I think running a 100 miler also quite strategic, so my past multi-day racing experiences will help. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting from point A to B as fast as you can and the same principles apply whether you running 10 miles or 100 miles.
iRF: You have plenty of experience running in very hot conditions, so even a “hot year” at Western States shouldn’t phase you. Still, do you find dealing with extreme heat to be more physical and mental, and do you have any tips you can share for dealing with hot weather?
Sandes: I think running in extreme heat is more mental than physical. I always try go into a really hot race with a positive mindset seeing the temperature as a challenge rather than a negative element. It important to look after your body in warm conditions – drinking and eating enough as well as managing your core temperature.
Call for Comments
How do you think this highly varied mix of top talents will play out at this year’s Western States?