Stephanie Howe is a proven powerhouse on a variety of terrain and at many distances, including those offered by The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In 2012, Stephanie finished second here. In the following interview, hear Stephanie’s perspective on how her 2014 of racing–and life–went, how she’ll try to be both joyful and competitive this weekend, and what she’s looking forward to in the 2015 season.
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Stephanie Howe Pre-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships with the reigning Western States 100 Mile Champion, Stephanie Howe.
Stephanie Howe: Hi.
iRunFar: Hi. How are you doing?
Howe: I’m good.
iRunFar: It’s nice and warm and dry inside, but it’s not so nice outside right now. It’s looking a lot like the last time you ran this race in 2012.
Howe: Yes, lots of rain, lots of mud.
iRunFar: The forecast is looking a little bit better for this Saturday.
Howe: Yes, it said slight chance of rain, so I’ll take it.
iRunFar: So how does it feel to have “the Western States 100 reigning champion” addition to your name these days?
Howe: It’s like when people say that, I’m like, “Who’s that? That’s me?” It’s exciting. It’s definitely still settling in. It was kind of just a dream race for me. I’m still kind of living it up.
iRunFar: You’ve had a pretty solid year. Lake Sonoma 50 Mile—second place behind Miss Emily Harrison earlier in the year; then your power-showing at Western States.
Howe: Yeah, that was a good one.
iRunFar: Then there was the not-so-good one at the Run Rabbit Run 100.
Howe: Yeah, I’m trying to be positive about that because it was great for about 70 miles.
iRunFar: It was a good learning experience.
Howe: It was a great learning experience. Honestly, not every 100 is going to go as well as Western States, so it was good for me to have some more adversity and just kind of make the right choice and pull out of it when I did.
iRunFar: So you stopped in that race because of a knee issue.
Howe: Yes, my knee started hurting around mile 65, and I pulled the plug at mile 78.
iRunFar: So, it was actually probably a good experience—learn your limits and know when the right time is to call it.
Howe: Totally. I didn’t want to be injured for the next three months, so I stopped before I made a permanent injury. It’s great to be running again. It was sad to have to drop out while I was in the lead, but it was also good for me to go through that scenario and be able to make the right decision.
iRunFar: Probably because of that decision you’re here, healthy, and racing.
Howe: Exactly. Yeah, I’m excited to be here.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about the last time you were here in 2012—bucket loads of rain, course rerouting, basically a race in a mud bog. You finished in second place behind Emelie Forsberg.
Howe: I did. Yeah, that was a great race. It was probably my second or third 50 miler, so I was still kind of trying to learn the ultra thing. For me, the conditions were probably an advantage because I just kept a good attitude—well, we’re all in this together. I put my head down and did what I knew how to run. It was good. I wouldn’t be too upset if it’s rainy. I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it, but if it is I’ll be ready.
iRunFar: You’re a woman who thrives in adversity.
Howe: I am.
iRunFar: Your Western States 100 win is a pure exemplification of that. There’s nothing easy about the conditions in that race.
Howe: No, not at all. I do. I’m not the fastest runner out there, but I’m really good at problem solving. I’m not always super positive outside of running, but when I’m running, I’m so good about self-talk. I honestly am. If I’m in a rough patch, I’ll talk to myself, “Okay, Stephanie, just do the best you can for this next mile.” It works out.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about this weekend. There’s a nice little stack of women here who are ready to race. Who are you looking forward to spending some miles with?
Howe: There are a lot of runners I haven’t raced before, so I’m looking forward to getting to know them. I kind of like to do a little bit of chitchat when I race, so hopefully some of them will be up for that as well.
iRunFar: Does anybody else want to talk?
Howe: I got to know Emily Harrison at Lake Sonoma that way, and that was really cool. Alicia Shay, I don’t know her very well. Magda [Boulet], I’ve actually never met her, so I’m excited to meet her. I’ve heard great things. Honestly, for me this weekend, it’s all about having fun. December is a tough time. I’ve had a little bit of a rough time preparing just with the conditions in Bend, Oregon. We’ve had some ice and snow, so I’ve done the best I can, but I’d just like to finish with a smile on my face and not worry too much about times or places and just go out there and do my best.
iRunFar: So whether that means a win or a fourth place or a sixth place…?
Howe: Exactly. I’m competitive, but there’s more to it than standing on the podium for me. I like to be up there, but I’ll be happy if I put together a good race and I end up in fourth of fifth.
iRunFar: When you’re a North Face athlete, this is sort of their premiere annual event. It’s a bit of a family reunion when it comes to your team.
Howe: It is. I can’t wait to see everyone. I just got into town, and we have a big house. That’s what I’ve been looking forward to is just connecting with everyone. This year, having a house, it’s going to be like a party, MTV: Road Rules… without the drama.
iRunFar: Hopefully not too much drama.
Howe: Yeah, totally.
iRunFar: Next year, 2015, is there anything fun on your race-scape?
Howe: I was torn for awhile about Western States. I didn’t know if I wanted to go back because I felt like I accomplished every goal I set out for myself. I like to do new races. For me, I can’t race a lot, so if I commit to a race like Western States, it’s kind of ‘the race,’ and everything else is a little bit smaller. So I wasn’t going to do it. I thought about it for a week, and it just didn’t sit right. So I pulled the trigger, and I’m in for next year.
iRunFar: You’re in.
Howe: I’ll be racing Western States. Then I’ll probably do a similar build-up. Sonoma is always fun, and maybe a 50k in the spring. I’d like to do UTMB. So, we’ll see.
iRunFar: Go big or go home.
Howe: Yeah, big goals for next year—not a lot of racing but some big goals.
iRunFar: That will be your first time at UTMB.
Howe: It will. Yeah, I haven’t been over there yet. This year I wanted to go, but it was the same date as my wedding. I actually thought about it but Zach was like, “No, you cannot reschedule our wedding for a running race.” Yeah, fair enough.
iRunFar: I was going to ask you about that. You’ve had quite a lot going on in your personal life.
Howe: Yeah, I have.
iRunFar: You got married. Congratulations!
Howe: I got married. That was kind of a big thing. Thank you.
iRunFar: Sorry, she’s off the market.
iRunFar: You’re also working on your PhD.
Howe: I am. I’ve had a couple big milestones get checked off. I finished my data collection and then the data analysis, so now it’s just kind of the sprint to the finish. So it’s been not as much racing maybe since June really just because of those things, but they’re good, too.
iRunFar: Yeah, life is good. You’ve got to keep life good.
iRunFar: Good luck to you this weekend.
Howe: Thank you.
iRunFar: We look forward to seeing you out there. I’m sure there’s going to be a smile on your face whether there’s sun or rain.
Howe: I hope so. I like to smile when I see you.
iRunFar: Yeah, you smile a lot. Good luck!
Howe: Thank you!