Tom Evans won the 2023 Western States 100, improving on his third-place performance at the 2019 edition. In this interview, Tom walks us through how his race played out, including his many miles spent running with Dakota Jones and how he eventually moved into pole position, and what it felt like to finish as the champion.
For more on how the race played out, read our in-depth Western States 100 results article.
Tom Evans, 2023 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Tom Evans. It’s the day after the 2023 Western States Endurance Run, and you are the men’s champion. Wow.
Tom Evans: Yeah, thanks so much. It was, yeah, I still, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Just an incredibly special day, lots of memories made on the trails. And yeah, I’m very thankful to still be standing. And I haven’t taken a smile off my face since I crossed the finish line.
iRunFar: What does it feel like to be the champion of this race? You’re a couple minutes away from the award ceremony where you’re going to get that cougar, which is like, such a coveted thing in ultrarunning, right?
Evans: Yeah, I think it’s, especially as European, there are very few Europeans. We think it’s two males. Two male Europeans who have won Western States before. A guy called Kilian [Jornet], I think.
iRunFar: Who is he?
Evans: [laughs] To be following in Kilian’s footsteps is just, I just can’t quite believe it. So I really hope it sort of shows some other European guys that it is doable, and we can come over to the U.S., and it’s such an incredible race. It’s very different to racing in Europe. Neither of them are better than the other, but it’s very different. And yeah, I think hopefully it inspires some of the other top guys in Europe that they can come over here and have a really good result. Because yeah, it’s such a special day.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about your day a little bit. I mean, you sort of called the shots that you thought you were going to see, or you thought we would all see on race day. And then that just happened. Does that mean that your race went roughly according to your plan?
Evans: Yeah, pretty much. I knew, I was very cautious to draw out splits for the high country, because no one really knew what it was going to be like. So, yeah, I knew it was going to be similar sort of conditions after Robinson Flat as it was in 2019, but a bit cooler. So I thought, right, well, I’ll take Jim [Walmsley]’s splits from 2019, and just add a couple of minutes on every checkpoint. And I think we were inside three minutes of every split. So, yeah, I hit it exactly as I wanted to. We were 20, 25 minutes slower in the high country. It was a big group. Yeah. Someone went off in front, hard first, which I thought was going to happen. And then there was a big group, pretty much up until Robinson Flat, and then it started to spread out a little bit. But I think a lot of people burned a few more matches than maybe they thought they did in the high country, kind of just fighting for position. There was a group of 11 or 12 of us, and I just sat at the back of it.
Evans: And just thought, right. I can see everyone and that meant that I could sort of, pick a slightly better line. And I didn’t have to stop and look and see where the mark is. It was amazing how well it was marked, but it’s still really difficult to see sometimes.
iRunFar: Because you weren’t on a trail, per se, you were following markers across snow, and then the little breaks between the snow, right?
Evans: Yeah, precisely. And sometimes like, a tree might be in the way, so you couldn’t really see it. So, some people go right, some people go left, and I could just sit at the back and see which one I like, the best route, and just follow along. So yeah, and then getting to, I’ve looked up to, I still do, look up to Dakota Jones, and have done since I started since I started running. And he’s, I think he’s got some of, if not the best ethics and morals in the sport. And yeah, to be able to spend so much time with him and get to know him a little bit better during the race was seriously cool.
iRunFar: You are a running bromance type of person.
Evans: Yeah, I just like company.
Evans: Especially when you’re trying to do something that is at your limit. I think having someone to keep you company and give you a bit of confidence, especially so early on in the race, that sometimes it’s difficult to know if you’re moving well. You might feel like you are, but actually you’re backing off. So yeah, I think just by having a little bit of company and someone as such a high caliber athlete as Dakota is, yeah, it can only be beneficial.
iRunFar: You spent a lot of time together in the sort of, early-middle miles of the race. Were there any fun conversations, moments to share with the rest of us?
Evans: Yeah, I think we, sort of, got to know each other pretty well. We spoke a lot about, it was pretty smoky at some point, so, we sort of shared our experiences. He did an IMTUF [Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival] race, IMTUF 100 miler or 100k.
iRunFar: In Idaho.
Evans: In Idaho. He said he did that one year and it was really smoky. And yeah, we just chatted sort of complete nonsense for five or six hours I guess, it was nice. I think when you run with someone you know really well, I think you feel that you have to talk the whole time, whereas I had never spoken with Dakota before. So yeah, I sort of feel like, as well as being able to compete against him, I’ve gained a friend. Then we’ll stay in touch for the foreseeable future, which is great.
iRunFar: You ran together for quite some time, but it was also a race. Was there a bit of gamesman ship happening there, or were you really just trying to pass some miles together?
Evans: I think it was the latter. I think we were just trying to make sure that we were moving well. We didn’t even really have the conversation of Oh, I wonder if we’ll be together. We were just like, Let’s just keep using each other for as long as we can. And we know it’s a race. Let’s make sure one of us wins. Yeah.
iRunFar: I think you eventually intentionally made a break though. Is that right?
Evans: Yeah. So in Foresthill, I stopped to change shoes, but Dakota didn’t. I don’t know whether he rushed through, but I think he thought, Oh, there is a good opportunity. I can get a bit of time on Tom. And…
iRunFar: That’s not exactly what happened ultimately, though, right?
Evans: Yeah. So, he probably had to have a minute leaving Foresthill and I sort of, I picked up the pace and thankfully this year we were slightly re-routed, and we stayed on the tarmac for a bit longer, which meant that I could see him. Because I think if we had turned off, going down Cal Street, it might have been a little bit of a different story. Because I would have just lost sight. And it’s, sometimes, when you lose sight, your head can go a little bit.
iRunFar: That’s interesting.
Evans: So, I think that was a real, I had something to chase. So that was, yeah, that was super beneficial for me. And yeah, when we went to Cal One, and then in between, sort of, Cal One and Cal Two, I went to the front and just put in a little bit of a surge. Nothing crazy, but harder than I would have, harder than I was prepared to run for the rest of the race. And held it sort of, two, three minutes and turned around on a little switchback and I didn’t see him, so I thought, Right. Let’s keep going. It’s pretty, yeah, there’s a lot of vegetation here, so you can’t see that far ahead. Like, let’s just try and get elastic to snap. Because the worst thing is when you try and snap the elastic and it doesn’t. They then are in the driver’s seat. So, yeah, managed to snap the elastic. And I was told when I was at Rucky Chucky that I had six minutes on Dakota at Cal Three. So just thought, Right. Brilliant. Just keep pushing. I had originally planned out my pacer from Foresthill to the river, but I thought it was going to be a bit more of a distraction there. So we made the decision on the ground to postpone the pacer and go for the last 20. Because things were working really nicely with Dakota and I didn’t want to change it.
iRunFar: Got it.
Evans: So, I then had something to look forward to, which is great. And picked up Josh Everly.
iRunFar: He picked you up at Rucky Chucky, at the river, right?
Evans: Yeah, we did the last 20 together. And yeah, it was just, yeah, it was really nice. It’s just really smooth, and we just kept along nicely. Yeah, so operating just outside 8:00 miles. I think it was 8:10 roughly. Yeah, which was perfect.
iRunFar: At that point, were you still following splits and trying to keep a certain pace, or were you sort of, going in the moment with like, Oh, this little uphill feels good, this little downhill feels bad? Or yeah, what was it like there?
Evans: Didn’t go necessarily on splits. It was just, I’m not hiking. So ran the whole thing until just before Pointed Rocks, where it’s a little technical bit, little technical uphill. Then ran all of Green Gate, up to Green Gate, which I think is a really decisive point. I think if you start hiking there and you’ve still got 20 miles to go, it can be a long day. So yeah, it was just, let’s just move as well as we can. And having a bit of company really, really made the time go much quicker. I looked down at my watch, well, I basically had four different GPS files to break the race up a bit. I looked at it stupidly going up Green Gate, and it said like, you have like three hours 40 minutes to go, and that’s so demoralizing.
iRunFar: That’s very rude.
Evans: Yeah, I was like, Come on. I can be quicker than that. Yeah, I knew I was going to finish around, according to the watch, around 14:40. So we were like, Right, that’s the aim, 14:40.
iRunFar: This is what we’re doing.
Evans: This is what we’re doing. I think it’s going to be enough. And found out that we were 24 minutes or 25 minutes ahead at Pointed Rocks, and just took the foot off the gas a little bit on the descent. Just because we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. We didn’t feel like we needed to. And then just ran across No Hands, and ran the final climb, which I think I’ve run 50 times in the last couple of years.
Evans: I did a lot in 2019 before. And then got to the track and it was just wild. It was like an outdoor party. And yeah, it was just incredibly emotional. It was really nice.
iRunFar: I know you’ve been here before, but you haven’t been here yet as the champion of Western States. This Placer High School, that track, this place. This is an iconic place of ultrarunning, and coming across the line now as the champion of this race, can you share with us how that felt for you?
Evans: Just incredibly special. Actually, when I was here in 2019 was when they were re-doing and repairing the track, so we didn’t actually get to do a lap. We just went straight in.
iRunFar: Right, you had to do the short way in.
Evans: We did a short way in.
Evans: So, I’d never run around the track, getting all the support. So, yeah, to be able to do that as the first athlete to come on the track is incredibly special, and something that I won’t be forgetting. And yeah, there’s a lot of history that goes into this race. And that’s something that I love about ultrarunning. It’s not just a race. Like, there’s so much more to it. And I feel like with Western States, it’s probably the race that has the most amount of history to it. And I think it’s just incredibly special to be able to put that on my C.V. I keep finishing second in certain races, and finally. I’d happily take that all the time.
iRunFar: You are a pretty good podium finisher, though. Aren’t you, generally, good for the podium?
Evans: We’ll see. You’re only as good as your last performance. It will only take a couple of non-podiums to be there. But I think this training block was just so specific. And I think if I hadn’t raced Western States and I’d raced a different race this weekend, it would have been a different result. This training had been so, so focused towards Western States and yeah, it’s paid off and I’m just over the moon.
iRunFar: I have to ask, when you cross that line as the men’s winner, you earn this thing that’s a bib that says M1 on it. Is that something that you have allowed yourself to think about for even a moment since last night?
Evans: I haven’t. That is the first time it comes up. And yeah, you don’t get offered that bib very often and it’ll be incredibly hard to turn down.
iRunFar: We’ll see what happens.
Evans: We’ve got a long time. We’ve got 12 months.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your win of the 2023 Western States Endurance Run. And enjoy going over to that awards ceremony and getting that very special award.
Evans: Thank you very much, and look forward to seeing you soon.
Evans: 2023 men’s winner of UT… Western States. That’s how it’s going to be. That’s exactly what you’re going to say.
iRunFar: Are you going to introduce the interview?
Evans: I’ll introduce. Hey, Meghan Hicks here from iRunFar, and I am here now with Tom Evans, the winner of the 2023 Western States. So, Tom, how was it out there?
iRunFar: I won that damn race.
Evans: Sorry, we’ve mixed up roles.
iRunFar: Oh, yeah.
Evans: We’ll start again.
iRunFar: We’ll start again. [laughs] Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Tom Evans. It’s the day, I’m going to start that again. [laughs]