Western States 2011 – I’m In!

Western States 100 logoAfter much hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to take the plunge and enter the 2011 Western States Endurance Run. There were many reasons not to enter, but three things tipped the scales in favor of toeing the line rather than playing the part of a reporter next year. First, the sudden passing of a fellow ultrarunner reminded me that there’s no time like the present. Second, an expert reassured me that running Western States and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc are compatible in a season. Third, it’s the Western States 100!

As always, I’ve got a little more to say. First off, I’ll remind you why I considered abandoning my automatic 4-time loser entry. Next, I’ll expand upon how I came to decide to run the race. Then, I’ll wrap up with a few final thoughts.

Why I Considered Not Running Western States (and why that was silly)

The following reasons for not running Western States aren’t new. I wrote about them after I nabbed a last minute qualifying race at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile in October. Here they are… (followed by counterpoints in parentheses):

Bryon Powell Western States 100 2005 finish

Finishing States in 2005.

  1. In my current life, $370 is a whole heap of money. In days gone by, I wouldn’t have thought twice… but that’s changed. ($370 is still a whole heap of money, but I’ll look for support or otherwise find a way to make it happen.)
  2. Western States is crunch time at iRunFar and I don’t do well at balancing. I can imagine not wanting to slack off on coverage while I’m in Squaw Valley ahead of the race and not getting any sleep because of it. (I’ve got to learn to make room for my own running in my life.)
  3. I’m way out of shape. Yes, I just ran a 9:23 50 mile while needing to walk, but I’m along way from having a base with less than 3 months until training season. So much for aiming for Top 10. That said, if everything goes well, I can enter training season in a position to get into reasonable shape. I’d still like to hit 21 hours on the current course. (I’m healthy and running consistently. That’s a start. On the other side of the equation, Western States is no longer my focus race. I’ll train hard and aim to run well, but it’s not the big cheese. All I “need” is sub-24.”)
  4. I have no idea what my winter and spring training will look like. I’m moving to a wintry mountainous environment and might not have the option for big days in the mountains until late May. Heck, I don’t know if I’ll have any desire to run consistently through December, January, and February. (At least for the moment, I’m eager to tackle the winter on shoe, snowshoe, and Nordic ski. I’ll hit the roads and the occasional low elevation trail until April.)
  5. Closely related to the two above points, it’s almost certain that I’d be in a better position to perform well at 100 miles late next summer or early fall. I’m more certain that I could have a good base in, say, five months and I know I’m itching to run big time mountain miles once the trails melt out next summer. (I will, in fact, be focusing on racing in late August. Western States is a tune up. I’ll show up with whatever level of fitness I can muster in the next 225 days.)
  6. I’m scared. 100 miles is a long way. (Been there, done that. 100 miles will always be intimidating.)
  7. I hate the heat. I was reminded in the moderately warm conditions on Saturday that I don’t enjoy running in the heat and I realized that there are many remarkable races that are virtually assured not to have heat. (I want to race the Marathon des Sables in 2012 and balk at WS heat? Lame excuse!)

Seize the Opportunities Life Gives You
Ultrarunner and coach Mike Broderick recently passed away. For many years, Mike and I were both active members in the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. I didn’t know Mike particularly well, but he was a nice guy and who was loved by those whom he coached. (Tribute 1 & Tribute 2) Like me, Mike was a former attorney who gave it up to pursue his passion for running. In June, he ran Western States in 26 hours and change. Little more than three months later he noticed chest pains while running a marathon. Less than two months later Mike succumbed to lung cancer. In thinking of Mike, I realized that I’d hate to look back next fall thinking why didn’t I run Western States. You never know which race will be your last.

Bryon Powell Western States 100 2005

Cruising into Michigan Bluff in 2005. You never know when it'll be your day to go sub-20.

Advice from an Expert
I wouldn’t normally bug the President of a major outdoor company for running advice. However, this situation was different. I suppose that I can now share that I will do whatever I can to run UTMB next year and that it will be my focus race. I fell in love with the race last year and dream of going back to Chamonix, this time to run the race. That means that signing up for Western States would commit me to two 100 milers in the span of 2 months.

Few people know UTMB better than Mountain Hardwear/Montrail’s Topher Gaylord as he’s started the race 7 of its 8 years. As far as I know, he’s also more familiar with the WS/UTMB double than anyone else out there. Topher was kind enough to give me a few minutes and a lot of great advice. The two points of advice that ultimately convinced me to run WS next year were Topher sharing that if he had the opportunity to run both races, he would and that if he were running UTMB next year, he’d want to run Western States in preparation. I was sold.

It’s Western States, Stupid!
I almost forgot that it was the Western States 100 (!) that I had the chance to run. Western States was the first 100 miler. It was also my first 100 miler. When I was introduced to ultras, Western States was the race. It remains the premier US 100 miler. While it’s not the largest ultra or even the largest 100 in the US, it’s the most well attended ultra in North America. Sure, I’d see all my ultra friends if I was covering the race, but this means I’ll have a slew of people supporting my effort out on the course. Running the race also means catching up with a few additional friends and family members who’ll come out to crew and pace me.

Conclusion
Now that I’m signed up, I’m really excited by the prospect of being part of Statesmas late next June. I look forward to seeing many of you there or at the races and training runs leading up to the big dance. Ok, gotta go… only 225 days left to train!

[Two final thoughts: (1) I’m about 20 weeks behind on providing training updates. They ain’t pretty, but they’re coming. (2) Andy Jones-Wilkins, you need a new pacer next year!]

Western States 100 2004 Bryon Powell Gary Knipling

Me and Gary Knipling all tuckered out after the 2004 Western States 100.