RACING FOR A GOLDEN TICKET
It started out as a horse race: back in 1955, Wendell Robie rode from the Tahoe City post office to Auburn, just to prove that a horse could cover 100 miles in a day. In the 1970s, a few eccentric runners decided to test themselves against the horses, and the world’s first 100-mile trail race got its start.
Today, thousands of runners vie for a spot in the Western States Endurance Run—and even for accomplished athletes, the odds of making it to the starting line are slim. To enter the race lottery, runners need to have completed a 50- or 100-mile race in the past year (and remember, these are races so tough that only half of the competitors make it to the finish line). Even then, they only have a 10% chance of winning a spot at the start.
That is, unless they’re one of the lucky few to earn a golden ticket. Each year, the race directors pick six qualifying races whose top two male and female finishers get automatic invitations to Western States. There’s just one catch: once runners get their ticket, they might have as little as 8 weeks to train for the big event.
This year, CamelBak athlete YiOu Wang got her golden ticket at the Lake Sonoma 50-miler. It was her first time finishing a 50-mile race, and she had two months left to train for her first 100-miler. We talked to her about the (literal) run-up to Western States.
TRAINING FOR A HUNDRED-MILER
You started out as a road runner in Boston. How did you transition to trails and ultras?
My husband grew up in Marin County and after we moved here he took me running on a lot of his favorite trails. We started with running the Double Dipsea, a 14-mile out and back run to Stinson Beach with 4,000 ft. of climbing! I totally bonked, my quads stopped working and I walked the last 4 miles. Despite my suffering I was completely hooked on the views, gorgeous trails and peacefulness of the forest…. I continued pursuing my road racing goals and ran my marathon PR of 2:38 in 2011. Throughout my training my favorite aspect was always the long runs and it seemed a natural progression to transition to ultra trail running.
Lake Sonoma was your first 50-miler, and now you’ve got just a few weeks to finish training for 100 miles. Do you have any goals going into Western States in terms of your time or performance?
Actually Lake Sonoma was the first 50-miler I finished, I have 2 DNF's from previous attempts at the 50-mile distance. My goal going into Western States is to be as prepared as possible for the journey and my main goal is to finish. There are numerous unknowns with doubling the farthest distance I've ever run and I have to give that the utmost respect… I want to feel afterwards that I did a good job of tackling the challenge, solving problems and giving myself a chance to perform at my best.
Could you tell us a little bit about who’s going to be crewing for you at Western States, and how they’ll be helping you along the course?
My crew will consist of Emily Peterson, Andrew Lie, Cheri Nielsen, Kim and Topher Gaylord and my husband Sean.
Having a lot of crew members means they can hit all of the crew-accessible aid stations and bring me specific food or items I want. I think that will be huge for me given it's my first time at the 100-mile distance and I have no idea what will happen or what I will need along the way. Emily, Andrew and Topher are also available to pace starting at Forresthill (mile 62). They'll be providing company and helping to push me towards the finish.
While tons of women participate in road races, ultra running is still a pretty male-dominated sport. Why do you think that is, and do you think the running community could be doing more to get women on the trails?
I think ultra running demands a larger time commitment than participation in road races. Carving out 4 to 5 hours for a training run on the weekend is very difficult for people with families, and I think women feel more pressure to be there for their families than men. The old school of thought for ultra training has been to spend lots of time out on the trails by yourself, preferably in the middle of nowhere.
I'm part of San Francisco Running Company's BayBirds women's racing team and I've met a lot of women who are getting into ultra running because they have a community. I think that as more people discover you can be successful at ultra running without the need to spend your entire day out on the trails, more women will participate. Everyone I've met in the ultra community has been incredibly supportive of women runners.
Even in the best conditions, ultrarunning involves some pretty extreme suffering. What do you do to get through the dark parts?
In my most painful or difficult moments during a training run or race I start talking to myself in third person with encouraging statements such as "YiOu keep running!" I also start imagining the reward or end result if I continue to run. Often times it's dreaming of all the delicious food I can eat as long I cross that finish line.
How do you stay fueled during a race? Any tried-and-true methods you’ll be turning to?
I'll be eating many Gu gels during the race and chasing them with water and salt tabs. I lose a lot of salt through my sweat, so I’ll program my watch to beep every 30 minutes to remind me to take fuel, salt and water. I also plan on eating some solid foods throughout the day, depending on how I'm feeling. At aid stations I usually gravitate towards particular items like melon or potato chips. My crew will also bring hard boiled eggs and potatoes that I'll try to down.
How do you like to celebrate after a race? Do you have any plans for what you’ll do after Western States?
I like to celebrate after a race by getting together with friends and having a giant meal. It's really fun to go over the events of the day and share how your race went and hear about other runners' experiences. I am going to Mammoth Lakes the weekend after Western States with a group of friends. While they run the trails I'll be sleeping in, going on gentle walks, avoiding bears and eating everything in sight.
Story by Kate Worteck, CamelBak