Despite not otherwise feeling bad, I gave up mentally. I just stopped and walked for a couple hundred meters of runnable terrain and over the next 2-3k mixed in much more walking that I had been doing over the previous 15k. It’s hard know that this defeat was almost entirely mental. – Bryon Powell, WS2011, 19:24:14
Going back through some of my interview materials, I found this great review of Western States 2011 from Bryon Powell, convenor of iRunFar, author of Relentless Forward Progress and a very solid mid-back of front pack runner himself, not to mention a very knowledgeable and likeable dude. Having just finished Western States, he was already revved up for UTMB. Whether he’s just reporting or jumps in and runs this weekend, pay attention. Because it’ll be quality.
Plenty of good understanding to be gained here by most trail and all ultra runners – both in how he approaches and analyses his race in-race, and how he copes with the hard patches – especially since they’re the moments that really decide how your race is going to go.
And good luck to everyone pounding Mont Blanc this weekend. 9,400 metres of vertical gain is a lot of get-it-done.
Bryon Powell speaks about Western States and looking forward to UTMB
The biggest highlight was running a new personal best time for the 100 mile distance despite only training 65 kilometers per week this year. I’ve training significantly more for some previous races so this was a shock. I guess experience and a lack of expectations can provide huge benefits. – Bryon Powell, WS2011, 19:24:14
Bryon: Early on, the course had 15-20k of ice covered snow, much of it slide hill causing people to slide away. I live in mountains with 6 months of snow and made a last minute decision to run in heavily lugged shoes for the 30k. With this combination it felt like cheating as I easily ran past many much more talented runners in the early going. Sure, I knew many would pass me later, but it still felt to be running so well early.
During the snowy stretch, I caught three-time Western States women’s champ Nikki Kimball. I’d run with her for a couple at a race earlier in the year and had really enjoyed it. We ended up running together from around 15k to 75k when she pulled away. We sang, chatted, laughed, and generally had a splendid time. She ended up placing third after a couple years of being off her game.
I had a great stretch from 90k to 120k where I felt like I’d just put on shoes and gone out for a run. In fact, I’d paced a friend and top finisher during that 100-120k stretch the past two years and I imagined that I was pacing him rather than racing myself. That allowed me to run without any physical or mental burden.
Later in the race, I had a couple more stretches, including the final 5k, where I felt smooth and powerful. No, I wasn’t moving as fast as early in the day, but I was still moving forward at a decent clip considering all the running I’d already done. That felt good.
The biggest highlight was running a new personal best time for the 100 mile distance despite only training 65 kilometers per week this year. I’ve training significantly more for some previous races so this was a shock. I guess experience and a lack of expectations can provide huge benefits.
Personal low points?
Bryon: Ugh! I felt awful on the stiff climb up to Devil’s Thumb. I’d actually been looking forward to a nice walking break after a long stretch of running, but it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. I couldn’t get into a strong rhythm and what’s worse, I felt awful despite the easier than planned effort. I felt bad enough that I sat in chair for a couple minutes to regroup at the top and even walked down the other side of the hill a bit.
Around 125k I made a rookie mistake. I took a couple of electrolyte tablets (sodium and potassium) at the bottom of a steady climb. I made good time on the hill, but neglected to drink water during that stretch. This lead to an unfortunate bout of vomiting. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. Only a few minutes after getting sick, I actually went into one of my really good stretches. It’s as if someone had pushed a reset button on my body.
Late in the race I was making a push to break 19 hours. I was working my butt off running everything I could. After about two hours of this, I couldn’t hear an aid station that I knew from prior experience I’d hear well before arrival. At this point my hip flexors were really tired from so much running late in the race. Despite not otherwise feeling bad, I gave up mentally. I just stopped and walked for a couple hundred meters of runnable terrain and over the next 2-3k mixed in much more walking that I had been doing over the previous 15k. It’s hard know that this defeat was almost entirely mental.
Bryon, big life change – did you face any opposition from family/friends/professors?
Bryon: When I quite my job as an attorney and moved from Washington, DC to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California I was most fortunate that all my family and friends were supportive. No one knew whether or not my new personal and professional directions would be a success, but all knew it’s something I had to do. I wasn’t happy as an attorney, there just wasn’t any personal satisfaction in my job. I wasn’t enjoying my job and it was stress. With that combination, they couldn’t pay me enough money to stick around.
Two years later, switching jobs is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve just covered the Western States 100 as a journalist in addition to running it and just a week later am in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado preparing to cover America’s premier mountian ultra, the Hardrock 100. Next month, I fly to France to run and report on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Yeah, this sure beats sitting behind a desk in the sweltering heat and humidity of another Washington, DC summer.