Thursday, September 01, 2005

When Western States Is Much More Than a Race - An Interview with John Ticer

This year, 48-year-old John Ticer finished his third Western States 100 in an amazing 18:03:17, good for 6th place overall. But this victory carried much greater significance than a new PR, as evidenced by the picture of his recently-passed father pinned to his dirt- and blood-stained shirt. For he and his father are of the few who knew of the braces and body casts that this firefighter/paramedic overcame as a child to become one of the WS100’s top contenders.

(John Ticer finishes in 4:02 at the Way Too Cool 50k, 2005, photo courtesy of Sara Ticer)

I caught up with John after he recently volunteered at the Where’s Waldo 100k, and he graciously agreed to an interview.

First, congratulations on a fantastic finish at Western States. How did this compare to your previous two finishes?

In 2002, I ran States just to see if I could finish under 24 hours. I was scared to death at the start. The day before, at the medical check in, my blood pressure was 169/110 with a resting heart rate of 98. 2003 was a little better and my goal, but don’t tell him, was to see if I could better my training partner, Craig Thornley’s, time of 19:44. I ran 19:22. In 2005, I finally had the confidence to toe the line and race; that was the difference.

I understand that this was a “tribute” run to honor your father. Can you talk a little bit about him? Why did you pick this particular race?

First of all, my father was my hero and my best friend, so it would be really hard to just say a “little bit” about him. I’ll keep it short by saying that he introduced me to running, paced me at my first 50 miler in 1982 (American River), was my number one fan for the past 25 years and helped crew for me in 2002 at States. The reason I picked this race was two-fold; one because one of the last things my dad was able to say to me was, “No matter what happens, I want you to promise me you’ll run States.” The other reason I picked States was in 1958 my dad was a veterinary student at UC Davis and volunteered to do medical checks at Michigan Bluff for some crazy 100 mile horse race called the Tevis Cup. Little did he know that he would be doing a medical check on his son, 42 years later, at the same place. So you might say this race has some family history.

It sounds like the race was a family affair. Did the Ticer family help crew and give support?

My wife, Sara, has crewed and paced me from Highway 49 to the finish in all three of my Western States runs. My older brother, Jim, has been my crew chief every year and my younger brother, Joe, helped with crewing and pacing in 2002 and 2003. My sister Kathie and her husband, Jim (not the same one as her brother Jim), crewed at all three, so it does end up being a family affair which makes it all the more special.

It sounds like they are very supportive of your crazy ultrarunning hobby. How about back home in Eugene? I know Eugene is one of the track capitals of the world (Go Pre!), but is ultrarunning well-known there?

My family is very supportive. As for the Track Capital of the World.....well people that know about ultrarunning seem to be in awe of what the human body is capable of, but it really is still a relatively unknown sport, even in Eugene.

You’re a firefighter/paramedic, correct? What do those guys think of ultrarunning?

Yes, I do work as a firefighter/paramedic for the City of Eugene and the boys think I am whacked. They call me “Ethiopia Man.” (Of course, most of them are extra fluffy.) But, I am the first one they turn to if we have a high rise fire and we need to get hoses and equipment to the 18th floor via the stairwell. I also seem to get shoved through lots of small windows when we’re trying to make entry into a locked building. Secretly, I think they like me.

Do you train with a running club, or have a group of other ultrarunners you train with?

I train with an awesome group of ultrarunners. My wife, Sara, Craig Thornley, Kelly Woodke, Jeff Riley and Ed Wilson make up the core group and they are all invaluable.

Did you grow up in Eugene?

I am not sure I’ve attained the status of a grown up, but no, I was not raised in Eugene. My family moved all over the United States. I was born in San Luis Obispo, CA, and moved to Davis when I was about three so my Dad could go to Veteranarian school. Then it was on to Newhall (in So. Cal.), then Fort Collins, CO, where my Dad was getting his Masters in Nuclear Medicine. Then off to Columbia, MO, for his PhD, and back to the bay area, Berkeley, CA, where I went to High School, then off to Gainsville, FL, where my Dad was the Dean of the Vet teaching hospital. Florida didn't work for me so I moved back to the Bay Area, and eventually went to Humboldt State in Arcata, CA. I`ve been in Eugene since 1988, I am happy to no longer be moving.

I had heard that at one point in your early life, there was some doubt you would be doing sports of any sort. Can you tell us about that?

The short version is I was born with deformed legs. The first year of my life I wore full length leg casts that were changed once a week to progressively straighten them. From years 1-5, I was fitted with orthopedic leg braces. At 6 years old I learned how to walk on my own and I liked it.

At what point did you find a passion for running? How about ultrarunning?

I started running in high school to keep up with my dad, but at that point my passion was gymnastics. I kept at running and I started to progress through the distances, mainly due to bets with my karate instructor, and that got me to my first 50 miler. I won my second 50 miler by default. The weather was so foul that the entire field, except me, dropped out. Well, that did it. I was hooked.

What are some of your favorite races besides the Western States? Or do you train specifically for that one race?

When I am in Western States I tend to take the Lance Armstrong approach and use all my other races for tune ups. I do like to run some of our local Oregon Series races as well as Way Too Cool 50K, American River 50 Mile, and Miwok 100K. I usually finish the year with McKenzie 50K in September.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? Do you mix in other sports?

My typical training week includes my long run, which is usually 50 plus miles when I am training for Western States, a tempo or track workout, and lots of hill and canyon work all totaling about 110 miles a week. My cross training in the past has been working on my parents’ farm and weights.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

I tend towards whole foods during a race, usually almond butter and jam sandwiches, GU, GU2O, and organic food bars come into play towards the end.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first Western States? How about their first ultra?

I see a lot of people entering ultras ill prepared.....hello! If you are going to run longer than you ever have in your life, then TRAIN longer and harder than you ever have in your life. One more piece of advice, start out by only running one or two ultras a year. It takes time for the body to adapt to the increase in miles, both training and racing, and no whining, please! By the way, I am not a very good coach. I suffer from a sympathy deficit disorder.

What is it about ultrarunning that motivates you to put in the miles?

It’s pure. There’s nothing like it.

What’s next on the race/run agenda?

My next race will be McKenzie River 50K. Then I’ll rest up and start my build up for Western States 2006. I can hardly wait!

Good luck at the McKenzie 50k, and thanks for a great interview!

- SD


  1. Check out this article where Paul Huddle compares the Western States 100 with the Ironman Hawaii triathlon. Looks like Western States is by far the hardest.

  2. Where do you find these guys? Great stories, great performances. I'm surprised I haven't read about Ticer before.

    - Emma

  3. Where do I find them? On the top 10 finishers list for Western States! ;oP

    Kidding aside, I was pointed to John by other trail runners who said he would be a great addition to the "cool trail running people" list.


  4. Man! That guy is ripped.

  5. 48 years old...and he beat Karnazes, the ultramarathon man!

  6. Hi SD,
    Great blog there. Cool interview too. I havent ever tried ultrarunning but yes, did cross country for my school n college.

    And yeah, Pre is one of my heroes. :) In fact, have given a link to one of his pages on my blog.

    Do keep posting such stuff. Thanks!

  7. Scott,

    been following your blog for a few's the best on trail running out there! Great photos/stories/links which motivate me to go out and run those extra miles!

    Keep it up - Mick from the UK

  8. wow i dunno how you can have that kind of endurance.... my longest race was a 5k

  9. Hey Scott, awesome blog.

    You should post a little about your training or what you do in the gym to give us an idea how you train. Great job again.

  10. Too much for me, I can run a few Km but thats about it!


  11. hmmm..oh ok well anyway I'm back so you can all rejoice!!

  12. I'm a huge John Ticer fan. I'm glad to see him getting some kudos.


  13. John just won the McKenzie River 50k in a new course record {3:42:50, new record by 36 seconds}. His wife, Sara, took 13 minutes off the womens 50 year old age group record (5:11:01) was a good day for the Ticers! .

    Run strong!


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