Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Allure of Western States - Too Much Information?

What is it about the Western States 100 Endurance Run that gives it such allure? That draws ultrarunners to its hot canyons like moth to flame? Is it the rich history of the event? The “family” of runners and volunteers who come back year after year? The popularity that fills the event, breeding only more popularity? Certainly all of these contribute. But as a first time States runner, I think I have found another culprit. There is TOO MUCH information about this race.

Most ultramarathons give you the basics - a course description, map, and some previous finish times. But do some research on Western States and you are quickly drowning in information. You’ve got DVD’s, Google fly-overs, videos, dozens of personal race reports, training guides, podcasts, split times, training clinics, and even a fancy new video splash page. Whoa! Once you get through it all, it's hard not to fall in love with the event.

I often find myself having the explain my passion for States to other endurance athletes that aren't familiar with ultras. The conversation typically goes like this:

Athlete: Is Western States the hardest 100-miler?

Me: Well, no. That would probably be Hardrock or Badwater.

Athlete: Oh. Is it like Ironman Hawaii where all the best athletes compete for a world championship?

Me: There are certainly lots of top athletes, except many great runners still can't get in due the lottery.

Athlete: I see. So why is this the best 100-miler again?

I typically will explain that States is "our Boston marathon, our Wimbeldon, a race with deep history that makes it one we all want to do". Then I point them to the multitude of resources and let them get sucked in all by themselves. I know they will find all the elements of a great story - history, challenges, heroes - in whatever media speaks to them.

Greg Soderlund and the Western States volunteers are to be commended for assembling all the great information about the race. It certainly makes it easier to train. But I will say that it also makes the race much more intimidating for first-timers. I will often start by searching for specific information about a section of the course, and then walk away from my computer as a panic attack kicks in. This can happen in training too, when a running pal will say "you better do 54 minutes between Foresthill and the river crossing, or you'll never crack 24 hours". Wha? Do I need to track each split to the minute (panic, panic)?!? Probably not, but when there is too much information, you can certainly head down that path.

I am excited as ever for Western States. I hate to say it, but having it delayed another year probably just boosted the allure for me. I am training hard and hoping to make the most of the day. Thanks to all the information, I should arrived trained, ready, and not too scared about what lies ahead.

This post is another synchroblog, so be sure to check out the others writing about what they love the most about Western States:

Bryon Powell Loves It All
Craig Thornley Talks About the Western States Family
AJ Wilkins Loves The "It" of the Race
Sean Meissner Shares His Memories

- SD


  1. good post- I had been looking at WS page- then went to yours- and look what you wrote on! Going to the Sat. training run? See you there, hopefully :>

  2. I hadn't see the Google fly over before. That definitely incents a panicc attack!!! I'm sure you will do great. John R.

  3. LOVE that description of your conversation about States. I've had that conversation a thousand times.


  4. Scott, not to confuse you more, but 54 minutes on Cal St is a bit quick. Did AJW tell you that? Maybe something like 3:00 or 3:15 would be more appropriate. It might behoove you to listen to Twiet's advice and leave the watch at home for the first one.

  5. I'm confident that Scott can run Cal St in 54 minutes. He's a stud.

  6. I'm nervous about this year's WS and I'm not even running in it. It does build a lot of pressure on the runner. All that training and having to do well on that ONE day because you never know when you'll get back in again.

  7. i haven't even run my first ultra (planning a 50k in a few weeks and my first 50 miler later this year) but your post makes me want to run Western States :)

    maybe in a few years ...

  8. Nice...there is so much that makes WS special. From a local runners view it is just as exciting supporting runners each year at the event(having a chance to crew, work an aid station, pace a runner etc..) it is always a highlight of my year. Good Luck in 09..

  9. I'd say the best comparison is that WS is the Rose Bowl of ultras.

  10. I admit I will eventually try to get in it. All of the hype has turned me off to it though. It seems like the bandwagon 100 to run. I qualified for Boston a long time ago and because of the hype I have had zero desire to run it. When I do run Western States it better be one hell of a ride. My guess is that it will be a little bit of a let down after all the talk. Hopefully I am wrong when that happens.

    Until then I will do races that I know I can just sign up for and run without having to "fast and pray" for months to try to help my chances of getting in.

  11. Someone just call you Dean? Anyway I've only done it once but I love how there so many people involved in the race who is NOT running. So many volunteers, spectators, crews and pacers. Also lots of knowledgeable blister repair people along the way as I found out the hard way.

  12. yes scott, i think 54 minutes might be a little speedy on cal street. go ahead and try to match hot newman running it in 2:39... well, maybe not, he did have that compound fracture of is little finger on his way to M6. oh well, you will love jamming down cal street in the daylight hours.

  13. Hell, learning about the WS is what got me into doing Ultras.

  14. Scot:

    You will ROCK at WS 09 !. I too will be there as a first timer. I was disappointed when last years race was cancelled ( a firefighter who couldn't run WS because of a wildfrire - how ironic.) I learned to view it as more time to mature and train for this great adventure. I will see you at the finish, however, you will be many hours ahead of me. See you at WTC, AR50, Miwok and the WS training runs. . . Mt D. too !

    All my best . . .
    Todd A.
    Alamo, Ca.


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