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Nathan/Adidas athlete Ian Torrence, 41, has been in the ultrarunning world long enough to be labeled a legend and run 183 ultramarathons (53 of which he won). And after over a decade of racing, he's still pumping out solid performances at ultra marathon events on the roads and the trails. When not running, the 41-year-old Gaithersburg, Maryland, native who today lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, is managing his Adidas running team and coaching with McMillan Running.
With the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS100) this weekend, we thought it appropriate to touch base with Torrence about the race-which he has run six times, all in under 24 hours and two with top 10 finishes-but not because he's running it this year, but because he's coaching several athletes that are. Among those athletes are three potential female winners: Maggie Nelsen, Stephanie Howe, and Emily Harrison. (We interviewed Emily last week about WS100; you can check it out here.)
Read on to find out about training for 100 milers, what the big hoopla surrounding Western States is all about and why Torrence is a coach you should pay attention to:
Training for a 100-mile race takes a great deal of time and dedication. If someone is thinking about attempting the distance, what advice would you offer to help them determine whether or not they are ready to take on the challenge?
To the ultra newbie, a sub-30 hour 100-mile finish looks easy on paper. How hard could it be to 'run' 18-minute miles, right? The first goal of an aspiring 100-mile finisher should be to accomplish a few shorter distance ultras first in order to gain perspective. Try a few 50Ks and then have some success at the 50-mile and 100K distances. Use these races to determine if you really have the stomach-literally and figuratively-to gut out the grueling 'hundo.' Test hydration, fueling, pacing, equipment, mental fortitude, and physical fitness during these races, too. I suggest you remain at these distances until you can get those things right. However, I will say this: The 100-mile distance isn't something we should be frightened of. Anyone willing and able can finish one of these suckers.
What is the draw of WS100 in particular and why is it the most famous 100 in the country?
1. It's the oldest 100-mile race in the country.
2. It has a wonderful story and background that many know well and that we can trace from its inception to today. It gets tons of press and has been incorporated in several best selling books like Born to Run and Eat and Run.
3. It's known for drawing fierce competitors [the best in the ultrarunning sport].
4. It's a true trail race that's run point-to-point over the rough and beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains and along the American River.
5. Most notably, WS100 has set the bar for all other 100-mile events in terms of race organization and superior volunteer help.
What are the top five most important pieces of advice you give athletes when preparing them for this race (WS100) over others?
Downhills. With nearly 23,000 feet of elevation loss your quads need to be tempered in training.
Heat. You can count on it being hot at Western. Expect triple digit temps in the canyons. Train in the warmest conditions possible, use a sauna intelligently, and prepare and perfect your race day cooling strategies.
Competition. The best athletes line up on race day and they will only be bringing their 'A' game. While you'll need to get ready for a hotly contested event, also remember to stick to your game plan and run your own race.
Dial in your crew and pacers. Make sure your crew and pacers know what you'll need at each aid station so that they are able to anticipate your needs in between. You can save valuable minutes-which can turn into hours by race's end-with fast pit crew precision.
Be ready for the hype. The atmosphere is ripe for distraction and adrenaline production. Be calm, cool, and collected. Remember to take care of yourself first.
What does a WS100 taper look like to you?
Very little fitness can be gained in the two weeks before race day without negatively affecting race-day performance. This two-week period is the time to maintain fitness, rest the body, and calm the mind. Volume drops slightly and short, simple, confidence-building workouts should be completed. Focus on sleep, proper nutrition, and a low stress lifestyle.
What is the pinnacle long run you have athletes do as prep for WS100?
The best option is to come and complete the three-day Western States Memorial Day Training Camp. You'll get in solid miles and see the course in doing so.
What is the pinnacle speed workout?
I don't place a great emphasis on speed work during a WS100 build-up (that can be done in early training cycles). More focus is laid into tempo-like efforts and fast finish long runs.
And, finally, how did you get involved with ultra coaching and why do you love it?
Before my coaching career began I was offering advice to many runners that helped them to improve or be a healthier athlete. I thought that if I applied this knack I might be good at it. So, I started coaching for Greg McMillan and McMillan Running (https://www.mcmillanrunning.com/) in 2009. I've enjoyed helping others achieve their goals and accomplishing things that they once believed were out of their reach. Coaching is a two-way street: I learn something new every day from mentors like Greg [McMillan] and the athletes I work with.
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