For the Grit and the Glory

Western 100: Leila DeGrave

What was your training schedule leading up to the race?

The last 8 weeks leading up to WS100 consisted of a 50mi race (Collegiate Peaks 50 in Buena Vista, CO) a back-to-back weekend where I did a 35mi followed by a 25mi, several other long runs, and lots of vertical gain and loss. I’ve been living in Leadville CO for the past 2 months at 10,300 ft. While I’m not normally a huge mileage runner anyway, I had been finding that since I moved up here anything north of even 70mi/week was leaving me pretty fatigued, so I was a bit concerned going into WS that I didn’t have the base of big miles to do well at the 100mi distance. I knew my cardiovascular fitness was there, but would my lack of volume prevent me from hanging on in the late stages of the race…this was the big pre-race question mark for me. In a sense though, this took a bit of the pressure off since I wasn’t going into the race feeling totally 100% prepared. I did, however, do lots of long/steep descents off the local 14ers in order to get my quads ready for the 22,000ft of total loss on the course. I also added in some cross-training on my single-speed mountain bike – even biking slightly uphill without gears up here is a tough workout!

What was the most challenging part of the course?

Physically and mentally, the most challenging part of the course was managing the heat. It was the 2nd hottest Western States in the 40 year history of the race, and the 100+ temps during the middle of the day were pretty uncomfortable made everything feel sluggish and slow-going. But I guess I must have managed all right through the heat since I made pretty steady progress through the canyons and passed a number of runners in this section.

What was your plan for pacing going into the race?

I rarely look at my watch or pay attention to pace, it’s definitely more of a run-by-feel sort of thing. I find that if I keep it conservative, not necessarily 100% effortless but still easy – in the opening few hours of a hundred miler, then I’ll eventually find the right groove later on and fall into a sustainable, more solid pace.

What was your pre-race meal (the night before and that morning)?

I’m a pretty laid-back runner in general – except for when it comes to pre-race eating! I keep it very strict and only eat rice, eggs, and avocado the night before and the morning of a race. My actual race nutrition is extremely simple too – just energy gels (almost any brand/flavor will do), lots of Hammer Perpetuem (good fats & protein in this mix) and electrolytes. That’s it, no real food. Sometimes I hesitate to depend wholly on manufactured food, but I never get stomach or digestion issues so I hate to mess with a system that works!

What was your footwear plan for the race?

Yet again, my inov-8′s performed extremely well and kept my feet happy. I wore X-Talon 190s from the start through the river crossing at mile 78, and then switched to a dry pair of F-Lite 195s. Especially in the extreme heat this year, I think it was a huge advantage to wear very light, breathable, slipper-like shoes…my feet didn’t have the swelling and blistering issues that I know some other runners experienced wearing stiffer, heavier footwear.

Do you have any particular mental strategies that you use?

Even when things are working pretty well physically, no 100miler is an easy mental task. I’m still fairly new to the distance, but I’ve learned so much in each one…1. Don’t be afraid that the pain will keep getting worse – there are cycles, and the worst low will almost always be followed by the next high. 2. Find a way to quiet your inner monologue of  “There’s so many miles left, I’m so tired of running, this really just isn’t fun anymore,” that sort of thing. When you can find a way to stop thinking – then all you’re left with is being, existing, moving. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable, sometimes it feels great, but it becomes less of struggle and more of a simple expression of moving forward through a landscape. 3. Put actual thought into managing the nutrition, hydration, and logistical aspects of the day, but other than that, sit back and enjoy and ride! Trust your body to handle the rest. It’s an amazing experience to get to do what we do out there!

Thanks to inov-8 for their support and for creating footwear that allows me to enjoy so many incredible adventures.

Congratulations Leila – fantastic result!

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