Catching up with Amy Sproston After Placing 2nd At Western States
Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
Last weekend Julbo Athlete Amy Sproston had her best race yet at the prestigious Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. It all seemed to come together for her and she stayed strong throughout the race, ending up with 2nd place. We caught up with her after a few days of rest to get her thoughts on the race.
Congrats on the podium at the WSER. You're a veteran of this race. Can you speak to your history in the event and what your time as a runner helped put together in advance of this year's run?
This was my 4th Western States, and I've also trained on the course during the Western States Training Camp held over Memorial Day weekend for several years, so I'm very familiar with the course, which I think helps. I was 8th in 2011 (19:36), 8th in 2012 (19:11), and 3rd in 2013 (19:25), so was confident I could run a time in the 19 hour range, which would most likely secure a spot in the top 10. I had also run it in a hot year (2013), so I had a plan for how to handle the heat. I think most runners go into a race that they've run before wanting to improve on their past performances, and I wanted to run faster than 19 hours. I had a good training cycle this spring, with a couple of good races at Black Canyon 100K and the Tillamook Burn 50 Mile, so was feeling fit, but also had been dealing with some minor hamstring issues, so I had not done as many workouts as I would have liked to at times. By the time the race rolled around though, I felt healthy and ready to roll.
The thought of 100 miles running is completely foreign to most folks. How do you prepare for a run like that? What kind of weekly mileage are you putting in? How do you fuel a race like that? What do you look for in terms of pacing early on to know that you're in a good place?
I am not a high mileage runner. I did have a good consistent 12-week block prior to WSER where I ended up averaging 74 miles/week for those 12 weeks. However, I never hit higher than 90 and only did that once or twice. Runners like Kaci and Devon (1st and 3rd place this year) probably average closer to 100 miles/week with a lot of weeks around 120 miles. I break down when I hit a few weeks in the 90s. I've heard people wax poetic about the benefits of 100-mile training weeks, but I didn't do any this time around. I've been running ultras for 10 years fairly consistently, and feel like I've figured out what works for me. Plus I start to hate to run if I feel like that's all I'm ever doing outside of work. As an example, both Devon and Kaci's lowest mileage week during their taper, was very close to my highest mileage training week. Everyone is different, and different things work for different people.
Fueling is one area I struggle with. I came up with a new plan for WS with the guidance of Stephanie Howe, which was basically just trying to take in a lot more calories than I normally do. I'd gotten to the point where I know I'm going to have issues, so I just avoid eating and get way behind early. This year I shot for 300 calories an hour until I couldn't do it anymore, which I knew would happen, especially with the heat. So, my plan worked for 6 hours, and then I started puking. I got sick 5 or 6 times over the course of about 60 miles, but would eat when I could.
Pacing is just something you just need to have a feel for, I guess. I don't like to start off slowly and pick people off; I prefer to start towards the front and maintain, which is sort of what I did on Saturday. By mile 10, I moved into 3rd and stayed there through Robinson Flat (mile 30), and then moved into 2nd, with a little back-and-forth, but then was in 2nd for good by Devil's Thumb (mile 48).
How do you balance life within prep for events like WSER? What does your average day look like?
I work full-time for Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian organization, and have a job that requires some international travel to interesting destinations (in 2016 I’ve been to Uganda, Kenya, Myanmar and India thus far). I end up making about 3-4 international trips a year for work, and another 3-4 international trips for running, so I'm definitely on the road a lot. When I'm home, I typically train after work. I set my alarm almost every single morning to get up and run before work, but that happens approximately 2% of the time. I love to hit snooze, snuggle in with my cats, and sleep up until I need to start work. I work remotely, so have basically a 2-minute commute from bed to desk. If I'm trying to get in 2 runs, I'll sometimes do a lunch run, but this is maybe once or twice a week (Ian Sharman, another Julbo athlete, and 6th at WSER this year lives about a half-mile from my house, and we sometimes run at lunch together). After work, I’ll run, usually 8-10 miles, or a workout, depending on what I’ve got on the schedule (although I don’t really use one, my "schedule" is in my head). I try to do at least one harder workout a week, but that doesn’t always happen, as I’ve been dealing with some hamstring issues and was trying to keep them healthy. I also have been consistently doing heavy weights twice a week, with core work, and then more core work on a daily basis. The month before WS I was sitting in a sauna for about 45 minutes a day, most days. The sauna at the rec center in Bend is HOT, and hits 200+ degrees in the hottest corner. Sauna training I find to be the most tedious part of the buildup to WSER, but I did enjoy getting to know the “regulars”—a group of old guys that seem to always be there. By the time I've run, and then been to the sauna, it's 9:30 by the time I get home, and time to eat and go to bed.
Bend, Oregon is a good homebase for someone keen to take on mountain running. What are your go-to mountains for training?
Bend is home to a number of great training spots. I love Smith Rock, and we spend a lot of time there in the winter when other trails are snowed in. Other places I run a lot are Tumalo Falls area, Horse Ridge, Tumalo Mountain, and the in-town trails at Shevlin Park and Phil's Trails.
Which Julbo model are you running with currently?
My favorite shades right now are the Julbo Breeze with the Zebra lenses. They are great for when you are transitioning from sun to shade a lot, which is something you do at WS. I also like that they are adjustable, as they stay really snug, and I also end up wearing them on my visor at times, and they stay put.