Western States Interview: Stephanie Howe
With Western States 100 right around the corner, who better to talk to then last year’s Women’s champion? Stephanie Howe, who recently placed second at the Way Too Cool 50k and 12th overall at the Lake Sonoma 50 (first among women), looks to keep her spot at number one upon finishing in Auburn, CA.
Here’s a look at what she had to say about her 2014 performance, and what’s to come for 2015.
What made you want to do the Western States 100 as your first 100 miler?
Stephanie: I am drawn to Western States. To me, it is more than just a 100-mile race. It is the culmination of my development as an ultra runner and to me, the most prestigious race out there. My first introduction to ultra running was watching the Unbreakable film years ago in Bend. After the film, all the locals with WS belt buckles stood up front. It was incredible. I knew I wanted to do that some day.
Fast forward about 6 months. I moved to Corvallis to finish up my course work for my dissertation. While living in Corvallis, I met Meghan Arbogast. She took me under her wing and became one of the best mentors I could ever imagine. Meghan lives for Western States. And her close friends, Craig Thornly, Scott Wolfe, and Matt Keyes—all WS enthusiasts—became my friends too. I became enchanted with the race.
That same year I had the opportunity to pace Nikki Kimball at Western States. She finished 5th and I got to see what a runner goes through, both physically and emotionally over the last 40 miles of a 100 mile race. I remember seeing how raw and exposed the runners became, and just how much grit, stubbornness and suffering it took to finish. And I wanted that. To me the ultimate challenge is attempting something you know will break down your body, mind, and spirit, and then push on to the finish. Getting to that place where you are stripped down to nothing, totally exposed, vulnerable and pushing the limits of the human spirit, is what I thrive on. That feeling and then proving to yourself that you can continue is so satisfying to me. I get chills just thinking about it.
So the combination of the people I surrounded myself with and the history behind WS is why I wanted it to be my first hundred. Honestly, there was no other option for me. That was my goal.
Although you are an elite ultra runner to begin with, did you ever foresee yourself winning your first 100, especially at one of the most competitive 100’s in the world?
Stephanie: I had no idea my first attempt at running 100 miles would be so sexy. I wanted to finish. If you would have asked me a few years ago what my ultimate goal as a runner is, I would have said to someday win Western States. Goosebumps again.
What are you looking forward to the most at this years Western States 100?
Stephanie: This year is tough to go back. Instead of being the dark horse I have a big X on my back. But, a 100-mile race has so many variables—you never know what will happen when you start the journey. This year I know my body a little more and understand what it is capable of, which helps. But there is still so much unknown! My goal is the same as last year—I want to finish. And I want to run my own race. I try not to get caught up in all the hubbub before the race, just do my thing and relax.
What is one piece of training advice you’d provide for anyone gearing up for Western States?
Stephanie: Be a sponge. Before my first 100 last year, I spent a lot of time running with some veterans and soaking up all their advice. It really helped me to just observe and listen.
Second best piece of advice: get a coach!