Ambassador Post Written By: Ethan Veneklasen
I have run 100 mile races, but I have never truly “raced” one. I thought I had, but no. What I did was something entirely different.
This past weekend, I had the distinct honor and privilege of pacing fellow Ultimate Direction athlete Vajin Armstrong of New Zealand at the Western States 100 Endurance Run. His time of 17:50 was good enough for 17th place in the deepest field ever to toe the line at this most iconic of ultramarathons.
Completing a 100 mile race is truly a grand accomplishment at any pace. Most will never race a 100 to win (far fewer still at this granddaddy of them all). We run simply to finish or satisfy time goals. I feel tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness first-hand what it means to run with the big guns and really race a 100 miler.
Vajin had been running strong all day when I joined him at the Foresthill aid station (mile 62), the first place where runners can pick up their pacers. Coming out of the aid station, Yoshikazu Haru of Japan was hot on our heels. We could hear him stalking us about 30 meters back as we came to the first hill. Vajin turned and said, “I’d like to get out of his sight.” At that point I started to understand what it meant to race a 100 miler. He turned on the jets and we hammered up the hill. Now I’m a pretty decent hill runner, but I was barely able to hang on…and he had 65 miles in his legs!!!
About 8 miles later, we passed US Trail 100K National Champion, Jorge Maravilla. It was a brief, but friendly exchange and again Vajin lit the afterburners and we were off to the races. This time he didn’t have to say anything. I knew what was coming. He simply dropped the pace to about a 7:30 mile (over steep rolling terrain) and in a couple of minutes we had put a good 100 meters on Jorge and his pacer. For three miles, they tried to catch us. Every surge was met with a counter and we managed to hold them off to the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78, where runners cross the American River (with the help of volunteers who stand in waist deep, icy water all day).
After only 16 miles, I was grateful to pass off the pacing duties to our other pacer, Chris Wehan. The pace, while stout, was generally manageable, but the bursts of effort required to catch and drop other runners and fend off challenges was intense and took a mighty toll. I was cooked!
As my running has improved, I have found that my intensity and focus have improved. While I remain friendly (and yes, for those who know me, talkative), I try to race with ferocity. I have been able to do this up to 50 miles. The 50 mile distance, however, is a race of fitness. Racing a 100 mile race, however, requires a mix of fitness and focus that is truly other-wordly. I am in awe!!!
I have focused on Vajin’s race because I was privileged enough to witness the ebb and flow of the race first hand. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of Ultimate Direction athlete, Pam Smith. With a smoking fast time of 19:01, she proved that she is a fierce competitor with few rivals. While it might not have been the repeat win (Pam was the 2013 Western States 100 champion) that she was looking for, it’s a time and placing of which we on the Ultimate Direction team are all appropriately proud! Way to get it done Pam!!!