Western States Stories with 2019 4th Place Finisher Matt Daniels

Statesmas continues!! This weekend we all would have been watching the 47th edition of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious trail ultramarathons. Unfortunately race organizers had to postpone the race until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Western States race runs along the Western States trail which is recognized as one of the most historic and challenging routes in trail running. It follows a 100.2-mile point-to-point path through wilderness, high alpine ridges, deep canyons and a swift water river crossing en-route to a night-time finish on an illuminated all-weather track at Placer High School in Auburn.

To pay homage to this historic trail running race, I’ve written a four-part article series covering each quarter of the Western States course. On Tuesday I wrote about 2009 champion Antia Ortiz’s experiences during the first 25 miles of her race. Yesterday’s edition featured 2016 champion, Kaci Lickteig, and her experiences from miles 25 to 50.

Matt Daniels 2019 Western States

First-time 100 mile racer Matt Daniels before the 2019 Western States.

In this article, I speak with Nike Trail pro and 2016 World Mountain Running Championship team gold medalist Matt Daniels who talks about the third quarter of Western States. Stay tuned tomorrow for my interview with Brittany Peterson who talks about the final 25 miles of the race. Right now, let’s pick up Matt’s story from mile 50.

[TAYTE POLLMANN] What did you like about this section of the course and what were the challenges?
[MATT DANIELS] The highlight of this section of the course is running into the small mountain town of Foresthill (mile 62). The crowds are incredible and lift your spirits after spending hours relentlessly climbing and descending through hot dusty canyons.

[TAYTE] What are your memories from the aid stations, spectators, your crew and did you have any complications?
[MATT] I was in good spirits leaving Michigan Bluff aid station (Google Street-view above) at mile 55.7. It was great knowing I’d get to experience for the first time what it was like to run through the crowds at Foresthill in just a few short miles. I took my time at Foresthill because I’d never run more than 60 miles and I was about to cross into unknown territory. The entire descent from Foresthill to the American River Crossing (mile 78), was the lowest point for me during all of Western States.

I jammed my foot on a rock, shredding my big toenail a couple miles out of Foresthill. As I was over on the side of the trail ripping off the remainder of my toenail, Tom Evans passed me. This moved me from 3rd to 4th. It was devastating knowing that I gave up a podium position. I wish I could say I fought hard to reel him back in but at this point in the race I was just in survival mode. Miles 64 to 78 were not so much about racing as trying not to quit.

[TAYTE] Overall, how did you feel from miles 50 to 75 and is this how you thought you’d feel beforehand?
[MATT] During the Western States training camp I covered this section of the course more than any other section. I was convinced this was going to be where I shined. It was fun, flowy, runnable, downhill running. I had no idea it was going to be the hardest two and a half hours of running I’d ever done!

[TAYTE] Did you do anything special to prepare for this section of the course and if so, what did you do and did it help?
[MATT] I’d spent plenty of time training on terrain just like this in my hometown of Boulder, CO. I was physically prepared and certain I would rock it. The thing about ultrarunning is that there are no certainties. My legs were fine and I was still clicking off miles in the low 6 to 7 minutes per mile range, but I wasn’t consuming enough calories.

Matt Daniels Loon Mountain Race

Matt Daniels stormed onto the trail racing scene finishing 3rd against a stacked field at the 2016 Loon Mountain Race.

[TAYTE] Where did you stand in the rankings during this section of the course? Is this where you thought you’d be? What was your experience of the competition? How did the competition affect your race strategy? Did you have to make adjustments because of other competitors during this section?
[MATT] I was in 3rd place during the first 13 miles of this section before Tom Evans passed me at mile 63. I remained in 4th for the rest of the race. I went into the race with the mindset that I wasn’t going to worry about what position I was in during any point of the race. I was running this race as my first 100 miler and to have an experience of a lifetime.

However, being a professional athlete changes the race experience. I knew I would receive bonus money from my sponsors if I could finish on the podium At Western States. Seeing dollar signs pass you by as you move from podium position into fourth place is demoralizing. Racing is not about the money, but prize incentives always change the racing experience.

I had to make a mental shift to stick with it and not quit. I did my best to hold off the runners charging behind me. I held onto the belief, “Hey, it’s ultrarunning and anything could happen. I might catch Tom before it’s all over.”

[TAYTE] What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone racing from miles 50 to 75 of Western States?
[MATT] Be ready to dig deep. On paper it might appear to be the easiest and fastest part of the course, but it can eat you alive if you’re not fueled and ready to run!

Are you ready for a deep dive into the Western States trail? See our Western States Trekker page with Google Street-view shortcuts to sections of the course like the trail along the American River where rafters can often be seen in June (Google Street-view below).

Read iRunFar’s interview with Western States Trekker expedition leader Richard Bolt and the Trekker team’s Day 5 recap of their journey from Foresthill to the American River aid stations with legendary ultrarunner Ann Trason.

Shortcuts to course information on the Western States 100 mile website:

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.

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