“Western States is unlike any race I have ever run before” -Cory Reese
Cory Reese, Ultramarathoner and author of books Nowhere Near First, and Into The Furnace: How a 135 mile run across Death Valley set my soul on fire has recently put a new accomplishment on his belt, quite literally. Cory finished the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in 29 hours, 55 minutes, and 44 seconds, this was 4 minutes and 16 seconds shy of the cutoff! You may remember Cory from one of his recent feats in which he ran 100 miles while on board a cruise ship, if not, you can read about that right here. When he isn’t running 100 milers on cruise ships or writing books or spending time with his family, Cory is tackling some of the most prestigious endurance races in the sport and he has sat down to discuss his experience with Western States. Enjoy.
When you first got to Western States what was it like?
Cory: Well when I first got to the race I was just so excited, it’s so iconic and the history of the race is so rich and just to be there was such an honor. Even right from the very beginning at the packet pickup and runner registration I could tell that this was a going to be a different experience. There were so many volunteers and everything ran so smoothly like clockwork, the race had around 1,700 volunteers and they are so enthusiastic, supportive, and excited and overall just very happy to be there. Before the race even got started there was this sort of.. “Electric feel” that I haven’t ever felt before.
How did the race go for you, can you take us through some key moments?
Cory: For me once the race started I felt like things were going okay, I was running the best that I could but by the time I got to the first aid station at mile 10 I was already pretty close to cutoff, I was surprised by that because overall I felt good about what I was doing. The cutoffs at Western States are pretty tight, and you have to keep a solid pace to account for all of the climbing that is in the race. Unfortunately for me, I was pretty close to cutoff for the next 90 miles of the race. I had to run harder and dig deeper than I have ever had to do before just to stay ahead of the cutoff. Throughout the entire race I kept thinking to myself “you know, this is a big deal for me to be here and I don’t want to waste this opportunity, I have to get to the finish line.” I kept pushing and stayed steady, I picked up my first pacer which was Steve Hooper, owner of Saint George Running Center and he ran 22 miles with me through the night and we were still keeping a pretty good pace but I could not seem to make up any time on the pace that I needed to be keeping to get to the finish line in time (30 hour cutoff). By the time I picked up my second pacer around mile 78 and he was looking at his Garmin the whole time and making sure that I kept moving, of course I was pretty worn out by that time but I knew I needed to stay with him because if I fell behind I would have no chance at finishing.
Towards the end of the race, how were you doing?
Cory: The thing I was most worried about I think was around mile 98, there is a really steep climb to get out of this canyon and I was really concerned that I wouldn’t have enough to get me up that canyon. It was soooo hot outside and by then it was the second day, we ended up getting to mile 99 and I just had 1 more mile to go which was through the town of Auburn to get to the finish line. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in time and I was so close to the cutoff and I saw my crew up there and they were so so encouraging and giving me the last little bit of juice to help get me there. I actually saw a friend of mine named Paul and I was surprised to see him there and he was giving me motivating words and it was just so helpful to have people like him there to remind me at that point that this was still possible, I truly wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I ended up getting to the high school track where the finish line is and made it around the track with about 4 minutes before the cutoff.
How did it feel to come across the finish line?
Cory: Well I was tired and just so thankful to have made it and to be honest it seemed so surreal. I think for me and everyone on my crew (my wife and my friends) it was really hard to fathom that I had made it before the cutoff because I had just spend the previous 90 miles wondering if this was actually going to happen, and being unsure if I could do this thing. It was that same feeling when I had someone hand me a belt buckle and tell me that I had finished in time, it was just the most unbelievable feeling and it reminded me that we are capable of doing such hard things, and you can’t ever give up because you never know what’s going to happen if you keep fighting.
What advice do you have for someone who has never run Western States before?
Cory: Firstly I would say to continue trying to qualify for the race every year so that you can apply for the lottery. Secondly I would say as far as training the three areas I focused on the most which luckily for me ended up being the most important aspects were heat, I did a lot of heat training with running during the day wearing lots of layers of clothes to really adjust to that. The second part of my training was focusing on downhill’s because there was like 22 or 23,000 feet of decent in that race and all of that decent can just destroy your legs if you don’t run it wisely. I tried to focus my training to building those muscles and really being efficient on the downhill, but of course the other side to that is I had to be ready for the uphill as there was 19,000 feet of uphill I believe during that race. My advice if you get into Western States is to soak up every bit of excitement, energy, and awesomeness that is all around that race and just enjoy every second of it because it’s a race unlike any other.
What did completing this race mean to you?
Cory: As far as my proudest race moment goes, it’s between this and finishing Badwater. They are both very different you know Badwater was just so hot with the distance (135 miles) and the heat and sleep deprivation. I really had to push and go to extremes to finish that one, but this one was a pinnacle moment because I don’t think I have ever had to dig that deep or push that hard for so long. I’ve never been that tight against the cutoff for an entire race, and to know that I was able to finish despite those challenges is something I will be able to hang onto for the rest of my life. I can keep pushing no matter how hard things get.
What is on the agenda for you in the near future?
Cory: For right now I’m not signed up for anything else so I am just going to see what falls into line over the next couple months. But the next thing I am excited about is going to Badwater in 3 weeks to crew and pace someone, I’m really eager to go back to that race and give back and serve as a crew member and hopefully see that person reach the finish line themselves.
Cory has continued to show us the meaning of perseverance and determination. “You can’t ever give up because you never know what’s going to happen if you keep fighting.” We want to offer congrats to anyone who raced in Western States and congratulate Cory on his Western States finish.