One day last week, Camelia Mayfield, a caseworker for the Oregon Department of Human Services, drove nearly 100 miles for appointments, from Bend to Redmond, down to La Pine, and then back home to Bend.
“I was like, I’m tired!” Mayfield said. “And then I’m like, oh yeah, I’m going to try running that far.”
Mayfield, 25, is one of five Bend runners who will be running in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which begins at 5 a.m. Saturday. The trail race — from Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe across the Sierra Nevada to Auburn in Northern California’s Gold Country — is the world’s oldest 100-miler and one of the most prestigious. This year, Bend’s entrants include a previous women’s winner, a running coach who has finished in the top 10 eight times, a runner who was the first American to finish the 2018 Trail World Championships, and an urgent care physician who gained his spot in the entry lottery. The field is limited to 369 runners, many of them automatic qualifiers, while nearly 5,000 runners applied to enter the race this year. But Mayfield is the lone Bendite attempting the race for the first time.
“I have always wanted to do this race, since the time I was a child, which is really bizarre,” Mayfield said. “But I kind of grew up around ultramarathons. My dad was doing them from before the time I was born, and so I grew up tagging along to races, camping, hanging out at finish lines.”
Mayfield hoped to earn a “golden ticket” into the 2017 Western States by finishing in the top two at the 100K Bandera Endurance Run in Texas, but she finished fourth. She intended to put together a more relaxed race schedule for 2018, but when the race director of the Lake Sonoma 50 north of San Francisco offered her free entry to the race, she took it. Mayfield was the third woman to finish the April race, and when the first- and second-place runners turned down the option to enter Western States, a golden ticket to the 100-mile race became hers.
Mayfield said she has “A, B and C goals,” depending on how the day of the race goes. Her “A” goal, the best-case scenario, is to finish in 20 to 21 hours. Her “B” goal is to grab a silver buckle, awarded to those who run sub-24-hour times. The “C” goal is just to cross the finish line before the 30-hour cutoff.
“And not die, that would be great, too,” Mayfield joked.
Bend’s Stephanie Howe Violett, 34, said her main goal this year is “to be really adaptable when things go awry.” Her experiences at Western States varied greatly, from winning the race in her first attempt in 2014 to a painful slog in 2017 that forced her to take an hourlong break less than halfway through the race. Still, she regrouped and finished in 22 hours, 52 minutes, 26 seconds.
“Even though the first one was my best race, that was just as big of a finish as winning it,” Howe Violett said of her 2017 Western States effort. “It’s not like a shorter race. I think any time you finish a 100-miler is huge.”
Howe Violett said she anticipates something going wrong again this year; with 100 miles of trail, mistakes and unexpected hurdles — both literal and figurative — are unavoidable. But this time around, she intends to pull herself out of trouble faster.
“Last year, a lot of things went wrong,” Howe Violett said. “I want to avoid having to stop for a while. Keep it simple. I’ve gotten too caught up in having too many choices with nutrition or gear, so taking away some of those choices should help.”
Like Howe Violett, fellow Bend resident Ian Sharman, 37, said a “perfect” day at the Western States 100 will probably remain elusive.
“I’ve had one or two races that have gone like that, just not at Western States,” said Sharman, who has won the Leadville 100 in Colorado four times, but never finished higher than fourth at Western States. “The heat gets you a bit more. If you’re a bit undertrained, if you’re a bit overtrained, if you push too hard, if you don’t look after yourself with either eating or cooling, suddenly you spend hours paying the price.”
Sharman, who will be running Western States for the ninth consecutive year, said the finish line feels more like a relief than anything else.
“It’s just, ‘OK, I can stop the pain, I can stop the suffering now,’” Sharman described.
Sharman said miles 60 to 78 tend to be the toughest section of the race.
“For the lead men, it’s the hottest time of the day, and you’re in direct sunlight,” Sharman said, noting that runners find some relief when they ford the American River near mile 78. “You’ve just had so many hours of heat, you feel horrible, and know there’s still quite a lot left.”
The forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees at Squaw Valley on Saturday and a high of 100 at Auburn, and the temperature in the canyons along the route can climb even higher. To prepare for the heat, Sharman goes on “heat training runs” — running in the hottest conditions possible wearing up to seven layers of clothing. Mario Mendoza, another Bend runner preparing for Western States, has also picked up the training technique.
“But those heat-training runs, it’s just an hour or two,” Sharman explained. “It’s not necessarily that any given moment (of the race) is more extreme, it’s just the fact that you’ve got to do it all day long.”
Mendoza, 32, will be attempting Western States for the second time. He earned a spot in the race two years ago, then qualified for a world championship event held the week before. Instead of choosing between the two, he tried to run both on consecutive weekends.
“Honestly, that year I was going just to get some experience,” Mendoza explained. “That year, I was still hoping to keep moving. But I made it about 42 miles, I think, and I was done. Done, done.”
Since dropping out in 2018, Mendoza completed a 100-mile race at Rocky Raccoon in Texas. He finished sixth at the 85K Trail World Championships in Spain in May.
“Just in the last two years, the longer ultras have really gone a lot better for me,” Mendoza said. “Those three races I ran so far this year have gone really awesome, and so I feel like that gives you a little bit more confidence that you’re racing wiser and just understanding the difficulties.”
Mendoza said he has been taking advice from more experienced 100-milers like Howe Violett and Sharman.
“They are able to embrace the suffering that’s going to be out there, and at the same time they’re very calm and they’re very focused and not afraid of it,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said he packed his race schedule in the first half of the year as his wife is expecting their first child in September.
“My first goal is always finishing the race — it’s weird, but even if it doesn’t go well, you’re satisfied,” Mendoza explained. “My next goal is to get in the top 10. I’m not planning to race any more ultras the rest of the year, so I would love to be able to end on a note like that. And I always put a big goal out there, so I would say top three would be awesome. I believe you have to believe it’s possible for it to happen, so that would be neat.”
The final Bend entrant, Miles Lilly, said he has no thoughts of ending up on the podium, or even challenging for an agegroup title. Lilly, a 51-year-old doctor, entered and completed the race in 2013, but has not been able to get another spot in the race since until this year.
“You know that there are a lot of people who would love to have that spot, so you have to make the best of it,” Lilly said. “I think about the race that I got to do it five years ago, and there are things that I want to improve on, even though I’m five years older. Hopefully I’m a little bit wiser, more experienced.”
Lilly said he will have a full support crew to help him through the race, including his wife and 10-year-old daughter and a former colleague and her family. Lilly’s brother-in-law has agreed to run along with him as a pacer for 16 miles.
“I’m fortunate to have a lot of support — I’m going to need it,” Lilly said. “I just want to enjoy the experience, because I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to do it again. I’d love to have my daughter out there and run with me a little bit. There are a couple sections where family is allowed to run, even though she’s not old enough, technically, to be a pacer. She can join me at the finish, so that will be a lot of motivation.”
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