Lon Freeman nabbed the final spot for Western States 100 this year by taking 2nd at the Ice Age 50 miler last month. It will be his return after a disappointing first run of WS in 2007. Lon earned entry into the 2007 race by taking down Carl Anderson's course record at Miwok with a 8:09 finish. That performance pushed Lon to the center of the radar for a top placing at Western States. Unfortunately, WS didn't match up to some predictions. Though he's going into the race low key this year, he has the ability and fitness to be with the contenders.
Lon was nice enough to take the time for an interview. Hope you enjoy it!
|Lon at Ice Age 50, May 2011|
FF: First off, tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? Family?
LF: I grew up in different parts of southern New Mexico, played football and ran track in high school (it took forever to lose the upper and lower body of a linebacker), played football the first semester in college, and then slowly migrated away from team sports. I got into distance running while browsing in a used bookstore in the summer of 1995. I was confronted by the cover of Runner’s World advertising the 100th Boston Marathon. Having no idea what that meant, but thinking what a cool thing it would be to do, I bought a used book about running and started training for a Boston qualifier. I got into Boston, was bitten by the endurance bug, and things sort of snowballed from there.
Justine (my super awesome wife) and I live in Kensington, California, which is just north of Berkeley. We love Kensington because it is so close to many of the East Bay Regional Parks and the Marin headlands – we have all sorts of trails to explore.
FF: To say you dabbled in triathlons for a while is an understatement. Tell us a bit about your experiences with that sport (especially the grueling Ultraman - 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike, 52.4 mile run) and how that led to ultrarunning for you.
LF: From the 100th Boston in 1996 through late 2003, I was all triathlon, all the time. I made every rookie mistake, but that’s what made it fun and interesting. Getting a coach and getting involved with the Davis Mad Cow Triathlon team helped me improve by leaps and bounds. Through putting in long solo bike rides and swims, I developed mental strategies for dealing with long distance events of any kind.
As for Ultraman…while walking around the expo in Boston in 1996, I picked up two free issues of Triathlete Magazine. Ultraman was described in one of them, and the idea was always on the back burner. Again, one of those challenges I had no idea how to tackle, but it sounded spectacular. After getting into ultrarunning in early 2004, I finally had the comfort level with running 52 miles and I signed up for Ultraman that fall.
The event was anything BUT grueling! The course circumnavigates the Big Island of Hawaii, and the atmosphere of the race is so low key that you can’t help but enjoy the entire experience. I mean, come on, swimming in the clear blue Pacific for a few hours seeing all kinds of incredible species of fish? That’s really just a long bout of snorkeling. :) Cycling up and around Volcanoes National Park and then the eastern side of the island lets you take your time to see all aspects of the vegetation and land formations, and the sweeping views on the run course are hard to beat.
In fact, one of the best parts of the entire three days was getting to the first marathon split during the run and hearing the race official say “3 hrs”. The guy I was running next to said, “three what?” “Three hours, flat.” “%&#^%#&!!” It was hilarious and fun because it was completely uncharted territory for both of us.
But, you asked how triathlon led to ultrarunning, and Brad Kearns is partially to blame for that. He was the race director for the World’s Toughest Half (half-iron distance triathlon) in May, 2003. The run course started at the Overlook in Auburn and used the WS trail down to No Hands Bridge and up to Cool and then looped back around to the Overlook on other trails. I will never forget running up to Cool and seeing the mile markers on the Western States trail. The idea of someone going 100 miles on foot was totally foreign to me, but the intensity of that experience opened my eyes to trail running in general and to ultra-distance trail running in particular.
You can see a pattern here of “I have no idea what this challenge involves, but it sure as hell sounds like fun!” The following year (2004) I was a crew/pacer at Western States and finished 4th at Angeles Crest (10 weeks before Ultraman). By 2005, I was in the lottery for Western States.
|Pre-Western States 100, 2007|
FF: What's the biggest differences, good and bad, between your involvement in the two sports? What do you miss or like better about each?
LF: Triathlon: I miss swimming, especially on a 90+ degree day on the trail when I’m dehydrated! All I can think of is jumping in the pool and cooling off! I don’t miss the long, LOOOONG bike rides and all the traffic involved. I’ve read and heard about way too many accidents in cycling.
Ultras: There are no crazy drivers honking at you on the trail! I love covering so much ground on foot in remote areas. I also really enjoy the camaraderie of trail running and ultras, it’s much more laid back and less crowded than some of the bigger triathlons.
FF: Your name was a recognized one before the 2007 Miwok 100k but after dropping a solid Carl Anderson course record to 8:09 there, you became a valid contender in most people's minds for the big races. Did it push your confidence to another level? What was your mindset after that performance with Western States only seven weeks away?
LF: Miwok was definitely a breakthrough race for me, but a breakthrough 100k race. I put so much specific effort and focus into running the best possible Miwok, without thinking beyond that race. My mindset afterward was “Holy crap, I’m still gonna be fried seven short weeks from now!”
FF: I read your great race report from your 2007 Western States DNF. What was your recovery/training/tapering like in the seven weeks between your super run at Miwok and WS?
Two weeks off with no running, just easy cycling, two weeks getting back into a training rhythm with very low mileage (30-40 mpw), then a 50 mile training run on the Western States course followed by two taper weeks. The 50 mile effort may not have been the best move, but there was really no other option for getting in Western States specific training. From seeing what Anton did last year (winning Miwok and having a very fast WS), there’s no question that a better approach would have included significantly more miles pre-Miwok in March and April so the seven weeks in between could be used for recovery and maintenance instead of trying to build the endurance to go another 40 miles at race pace.
However, my mileage, running style, and nutrition were all geared specifically for Miwok. Consequently, I was trained for a great 100K, which is what I ran…and shortly after Foresthill, SPLAT. :)
FF: What did you learn from your WS experience?
LF: I learned I race best when I’m aiming for a specific course and event rather than trying to fit in too many races in short window, even though it’s really tempting with all the great races out there! Everyone is different, but I’ve learned my body responds best to a single focus in training. For better or worse, I like to pick one event, give it everything I’ve got, and then move on to the next one a few months later, not a few weeks later. Having said that, the philosophy sort of goes out the window when I get an opportunity to race Western States.
FF: You took 2nd at the Ice Age 50 miler last month. I was fortunate enough to witness your race personally and you looked solid and in control all day. How did that race play out for you?
LF: I’ve read about Ice Age several times. This was the 30th anniversary and I really enjoyed racing in a different part of the country. Everything about it - the course, race organization, volunteers - was phenomenal! I’m really glad Justine and I went, and I’d love to do it again. The Ice Age single track was gorgeous! Parts of it reminded me of the awesome White River single track, but without the long ascents and descents at altitude.
The race started WAY too fast. Shaun Pope and Zach Gingerich took off like it was a 10K cross country race! It was well out of my comfort zone, but I also didn’t know what to expect from the course. All the little rollers were so different from any 50 mile course I’ve done, and I wasn’t sure how fast or slow would end up being appropriate. I think the three of us would have gone much faster overall if we’d held back in the first 10 miles.
It was like a spaceship being launched, I used up all my booster rockets getting through the first 20 miles. I dialed back my effort level around mile 25 and hoped things would improve. The 50 mile course is a single loop followed by two different out-and-backs on the Ice Age Trail. The topography of the second out and back was much more similar to California trails and once I hit something familiar, I got a second wind and bounced back.
FF: How is your recovery from it? How are you feeling entering the three weeks leading up to Western States?
LF: The recovery went well, and a few minor aches and pains have cleared up. However, given what I described about the 2007 seven-week window, I know I’m not in 100 mile race shape. At this point, I’m just happy to have a ticket to the party!
FF: 100 mile performances need the foundation of mental preparation both leading up to them and during. How are you mentally in your approach to WS this year?
I’ve been mentally prepared for WS since 2004, but I’ve never been completely physically ready, with the exception of 2008. I was crushed when the smoke filled the canyons that year. For this year’s event, like I said, I’m happy to be there and I’ll enjoy the slip and slide the first 30-40 miles and then take it from there.
FF: You had a fairly substantial crew and set of pacers at WS in 2007. What is your set up in that regard this year? Are you using a pacer (I'm free that weekend…;-).
LF: I really wanted to share the 2007 experience with several friends I’d trained with, and I’m glad I did. Since then, I’ve realized I’m more focused during a race if I run without a pacer. Justine has refined crewing to an art form, and we have our system dialed in.
One notable difference for this year is not asking her to go to the River crossing or Green Gate. It’s a long trek down, and it’s not worth the stress involved in getting out there. The race has some of the best aid stations around, and it makes more sense to use them instead of putting more pressure on the crew to hurry up and wait, again.
FF: What are your plans for the rest of 2011, both personally and in running?
LF: I’m planning to move back to some shorter faster stuff later this summer and take things from there. Justine’s been doing a lot of half marathons (road and trail), and that’s an appealing option since she’s done and home from a race before noon (on the same day)!
Thanks so much for your time Lon and have a great race to Auburn!