Western state of mind, part 1: Scott Patnode

Western States elevation profile

An elevation profile of the Western States course (going from right to left).

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in northern California is one of the most storied events in ultrarunning. The race, which stretches from Squaw Valley to Auburn, attracts entrants from around the world, including many of the world’s most accomplished long-distance runners. The rich history of the race is also a draw. When Gordy Ainsleigh crossed the finish line in 1974, he became the first person to run what had traditionally been a horse race, and in doing so he helped establish the concept of trail ultrarunning.

Not surprisingly, given the prestige of the race, just getting into it has become a challenge. Would-be racers must have their names drawn in a highly competitive lottery. This year, several runners from the Northeast won the opportunity to test themselves against the iconic 100.2-mile course. Over the next week, we’ll be talking to three of them, starting with Scott Patnode of Brighton, Mass., who will be taking on Western States for the first time—and who had his name drawn in the lottery on his first attempt.

How long have you been running ultras?

I’ve been running ultras since 2010. In 2009 I did my first marathon—the Boston Marathon. And then I kind of got into trail running. I was an ultracyclist. I did a lot of century cycles. And I just got into ultrarunning and liked it.

What made you decide to enter Western States?

Well, Western States is the race that everyone wants to try to tackle. I put my name into the lottery. I knew the day in December that they were doing the lottery, but I cook in Boston and it was a busy brunch day, so I didn’t even pay attention to the lottery. I ended up finding out later on that I got a number. It was pretty exciting.

Scott Patnode at the Vermont 100

Scott Patnode around mile 70 of the 2011 Vermont 100.

You ran the Vermont 100 in 2011. How did that go?

I really enjoyed the Vermont 100. I went up in 2010 as a pacer and I paced someone from California. I signed up the next year to do the race, and it was a blast. I went up with my uncle and some cousins, so it was nice to have the family support. I didn’t even wear a watch. It was cool to be surprised at my time when I finished. It was a good day. Ended up at 20:56. I was pretty happy with my time.

That’s a great time.

I was 30 years old at the time and I finished in 30th place. So I liked that.

How is your training going for Western States?

May was a huge month. I participate in the Grand Tree Race Series. I’ve done a couple of those races so far. The month of May I really hammered it. I started the month running 7 Sisters on May 5. Then the next weekend I did the Wapack and Back. That was a 50-miler. I did really well in that. I placed fifth in 11:07. Four days after that I did the Pemi loop. Then I finished off the week with the Soapstone 14-miler down in Connecticut. So that was a huge block.

The Pemi loop was a really challenging day by myself. Not as a race but just the mileage. There was still snow and ice on some of the trails. It was a beautiful sunny day. Then it turned a bit as the weather does up there. So I took out some extra layers and put them on and spent four hours in the rain and wind. It was a great day.

I also did the 50-miler at Pineland farms. That’s become a New England classic. Just getting to run the 7 Sisters, the Pemi Loop, Pineland Farms, all these New England trail systems has gotten me ready for Western States. I’m kind of in rest mode now. I’m not going to do any more long runs. I’m just going to try to stay healthy and get ready to go out to California and have a good time.

Are you doing any specific training for the Western States course, such as working on long downhills?

I’ve heard about the long, pounding downhills there. I do hill repeats. I run Summit Avenue in Brookline. It has an almost half-mile climb and descent, so up and down is almost a mile. I train there. I go to Mount Wachusett in Princeton and run there. I do weight training as well.

I wouldn’t say I’m a traditional runner where I have to log a certain number of miles and do specific runs throughout the week. I listen to my body. I run to work some days, when I’m not cycling to work. So training specifically, I would say I have been pounding the downhills and trying to train throughout New England and see what we have to offer to train for Western States.

Do you have a favorite training run?

In Callahan State Park in Framingham, Mass., the Base Circuit trail, I do an out and back; it’s about 16 miles. You can see the Boston skyline. I really like running on that trail. It’s not too far from the city.

Do you find yourself getting obsessive about Western States and studying everything you can about the course, or are you trying to avoid getting too caught up in it.

I haven’t really done that much research on the course. They have some really great maps and course descriptions. But I like going out and discovering the trail firsthand and not really worrying about the different sections of the course, just like I went up and did the Pemi loop. I researched the map a little bit but it was discovering the trail as I went. That’s the big excitement about trail running—not knowing what’s to come and hopefully being prepared. And it’s not just about being well trained in terms of running a lot of miles, but also knowing the nutritional aspect of fueling your body and what you need to get you going.

Speaking of nutrition, what do you typically do for eating and drinking during an ultra?

I really like fruit at aid stations—oranges, bananas, melons, any dried fruits. Dates are really good. I try to stay away from the sweets. Not potatoes really, either. I’ve been using Hammer Nutrition for a long time for my supplements. But there’s a company out of Maine called Stronger, Faster, Healthier, and I’ve been using their whey protein for about two months now and really like it. That’s what I’m going to stick with out there.

You’re an ambassador for Altra shoes. So I take it you’ll be wearing Altras at Western States?

I am. I used to run in inov-8s. I discovered Altras in 2012, and I really enjoy running in them. They’re zero-drop shoes, and they have a large toe box so your foot kind of spreads out. That’s kind of their signature. The biggest thing I can say about the Altra shoes is that your feet feel good after a run. My feet don’t feel tired or sore. So it’s been fun introducing people to their shoes.

How early are you planning to go out to California?

I’m going out on the Wednesday before the race. I’ll go to a couple of the different clinics. I’m going out with my father. He’s come to a couple of the races but he doesn’t know too much about ultrarunning.

He’ll be crewing for you?

Yes. And I do have a pacer, so that should be fun. He’s a local California guy who’s training for the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Do you have a plan for race day?

I just want to go out there and compete against the course, not against everybody else, and enjoy the day. Kind of conserve my energy, go through the course smartly. You want to pace yourself for the day. Not really try to get caught up in the first 30 miles and go out too fast. But I do want to go out there and race the course. I’m not going out there just to complete it. I’d love to finish in the top 100.