Western States Training Analysis

Summary (longer version below):

I decided to geek out a little and looked at the training leading up to the western states 100 mile run for some of the fast runners. I made some charts, and looked to see if I noticed anything.

When I looked at runners times from 2016 and 2015, I found that most got slower in 2016 (probably due to weather) but I found two runners who got faster: Chris and Kaci. When I compared their training in the 17 weeks before both year’s races, I noticed they ran more mileage and hours in 2016, and their average training speed was significantly faster. I also noticed there was much less variability in their miles and hours during 2016, so more consistent in the time they were putting in from week to week.

Next, when I looked at 8 different runners from 2016, I noticed the following:

  • 5 of them had this mysterious week 7 where time and elevation gain during the week dropped.
  • Everyone did their peak training somewhere between 3-9 weeks before race, but I was surprised it wasn’t at a more consistent place.

  • The taper was between 2-4 weeks long, usually around 3 weeks

  • Elevation gain seemed to change the most from week to week throughout their training.

These are just things I noticed. They could be the best way to train, or their could be other reasons behind it, or they could just be coincidence. There is a lot more we would need to know before making any sort of conclusions.

Would love to hear your thoughts/comments on the youtube video

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Longer Version:

Ever since I started following successful trail runners on Strava, I have been interested in doing an analysis of their training leading up to a race. After the Western States 100 this year, realizing I already followed a  number of the top 10 runners, I thought this might be a good opportunity to put together a spreadsheet and nerd out on their training!



Any analysis made below proves absolutely nothing!

There is not enough reliable information to make any reasonable conclusions

  • I didn’t look at what specific training days consisted of, which is pretty important! All I did was look at cumulative miles / time / gain per week.

  • Unreliable data: I am relying on runner’s strava profiles, which would assume that they logged everything they did on strava, and their gps devices are reporting everything accurately.

Not covering enough people/time/factors

  • All the runners I looked at are already pretty fast. So there are no slower runners to compare their training to.

  • I only looked at 17 weeks, when to really see what led to their success would take looking at years of data.

  • I only looked at their running, no cross-training or anything else they did (sleep, nutrition, etc.)


But I still think it is worth a look! If anything, I noticed a few interesting things that I think might be avenues for future exploration.

So, there are two major comparisons I did:


#1 - Years 2015 and 2016:

First, I looked at top runners who also ran the race in 2015, and found that most got worse (probably due to the weather), but two runners stuck out who made significant improvements on their WS times from 2015: Kaci Liecktie and Chris Denucci. So for them, I made some charts looking at what differences were made in their 2015 training vs their 2016 training. There were some differences that made a lot of sense:

  • In both cases they logged more miles and hours in their training. On average, they ran over an hour more and over ten miles more per week during the 17 weeks leading up to the race in 2016
  • Chris ran more elevation gain and his average pace was slightly faster, Kaci ran less elevation gain and her pace was significantly faster. So, in general, given the terrain, they were training at faster paces.

One of my biggest shocks came when I looked at their variance. I looked at the variance during 17 weeks before, 12 weeks before, 9 weeks before, and 3-9 weeks before the race in the following categories: miles, hours, elevation, and pace (see chart below). And in almost all cases, they had less variance in 2016. The only categories in which a runner had more variance in 2016 is Chris who had more variance in his average pace during weeks 3-9, and in his elevation gain 12wks/9wks/3-9wks.

So, it seems that having less ups and downs in their mileage and hours might have been beneficial, but the same doesn’t seem to hold true for speed and elevation. I had thought that we might have seen that doing a bit more hard-week/easy-week would be more beneficial. And since I didn’t look at their individual training sessions, maybe a hard/easy principle was still at work between days of the week, but it seems that from week to week, consistency in time and mileage worked well for them.


#2 - Eight Runners at 2016 Western States:

In the other comparison I did, I compared 17 weeks of training between some of the fastest runners in Western States this year:  Jim Walmsley, Tom Lorblanchet, Ian Sharman, Chris Mocko, Kyle Pietari, Chris Denucci, Sage Canaday, and Kaci Liecktie (apologies for only including one female…).

I made a bunch of charts, and tried to look for any patterns that I thought were interesting.

I noticed this mysterious week (7 weeks before the race) during which 5 of the 8 runners had a pretty significant dip in their hours and elevation. Maybe it is just psychological: “I’m about to do some really hard training the next few weeks, time to take an easier week,” or maybe it has some benefit? It’s also maybe just a coincidence.

Some other observations:

  • Everyone seemed to have a period of peak training somewhere between weeks 3-9, but where that peaked specifically was pretty variable.
  • The runners did a taper of anywhere between 2-4 weeks, but 3 seemed pretty common.

  • About half the runners ran faster, on average, during their taper. Perhaps this is just from doing fewer long runs.

  • Elevation gain seemed to have the most change from week to week. Maybe it is because of a hard/easy principle, or maybe it’s just because they are less likely to focus on it and have elevation goals for the week.

These are things I noticed. They may be the best way to train, there may be other reasons for them, or they may just be coincidence!

Below are more charts, if you are interested.

What do you notice? Please add some comments to the youtube video and let me know if you see anything interesting!

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