On the Friday morning the day before the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile, many non-racers—crew members, pacers, fans—gather for the Montrail 6K Uphill Challenge. This fun race has quickly become a part of the Western States culture, counting ultrarunning studs like Chris Vargo and Stephanie Howe among its past winners. It’s a low-key event, but the runners are anything but. Thus, the competition is usually pretty fierce.
This year, with a helicopter flying large I-beams and other pieces of disassmebled trusses high above the traditional route (which follows the access roads that make up the first climb of the Western States 100), runners were rerouted to a fairly technical trail climb. Most enjoyed the change thoroughly. Not least among these were JP Donovan and Anna Mae Flynn, two great friends from Lake Tahoe who raced to respective victories in 33:43 and 41:42.
Anna Mae Flynn
Quick & Dirty: How did the 6k Uphill Challenge play out for you?
Anna Mae Flynn: I heard about the race through a local running organization, the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Peter Fain, a strong runner, coach, and the organization president insisted it would be a great time. On Thursday, I had some kidney issues due to dehydration and adventure exhaustion from the previous weekend, and I wasn’t sure I’d run the fun-race. Day of, I felt pretty good, and friends insisted I could give it a good warm up in the beginning of the race and if I felt any pain I could stop. I went out hard thinking someone would have faster legs on the first 800 – 1600 meters. I saw Emily Harrison for a few minutes before the slab climb going up to Shirley Lake, and I was enjoying the competition. Once I got onto the slab, I dug in because I knew there was a flatter section up at the crest of the slab by the lake. I didn’t look back and just got into a rhythm. I had a great time, and I was cautious about my effort level so as not to aggravate my kidneys. All is well. 🙂
Q&D: What did you think of the course versus the originally planned route?
AMF: I had no idea where the course was, but I found out race morning that it was up the creek by where I work. I run that course often during lunch, so I was thrilled to go race it. I favor a technical uphill. My strength is in an uphill challenge, and so the new course suited my talent. I was ecstatic for JP to give it a shot. I knew he would win it.
Q&D: When did you meet JP? Do you train together much?
AMF: I met JP last spring 2014 at a random track workout at Incline High School. We had a mutual friend who suggested we had similar running/training goals and should get together and run. So we did just that. After my first run with JP, he told me a few weeks later that he brought me on one of the harder runs he does to test me out. I guess I passed! 🙂 We trained last summer pretty much every day. Basically any uphill vert challenge in Incline was given a serious effort on foot and bike. JP has an enthusiasm for running and adventuring that meshes with mine, and we click that way. I have become the uphill runner I am now because of what I have learned from him, and trying to keep sight of him in training runs. Basically, I am dying and he is having a blast lol. JP has gears on 10% grades while I maintain.
Q&D: I heard something about paddle boarding on the American River during Western States? Can you elaborate?
AMF: Haha, well it’s interesting you ask because this story is exactly what describes a typical adventure. JP brought his paddle board down to the American to Spectate WS, and attempted to ride it down on his dirt bike but was told it was illegal after making it half way down the road. Anyways, yes we spectated from an inflatable paddle board and ate goat cheese, dates, and a sun-baked avocado, ewww.
Q&D: The Way Too Cool 50k, earlier this year in March, was your ultramarathon debut. How did it go?
AMF: I saw some competition in the race, and wanted a shot at competing against those girls. I signed up, and was contacted by Salomon and given an entry. I spent the month of January and February trying to play catch up. Previous to January my base miles were grounded in biking. I ran a few longer training runs and listened to more experienced ultra runners in regards to nutrition and training plans. I got in many solid track speed workouts with a local Reno group, Magnum Running Project, plus tempos and of course I maintained my uphill strength. JP was out of town for those months, so I relied a lot on myself, and Salomon.
I projected a 4 hour finishing time goal for myself, and trained for that. I ran the last 20 miles of the course twice prior to the race, and felt like I did all I could have done in training to accomplish that goal. [Flynn finished fourth female in 4:00:37.] Of course I wish I had more time [to train for it]. The race went as planned, and I ran my projected splits. I ran with Lindsay Tollefson for a majority of the race. It was great having someone to pace with. I learned that I am not good with GUs, or at least my body was not ready for them. I got sick around mile 26, had a throw up episode for a minute or two, got my legs going and gave all I could to the finish. I definitely put it all out on the course. It was a perfect intro into the ultra world!! I thank Salomon and the local community for getting me there.
Q&D: What’s up next for you this year or next?
AMF: I am currently trying to maintain and improve my speed, while building milage and strength. That’s the game and balance for all runners, right?! My main objective is not to rush any of my training. I am confident that I am at half marathon fitness at the moment, and will continue on up the ladder throughout the summer. My 50-mile training weeks are all quality workouts. I will continue to build. I plan to race three 50k ultras this year with aims to help with my goals to be a stronger ultra runner and to be ready for next year’s competition. I am treating this year as an experience year, and learning all I can from it.
I will be racing the Audi Power of Four 50K in Aspen, The Rut 50K in Montana, and the Flagstaff Sky Race 55k. I will try to run the Vertical Kilometer (VK) races those weekends as a warm up. I will also be running some local short races to maintain speed, and will run the Nifty Fifty 25K in Juneau, AK. I have The North Face 50 Mile on my mind for December, again for experience and to help me focus on more mileage. I plan on running Way Too Cool again next year and want to PR. I love speed, and loved running WTC, and hope to run more fast-pace races like it in the future. I will begin thinking of next year’s schedule in December. I hope to run some Sky Races abroad next year, but we will see. 🙂
Q&D: How did the 6k Uphill Challenge play out for you?
JP Donovan: Uhhhh pretty well, I won! Lol.
Other than a possible sole-crushing from Peter Fain, I expected a blow up in the first mile followed by a late attempt at running everyone down on the steeper portions. When I heard about the course change, I was just as excited as Peter, but felt no better about my chances of staying with him. Peter gave me a little visualization of the course, and his mention of the steep granite slap portion three quarters of the way up resonated as the spot where Peter would be crushing his competition. I planned to focus my effort on that portion and hold on through the crest.
When the run started, I burst off the line moderately and then paced out a little above what I was planning; I started to suffer before we even hit the trail. I should have backed off, to recover a little, but loved the rock hopping too much. I flew through the braided trails, opting for over rather than around. The granite slab couldn’t come soon enough, and when it finally did my quads were lame and squishy. I crested to the granite slabs, and turned it on assuming the end was near and boy did I feel wrong when I saw hikers about 500 vertical feet up the hillside above. All I could think was Dimmit Peter Fain! I did end up dinosaur-walking 15 steps up one of the last pitches before finishing.
Q&D: What did you think of the course?
JPD: Hmmm, this is a tough one … I wish I could pay off more helicopter pilots to sabotage more trail runs, so that they can be re-routed and transformed into the real deal!
Q&D: You seem to always be up for an adventure. What’s one of your recent favorites?
JPD: I may need to revisit the definition of adventure because it currently feels synonymous with “ordeal” when I hear it. Any time I meet up with Anna Mae, plans go out the window and all hell breaks loose. Frustration, filth, injuries and general drama haunt our journeys together, but we have learned to trust each other by surviving these recurring disasters. We push each other. Many challenges are undertaken on whims, when they would just be talked about otherwise.
Oh man, Anna Mae missed out! I planned to raced XTERRA Lake Las Vegas and make my way to Wildflower triathlon the following weekend. A few races, couple of showers, tow trucks, nearly fatal slips, later I had run /kayaked /swam /SUP’d /ski-mo’d /mtb’d on both sides of the Sierras. I lived like a dirt king and I want to live that forever!
Q&D: You take an interdisciplinary approach to endurance and mountain sports. What are your favorite ways to play in the mountains?
JPD: Either having a ton of gear, so basically every sport is available, or having really simple equipment (gloves, hat, waterproof jacket/pants, upper/lower thermals, light, first aid, head lamp AND Quality Cheese!). I love doing it all, but it is nice not to have the ball and chain feeling of having a bunch of gear to reposition. I would like to pick up some air/wind sports so I can take advantage! The wind rarely shows me love right now.
Q&D: What else do you have on the racing calendar this year?
JPD: The XTERRA Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek, CO on July 18. I plan to challenge the top Pro athletes in this race that favors climbers, hoping for a chance at the title. Next, the USATF Mountain Running National Championships in Bend, Oregon on July 25. My goal is to finish top five in order to make the National Team, or to beat Max King and win! I am filling in the gaps with the Skyrunning Vetical Kilometer series from August to October. Also, I plan to race the Spartan Race World Championships held at Squaw Valley in October. (I blame the influence of Max King.) Finally, the XTERRA Trail Run World Championships in Hawaii in early December.
Anna Mae Flynn was raised on a farm in Boone, NC in the Appalachian Mountains. She says, “[I] pretty much ran around barefoot chasing goats, feeding chickens, farming, and riding horses.” Following a college running career at Elon University, Flynn has lived in both New Zealand and California, currently working as a high school math teacher at Squaw Valley Preparatory. She loves mountain biking, rock climbing, and swimming. Most recently, she has entered the competitive ranks of ultrarunning as a member of Team Salomon. You can track her progress via her Facebook Athlete Page and her Strava Profile.
JP Donovan lives in Incline Village, NV and works a variety of jobs in recreation and endurance sports. “Whenever I can, I am moving around outside; kayaking, road/xc/downhill biking, mountain running, swimming in lakes, paddle boarding, rock climbing, back country skiing… My favorite activity is running up scramble trails and down anything steep, loose or snowy, where there isn’t a trail,” says Donovan. He took the XTERRA Amateur National Title for Off-Road Triathlon in 2014. (“So now I’m now pro for off-road, though I don’t feel any different lol.”) He is an ambassador for Solomon, Sierra Endurance Sports, Reno Running Company, and Big Tahoe Blue Adventure Company. You can follow Donovan on his Movescount and Strava profiles.
The Quick & Dirty is an interview series with Top Trail Talent, conducted by ultrarunner Matt Flaherty.