Place strategy

100 Miles of Smiles: Ailsa MacDonald talks about her second place at Western States

Ailsa MacDonald didn’t expect to finish on the podium in last weekend’s Western States 100. She did, however, come prepared to run a well-executed and smart race. This year’s WSER was MacDonald’s second and his fifth 100-mile run. We caught up with her after the race.

MacDonald, an accomplished endurance athlete who lives in Cochrane, Alta., said familiarity with the course was huge for her. “I entered the race with the goal of nnot to be too caught up in the competition, which is difficult. It takes patience and discipline,” MacDonald says. She made that mistake in 2018, which she says was a “valuable lesson learned because on this course there is a strong tendency to come out hot. I was in pain in 2018 before mile 50.”

This year’s experience was completely different. MacDonald focused on her own race, regardless of the competition. While she had some painful moments, she says, the race was “much, much nicer than last time”. Macdonald said her slower initial pace and race strategy of “staying happy and pushing forward” allowed her to really enjoy the course, which she couldn’t in 2018.

Photo: Instagram/ailsamacdonaldrunner

“I wanted to run 100 miles of smiles,” she says. “I focused on putting a smile on my face and putting one foot in front of the other. This year when I was at the top of the escarpment, I wasn’t as caught up in the competition, so I was able to turn around and watch the sunrise. MacDonald lists some favorite moments: “Running through the high country and seeing all the wildflowers, enjoying all the spectacular views and just appreciating my surroundings. Crossing the Rucky Chucky was also a lot of fun.

As any ultrarunner will attest, every race has its ups and downs, and MacDonald had some challenges with his feet. “The high country we went through got my feet wet a lot and then there’s a huge descent that follows where my toes started hurting. As I ran down the sidewalk on my way to Forest Hill (aid station), my feet felt like a big hot spot,” MacDonald says. The magic that notoriously happens at Forest Hill has worked though: “The energy is so contagious at Forest Hill with all the spectators coming out, and seeing my friends and team, that the moment I left I I almost forgot about the pain and my feet started to feel better.

MacDonald used proven nutrition from his previous ultra experiments: peanut butter and banana wraps, Lara energy bars and hydration mix. When her stomach started to feel queasy, she quelled the nausea with ginger ale and pretzels. While the heat was intense, MacDonald didn’t find it as bad as in 2018: “I felt like it was taking longer to heat up, and there were some shady spots. Crossing the river also helped! MacDonald also has a team that has been with her through some challenges and knows how to keep her going. “My husband, Barry Greenand our friends David and Leslie Roche were my amazing team,” she says.

Photo: Instagram/ailsamacdonaldrunner

MacDonald was enjoying a week of full recovery when we spoke to her and told her she would follow that up by loosening up with yoga and gentle cardio. Her next race will be the Finlayson Arm 50K in September, but she says, “It’s not going to be a standout performance or anything, Western States was my goal this season.”

A podium finish in the Western States earned MacDonald her ticket to the 2023 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). After dropping around 130 kilometers in the 2021 UTMB race, MacDonald says she has ” unfinished business there”.

MacDonald will no doubt put his experience and discipline to good use when he returns to Chamonix. With her remarkably well-strategized race and second-place finish at the WSER, she will be one of the top competitors to watch wherever she competes.