Western States 100: Athlete Interview – Salomon’s Cameron Clayton

Several of Salomon’s elite athletes came to our Trail Run / Hike Demo, and I couldn’t help but pick their brains about this weekend’s 100-mile race over rugged, stairmaster-style terrain from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

In 1974, alongside a team of horseback riders, Gordy Ainsleigh traversed the wild and rugged Western States Trail and proved that a human could travel 100 miles by foot in one day. This Saturday at 5:00 am, almost 500 trail runners will depart Squaw Valley and run that same trail. Those who finish within 24 hours are awarded silver medals. Out of those 450-500 participants, about 30-40 are ‘elite’ athletes, and less than twenty of them go into the race with an “I could win this…” kind of attitude. “Then again, sometimes you’ll have that one guy just who comes out of the woodwork [and wins],” said Cameron Clayton, fresh out of CU (Boulder, Colorado) and new to the Western States course.

cameron clayton, matt flaherty
Cameron Clayton (left), hanging with Matt Flaherty in the Salomon trailer.

I sat down on the steps in front of Tahoe Mountain Sports and did a little trail talkin’ with Mr. Clayton. We still had an hour or so to kill before our group trail run behind the shop, part of today’s free community Salomon gear demo, and running was on the mind.

When I asked Cameron what he expected of himself during the race, I didn’t expect him to say “I’m going to try to win.” But, like he explained, a dozen or so of the WSJ100 racers are well aware they’re at that level. Cameron says he doesn’t really train for these kinds of things. At least, not the way I expected, which was something like this: 20 miles one day, 10 miles the next, 40 the next, one day off, then race day. But that’s not at all the case. In college, Mr. Clayton did a big team run every Sunday and averaged 100-120 miles per week. He’s still running 120 miles or so per week, and he calls this Saturday “a very big day”, but I was really surprised he didn’t have some sort of training regimen in place.

The Western States Trail is up, down, up, down, up, down. But it’s mostly down, considering the elevation drop is more than 6,000 feet from Squaw Valley to the town of Auburn. Looking the trail map, I wasn’t sure how that would translate to the runner. According to everyone Cameron has asked, it also feels mostly downhill. “The first five miles can effect the last twenty miles, and some of the canyons feel like they’re 110-degrees when you get in them,” Cameron explained when I asked if he was anticipating any particular sections of trail. “You’re surrounded by beautiful scenery the entire way, but after the first fifty miles I’m not exactly taking in the view. I’m running hard. The first fifty miles you’re feeling the altitude, the second fifty you feel your legs. Especially miles 60-76, those are really downhill, and can really beat up your quads.”

salomon trail run demo
Taken during our group trail run. Salomon hydration pack & shoes.

Fortunately the runners are allowed ‘pacers’, or running buddies that run alongside to help motivate, and of course boost safety, but mostly for moral support. Pacers are only allowed to join the race for the last 62 miles, and multiple pacers can rotate shifts if they’d like. Matt Flaherty, another Salomon athlete, was hanging with Cameron when I sat down. Matt is playing the role of the pacer this weekend, and has yet to run the race himself but says it may be in his future. “I’m more of a 50k or 100k kind of guy.” Matt will be providing moral support to a friend from Colorado. Then again, from the sound of it, she may be more of an acquaintance. “Some athletes use a friend or their regular running partner to help pace them during distance races. Others meet someone prior to the race that showed up just to volunteer as a pacer.” Matt confirmed my assumption that utilizing your regular training partner as your pacer would be most beneficial. But if your usual buddy can’t be there, it’s good to know that you can always depend on random, last-minute help!

What’s the best thing about these kinds of races? “Everyone’s just out there to have fun and help push each other,” said Cameron, with a sincere smile that helped back up his statement. “Your biggest competition could wind up sharing their water with you. Of course, you’ll only take as much as you need. It’s really a great community experience.”

Thanks for your time and your positive attitudes, Mr. Clayton and Mr. Flaherty. And may the odds be in your favor this weekend.

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