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For a guy who’s run solid marathons at the world’s most competitive level, Reid Coolsaet admits he felt like a wide-eyed rookie at times during the 2022 Western States 100.
The two-time Olympic marathoner for Canada turned in a solid performance in his first time running 100 miles, finishing in 19 hours, 27 minutes, and 3 seconds. That placed him 25th overall and 17th among men, which isn’t bad for a guy who has been more accustomed to running sub-5-minute mile pace for 26.2 miles at the peak of his career. (For reference, his Western States time averages out to 11:39 per mile.)
The 42-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, had great moments and humbling moments during the race and says he learned plenty along the way, including a slow run-walk effort over the final 20 miles to the finish. Still, he left Auburn in good spirits with the notion that he might run another 100-miler at some point in his future.
“I actually feel pretty good,” he said this week after returning home. “I thought I would be a lot more wrecked than I am, which is a bit of a weird thing with ultras. I find myself barely able to run at the end and figure I won’t be able to walk for a few days, but then I feel OK and think, ‘Why didn’t I run harder?’ I feel like I had a 30K cooldown at Western States and I think that’s what helped me recover.”
Coolsaet owns a respectable 2:10:28 marathon PR at the 2015 Berlin Marathon and also raced well in two Olympic games — all before the advent of carbon-plated super shoes. At the 2012 Games in London, he finished 27th in the marathon (2:16:29) and four years later improved to 23rd overall (2:14:58) in Rio de Janeiro.
He’s one of only a few former Olympic runners to race in the Western States 100, along with Michael Aish, an Olympian for New Zealand in 2000 (10,000m) and 2004 (5,000m) who placed 55th overall in 2014, and Magda Boulet, a 2008 Olympic marathoner for the U.S. who was the 2015 Western States women’s champion and 2017 runner-up.
Coolsaet started running ultra-distance races last summer after ending one final quest to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. In his last attempt to run 2:11 or faster at a race in Siena, Italy, last April, he went through the halfway point in 65 minutes but faded to 2:16:38.
From there, he shifted to trail running and won the Quebec Mega Trail 110K race last August (14:24). But even though he was successful, he found out that he needed to do a lot more work to handle long descents and technical trails after his legs locked up on a long, downhill section.
He’s one of only a few former Olympic runners to race in the Western States 100, along with Michael Aish, an Olympian for New Zealand in 2000 (10,000m) and 2004 (5,000m) who placed 55th overall in 2014, and Magda Boulet, a 2008 Olympic marathoner for the U.S. who was the 2015 women’s champion and 2017 runner-up.
Coolsaet trained through the winter and turned in a good performance at the Canyons Endurance Runs 100K in Auburn in April, placing 15th overall (14th among men) in 10:12. He didn’t earn a Golden Ticket, but was able to get a sponsor’s entry for Western States.
When he arrived in Olympic Valley before the race, he hoped to compete for a top-10 finish and pegged Scott Traer and Jeff Colt as two runners he might be able to run with based on the smart races they had run at the Black Canyon 100K in February. He said his first 25 miles went about how he hoped as he was in the top 15 and staying hydrated and fueled.
He prepared for the heat by doing considerable sauna training in the weeks before the race. When temperatures rose into the mid-90s by mid-day, he kept the sun’s impact at bay by taking on ice and wearing white arm sleeves and a sun hat. But from about the 30.3-mile Robinson Flat aid station to roughly the 50-mile point on the descent from Devil’s Thumb to the El Dorado aid station, he started to lose contact with Traer and Colt (who would go on to finish 10th and 11th, respectively).
Thanks to his crew, Coolsaet recovered and still had a competitive mindset when he left the 62-mile Foresthill aid station, but running alone in the heat down to Rucky Chucky and the river crossing was the beginning of the end. By the time he picked up his second pacer at Green Gate near mile 80, he felt nauseous and had dead legs, which forced him to shift to survival mode.
“I was like ‘Yeah, I’m just finishing this thing.’ At that point, in my mind, I was just determined to finish,” he says. “When I’m hurting that much, I have to be really excited about trying to catch people. And with the way I felt, I would have had to kill myself to catch two more people. That was a big ask for a little reward. I was just struggling to get one foot in front of the other for the last 30K. My legs were just shot. I could always run slow, but I would find myself at a small incline and just have to start walking.”
He finished at 12:27 a.m. and was surprised to see his family there to greet him. He ran the final 300 meters on the track at Placer High School with his wife, Marie, and kids, Louis, 5, and Elodie, 4.
“It’s fun because it’s a lot more interactive than running marathons, where I won’t even break a stride when I pass someone,” he says. “In road races that my kids saw me run, I would zoom by at a fast pace and that was it. But in ultras, my wife has helped out a lot by crewing me, and I can high-five my kids at aid stations and then run the last 300 meters with them, so that’s pretty cool.”
For the time being, Coolsaet says he’ll take time off to recover but quickly adds that he’s as motivated as ever to run more trail races, both sub-ultra and ultra-distance events. Although he has no plans for another 100-miler anytime soon, he says he’ll continue to pursue trail running and develop his technical trail running skills.
“I’d always rather been on the trails, but there just wasn’t the Olympics on the trails,” he says. “Without the Olympics, this is really where I want to be. Obviously, I would like to do really well at it, but I don’t feel like I need to do well. When running was my job, I was super-motivated to be at the top in Canada and be on an international stage. There is just so much more unknown, but I’m not really dwelling on it too much and more just enjoying it. It’s not that I don’t want to be competitive, but I don’t feel the same urgency to be at the top. So if I’m just doing all right at it and having fun, that’s fine with me.”