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From Western States wait list to top 10 finish

(Photo by Martina Valmassoi)

Corrine Malcolm remembers the unusual place where she fell in love with running.

It was on a mountain ridge line. In Montana. During ski team practice.

“I actually went to Montana State University in part because the ski coach told me we would run a different mountain peak every weekend for training,” says Malcolm, who grew up in the small town of Hayward, Wis. “I think that is where I really fell in love with running. It was freeing to be up on a ridge line and be reminded how small we are and how fortunate we are to live and play where we do.”

Malcolm, who became the first runner to start on the Western States wait list but finish in the top 10, did begin her running journey in middle school. But she took a detour.

She recalls playing soccer and enjoying the running part the best. In fact, Malcolm says she was “obsessed” with track and field day.

“I had a love of the 200m and 400m races of all things,” she says. “I was pretty convinced I was a sprinter, and ran middle distance, primarily the 400-800 meter through high school. I joined the cross country running team part way through my freshmen year and really loved running with my teammates; we had so much fun.”

While in high school, Maclcolm’s passion turned to cross-country skiing. Eventually, she left Montana State in 2010 to race for the U.S. biathlon team for 3 ½ years.

Her eyes were squarely set on the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 but her body fell apart.

“I went into the fall of 2013 destroyed physically and mentally and had to take time off to recover,” Malcolm recalls. “During that time I moved back to Montana to finish my undergraduate degree and slowly started trail running again. In the summer of 2015 I signed up for my first Sky Running races which were all under 30K in length, but with lots of hiking and vert.

“It felt like a natural fit with what I enjoyed doing in the mountains.”

Father knows best

Around that time she received some sage fatherly advice.

“I remember being on the phone with my Dad and him suggesting that maybe I should ‘run a little longer’ because ‘the longer and harder it gets the better you’ll do,’” Malcolm remembers. “I took him up on that advice and decided the perfect intro to ultra running would be the Gorge Waterfalls 100K as it would give me the opportunity to run 62 miles on my 26th birthday during the spring of 2016.”

While her transition to ultra running was aggressive, she did use her first ultra as a training run before the Gorge Waterfalls race.

“As a prep race, I ran the Chuckanut 50K only a few weeks before,” she says. “It was definitely a bold strategy to jump into that distance without much of a second thought, but one of my strengths has always been my misunderstanding of my own limitations!

The waiting game of Western States

Fast forward a couple of years and races ranging from 10Ks to a 100-miler and Malcolm found herself with two tickets in the Western States drawing. She was fortunate to get a great spot on the wait list — ticket number 7. Still, there was no guarantee that she would be seen in Squaw.

“Being so high on the waitlist was a little crazy,” says Malcolm, who officially made it in on April 21. ”With just two tickets, I really hadn't planned on getting in this year. I was already prepping for some European racing in the spring with the goal of racing a big fall 100-miler in the U.S. Then lo and behold I was drawn seventh on the wait list.”

With her prime spot, she focused on Western States. “I went into the spring focusing my calendar around racing Western States in June, even if it was going to take a while to officially get in. The waitlist was a little slow moving, I think I sat in the number two position on the waitlist for six to eight weeks which was a little unsettling.”

But she didn’t stay still, signing up for the Canyons Endurance 100K as a key training run/race before the WS100. Just a week after officially punching her ticket to Western, Malcolm won Canyons by about 13 minutes.

“As soon as I finished Canyons, the RD made sure to let me know two of the previous three female winners (Cat Bradley in 2017 and Magdalena Boulet in 2015) went on to win Western States, which is a little bit nerve wracking to hear!”

Canyons served as the hard race that Malcom needed. “Running back up from Rucky Chucky hurts so badly, but I was so happy to get to see those miles and gain an appreciation for what was coming in June,” she says, noting that she was unable to attend the WS Memorial Day camp. “It also gave me something to look forward to during the race, that there was approximately 50 kilometers that I knew really well. I was excited to have put together a good run during Canyons, but nothing is certain in an ultra and that fact alone kept any nervous excitement in check leading into Western States.”

Using creativity in training

The 2018 version of Western will be remembered for a lot of things, including the high temperatures. That posed a serious challenge to all runners, especially Malcolm, who was not able to properly heat train in Bellingham, Wash. That city is located on the coast between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The weather there is pretty mild and fairly wet,” says Malcolm, who moved to San Francisco during race week. “I think the highest temp I saw in Bellingham before race day was probably 65 degrees. My last 20-mile run in Bellingham was approximately 50 degrees, overcast, and off and on again rain — really not great Western States prep, but pretty much perfectly summed up my time there.”

Since the weather wouldn’t cooperate, Malcom improvised.

“I had to get a little creative,” she says. “I'm personally not a fan of layering up to get out and run. I don't like it, and I feel like the quality of my running goes down. So instead, I utilized a dry sauna post exercise instead.”

About 2 ½ weeks before race day, she would get into a sauna for 30 minutes immediately after a run. “This sent me into the sauna with a ‘pre-heated’ core temperature and gave me all the stimulus I needed. I think I got roughly 10 days in, and stopped using the sauna six days out.”

Next year? Maybe

Malcolm crossed the line in 20:01:06, good enough for ninth place and a guaranteed entry for the following year.

“I don't know that I'm definitely going back, but I definitely feel the draw from the incredible community that surrounds Western States and makes it so special,” she says. “Part of me wants to go back because my buildup for this year’s race wasn't really ideal. I was juggling a lot, including a move to California the week before the race and working a lot so my training was moderated to everything else going on in my life.”

Clearly, Malcom is torn. It’s a good problem to have.

“Part of me wants to try and nail that build better and see what I could really do,” she says. “On the other hand there is so much out there to race. And because I don't see myself racing two or three 100-mile races a year, if I commit to going back to Western States, I sacrifice getting to race something new and that makes me hesitant. Especially, when I really want to get a Hardrock qualifier in.”

For now, she’s plenty busy, getting adjusted to her new city and looking ahead to TDS in August (and SierraZinal a few weeks earlier). She’ll start plotting out her 2019 in December or January.

Good at suffering and smiling

In poring through Malcom’s photos from Western States, one common theme emerges — her big smile.

“I think I'm just a naturally smiley person ... that or maybe my grimace looks like a smile?” she says, when asked about the trend. “I don't consider myself an especially fast runner, but I do think that I'm good at suffering and ultra running rewards an ability to suffer. Ultra running races are often long and generally unpredictable. Nothing is certain.”

While her running and skiing backgrounds have prepared her for the physical challenges of ultras, Malcolm goes into races with a well-trained mind.

“I approach each race as a new opportunity and experience and know that most lows during the race are momentary and I get to choose how I come out the other side,” she says. “I'm not going to say that I enjoy every single moment, in the moment, of an ultra race, but I go into each race with the knowledge that it will likely get hard at some point. I think embracing that fact before the gun goes off mentally prepares me to handle whatever might happen during the race.”

Malcolm freely shares advice to aspiring ultra runners, especially when it comes to the mind games.

“When asked recently for my one piece of advice I would give anyone getting ready to race an ultra I decided it would be, ‘Don't count yourself out,” she says. “What I mean by that is don't let preconceived notions of what you can or cannot do limit yourself. Don't let fear and doubt dictate taking a chance. You still have to do the work, but don't cognitively set yourself up for failure. Ultra running can be trial by a million tiny matches, embrace them, and let them burn.

Speed drill

Name: Corrine Malcolm

Hometown: I just moved to San Francisco, but I grew up in the Midwest before moving to Montana for college, and spent time living out east and most recently I've been in Bellingham, Wash., for the past three years.

Number of years running: I've been running ultras for two years, but ran high school cross country (2003-2007) as I trained for cross country skiing.

How many miles a week do you typically run: 60-80 miles

Point of pride: Coming from a ski background and not a typical running background (college running/road racing) I really love to run slowly.

Favorite race distance: Independent of distance I think my favorite are ultra distance races 50K-100K with lots and lots of climbing. My favorite race to date was a 50-mile race with 17,000 feet of climbing.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: My favorite pre-race meal is Gnocchi with a bunch of greens, but more importantly my favorite post training-race treat is a Mocha.

Favorite piece of gear: I'm a total sucker for sweet (taller) socks, and love my SockGuy socks.

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I'm actually a super nerd and run listening to podcasts! My favorites include Invisabilia and RadioLab.

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "I am, here now."

Where can other runners connect or follow you:


Instagram: corrinemalcolm

Twitter: corrinemalcolm

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