Mike Sveum finds himself in a challenging but coveted place. Just 18 months after his debut at the ultra distance, he has a spot on the Western States 100 wait list.
During the drawing last December, Sveum’s single ticket was pulled as No. 37 on the wait list. In the previous two years of the lottery the final wait list ticket to get into the historic race was No. 36 last year and No. 39 two years ago. (Lindsey Rust, who holds the No. 40 ticket right behind Sveum, has not withdrawn but is targeting other challenging ultras.)
For now, Sveum is training — and hoping to make it to Squaw.
“I found out I was on the wait list the day of the drawing and saw that I was 37,” he recalls. “I wasn’t very confident in being selected but after some research, I saw that I could have a decent shot at being picked but wouldn’t know until the week of the race. It’s always hard to train for a race you don’t even know if you will get to run, but it’s one of those opportunities that you can’t pass up.”
Playing the waiting game
Even though he is new to the sport he fully understands he is fortunate to be in this position because many ultra runners need seven or more years to make it to Western States. Still, not knowing if his number will be called is a heart-wrenching balancing act.
“I haven’t given myself a hard cutoff date for deciding,” he says about whether he will remove his name and do another race. “I would hate to pass up the opportunity to run a race that is so coveted and I would hate to disrespect the race by not being my best during it.”
Sveum tried for CCC but he wasn’t selected in the lottery. He considered trying the Leadville lottery but “was worried about what happens when you have too much luck and are drawn for everything.”
A quick introduction to ultras
While ultras are new for Sveum, he has been a runner for most of his life. He ran track and cross-country in middle and high school. As an adult, he ran for exercise for 10 years until 2012 when he ran his first marathon, Rock ‘N Roll San Diego.
He dabbled in marathons for a year or so, PRing with a 3:25, then didn’t race or do much running from 2013 until 2017.
Then everything changed.
“My first trail race was the North Face Endurance Challenge Series in D.C.,” says Sveum, who did the ECS marathon in 2017. “I just signed up for it that week without training and I just happened to be in town on a work trip. The race went OK and that’s when I realized how much more fun trails were than road races.”
Later in 2017, some of his co-workers were doing the Franklins 50K in El Paso, Texas. So naturally, Sveum had to join them.
However, two months before the race he contracted West Nile Virus, which landed him in the hospital for three days.
“I couldn’t even run a mile for over two weeks, but I bounced back and was able to run that really challenging 50K,” he recalls. “I bonked really hard during that race after Mile 26 and swore I would never run again. But like all runners, the next day I was looking at 50-mile races and signed up for Coldwater Rumble 52 Miler in Phoenix.”
Sveum trained hard for that 2018 race and it paid off.
He finished in third place behind Courtney Dauwalter, who set a course record — almost an hour faster than the best finishing time for men — and Sean Bowman, who has run multiple 100-mile races and who is entered in the 2019 Western States race.
“After that race my confidence was a lot higher and I figured the next step was to go all out and go for 100,” Sveum says.
Not ‘textbook training’
His summer training was aimed at qualifying for the Boston Marathon at the Missoula (Mt.) Marathon.
“My training went really well and I was feeling good, but after traveling to Montana from New Mexico my kids came down with the stomach flu that hit me the day before the race,” he says. “I was hardly able to run a one-mile kids run with my 2-year-old, so I couldn’t even run.”
As the father of young kids, he trains when he can. It’s not “textbook training,” he admits. There are 10-mile treadmill runs and shorter distances during the week.
“I think the longest training run I did was one 20-mile run,” he says. “The most valuable part of my training was just running on tired legs. Even though I wouldn’t do long runs I would run 10 miles six or seven days a week.”
Sveum managed to put in 100 miles during a five-day stretch as he prepared for the 2018 Javelina Jundred, where he finished with a time of 20:00:12 to get his Western States ticket for the lottery.
“I live in the Southwest in a hot climate and have a sauna so I could do a lot of heat training, knowing the Javelina Jundred is a hot run in the desert.”
Simply put, “competition is my inspiration,” Sveum says. “I’ve always liked competing at anything I do, even if I’m not the best.”
When he became a father, Sveum sought out something to keep him motivated. And that turned out to be running
“Now with my kids getting a little older, we have fun going to races and my 3-year-old, Jackson, loves to do 1-mile kids races. He says he wants to be a racer when he get bigger and in my 52-mile race he was able to run across the finish line with me then he dove into the cookies like a seasoned runner.”
It’s a lesson Sveum hopes his children learn from him and follow as they get older.
“I always give Jackson the medals or trophies I get at races and he thinks they are the coolest thing ever to wear around the house and he says that he’s a winner,” he says. “I like physical activity to be big in our lives for the kids, because life is so much easier if you are fit and healthy while growing up. I feel like running is a lifelong sport that you can benefit from your whole life.”
Name: Mike Sveum
Hometown: Sunburst, Montana
Number of years running: Ultra running for 18 months but 22 years since he started running in middle school.
Points of pride: Running races with my 3-year-old; completing first 100-mile race attempted.
Favorite race distance: 50 mile
Favorite pre-race food: Pizza
Favorite piece of gear: Any Altra shoes
Favorite song: On a post Malone kick right now.
Favorite phrase: Look good, play good.
Where can other runners connect with you:
• Instagram: msveum
• Facebook: Mike Sveum