Preparing for the Western States Endurance Run with Yatika Fields

Yatika points up at the mountains.

The Western States Endurance Run (WSER) isn’t your typical trail race. Every June, runners traverse a grueling 100.2 miles through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to earn a coveted belt buckle proclaiming their accomplishment. Runners must complete the course in 30 hours or less. In order to enter the race, you must have run a qualifying race within the previous two years to either get in by lottery or by earning a “golden ticket.” This year, GU-sponsored athlete Yatika Fields is racing the WSER in support of Rising Hearts, an Indigenous-led advocacy organization. Not only is he an accomplished ultra-runner, he’s a well established painter and muralist. Fields is creating the first ever Western States Endurance Run poster to be sold at Fleet Feet Sacramento, the official retailer of the WSER.

We sat down with Fields to talk about his training, his art and his advocacy work with Rising Hearts.

A person posing for a photo in front of a van

FF: You’re running the Western States Endurance Run at the end of June. Will this be your longest race ever?

YF: I've run one 100-mile race before, the Ouray 100, which is known as one of the hardest hundreds out there. I wanted my first hundred to be a challenging course rather than a flat one. It was brutal, but it gave me what I wanted.

Western States is going to be different because it's a bit quicker since there's not as much climbing. I just ran 70 miles of the course when I was out at training camp.

Running a 100-miler takes a lot of effort to get yourself fit for it, and then to get out there and put one foot in front of the other. The whole thing is a mental game. You have to tell yourself you can do it. It's hard, but it's manageable.

​FF: What does your fueling plan look like for the race?

YF: I’ve been working with GU for the past five months and they've been a great partner and collaborator. I’ve been using GU for my training so I can get used to it before the race.

At the race, I’ll be carrying my GU Energy Gels, some water with Hydration Drink Tabs and some Roctane Electrolyte capsules. Of course, I’m going to want some solid food during the 100-miler. That will come later in the race at the aid stations. They’ll have a lot of high sugar, high sodium foods, electrolyte drinks, sodas and more. I love doing ultras because it's the only time I allow myself to drink soda. It feels so good to roll up to an aid station and have a Coke.

It's a game of science when you're out there, and you have to stay on top of it even when you're tired. Once you get behind on your fueling, that's when your body starts to bonk and it's hard to get out of that.

Yatika looks out the window towards the mountains.

FF: You’re running for the Rising Hearts organization to elevate indigenous voices. Tell us a little bit about the organization.

YF: Rising Hearts is an advocacy platform that brings awareness to Native issues and identity. Within the last three years, there’s been a lot happening in terms of inclusion and representation. As an Indigenous runner, I've gone to a lot of races and haven't seen too many runners of color. How can we change that dynamic?

Jordan Daniel, the founder of Rising Hearts, is doing the work to bridge that connection. I’m happy to be a part of Rising Hearts and help in any way I can. If that's running WSER and bringing a whole group of Native runners to crew me and pace me, I'm all for that. I'll run my best race to let people know who we are, that we run strong, and this is our message. Running is just a way for me to get in there, open the door and keep it open. We also want to recognize the Washoe community of the Tahoe region, where the race starts, to make sure that they have a place in this race. We want their voice to shine and their needs to be heard.

Yatika paints.

FF: You’re an artist and a runner. How do those two activities intersect in your life?

YF: I would say they have many beautiful intersections, but it took some time to see the correlations between the two. I was an artist before I became a runner.

From an artistic perspective, the best moments are when you're completely zoned out, locked in and letting it flow. You're a part of it just like you’re a part of the canvas. You're part of that brush, part of that color. When it comes to running, it’s the same thing. We're a part of this world, and there’s a lot of beauty in that. Running is an art, and it’s taken me to some of the most beautiful places with just my two feet. Running is a practice we've been doing forever, as humans and in the Indigenous community.

Running and art both give me something to really set my mind towards and work hard towards, because I’m standing in the studio painting for hours just like I’m running on the trail for hours.

FF: Are you able to give us any teasers about the poster? When will it be revealed?

YF: The poster will be revealed closer to the race. It's going to be a watercolor landscape that I created during my time at training camp. Landscape painting is something I’ve been doing since my early time as an artist. I love it because it allows me to sit outside and be present with nature, and capture the essence of where I am.

The poster brings out the history of the Washoe community and a celebration of the landscape. It’s something I feel like every runner is going to be proud to have. After going on a 100 mile journey, hopefully they can look at that poster and find a bit of beauty in what they've just accomplished.

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