Chris Zehetleitner


Heart versus Heat at Western States 100

by Chris Zehetleitner, 270 pages

Finished on 3rd of December, 2023
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The oldest 100-mile foot race takes place annually in California and is called Western States Endurance Run. The author has been selected to run even though he felt majorly unprepared for it. This makes for a compelling story about suffering and meaning.

🎨 Impressions

Chris Zehetleitner was among the very few people who were lucky enough to be drawn for a race slot at Western States Endurance Run after trying to get in for the first time. The statistical chance of this happening is less than one percent. This means we have a race report by a relatively inexperienced ultra runner about this famous Californian race that has been going on since the seventies.

Lots of books and reports have been written about this particular 100-mile race, but every single one is unique and worth reading in my opinion, because every individual brings their own story to it and these differ wildly.

Chris’ story is one of a major amount of suffering and results in a life-changing transformation. It is grabbing you by the ears and throwing you in the middle of it. Chris writes in a way that prevents you from putting the book away. You just have to know what happened next.

Good thing it’s a rather short book and can be read in one sitting. I did so over the course of a weekend. There is not much missing from the book, in fact, I can’t think of a single question about the experience he didn’t answer. I feel like not only having been with him on those trails, but also somehow inside of his mind, that’s how willing he is to share his thoughts.

The style of writing isn’t on par with most other publications, because he is no native speaker probably, but this makes you realize how unimportant the outer form is if the content is good.

I like this book a lot and recommend it to anyone who has heard of the holy grail race of ultra trail running, the Western States 100.

📔 Highlights & Notes

Foreword – by Henning Lenertz

Meaningfulness is individual. Meaningfulness is irrational. Meaningfulness is subjective. Meaningfulness is emotional. We can charge a thing with meaning, yet that same thing leaves everyone else completely unaffected.


There are countless ways to run a 100-mile ultramarathon, and even more reasons to do it. But the true reasons, I believe, are not to be found in your mind. They are enshrined in your heart.

18. Last Words and First Steps

"Three pieces of advice. Run with thanks. Run with love. And run with an open heart. I know we’re in a data-driven sport, but that’s my algorithm of love and care.”

21. Aid Station Angels

In ultramarathons, I usually obey the self-imposed rule: "If there’s nothing left to do at an aid station, move on.”

23. The Art of Positive Self-Talk

"I am well-prepared" gave me self-confidence and took away some fear, especially of the heat and the sheer distance of Western States. "I will do my best" took away the pressure to achieve peak performance, but at the same time motivated me to push hard.

31. Nothing Left but Counting Steps

The profoundness of my discomfort and deteriorated mental and emotional state were unlike anything I had ever experienced before in either running or life. I remember saying to myself: "This is not how I want to race.”

It’s a mental trick that I usually use for the last 2 kilometers of a fast half-marathon or 10k. It has just the right amount of brainwork to distract me from fatigue and pain, but it’s also simple enough for the brain to execute.

32. Tough Love at Michigan Bluff

I sat down on a camping chair, the legendary piece of mobile furniture that has countless DNFs on its conscience. The community of ultrarunners lovingly calls it "The Chäir." Myth succinctly explained: "If you get comfortable, you’re doomed.”

43. A Green Gate and 20 Miles to Triumph

Blindly fumbling with the cable of the new battery pack, I said to myself, "Let there be light" and there was light. It’s such side quests within the big challenge that makes trail running such an exciting sport.

50. The Golden Hour of a Golden Race

We humans usually try to avoid such intense physical and emotional experiences in life, especially if there’s a risk of failure and disappointment involved. Yet still, some of us dare to show up at the starting line, tackling yet another running goal that seemed to be impossible a couple of months or years ago. Racing is pure bravery, if you ask me.

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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