Just like last year and the year before that, the 39th annual Western States Endurance Run this weekend is stacked with a talented field of ultrarunners from across the globe — as well as one notable local contender.
“Yeah, again it looks like the men's and women's fields are outstanding,” said Western States President John Trent, who will attempt to notch his 10th finish in the 100-mile foot race from Squaw Valley to Auburn when it kicks off Saturday at 5 a.m. “I'd say it's similar to last year. The biggest difference is Kilian Jornet is not competing now.”
Jornet, a 24-year-old trail-running phenom from Spain, won last year's run in a time of 15 hours and 34 minutes — about 27 minutes shy of the record set by Geoff Roes in 2010. But Jornet pulled out of the race after his climbing partner and friend, world champion ski mountaineer Stephane Brosse, fell to his death in front of Jornet on a traverse of the Mont Blanc Massif in France last Sunday, according to multiple news sources.
“Kilian is going to stay in Europe with his friend's family, so he withdrew,” Trent said somberly. “Not having your defending champion does take a little bit of luster away, but there are still a bunch of really talented runners.”
One such runner is Rory Bosio of Truckee, who's slated to compete in her third straight Western States Endurance Run after finishing fourth among women in 2010 and fifth last year. She was one of seven women to finish in less than 19 hours last year, recording a time of 18:37.
“She's a runner who I think really needs to start receiving her due credit,” Trent said. “Both times she's run it she's been in the top five, and it seems like she's poised to make that big breakthrough where she's in the top two or three. I think she's probably ready for something like that. She's a heck of a runner.”
Bosio, who could not be reached for comment, will have her work cut out for her. Defending champ Ellie Greenwood of Canada returns as the favorite on the women's side, said Trent, while 2010 women's runner-up Kami Semick from Oregon and third-place finisher Nikki Kimball from Montana also return. Kimball is a three-time Western States champ.
The men's field is even more stacked.
“There are a bunch of guys who, if they have a good day, could win. That's how deep the field is,” Trent said. “If you wanted to list every possible runner with a chance of winning, you'd probably go 15 deep.”
Without Jornet in the mix, top male contenders include 2010 runner-up Mike Wolfe of Montana, adventure racer Ryan Sandes of South Africa, Jez Bragg of England, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki of Japan, and Dave Mackey from Novato, Calif., among others.
Trent likes Sandes' chances. “He's a guy I think people should keep an eye on,” he said.
Each and every one of the 400 or so registered athletes lucked out in regards to the weather. In contrast to the often sweltering heat that rudely greets runners in the lower-elavation canyons between Squaw and Auburn, the National Weather Service forecasts a high temperate of 52 degrees in Olympic Valley on Saturday, with a low of 36 Saturday night. Auburn will reach a high of 72 on Saturday and a low of 50 that night, according to the weather report.
“I don't know how we did it. Whoever talked to the weather Gods, we need to make sure the check is in the mail,” Trent said. “It's supposed to be the coolest it's been since 2005. It should be perfect running — no snow, low temperatures. Even though the course might be a little slower, the cooler temperatures mean a lot of people will finish in under 24 hours.”
In addition to the mild temperatures, the Western States trail is virtually snow-free, Trent said. Last year, the course had to be altered significantly due to high snowpack in the backcountry, which made for tricky running. The race will return to its original course this year.
“I went and ran the first 30 miles last weekend, and by the time we run on Saturday, there's a good chance that people won't touch snow at all,” Trent said. “There were a couple of drifts at about the 10-mile mark, and they could be gone. So that's not going to be an issue at all, which is great for us, because now for the first time since 2009 we get to use the original course.”