The 41st running of the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, promises to be one of the most memorable in the event’s long and venerable history.
More than 360 runners from 25 countries will begin the race at the base of Squaw Valley on Saturday at 5 a.m. with a clear goal in mind: the finish line 100 miles away at Placer High School in Auburn.
The field includes several of the top names in the sport of ultramarathoning, including last year’s women’s champion, Oregon’s Pam Smith, as well men’s runner-up Rob Krar, 37, of Flagstaff, Ariz.
The deep competition at the front will be augmented this year with the presence of several international ultra standouts, competing as part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT), a series of the world’s most prestigious ultra runs. The first-year tour has one North American stop: Western States.
The group of international stars running at Western States includes such notables as Miguel Heras of Spain, who was second in 2013’s Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), France’s Thomas Lorblanchet, who was the 2012 Leadville 100-mile champion, Ryan Sandes of South Africa, who finished runner-up in the 2012 Western States, and 2013 IAU world trail champion Natalie Mauclair of France.
As has been the case for the past several years, the depth of the men’s and women’s fields has been deepened thanks to the race’s ongoing relationship with presenting sponsor Montrail and the Montrail Ultra Cup, a nationwide series of trail ultras that guarantees top finishers a spot at Western States. The Montrail Ultra Cup’s men’s and women’s champions will also be crowned during race weekend.
Among the local contingent, Tattie Bailey, Roger Pynappe, Audrey Staples, all of Truckee, Rachael Woods of Tahoe City, and Michael Tebbutt of Kings Beach are entered. Truckee’s Rory Bosio, who finished among the leaders each of the past several years, is not entered.
Race Director Craig Thornley said if the talent at the front is any indication of race success, this year’s edition of Western States has the potential to continue the string of recent memorable runs at Western States, such as the “Unbreakable” duel and course record-breaking performance of Geoff Roes in 2010, Timothy Olson’s course record-breaking run of 14:46 in 2012, as well as Olson and Smith’s scintillatingly fast runs in near-record heat in 2013.
“We have a great group of returning runners, some fresh faces we haven’t seen before and some faces we haven’t seen in a couple of years,” Thornley said. “It should add up to an extremely exciting and competitive race. Western States continues to be the most competitive 100-mile race in the world for both men and women. This year is no exception.”
In addition to Krar, who finished in second last year with a time of 15:22, top contenders include Ian Sharman, 33, of Walnut Creek, Calif., Dylan Bowman, 28, of Emerald Hills, Calif., Nick Clark, 40, of Fort Collins, Colo., Jez Bragg, 33, of Blandford, Forum, Great Britain, and Max King, 34, of Bend, Ore.
On the women’s side, Smith’s run of 18:37 in last year’s oppressive conditions where temperatures topped out well above 100 degrees, remains one of the most impressive efforts in recent memory. The 39-year-old pathologist from Salem, Ore., will be pressed by three-time Western States champion Nikki Kimball, who finished second in 2013. Smith should also be challenged by the ageless Meghan Arbogast, 53, of Cool, Calif., Emily Harrison, 27, of Flagstaff, Ariz., Stephanie Howe, 30, of Bend, Ore., and Kaci Lickteig, 27, of Omaha, Neb.
An added wrinkle to this year’s race narrative is the course itself.
An iconic and historic section of the trail from Last Chance to near Devil’s Thumb was hit hard by last August’s American Fire, which consumed more than 27,000 acres. Western States, working in collaboration with the Western States Trail Foundation/Tevis Cup horse ride, mobilized a motivated group of volunteers who throughout the winter and fall accumulated more than 6,000 hours to bring the burned areas of the trail back.
The effort included installation of a new bridge where the Pacific Slab Mine Bridge once stood heading into the Deadwood Canyon section of the course — pieces of the new bridge were hauled nearly one mile into the deep, steep canyon, carried on the backs of a group of 50 volunteers — as well as mitigation efforts on burned areas such as the Pucker Point loop near the historic site of Last Chance.
Thornley said he was pleased to report that the approximate 10-mile stretch of the trail that was affected by the fire will be open, with no re-routing of the runners other than a river crossing by safety cable at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon at the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River.
“What our volunteers and the joint trail team between Western States, the Tevis Cup and our partners from the Forest Service have accomplished over the past few months has been really remarkable,” Thornley said. “The community of ultrarunners and trail team workers has really come together to accomplish something very special. The Western States Trail is back and open for use. We couldn’t be prouder of what our people have done to help make this happen.”