On an unseasonably cool final weekend of June, 2012, a record 82.7 percent of the field — 316 of the 382 starters — reached the finish line of the 39th annual Western States Endurance Run within the 30-hour cutoff.
Don’t expect a repeat performance in 2013.
More than 400 athletes are entered in the 40th edition of the 100-mile foot race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, which begins Saturday at 5 a.m. Unlike last year, however, when temperatures ranged from the low 40s at the start to a comfy 72 degrees in Auburn, this year’s race will go down as a scorcher.
“This is going to be probably the hottest run in the last four years,” said Western States President John Trent, adding that temperatures in the foothills could reach 100 degrees on Saturday and 102 on Sunday — perhaps hotter in the low-elevation canyons.
“I’m not looking forward to that,” said Colleen Conners-Pace of Tahoe City, who will take on her first Western States Endurance Run since 1980, when at age 23 she placed third among women. “At least we’re not starting in the heat, but it does worry me, just like everyone else. But you’ve just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.”
While the heat is expected to take a heavier toll than in recent years, one aspect of the historic ultramarathon remains the same — the field is stacked with talented runners, including Truckee’s Rory Bosio, 28, who more than held her own in last year’s record-breaking run.
In that race, Timothy Olson of Ashland, Ore., posted a time of 14 hours, 46 minutes to smash the previous men’s record of 15:07, set by Geoff Roes in 2010. Scotland native Ellie Greenwood, meanwhile, demolished the women’s record, set in 1994 by 14-time champion Ann Trason, by nearly an hour, in 16:47.
Bosio was right in the mix of elite contenders. The North Tahoe High School grad finished second among women while recording the fourth-fastest women’s time in event history, in just over 18 hours, 8 minutes. Bosio finished fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011. This year, without Greenwood, who is out with a stress fracture, Bosio should be the woman to beat, Trent said.
“Based on last year’s results, I’d say the women’s favorite has to be Rory Bosio. She was second last year, and she’s had a really good spring,” said Trent, adding that Olson is also returning to defend his men’s title. “I think they’ll both be primed for good performances. But there are a number of really, really good runners who are going to press them every step of the way.”
Other top runners include Nick Clark of Colorado, who was third overall last year, Dave Mackey, who was fourth, and Ian Sharman, who was fifth — all in under 16 hours. On the women’s side, 2012 third-place finisher Aliza Lapierre of Vermont is set to return, as is three-time Western States champ Nikki Kimball, who was fifth last year.
A number of strong newcomers are entered as well, Trent said. They include Rob Krar, the recent winner of the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim run, former University of Colorado standout Cameron Clayton, and Emily Harrison, who starred at the University of Vermont.
“It’s a talented and deep field. It’s what we’ve kind of grown accustomed to the last few years,” Trent said.
Aside from Bosio, a number of Tahoe-area runners earned a starting spot through the Western States lottery. All are nursing recent injuries yet still hope to reach the finish line at the Placer High School track.
Truckee’s Peter Fain said he is on the fence about competing, as he pulled a muscle — through which his sciatic nerve runs through — and hasn’t run in three and a half weeks.
“I’m basically trying to make up my mind whether I’m going to toe the line and make it into a long training run and drop out at Foresthill or something, or go until I can’t go anymore,” said Fain, who is apprehensive about worsening the injury when he has two more ultras scheduled this summer — the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K and Wasatch 100. “But I’m feeling pretty good. I’m thinking I’m going to wing it.”
Jenelle Potvin of Truckee also is entered in her first Western States run. Despite suffering a calf injury recently, she said she’s “100 percent committed to finishing.”
“I’m more excited than nervous. I try not to let the nerves creep in too much,” said Potvin, who was the third woman in last year’s Tahoe Rim Trail 100, in her first attempt at a 100-miler.
Amber Monforte of South Lake Tahoe will compete in her second Western States, after posting a fine time of 22:34:45 last year, which earned her a coveted silver Western States belt buckle. She, too, was recently injured, as she sprained her ankle this past spring. While the injury set back her training, she said she’ll be ready to run come 5 a.m. Saturday.
“One hundred miles always makes me a little nervous,” Monforte said, “but that’s kind of why I got into it. I come from long-distance triathlons, and I wasn’t getting nervous at the start line anymore. So I was looking for something to challenge me a little bit more.”
Conners-Pace — who said she switched her focus from ultrarunning to cross training after the 1980 Western States, but “has always had a passion for long-distance ultrarunning” — had meniscus surgery in March. While the surgery also set her back, she said she remains optimistic.
“I’m trying not to be anxious, because I had surgery in March, so my training wasn’t as good as it should have been. It’s just taken off in the last month or so,” she said. “My thoughts are, I earned the start line, because it’s hard to get in. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to train in the capacity I wanted, so I’m going to be happy if I reach the finish line. If I can get there and healthy, great. Even people who train well might not finish. And who knows, I might pull a magical day.”