Who says Oregonians can’t run in the heat?
On the second-hottest day in the 40-year history of the Western States Endurance Run on Saturday, Timothy Olson of Ashland, Ore., defended his record-setting title from 2012, while Pam Smith of Salem, Ore., claimed the woman’s victory and was ninth overall.
“We joked with them at the awards ceremony that they’re only supposed to run well in the cool weather, not the warm weather,” said Western States President John Trent. “There’s been a paradigm shift or something.”
Olson, who last year set a new course record by completing the historic 100-mile foot race from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 14 hours, 46 minutes — in one of the cooler races in Western States history — reached the finish line at the Placer High track in 15 hours, 17 minutes.
“It was an amazing run,” Trent said, adding that Olson’s time was the fifth fastest on record. “He ran the course record last year, but I think in a lot of ways this was maybe a superior effort. It was a near ideal day last year, and this year it was the other end of the extreme. And he still ran it blazing fast.”
Despite the hot weather — the only hotter Western States run was 1995, when the mercury climbed to 104 — a surprisingly high number of runners reached the finish line within the 30-hour cutoff, Trent said. Of the 383 starters, 277 (or 72 percent) succeeded.
“At points, it might have been the hottest day in our history. It was tough conditions for everybody. But the amazing thing was, even with the warm weather, we still had an incredible finish rate,” Trent said. “Usually when we have a day like that, where it’s close to 100 degrees, if we get 60 percent or even the high 50s we consider that to be an incredible day. So 72 percent is a real testament to the decisions that the runners made and how they executed their game plans.”
Racing in his first-ever 100-miler, Rob Krar, 36, of Flagstaff, Ariz., challenged Olson to finish runner-up in 15:22, while Mike Morton, 41, of Lithia, Fla., was third in 15:45. Morton, a member of the Army special forces, Trent said, once held the Western States record when he won it in 1997. While his time in his return was five minutes off his mark from 16 years ago, it was good enough for a new Masters record (40 and older).
“Living in Florida, he didn’t think it was all that hot,” Trent said.
Another Oregon runner, 2007 and 2009 champion Hal Koerner, 37, remained on Olson’s heels much of the race, but he dropped out at the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78. Former University of Colorado standout Cameron Clayton, meanwhile, held the lead for about the first 34 miles, Trent said, but the 24-year-old dropped at Devil’s Thumb, around mile 47, after Olson and Koerner had taken control.
“He said he was going to go for broke, and that’s kind of what he did. That’s his style, and that’s what he tried to do,” Trent said.
Smith takes women’s title
In a Western States press release previewing the run, Pam Smith was not listed among the women’s favorites. The winner of the American River 50-Miler this past April proved she should have been.
“That was a little bit of a surprise,” Trent said of Smith’s win, which she earned in a time of 18:37. “I don’t know if anyone would have picked her to win, but I think there were folks who thought she could be in the top three for sure. But she just ran a phenomenal race. She kept getting stronger and stronger as the day went on.”
Trent said Smith, who suffered from stomach issues at around mile 34, recovered and took over the lead from Joelle Vaught around mile 38. By Foresthill, at mile 62, she had built a 25-minute lead.
Three-time Western States champ Nikki Kimball, 42, of Bozeman, Mont., finished second among women and 14th overall, posting a time of 19:21. Amy Sproston, 39 — another Oregon runner, from Portland — was third (16th overall) in 19:25.
Truckee’s Rory Bosio, 28, was among the favorites after finishing second last year. She finished fifth among women (22nd overall) in a time of 19:52. Like last year, she ran with Aliza Lapiere of Williston, Vt., who finished just behind in 20:04. Bosio could not be reached for comment.
“She hung in there,” Trent said. “She probably would tell you it wasn’t her best day, but she’s still so remarkably consistent, even if she’s not having a great day, she’s right up there with all the great runners.”
Two-time defending champ Ellie Greenwood was sidelined with a stress fracture.
Tahoe-area runners endure heat
Among the other Tahoe-area runners — all of whom are nursing recent training injuries — Truckee’s Peter Fain finished in a time of 24:48, Jenelle Potvin of Truckee finished in 25:28 and Amber Monforte of South Lake Tahoe finished in 26:06. Colleen Conners-Pace of Tahoe City, also injured, did not finish.
“He’s just a tough guy,” Trent said of Fain, who was on the fence about competing after suffering a recent muscle pull, which halted his training for three and a half weeks.
Potvin was pleased to reach the finish line without aggravating any of her several nagging injuries, which include a pulled calf muscle, plantar fasciitis in both feet and IT band issues. She said her feet got brutalized along the way, however, and she struggled with the near-record temperatures.
“It was way harder for me than the TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Miler), I think mainly because of the heat,” Potvin said. “I felt good every mile at TRT, and I did not at States. I also had way less training. My longest training run was only 38 miles, and so I was way undertrained.”
Potvin said the last 30 miles were particularly rough, after she realized the condition of her feet and decided she had no choice but to “gut it out.”
“I also thought it would cool down at night and I was kind of looking forward to that all day. And it didn’t happen. It was still 82 degrees at 2 in the morning,” she said.