Western States 100: Endurance at its best | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Western States 100: Endurance at its best

Sylas Wright
North Lake Tahoe Bonanza
Courtesy of Michael Kirby / www.kirbyphoto.netBack-to-back winner Hal Koerner of Ashland, Ore., crosses the finish line of the Western States Endurance Run last year. This year's 100-mile race is scheduled to start from the base of Squaw Valley on Saturday at 5 a.m.

SQUAW VALLEY – From year to year, there’s no telling what Mother Nature will throw at the athletes brave enough to challenge the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run.

Usually it’s brutal, late-June heat that bakes ultrarunners as they traverse the backcountry canyons between Squaw Valley and Auburn – ascending a total of 18,090 feet and descending another 22,970.

This year, the primary obstacle that could add to finish times is the lingering backcountry snow and its runoff, said John Trent, media relations director with Western States.

“It will be a snowy year,” Trent said. “There’s going to be anywhere from 10 to 12 miles of snow, which is not the most ever, but it is a significant amount.”

Despite the snow, which remains in abundance at higher elevations after a wet spring with cool temperatures, Trent expects speedy times among this year’s highly competitive field of ultrarunners, in large part because of the mild weather forecast for the weekend.

“It’s going to be interesting because of that,” he said of the forecast, which calls for a high of 71 degrees at Squaw Valley on Saturday and 90 in Auburn, according to the National Weather Service. “What’s going to counterbalance that is the snow in the backcountry. It should be a fast year even with the snow, but I don’t know if they’re going to quite get down to the record or not.”

The course record stands at 15 hours, 36, minutes, 27 seconds, set by seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek in 2004. Last year’s winner, Hal Koerner of Ashland, Ore., finished in 16 hours, 24 minutes, 55 seconds.

In addition to the relatively mild weather this year – temperatures have been known to soar into the triple-digits many years – Trent said runners also should also benefit from the rerouting of the original course along the Western States Trail. Due to the inaccessibility of a couple of early aid stations, race officials chose a lower-elevation route that bypasses Lyon Ridge, instead descending to French Meadows Reservoir before rejoining the standard route at mile 24, Duncan Canyon, via the Poppy Trail.

“I’ve been told that the Poppy Trail rerouting that they did is pretty sweet single-track. It’s nice, gentle switchbacks, and it’s almost straight downhill for 10 miles,” Trent said. “So after they come out of the snow, they could pick up the pace a bit, especially with the weather being favorable farther down the course.”

Because of the high amount of runoff, Trent said runners will be shuttled across the American River crossing at mile 78 on rubber boats.

Fast field

This year’s Western States Endurance Run – the 37th edition – is shaping into a competitive race featuring a deep and talented field of national-caliber ultrarunners.

On the men’s side, two-time defending champ Koerner returns after winning last year and in 2007 (the race was canceled in 2008 due to wildfire smoke), and he should be tough to beat in his quest for a three-peat, Trent said.

“Hal is definitely going to be right there. If people are going to beat him, they are going to have to run incredibly fast because Hal is in pretty good shape and has had a good spring,” Trent said.

First-time Western States participants Anton Krupicka of Boulder, Colo., and Geoff Roes of Douglas, Alaska, could also challenge for the win, Trent said, as well as Kilian Jornet Burgada of Spain, who’s a three-time winner of the Skyrunner World Series. Krupicka has won Colorado’s Leadville 100 twice, while Roes has never lost a 100-miler in several attempts and was named Ultrarunning Magazine’s 2009 Ultrarunner of the Year.

Last year’s female winner, Anita Ortiz, recently blew out her anterior cruciate ligament and will not race, Trent said. That leaves the women’s field open for grabs among a competitive bunch of athletes.

Some of the top returning women include three-time champ Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, Mont., who was fourth last year, as well as Beverly Anderson-Abbs of Red Bluff, who took third in 2009. Then there’s first-time Western States runners Joelle Vaught of Boise, Idaho, who’s fresh off a win in the Way Too Cool 50K, Devon Crosby-Helms of San Francisco, who won the Vermont 100 in 2008, and Meghan Arbogast of Corvallis, Ore., who has posted blazing times in marathons, Trent said.

There could even be a local runner contending for the win on the women’s side.

Rory Bosio of Soda Springs is set to take on her first Western States run, and Trent likes her chances.

“Rory doesn’t race very often, but when she does she races really, really well,” he said, citing her win in the Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 in the Bay Area this past fall. “Nobody really has taken that great of notice of her, but if you’re looking for somebody who’s going to break through with a really good run, I think Rory could be right up there.”

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