The 46th running of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS) is set to take place on June 29 and 30, with 369 runners (out of nearly 6,000 applicants!) slated to start the race. The world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, WS begins with a climb of 2,550 feet in the first four-and-a-half miles up the Squaw Valley ski slopes, then consists of steep ascents and descents into canyons. At mile 62, the elevation gains and losses level out at the Foresthill aid station. The Rucky Chucky river crossing this year will be via boat due to high amounts of snowmelt. The race finishes in Auburn, California, where runners strive to finish under 24 hours to be awarded a silver belt buckle.
Eight out of both the 2018 top-10 men’s and women’s finishers will be returning. Both men’s and women’s winners from last year, Jim Walsmley, 29, of Flagstaff, Arizona, and Courtney Dauwalter, 34, of Golden, Colorado, are hoping to defend their titles. The deep fields include champs from previous years.
“The field is super stacked,” says Kyle Pietari, 32, of Edgewater, Colorado, and 2018’s sixth-place finisher. “A lot of wildcards, as there have been in the past couple of years, as well.”
Challenging conditions—sometimes snow and almost always heat—have also come to be expected. “There will be snow on the course, but the impact is going to be minimal compared to the way things looked during our Memorial Day Weekend training runs,” said WS Race Director Craig Thornley on the race’s website. “We’ve had years where the snow was continuous for the first 25 to 30 miles of the course. That definitely won’t be the case this year.”
The temperatures may present a different kind of challenge this year as they are predicted to be cooler than normal. Last year’s temperatures hit over 100 degrees. The cooler temps mean that runners won’t need to worry as much about conserving energy midday in the hottest portions of the course.
“The cooler temps are going to make things faster after we get out of the snow,” says Jeff Browning, 47, of Logan, Utah, who is running WS for the fifth time. “Paces will be faster; people will be able to hold that pace for longer. It may be a little bit of a hindrance to some of us veterans who rely on the experience of being able to handle the heat. But who knows? It’s 100 miles.”
On top of Wamsley’s course-record-breaking performance at last year’s race, with a finishing time of 14 hours 30 minutes, he recently showed even more leg speed, qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a “B” standard time of 1:04:00 at January’s Houston Half-Marathon. His speed is something to lookout for once he passes Foresthill.
Said Walmsley in a recent interview with Trail Runner, “[My goal] is definitely to repeat winning it. How or how fast is up in the air. A lot of it is going to depend on the snow conditions … Until you know that, you can’t game plan too much about the time, so it’s all about training hard and coming in as fit as you can.”
Last year’s second-place finisher, Francois D’haene of France is not returning, but the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers, Mark Hammond, 34, of Millcreek, Utah, Ian Sharman, 38, of Bend, Oregon, Browning, and Pietari, respectively, will be returning. The 2017 WS champion, Ryan Sandes, 37, of South Africa, is also coming back.
Sharman, originally from Great Britain, will be gunning for his 10th straight top-10 WS finish. “This race has a bit more meaning,” says Sharman, “because at 10 years you get a 10-year belt buckle. If the finishers are all under 24 hours, it says 1,000 miles in 10 days. My little nuance in that is I’m trying to have the total time be under one week, which hasn’t been done before.”
Other runners in contention for a top finish include Kris Brown, 30, of Santa Barbara, California, who finished 10th in 2018. Says Brown, “Strategies and aspirations aside, I’m not alone in appreciating the opportunity to participate in Western States … and enjoying it in some sick, perverse way.”
Patrick Reagan, 32, of Savannah, Georgia, is bringing some road speed and heat experience with him to his first time at WS. Having finished third at the 2016 IAU 100K World Championships and winning the Javelina Jundred in 2017 and 2018, Reagan knows how to race strategically.
“For me, it’s running a smart race early,” says Reagan, “so that when we get to Foresthill and when we get to the river in the hottest parts of the day, I’m moving really fast, and hope to make a lot of advancements through the field.”
Sub-four-minute miler, Matt Daniels, 31, of Boulder, Colorado secured his Golden Ticket entry by winning the Black Canyon 100K in February of this year. He’s run for team USA at WMRA world championships, and only recently started running ultramarathon distances, so he has a lot of potential to showcase.
A dark horse last year with a Golden Ticket entry, Dauwalter tagged the second-fastest WS women’s time at 17:27:00. Setting women’s ultrarunning on fire in the past couple of seasons, Dauwalter, last September, took second overall at the Tahoe 200, beating the women’s course record by 18 hours and the overall course record by eight hours.
Said Dauwalter in a pre-race interview with iRunFar, “Last year was my first experience with all of it, so getting to just explore new trails and see the aid stations and the community was so special. I’m excited to be back.”
The youngest top-10 contender Lucy Bartholomew, 23, of Melbourne, Australia, will be back, after a third-place finish last year. She’s been racing ultras since she was 16.
Last year’s second-place finisher, Kaytlyn Gerbin, 30, of Issaquah, Washington, and the fourth-place finisher, Amanda Basham, 29, of North Logan, Utah, will be returning, as well. In the last year, Gerbin won the 2018 Bear 100 mile in Logan, Utah, setting a course record, and Basham placed third at the 2019 Tarawera Ultramarathon 50K, in New Zealand .
Clare Gallagher, 27, of Boulder, Colorado, will be returning after a rough time on the course in 2017. Since that year’s DNF, where she dropped due to an injury, Gallagher finished 8th at the 2018 Trail World Championships and won the 2019 Way Too Cool 50K.
“I hope I get to share some miles with my friends,” says Gallagher. “There’s a slew of women, like Kaytlyn Gerbin, close friends that I only see at these big races.”
Other notable runners to lookout for include Camille Herron, 37, of Warr Acres, Oklahoma, who set the record for the 24-hour race at the Desert Solstice Invitational in December of 2018, and Brittany Peterson, 33, of Pocetello, Idaho, who secured her Golden Ticket entry by winning the Bandera 100K in Bandera, Texas.
Ultrarunning legend Scotty Mills, 68, of Oceanside, California, will be attempting to finish WS for the 20th time. Having run his first ultra in 1981, Mills has 17 sub-24-hour WS finishes.
“I love the event, I love the organization, I love the beauty of the course,” says Mills, “and I have so many friends that I’ve met over the years from Western States.”
Dave Mackey, 49, of Boulder, Colorado continues to make a historic return to ultrarunning. A trail accident in May 2015 left Mackey with a broken leg that would not heal properly and needed amputation. Mackey quickly got back into running and completed the Leadville Race Series 20 months after the surgery. Mackey has finished three times in the top-10 at WS and he was set to run WS in 2015, but will be returning after overcoming new challenges.
Kyle Robidoux, 30, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, is the first visual-impaired runner at WS. Robidoux has retinitis pigmentosa, which severely limits his eyesight, but he is able to run safely with the help of sighted guides. He has completed five Boston Marathons and three 100-mile races.
Karen Bonnett-Natraj, 63, of Auburn, California, was awarded this year’s Silver Legend, which honors a runner over the age of 60 who has contributed to the ultrarunning and Western States community. Bonnett-Natraj has finished three WS, and her finish in 2017 was just nine seconds under the 30-hour cutoff mark.
The gun goes off Saturday June 29th at 5 a.m. in Squaw Valley.