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If you’re a trail runner, you probably have at least heard of the Western States 100. It’s considered the granddaddy of 100s, and whether you have any interest in running it or not, it’s a spectacle to behold. Whether watching at the start in Olympic Valley, the finish in Auburn or somewhere along the way, or crewing or pacing, the spirit and the community of this event— the one that gave ultrarunning its first inklings of legitimacy, growth and mainstream appeal—will penetrate your soul. And it’s just as much about the back-of-the-pack recreational runners struggling to cross the line before the 30-hour cutoff as it is about Jim Walmsley going hell-bent-for-leather to try to break the course record.
It’s been said that the Western States 100 is the Boston Marathon of ultrarunning, but it’s much more special, given how relatively few people run it every year (about 370) and the small number of finishers it has had since its official inception in 1977 (about 5,500).
“There are a lot of great ultrarunning events, but as far as competitive races go, the Western States 100 is the pinnacle of trail racing in the U.S.,” says Colorado’s Dave Mackey, who placed second in the race in 2004, eighth in 2011 and fourth in 2012. “It’s always a very competitive field, the conditions are always very authentic and the atmosphere is all about the race to the track in Auburn. But it’s about the entire community that surrounds the race. There’s nothing like it in trail running.”
Race Date: June 29-30, 2019
Mileage: 100 Miles
Vertical Gain: 18,186 feet of gain, 23,135 feet of descent
A small foothills town that serves as a gateway to the Sierra Nevada range, Auburn boldly lays claim to the title of “Endurance Capital of the World” as a way to celebrate and promote the numerous quality events that start, finish or pass through the area. (The town even has an Endurance Capital of the World committee that works year-round on integrating that claim to bring visitors to town.)
“The week before the Western States 100, everyone is amped. It’s kind of silently loud,” says Julie Fingar, an elite ultrarunner and race director who lives in Auburn and has five sub-24-hour Western States 100 finishes to her credit. “All of the runners and crew are in Auburn before they head to Olympic Valley for the start, hanging out at local shops and restaurants.”
Running the Western States trail in reverse is a great way to get in a good out and back run. Start by leaving the Auburn Overlook and running about four miles down the Western States trail to No Hands Bridge. From there, you can run over to the town of Cool or hit a variety of side trails on the Olmstead Loop.
While the most prominent event is the Western States 100 (which finishes on the Auburn High School track), Auburn is also the home of the American River 50, Way to Cool 50K, the Auburn Triathlon and the Tevis Cup equestrian event, as well as being a stage route on the Amgen Tour of California bike race.
Austin Twietmeyer grew up in Auburn and was mostly interested in playing music and racing mountain bikes. He says he wasn’t a runner as a kid, even though he spent a lot of time hanging around and crewing at the Western States 100. But if the Twietmeyer name sounds familiar in the context of Auburn and its most famous race, well, it should. Austin Twietmeyer, 24, is the son of race legend Tim Twietmeyer, now 59, a five-time winner and record-setting 25-time sub-24-hour finisher.
They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Austin has followed in some of his father’s footsteps since he was 18. That’s when he ran his first trail races and got the itch to run States himself. Since then he’s run a few ultras every year, including the Rio Del Lago 100-miler last November, which got him into the 2018 Western States lottery.
“Growing up with the race, you always have the idea that you want to do it,” Austin says. “I crewed for my dad for his last few races and being involved like that was always really fun. ”
After getting a spot in this year’s race through the lottery, Austin logged big miles in the spring and ran the Way Too Cool 50K and the American River 50-miler. With his dad, mom (Kathy) and brothers (Matt and Trevor) crewing and pacing him at Western States, it was a true family affair.
The early miles of the race went well enough, but at times he was in the precarious position of chasing cutoff times. He was joined by his dad at the Michigan Bluff aid station (Mile 55.7), who paced him for the next 23 miles to the American River. From there, one of his older brothers, Matt, picked him up and paced him to the finish, where he was joined by his parents and brothers. They crossed the finish line together as the clock read 29:26:40.