Top contenders will battle the cold, the heat and each other this weekend.
Written by: Meghan M. Hicks
Early tomorrow morning, several hundred ultrarunners will climb the hill from the base of California’s Squaw Valley USA ski area, beginning the Western States Endurance Run, the most venerated 100-mile race in the sport.
These men and women will begin their race in ice, as they ascend to the crest of the Sierra Nevada, through feet of snow leftover from last winter’s record snowfall, then descend into the fire of the western Sierras’ hot canyons. After hours of traveling through this ice and fire, racers will finally come to rest on the red, rubber track of Placer High School in Auburn, California. Runners have 30 hours to complete the distance, but the top men will do so in about half the time.
Many of the world’s top ultrarunners will toe the line in pursuit of the champion’s title and cougar-studded trophy. While attrition is always a factor at the 100-mile distance, the race is so laden with talent that it is sure to be a near-sprint finish. In the following pages, we preview the top contenders in the men’s race.
Geoff Roes who won last year’s race and set a new course record of 15:07:04 in the process, is back to defend his title. Roes is a stud runner who has never lost at the 100-mile distance. In the past year, he’s split his time living in Colorado’s high-altitude Nederland and Juneau, AK, which purveys fast-access to snow running. Thus, Roes seems ready for the early-in-the-course ice.
Catalonian Kilian Jornet, who won the 2008 and 2009 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and who’s the current skimo world champion, finished third at last year’s WS100. He ran in contention for the win until mile 80, where he faded in the race’s fire to finish almost an hour back from Roes. He’s back and brings his lessons learned, saying this on the Salomon Running blog, “I learned a lot… It was my first race in the U.S., and their way of trail running is completely different from Europe. The race is more rolling, faster, and the runners didn’t stop even for… 30 seconds at [aid stations]! So, it was really new for me to manage the hydration versus the warm conditions.”
Nick Clark is a British national living in Colorado. He finished fourth at the 2010 WS100, nipping at Jornet’s heels in the race’s final miles. He’s had a wicked year of running since then, including first place and a course record at the gnarly Jemez 50, so he returns this year in top form.
Oregon’s Hal Koerner won the 2007 and 2009 WS100 and has an anthology of race wins in his 12-year ultrarunning career. He dropped from the race last year, having started with a bum ankle. He’s completely recovered, has raced well in the last year, and is probably seeking sweet racing revenge.
In 2009, Britain’s Jez Bragg, already well known in the Euro ultra circuit, entered the U.S. limelight when he placed third at the WS100. Bragg was unable to start the 2010 race due to injury, be he did recover fast enough to win the 2010 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and a host of other European races in the last year. Bragg’s got his mojo back, and he’s bringing it this weekend.
Ian Sharman, another British citizen who calls California home, was an elite-level marathoner and ultramarathoner for a few years when he stormed the ultrarunning public eye by running 100 miles in 12:44:33 at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100. This “Intercontinental Missile” finished eighth at last year’s WS100, his first 100-mile race. In an interview on iRunFar.com, he said of that race, “I had some bad patches with my hydration going wrong. Luckily, it got better toward the end. I was happy with it, and it was very much a learning experience.” Sharman’s, thus, relying on previous experience and serious leg speed for success this year.
Dave Mackey, who is currently living in California, took second at the 2004 WS100. He’s been on fire this season, garnering wins at the prestigious American River 50 Mile Endurance Run and the Miwok 100k. Look for a swift finish from him.
The list of potential top-10 finishers in the men’s race continues into the race’s deep field. Among the race’s entrant’s list are scores of dark horses, consistently strong racers, and relative unknowns who are primed for breakout races. Keep your eyes peeled on race day for any one of these guys to bring home the bacon:
- Japan’s Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, 42, finished second at the 2009 WS100 (behind Hal Koerner and ahead of Jez Bragg) and set the Master’s course record in the process.
- Idaho’s (he’s moving to Virginia after the race!) Andy Jones-Wilkins finished ninth in 2010, but has six consecutive top-10 finishes at WS100. This Mr. Consistency and master’s runner will surely bring home a strong finish.
- Watch out for Montana’s Mike Wolfe, who finished second at the 2010 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (behind Jez Bragg).
- New York master’s runner Glen Redpath ran to eighth place at the 2010 WS100.
Two folks who finished in last year’s top 10 and who are on this year’s entrant list will not start the race. Colorado’s Anton Krupicka, and Canada’s Gary Robbins are both out with respective leg and foot injuries.
The talk of the town in Squaw Valley a day before the race is this year’s ice and fire, how much snow early and heat later in the race the runners will experience. Well, that and how hard the Western States Endurance Run’s course record could fall thanks to these men.
Meghan M. Hicks is a Park City, Utah-based writer and trail runner. She’s covering the 2011 Western States Endurance Run as a journalist.