The times, they are a changin’.
Written by: Meghan M. Hicks
As recently as five years ago, you’d find just one, maybe two or three, super fast female contenders at most ultramarathons. By perusing the annals of ultramarathon results, you’d further notice that these ladies mostly finished with good chunks of time between them, meaning that they battled the demons of themselves and the course rather than each other. But the sport is changing fast, and the 2011 Western States Endurance Run women’s entrant list, with its dozen or so elite-level runners, proves it.
This year’s top runners will cross deep snow early on in this 100-mile race, cresting the Sierra Nevada at the top of the Squaw Valley USA ski area. There’s so much more snow than usual that the course has been rerouted to avoid impassible volumes of it. Later, runners descend into a series of canyons that are notorious for holding summer heat. It’ll take the top women around 18 hours or a bit more to contend with each other, themselves, and the course before crossing the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn, CA.
Canada’s Tracy Garneau championed the 2010 WS100, and is back to defend her title. She’s got a long list of ultramarathon credentials, including a win and course record at the 2010 Hurt 100. At 42, Garneau’s a master’s runner as well, so look for her to go after both the overall and master’s win.
Oregon’s Meghan Arbogast, who turned 50 this year and who has been racing ultras for over 15 years, roared to second at the 2010 WS100 and proved that many things get better with age. Though she’s had strong finishes for years, she’s on a particular roll since last year’s race with a win at the 2010 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run and second at the 2011 Miwok 100k.
Nikki Kimball hails from Montana and is a WS100 legend. She won the race in 2004, 2006, and 2007. She also finished fourth in 2009 and third in 2010. Though Kimball fought several years of knee pain that precluded her from training at the volume needed for the win, she’s reportedly pain-free, well trained, and ready to rumble.
Ellie Greenwood, of Canada, has been on the ultramarathon scene for several years, but the world learned about her during her 2010 breakout season as well as her early 2011 results. Though she’ll debut the 100-mile distance this weekend, she’s performed beautifully at races up to 80 miles in length. As the 2010 World 100k champion, the winner of the 2011 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run, and fourth at the 2011 Comrades Marathon, watch for her fast finish.
Oregon’s Kami Semick and elite ultramarathoning have gone hand-in-hand for about eight years. Kami’s list of outstanding race results is long and winding, and recently includes winning the 2009 World 100k, second at the 2011 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run (behind Ellie Greenwood), and third at the 2011 Comrades Marathon (ahead of Ellie Greenwood). She’s raced 100 miles before, including two top-10 finishes at the WS100.
Idaho’s Joelle Vaught finished seventh at the 2010 WS100, her first time racing 100 miles. She’s had a rocking year since then, including wins at four major ultramarathons in 2011. Perhaps her previous experience at this distance as well as her recent success will be her winning combination.
Anita Ortiz, a master’s runner out of Colorado, won the 2009 WS100 by an hour. Prior to becoming an ultramarathoner, she experienced elite-level success at shorter trail races. Since her WS100 win, she suffered a couple nasty foot and knee injuries. She’s now healthy and has won a couple ultramarathons this year. Plus, the lady is tough as nails, which will be useful in this weekend’s multi-faceted battle.
Pam Smith, of Oregon, ran to tenth place at the 2010 WS100. Earlier this year, she proved her leg speed as well as her ability to both climb and descend through a respective second place at the Mad City 100k and a win at Miwok 100k (ahead of Meghan Arbogast). With recent success and last year’s taste of the race, she’s probably better ready to compete this year.
The list of other potential top-10 finishers in the women’s race goes on. These ladies bring some studly credentials, so watch out for their A-games at Saturday’s race:
- Vermont’s Aliza Lapierre won the 2011 Leona Divide 50 Mile and holds a number of course records in East Coast ultramarathons.
- Rory Bosio, of Califorinia, finished fourth at the 2010 WS100.
- Amy Sproston, who hails from Oregon, is no stranger to ultramarathons. She has wins at many distances, including 100 miles.
- California’s Caren Spore, a strong master’s runner, has finished inside top-5 at WS100 three previous times.
The women’s entrant list has a couple strong runners who will not toe the line. Annette Bednosky, who is from North Carolina and who won the 2005 WS100, is out due to an early-season injury that precluded WS100 training. Texas’ Liza Howard won’t run because of a foot injury.
It’s interesting to note that, unlike the men race, the elite women’s field has little representation beyond North America. Even so, with the 2011 WS100, women’s ultramarathon racing has arrived. Running 100 miles always produces the demons of one’s self and the course, but now women have the added competition of each other.
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.