Observations from Observation Peak: Post-Race Thoughts From The 2014 Western States 100

This past weekend, for the third year in a row, I spent part of the day of Western States atop Observation Peak, high in the mountains around Juneau, Alaska. Observation Peak is the highest point within a few-hours run from downtown Juneau, and is thus one of the few spots in the mountains here where you can get reliable phone service.

In June of 2012 I can recall sitting on top of the peak with a few close friends, amazed at the reality that it was 20 or 30 degrees warmer where we were in Alaska than it was in Auburn that day. As I finished up my 12-hour outing that day I checked my phone to discover that just a few minutes earlier Tim Olson had just shattered my short-lived course record.

A year later I was atop Observation Peak once again, this time with a dozen or more friends, many of whom were in Juneau to attend my wedding the next day. As we tracked the race this time I remember thinking there was no way that Rob Krar would possibly continue to move up through the field as the race got into the late stages. That’s just not what generally happens as people get past the midway point in their first 100 miler. Joe Grant, who was with me that day, seemed convinced that Rob would continue to move up in the field and maybe even win the race. I expected Rob to ‘blow up’ and be lucky to finish. When I got down to town a few hours later I was impressed to see how wrong I had been proven by Mr. Krar. He came up short of winning, but ran what I consider to be one of the best debut 100 milers in the history of the sport.

This past weekend I was on top of Observation Peak in the middle of a three-night fastpack with a half dozen past participants of my Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp. We had been dancing through the clouds, rain, and wind for 24 hours, but once again I found myself on top of this 5,000-foot peak, loading the race updates on my phone. No matter how far I am away from Western States in geographic proximity, I doubt I will be away from it in my psyche for several years to come. I don’t follow races week in and week out as closely as I once did when I was taking part in a race every three to five weeks, but I do still find myself pretty drawn to certain events. Western States is without question one of these events that I remain drawn to.

The thing that stands out to me more than anything from this year’s race is just how predictable the race seemed to play out. Going into the race I would have given Rob Krar at least a 60% chance of winning the race. I thought it was without question his race to go out and take charge of, and that is what he did. This certainly doesn’t make his performance any less impressive. In some ways it is even more impressive to get the job done when everyone is expecting you to. Rob is in my mind the top North American runner in the sport right now (and one of the top few in the world), and I look forward to seeing what he does in the next year or two. I think he can run with anyone in the world on any given day, and I suspect he will prove this more and more if he continues to race more of the top-level races.

Certainly Seth Swanson was a huge surprise in second place, and I look forward to seeing more of what he brings to the sport in the months and years to follow. The rest of the top 10 played out very much the way I would have predicted. I knew that Max King would be a huge factor in how the race played out; that’s simply the case in every race he takes part in, but I also was not at all surprised to see him fade sometime after the 100k mark. It’s perfectly normal and expected for people to slow in relation to others once they go beyond the furthest they ever have run. I have no idea if Max will give more 100 milers a shot, but if he does he will certainly be a favorite to win any race he’s in now that he has this experience behind him.

The women’s side of things was certainly a bit more wide open going into the race, but like the men’s side, played out in a fairly predictable way. Certainly it was very impressive and a bit of a surprise to see Stephanie Howe win Western States in her first hundred, but she has shown that she has incredible potential at any distance, and she would have been my likely pick to win going into the race.

How can I talk above about how hard it is to run effectively beyond the furthest you have ever run, and then say that I am not that surprised that Stephanie won Western States in her 100-mile debut? This speaks to her obvious potential and ability, but also to the reality that the women’s field, although very wide open, deep, and intriguing this year, did not contain anyone by the name of Ellie Greenwood, Anna Frost, Lizzy Hawker, or Emelie Forsberg, the four women who have, in my mind, when healthy, separated themselves as the four top female trail ultrarunners in the world. Not to take anything away from Stephanie’s performance, which was probably one of the top (if not the top) 100-mile debut ever on the women’s side, but had any of these four been in the race on Saturday things would have almost certainly been very different throughout the day.

Another thing that stood out to me on the men’s side was the lack of depth at the very top of the field. Western States has been the premiere 100 miler for decades now, and it certainly continues to be a hugely popular, hugely competitive, and very intriguing race, but it’s hard not to take note of the reality that Hardrock, which is coming up in a couple weeks, has a much larger list of potential winners than what Western States did this past weekend. This certainly isn’t meant to take anything away from what Rob Krar did, and part of this reality is simply that he is so good at racing ultras that any race he is in is going to have a very small field of runners who could potentially win the race (because they would have to beat him to do so), but it was certainly noteworthy going into the race to have such a clear favorite, as this just hasn’t been the case for at least five or six years at Western States. If Rob were racing Hardrock or UTMB this year, he would, in my mind, have a much lower chance of winning the race than he did this past weekend. This may simply be a one-year anomaly, but it’s hard not to wonder if last year will ultimately be the last year in which Western States will be the most competitive race in the sport?

I see more and more people coming into the sport who want to travel through much more rugged, more steep, and more challenging terrain than what Western States offers. It’s hard not to wonder if this trend will eventually lead to a race with more challenging terrain replacing Western States as the race that more top runners choose to run year in and year out. This said, Western States is an incredibly well run, historic, and satisfying event that might just surprise me and continue to remain the premiere event at the 100-mile distance. I never thought it would remain so as long as it has, so it might just prove me wrong and remain so for many years to come. I look forward to seeing where this all goes, but I also look forward to seeing how things shake out in Silverton in a couple weeks, and in Chamonix in a couple months.

Western States is most certainly a top-notch event in this ever-changing sport, and it’s been really fun to be a small part of the history of this race. Will I ever run it again? Who knows. I’m still in a place with my health/recovery where I’m not sure when I’ll race anything seriously again. I’ve just been super happy to be able to get out in the mountains on long runs and keep myself nourished, happy, and moving forward to a place of health and contentedness. I cherish my experiences at Western States, as well as other races I’ve taken part in, but for me, my personal storyline these past couple years has been much more about being out on top a magical place like Observation Peak, than it has been about being a part of the racing scene and culture of ultrarunning. The two could not be more different from each other, but I feel so lucky to have such an intimate relationship with both of them. Perhaps one of these years I’ll be back in Squaw Valley on the day of Western States, but for now I am as happy as could be to have spent the past three years of race day on top of a lonely, majestic, and beautiful mountain peak in Alaska. I’m just glad I get phone service up there so I can ‘see’ all the excitement that is unfolding down in California.

  • Call for Comments (from Meghan)
  • What do you think of Geoff’s reflections of this past weekend’s Western States 100?
  • Do you agree or disagree that Rob Krar was an expected winner while Stephanie Howe was a surprise?
  • What do you think of Geoff’s thought about the very front of the field–the list of potential winners (which I think Geoff is describing separately from the list of top runners)–being less deep than in years past?
  • Geoff followed along with the race from atop Observation Peak. Where were you and how did you follow the race?

There are 55 comments

  1. Nrmrvrk

    > Call for Comments (from Meghan)

    > What do you think of Geoff’s reflections of this past weekend’s Western States 100?

    I’m tired of seeing Geoff Roes’ columns in IRunFar. I mostly skip them when they show up in my RSS feed.

    > Do you agree or disagree that Rob Krar was an expected winner while Stephanie Howe was a surprise?

    Krar was the heavy favorite. Stephanie was one of the people to look out for, but I didn’t think that there was a clear women’s favorite, so yes and maybe.

    > What do you think of Geoff’s thought about the very front of the field–the list of potential winners (which I think Geoff is describing separately from the list of top runners)–being less deep than in years past?

    I think Geoff could stop commenting on ultra running for IRunFar and I wouldn’t miss it. Nothing personal against Geoff, he was the top guy for a couple of years there but it feels like he’s still trying to hold on to something that he has deep issues with (injury / recovery) and it’d be nice to hear from someone else instead.

    > Geoff followed along with the race from atop Observation Peak. Where were you and how did you follow the race?

    Obsessively checking Twitter every chance I got and then turning on the video feed to watch Rob Krar finish. Sadly the video paused and then jumped about 10 seconds so that I missed him running down the final stretch and crossing the line. The recap videos of his finish jump as well. Bummer.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Nrmrvrk,

      Not sure what you mean by video skipping? Here’s the playback of our live feed starting at when Rob rounds the top of the track, http://youtu.be/DpqYLVx_r9U?t=25m52s, no video-skipping issue here. (The sound is terrible when there’s a lot of cheering, too much feedback. I couldn’t fix that on site without losing some of the other quieter conversations that were happening at the finish. This is definitely something we’ll work on in the future.) And here’s Rob’s finish video taken with another camcorder and published separately, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfptWKseU_k. Both audio and video are good on this video.

  2. @PutMeBackOnBike

    Well I love reading Geoff's columns and his opinions, as a wser winner and all round great runner have insights and knowledge that many of us value. Keep skipping them Nrmrvrk and we'll all keep reading them.

  3. @yroc

    as a reader, sometimes i employ the technique of disregarding everything before the "but."
    for example:
    "this article is really good, but it is really bad."
    would be translated as "it is really bad."
    skimming through again, filtering the content before the many "buts" (which mostly removes the nice stuff), it seems like the short version reads like this:

    krar won because there was no competition.
    same with howe.
    western states is no big deal.
    people on remote peaks who have previously won races are a big deal.

    geoff's is a fantastic human, great runner, and his articles are great, but he says but too much.

    1. grroes

      It sounds to me like you are essentially saying that you sometimes prefer to only take into account one side of an article or a point. This is essentially the definition of taking something out of context. you could surmise all of the things that you mention here if you simply read the article and only focus on the things which point to these conclusions, and disregard everything else that further explains them or puts them into context. this is great if you are wanting to be offended by something, but entirely inaccurate if your goal is to actually understand the entire point that is being presented. When I write an article I choose my words to mean exactly what they say, if you feel the need to distort them, or disregard some of them that has much more to do with your reading style than it has to do with my writing style. I don't pretend for a second to be a very polished or skilled writer, but I don't write things that I don't mean. You can continue to drop the stuff before the "buts" if you prefer, but you will continue to miss the totality of the points i'm making (as you seem to have done in this case).

  4. RyanRSingh

    I personally have found inspiration in what Geoff chooses to share! There's been many 4:30 AMs when the only thing getting me out of bed for a looong run has been posts from people like Geoff to motivate me. It's not so much his success, rather his passion for the sport that is truly admirable.

  5. @bpurcell72

    Granted Geoff is a "former" ultra runner at this point in his life, but his past success and experience gives him every right to offer his opinions and for IRunFar to post them. The height of his career came right at the transition time of ultras being fringe (Jurek era) and professional (new youth/speed movement). Ann Trason is also a former ultra runner, but I'll gobble up anything she writes. With that said, I can see how Geoff's commentary is not everyone's taste. He tends to be more esoteric and above-the-clouds viewpoint. There's plenty of utra running articles I skip over just because they don't write about what I'm interested. That's how things work.

  6. FernandoNBaeza

    Geoff,

    Thanks for the article; its so neat to read what other elites see unfold prior, during and after such a prolific race. I am reluctant to say this in such a public forum "but" it is such a shame seeing others chastise and ostracize our own niche of runners, its hard enough having to explain to the running world why we run these longer events…"but," that's just my opinion. ;D Keep them coming Geoff!
    San Antonio, TX

  7. hthe3rd

    Geoff, thanks for your piece.

    I have to disagree, however, with your assertion that Hardrock has more depth and competition than WS this year. Yes, HR does boast some of the best mountain-ultra-trail runners in the world this year –Jornet, Chaigneau, Chorier, Olson, and Jones — but it is significantly lacking after those five. I have the utmost respect for the likes of Grant, Hewey, Campbell, Jaime, etc, but they (the 2nd group) tend to excel primarily on very specific courses that are similar to Hardrock. (Kaburaki seems to straddle the two groups)

    WS on the other hand requires a much more "well rounded runner" (for lack of a better term) to place in the top-10. A top-10 finisher in 2014 needed to not only climb and descend well, but also needed the leg speed necessary to run an incredibly quick time. While I know that speed is not the sole determinant of talent in ultras, the "speed" credentials of the field this year was out of this world. When you put that together with the ultra and MUT abilities of most of these competitors you get a stacked field which was much deeper than HR. WS is also deeper for the sheer fact that there are so many more competitors allowed entry in addition to the fact that the Montrail Ultra Cup series ensures that you have a at least 15 top runners granted entry through qualifying races.

    Shoot, Clark, Bragg, Maravilla, Laney, Armstrong, Wolfe, Terranova, Grossman, Diboun and Price would be a helluva field and those are just some of the big names that didn't even make the top-10!

    While all of this debate is relatively subjective, it seems to me that Geoff greatly downplayed the evidence, provided by the results, of how incredibly deep and competitive WS actually was this year. IMO, it was way more competitive than any previous year and I believe this trend will continue in the upcoming years.

    (tl;dr) WS was much deeper and more competitive than HR this year because it consisted of roughly 30 runners who have excelled at all different distances 1500m –> 100mi, on all different terrains, and at all elevations.

    1. EvanKimber

      Well, keep in mind we're dealing with 140 entrants at HR compared to nearly 400 at WS, so the denominator is already 2.8x smaller. Of course WS is going to have "more" competitive runners in this sense, there's more to fill in. Add to the fact there are several elites who would avoid HR like a plague, but not WS. This is simply a fact.

      Further to Geoff's point (which I strongly agree with), is the fact that this years Hardrock fierce top 5 is FAR more compelling than WS. Who's going to win this one? I GUARANTEE you the odds are going to be widely split among the likes of the top 5, unlike WS where the vast majority had Krar. This is an important point. It's the first year we've EVER seen WS get replaced with a more fierce top 5. Hard to argue this point. I'm excited as can be for this year's Hardrock!

      1. Greg

        I’m not sure that I agree with “the fact that this year’s Hardrock top 5 is FAR more compelling than WS”. The Europeans out of that group, to me, the clear favorites as all have records of success in mountainous 100s. Timmy, while he has a fantastic resume, doesn’t have anything to conclude he will crush Hardrock. He has two great Western States races, but tougher 100s (e.g., UTMB, RRR) he has stuggled at. He did win P2P twice, but there wasn’t much competition there. Dakota, likewise, has two solid Hardrock performances, but he got beaten soundly both times. And his UTMB didn’t end well. That is not a knock on either of them, but I’m trying to make a point that I think the logic is flawed by allowing those two to be considered great runners and favorites at Hardrock while dismissing certain runners at Western States (think: Max King and his great races of lesser distances). Rob Krar was probably the favorite, but no one would have been surprised if Ryan Sandes had won. And the reason Krar was the favorite is because of what he has accomplished in the last 18 months. Seriously, his record during that span is unmatched. Just my opinion, and I’m pumped for Hardrock, but I don’t think even the pointy end is any more compelling or competitive than Western was.

        1. EvanKimber

          Greg I am content to "agree to disagree" with you here, though I'm still happy to throw some defense jabs back. I picked Sandes at 5th for WS, exactly spot on, and so I disagree with you when you say "nobody would have been surprised if he would have run." I certainly would have been surprised! Then you use logic that "Dakota being soundly beaten" both times he ran HR means he is not a legitimate contender for a win here? Of course he is. He finished 2nd at the age of 21 and 3rd place at age 22 less than an hour off the winner. Dakota knows the Hardrock course extremely well and he's much more experienced to boot. As for Timmy Olson, first of all he ran RRR a mere 2 weeks after UTMB, and came in 4th!!! Sure, he may not have won UTMB, but to use that single metric as your entire logic of dismissal is pretty off. He's a beast of an athlete and no doubt will be holding his own in this tremendous top 5. There are even more people and stats you mention I would argue, but I'm not sure it matters as you're probably already typing your defense. No worries, we are not going to agree here. Cheers.

  8. hthe3rd

    Good points, Evan. I did mention the entrant sizes as a factor in depth and competitiveness when comparing the two races.

    I'd say Killian is just as big a favorite at HR as Krar was at WS. Yes, Olson, Chaigneau, Chorier, or Dakota could beat him but I don't think it is more likely a chance than Sandes, Sharman, Bowman, or King had to beat Krar. To me, it's a toss up between the strength of the top-5 at each race.

    The one thing that may have hindered the "top-5 strength" of the WS field is that guys like King, Varner, and Laney, among others, were making their 100mi debuts so they were less likely to be a threat for the win.

    Either way, I can't wait to see how HR unfolds next month! Perhaps the greater question is: Will Killian break the HR record (and, if so, by how much)? Krar just missed, I don't think Killian will.

  9. @MelRunsUltras

    I was surprised to see Howe win it, for sure. I do think, WS100 may lose some of its competitive depth in years to come, simply because there are so many other top notch races now…but I also think that rewickering the lottery will inherently bring in more competitive "every day" athletes and I think we will see more surprise winners.

    Also, I love Geoff's column. They are one of the ones I always read.
    Cheers!

  10. sharmanian

    Having been at the past 5 Western States races, I'd say this was the one with the greatest depth. 8 guys under 16 hours (compared to just 3 finishes under that time on the full distance course up to 2010) and one under 15 hours without it being a cold year is mind-blowing. Rob may have been the favorite, but without a near-perfect race he wouldn't have won on the day.

    Many more races are attracting higher quality fields but WS and UTMB still have by far the toughest, deepest competition.

    Odds of anyone beating Kilian at HR100 this year? I'd say lower than anyone beating Rob at WS last weekend. That's not taking away from the great runners at either race, just a reflection of how perfect HR100 is for Kilian, plus his proven obscene talent.

    1. totops1

      "Odds of anyone beating Kilian at HR100 this year?."

      In my opinion, Kilian is definitely beatable at HR. This year is one of his lowest mileage year (so far) since he is busy with summits of my life. We saw it at Transvulcania, he had began running (not even training!) 2 weeks prior since he had been doing some skimo all winter long.
      Who can beat Kilian ? Chorier, Chaigneau (though had a hard start of 2014 so far), Jones, Grant
      For sure, Jornet could CRUSH Skaggs record but is he interested in pushing hard ?
      Bottom line : He seems a bit bored when it comes to running lately, is it because there is no real serious opponent or because he is more focused on his summits of my life ? or both ?

      1. EvanKimber

        My opinion is that Killian is defintiely beatable at HR, and his odds of winning are lower than Krar's at WS. There are a LOT more variables to contend with at HR, add to the fact Killian has not run the course before and we don't know what physical condition or headspace he will be in (unlike Krar who devoted everything to WS). Additionally, Seb & Chorier have already won it, and Dakota's finished 2nd & 3rd.

        I think people can take a chill pill with getting defensive about WS……the truth of the matter is Hardrock has managed to assemble a top 5 every bit or more exciting than WS for the first year in history. Hardrock has become a race with as much or more demand as WS. It's also a hell of a lot more difficult so seeing elite guys there is a ton of fun.

        1. SeanMeissner

          "we don't know what physical condition or headspace he will be in"

          Seriously? Last weekend, Kilian won the Sky Running World Championships in the Vertical Kilometer and Sky Marathon. Two weeks prior to those wins, he smashed the speed record on Denali. I'd say Kilian is in pretty good physical condition.

          Eight guys running sub-16 at WS would be similar to 3 guys running sub-25 at HR. Will that happen this year? It definitely would be exciting!

        2. Markxs

          @EvanKimber.
          It was fun to read this in-depth analysis of Kilian's "physical condition" and his level of commitment. Dude, you made my day!

          1. EvanKimber

            You guys are funny! When I say "physical condition" of Killian in no way am I questioning whether he is fit or not! He's in SUPERHUMAN shape! But this is actually what I mean, with all of his superhuman quests I am wondering how rested he is going to be for HR. He's not exactly the tapering kind.

            Ian – great WS and I really look up to your racing and consistency. I agree 100% that the top 10 WS field was deeper than ever. The only thing I'm trying to say about HR is the front 5 this year is very special, and unprecedented.

  11. DavidIckringill

    Strongly disagree with the first poster who is tired of reading Geoff''s column on here. What Geoff did in the sport a few years back was amazing and compelling, his views will always be valid imho.

    I think this year is exceptional due to so many of the elites getting a place at Hardrock? It's possible for the elites to give 100% at WS and UTMB, what other races in future are going to detract from WS100 to the extent HR has this year?

    As for Kilian being beatable and bored, this is his first shot at HR, he has been taking down records around the world at his leisure the past twelve months, why would he not want to smash HR? Kilian being injured is the only way he could lose at HR…!

    Personally I would love to see Geoff line up at the start line in Squaw again one day, as others have said, he is a total inspiration and always will be,

  12. betscharts

    My swiss/european view:
    WS used to be THE big famous, unique ultra trail race but it is now just one of many big ones. 2014 they just had a bit of bad luck by not having the international top cracks in it (may be they are bored).

    All my respect to all WS-finishers. You were great!

    The highlight for the elite runners this year is Hardrock by all means. Transvulcania, Zegama, UTMB and Diagonale des Fous are the next in the (my) row.

    Rob Krar's win was predictable (Sandes has already done to much wonderful things this year). The women's race was open for me.

    I would like to see more North Americans racing here in Europe (all distances): Krar, Zach Miller, Sharman, Laney, Flaherty and all the others. It was cool to see Sage at Sierre-Zinal last year.

  13. Steve Pero

    Keep an eye on Larisa Danis…mid 20's with a marathon PB of 2:44 with a hiking background who loves trail running. I think with she and Stephanie, we're seeing the "new wave" of female ultrarunners. Kaci is also in that group.
    With her hiking background and leg speed, I'd love to see Larisa at Hardrock someday….reminiscent of Sue Johnston!

      1. Larisa

        I am primarily Eastern European by descent, and was named after one of the main characters in the movie Doctor Zhivago :).

  14. @PatrickKrott

    Something I've always liked about ultrarunning is that usually everyone seems really friendly with each other. Some of the hostility in the comments of this article is disturbing. Personally, I think Geoff's column is great, and I always enjoy reading it. His perspective goes beyond running as simply running, but how it fits into the greater picture. I always appreciate his viewpoints. If you don't like his articles, fine, don't read them. Not everything is going to please everyone all the time.

  15. @SageCanaday

    (In regards to Geoff's quote at the bottom):

    As a relative newbie to the sport of MUT Running it seems like the Western States 100 is (and will always be) the big deal 100 (in the US). It is the "Boston Marathon" of ultras IMHO. While there is a certain draw to do the SkyRunning series and international mountain running events (at least what I've felt personally), I think most runners in the US are going to do more local events that inspire them. A lot of these are going to be shorter events (i.e. 50km) on runnable trails. Most of the US population does not live in/near rugged mountains at altitude and can't afford to jet-set across the country all the time… While there is a certain glamour and beauty to technical and steep mountain running, there is also a beauty in running fast on buttery smooth single track through the woods at sea level!

    "I see more and more people coming into the sport who want to travel through much more rugged, more steep, and more challenging terrain than what Western States offers. It’s hard not to wonder if this trend will eventually lead to a race with more challenging terrain replacing Western States as the race that more top runners choose to run year in and year out."

    1. olgav100

      I agree that the pull of WS100 will stay there, regardless how many Euro runners or top American runners will diverse their attention to other races, whether Hardock, or other international ones. The WS100 has the history that brings many folks in, it will never go away, that history, and while some "being there" may go "elsewhere", the new generation will step in and their talent will be shining not any less brightly. As Seth had proven, just because somebody hasn't raced "yet" on a scene that was exposed to media, doesn't mean the competition does not exist.

    2. betscharts

      WS may be the "Boston Marathon" of trail ultras, but the "Boston Marathon" of ultras is definitely Comrades Marathon – a wonderfull race.

  16. StephanieHowe01

    Oh boy. Where to start. As someone who raced in WS this year, I felt a bit "knocked down" after reading this. It may not have been the most competitive field in terms of western states history in some people's eyes, but I can assure you that those of us racing all tried our best and should feel accomplished, whether or not certain individuals were present.

    In fact, it was bit hurtful to read that my win, which was not expected by me, was "predictable" due to the lack of competition. Are you kidding? Pam Smith? Meghan Arbogast? Nikki Kimball? Those are all names that, in my book, are amazing female runners- especially for the 100-mile distance. On the men's side- Rob Krar, Dylan Bowman, Max King, Ian Sharman…..are AMAZING runners! I wouldn't underestimate them racing against anyone. Yep. ANYONE.

    I understand comparing this years race to other performances, but there is no need to belittle anyone's performance. I was pretty excited to run my first 100 and have such a great day- the smile at the finish line says it all. To read this felt like some of my hard work was negated and joy of winning was taken down a notch.

    I know we all like to play the numbers game and compare performances, but really at the end of the day the race says it all. It's not fair to say "If so-and-so were racing, he/she would have run ____ time" or, "If _____ (fill in any Euro) were racing he/she would have won".

    I still think WS is a great race and every runner out there who races should be proud of their accomplishment, whether or not the field was deemed "competitive" or not. It's still WS for goodness sake!

    1. @IItburton

      Definitely agree with this. I don't want to go as far as trashing Geoff and his column – I have a massive amount of respect for him, his accomplishments and his viewpoint. His past performances are a big part of what draws me to this sport in the first place. But nothing keeps me enticed more so than witnessing the immense dedication, physical sacrifice and outstanding talent on display at races like this years WS100.

      Stephanie your's and so many other's performances were spellbinding and everyone who toed that line in Squaw last weekend is my hero. So many great storylines this year and so many awesome debut performances. Seeing everyone come through the river crossing as a volunteer this year was a privilege and if I'm not running next year one I hope to repeat.

      This is all obviously Geoff's opinion and that's fine, but his platform does lend weight to his words and I did find it to be a bit of a bummer to read this somewhat jaded sounding piece coming off the weekend. Long live Western States and roll on Hardrock! There's so much to be thankful for in our community and I can't wait to see how it develops with all the new talent coming through. I look forward to watching things develop from the lower-middle of the pack.

      Cheers!

    2. trailcoug

      Stephanie, I agree with you. 100%. In my opinion it is useless to make such hypothetical comparisons. No race in the world has every top contender toe the line. You are the WS champion who beat the elite field that was assembled on that day while running from the front in your first 100-Awesome! I believe that the vast, vast majority of people (like me) simply celebrate your accomplishment, and the accomplishment of the other runners as well, versus spending time dissecting the perceived "competiveness" of the field.

    3. @ledjenny

      Didn't you just run one of the fastest women's times there – in the long history of the race – and in your FIRST 100? Don't let hypothetical comparisons take you down from the high you should rightfully be on. You rock, girl!

  17. @travisliles

    This lack of depth comment seems to not be grounded in results but more in name recognition. Has there ever been a faster top 10 men's? I don't think there has been. In fact if you check back on the results from previous year's you will see that if you took any one of these runners in the top 10 they would have won or been the top 3 almost any other year save for the last few. Even with that said the #10 runner's time this year was a 16:36 was the 37th fastest time ever. Meaning that this year's top 10 men make up the 10 of the 37 fastest times ever ran on the course ranging from 2 to 37 on the list. Write down the top 37 fastest times with names on paper then point at random. There is about a 1 in 3 chance that any name you land of will be from this year.__Maybe the names were not as "big" as in the past but the times undoubtedly were.

    1. grroes

      Agree for sure on the top 10. my point was not at all about the top 10 depth of competition. the top 10 or even top 20 or 30 at WS has continued to improve at an almost unbelievable rate. At the very top level though (those who would be considered to have a decent chance of winning the race) I think this year's race (at least on the men's side) was as 'predictable' as it has been in a long time. in most of the past few years I think you would need to include nearly 10 men to be 90 or 95% likely of picking the eventual winner. This year though, i think you would have only needed to pick 3 or 4 to have the same certainty. This may not be indicative of any longer term trend, and it may just be because Rob is that dang good, but if everyone who is running HR next week had been included in the WS field last week it would have been a very different, much less predictable race. This may all mean not a thing, but clearly i'm not the only one curious as to whether it does mean something….

  18. w415

    Definitely tired of reading "Geoff Downer's" articles, I keep clicking on them hoping that they will somehow get better. Instead they are the same old Debbie Downer articles i've come to associate with Geoff's writing, complaining of how easy kids have it these days and how great it was in his day. I'm sure he also walked to school uphill both ways in the snow and blistering heat.

    It'd be nice if there was no service on Soap Box peak, but unfortunately there is and he continues to write bitter, depressing, articles that are the polar opposite of the energy that is in this sport.

  19. EDHHighlander

    Oh no, it's that time of year for people form other regions of North America to bash WS. Why does the premier race need to be the steepest? If that were true then Barkley's should be our premier event. WS has a lot going for it:
    – The History, no other race can touch it
    – It's a point to point which IMO makes it a better race than most. You are actually traveling somewhere
    – It goes through many different ecosystems with changes in weather and topography which requires a well rounded runner.
    – It isn't exactly flat – 18K feet of climb, 23K feet of descending.

    The only thing it is missing IMO is the finish in Auburn…that should be an event for that town. There should be people lining the streets and filling the stands at the end. Other than that, what else can you ask for?

    Nothing wrong with any of the other races either…but I don't get the WS bashing, and it certainly isn't anything new as I have read it here and other places in the past. Are people jealous? Do they not like the Sierras? What is it really?

    BTW – I give Killian a 40% chance of winning HR…and after he wins I will amend that prediction to a 60% chance. ;-)

  20. PHjelmstrom

    While I certainly very much admire Geoff Roes both as a truly inspirational runner and an astute and sometimes provocative forward thinker about running, and while it certainly is a fact that the terrains of Hardrock and UTMB are different and both the technicality and elevation profile of those races are tougher on paper than WS, I think this post missed its point completely. It did this when Geoff started to share his personal beliefs about individual runner’s capacity in a single year to win WS and his extrapolating that if they had not signed up this must mean that WS has lost its attraction. There are two main problems with this; firstly, you cannot see a trend in a single year. Notably, the from a European perspective right now most talked about mountain ultramarathon trail runner Rory Bosio was not even mentioned and she has been running WS for a couple of years. This year she decided to run Lavaredo Ultra Trail (which she won) on the WS weekend, as her main goal this season is to repeat her victory at UTMB in August in a similar type of terrain. Secondly, I think what we will see more of in the future is elite runners specializing to a greater extent on different types of mountain courses and terrain as the competition becomes fiercer. WS certainly has its particular challenges with the heat and speed required to win. I think Rory Bosio is a good example of this and even though it is completely wrong to do this I can speculate that she would have lost to Stephanie’s amazing performance at WS this year, in a similar way Stephanie probably would have lost at Lavaredo. I am certain that WS, with its particular challenges and history, will continue to stand out as a very special race.

  21. TropicalJohn

    Owing to the vagaries of their lottery, Hardrock has a very exciting men's field this year, likely as strong at the very top as it has ever been. The women's field, alas, is as weak as the men's field is strong. Remember, only the defending champions get automatic entry. Everyone else, including Kilian, has to get his/her name drawn. Given the voluminous number of applicants, it is likely to be a long time before we see another field with this much talent.

    Western States, on the other hand, provides two mechanisms for elite runners to earn a spot in the race: the Montrail Ultra Cup and the new Ultra Trail World Tour. Plus the top 10 men and women from the previous year. So, there about 60 spots in the race for elites – nearly half the number of Hardrock's entire field. Given the structural differences in the two races' entry procedures, Western States is going to rule the elite roost in the US for the indefinite future.

    There was plenty of high caliber international completion at WS: Sandes, Bragg, Davies, Armstrong, Hara, Heras, Mauclair, Cardelli.

    It's a specious notion to say that (fill in your favorite Euro here) would have won, had they simply showed up. Krar and Howe posted the 2nd and 4th fastest times, respectively, in the 41-year history of Western States. And they did so on an 89-degree day; all of the times faster than theirs were posted in much cooler weather, save Trason's 17:37 on a similar day in 1994. Krar and Howe completely deserved to win – and the quality of their performances suggests that they would likely have won regardless of who else might have run.

  22. ajoneswilkins

    With all due respect to Geoff's accomplishments as a runner I think he is wrong with his assertion that this year's WS was weak. Perhaps it is because he has not been to the race since 2010 but as one who has been there every year since 2010, three times as a competitor and once as a spectator, I can assure you that this year's WS was the most competitive EVER, bar none. It may behoove Geoff to come down to see the race next year to see how far the sport has come in just a few short years. It's remarkable, really. And I, for one, love to watch it unfold.

  23. grroes

    Sorry all for the confusion. The only question I was really raising about the level of competition at WS was in regards to the very top level depth. By this I am not referring to the top 10 or top 20 as many of the comments have mentioned. and i in no way meant any of this to disregard or disrespect what Rob or Stephanie accomplished.

    Stephanie, I'm sorry that you felt offended or disrespected. I have a huge amount of respect for the race you ran, and as I said in the article, I think you ran one of the, or the best 100 mile debut in the history of the sport! This was a race that you should be (and it sounds like you are) very proud of. Perhaps you thought I was implying that you would not have won if the women I mentioned were running? i'm sorry if it sounded that way, but when i said that "things would have been different throughout the day," I was not saying that I think one of those women would have beaten you, but only that their presence would have almost certainly changed the way the race played out. You ran such a great race that you quite likely would have beaten all of them.

    Same goes for Rob. I have huge respect for Rob as a runner, and nothing I said here was meant to imply anything else. As many comments pointed out, the overall level of competition in the top 10 was likely as strong as ever at WS, but what I was highlighting is that Rob was more definitive of a favorite going into the race (in my mind) than anyone has been in several years. As I said in the article this is quite likely a one year anomoly, but I do think it is a valid question to explore whether or not this might be the beginning of a trend. Certainly much of this has simply to do with how strong of a runner Rob is, but there is this hard to avoid notion that if rob were running HR next week instead of WS last week his liklihood of winning the race would be a good bit lower (in my opinion). Or to think of it another way: if you were to put the field of both races together into one large race you might very likely have more runners finish in the top 5 or even 10 (on the men's side) from the HR field than from the WS field. We can argue all day about whether or not this would in fact be the result, and if this is disrespectful of the runners who just finished WS, but both of these angles really miss the larger point.

    for the first time in the history of the sport there is another 100 mile race other than WS that can legitimately be considered as strong or stronger than WS in the top 5-7 men. When you also consider that this race only allows 140 runners and has little to no exceptions which let fast runners into the race, I think it's a very logical question to wonder if this is not telling of some shift that may be occurring in the sport? I'm not implying that HR is going to replace WS as the premiere hundred for top level competition (something it could quite possibly do if it wanted to), but that these trends might just be the early indications that some other race will/could.

    Questioning all of this though does not mean that I am predicting it, expecting it, or wanting it… only that these ideas were one small part of what i noticed in following the racing trends unfolding before us. These are simply some of the thoughts that wove through my mind as a result of the events in CA this past weekend.

    Clearly a lot of people have a ton of pride about WS and a huge willingness to defend it fiercely. To me this all makes perfect sense. WS is an amazing event, has been the premiere hundred miler in this country for decades, and quite possibly will be for decades to come, but this doesn't make it immune to being analyzed/criticized. I'm sorry to those of you that were offended by my thoughts that i shared in this article. I hope that this response clarifies some potential misunderstandings.

    1. Go_Longer

      Sorry, but your original article still comes across as trivializing the efforts of Krar, Howe and the rest of the top finishers at this year's WS100. If you chose your words to mean exactly what they said, you would not need to clarify after writing the original. There is much to speculate on in the sport, but you rendered the magnificent performances of Howe and Krar as, at best, formulaic and mechanical, and at worst you insinuated their wins occurred against less than stellar completion. It just seems pointless and petty.

    2. @IItburton

      Great clarification and I do think a lot of the backlash stems from this being raised in the thick of (at least my) post-WS reverie.

      Some interesting points re: HR or WS representing a somehow superior field. I feel there is perhaps a larger point to be taken from this with respect to elite competition and the egalitarian nature of HR entry.

      Could the trend be that WS competition is not diluted by its more liberal entry policy (we're clearly talking shades of grey here) but instead that the expansion in depth of talent that we're witnessing in this era in general could allow for HR to remain so unbiased in its policy and still see a rise in its level of competition year on year? We live in interesting times!

  24. DFC_13

    Minor sidebar:

    In all the comments above – no one posted about Seth Swanson. There's a lot of talk about how great a lot of the top runners are (and they certainly are) – people keep throwing names out about "this guy is a great runner and that guy is a great runner" but no one (except Geoff) mentioned Seth as a great runner. Well… he did finish 2nd – he ran a great time – he beat a lot of great runners – and if you look at his previous results, he's annihilated the field in every 100 he entered (that were low key) and won some solid 50 milers. If you listened to the interview with Seth, it sounds like the best is yet to come… Let's give him his due as well – and place him in with the top competition.

  25. DanZiebarth

    Speaking of Geoff's article and most of his articles in general, I believe almost everyone thinks he is a great guy that had, and still has an amazing level of talent and competitiveness. With this being said, I think many of his articles are strongly opinionated and can be heavy in criticisms. His views while valid and sometimes uplifting, can also be very stifling to many people. I think that Hardrock will always be less competitive in the sense that not only do 30+ men and women gain entry into the race based purely on placing at very competitive race, but also that the field is smaller, only the winners get automatic entry next year, and the culture around Hardrock is more laid back and finisher 1-140 are treated equally. Also, I agree heavily with Sage's comment that I see more Americans favoring running in faster, smoother races. This is why you see many more people at marathons or local 5k's than you see climbing mountains and jogging around above 11,000 ft. I think the majority of runners love the feeling of " flying" through smooth roads and single track rather than pushing up mountainous climbs. This year's Hardrock should be an amazing race and very interesting with Kilian toeing the line, but that takes nothing away from Stephanie and Rob's astounding performances at Western against such a competitive field. While I at times disagree with and am rubbed the wrong way by Geoff's opinions, I still think he seems like a great guy that brought a lot to the sport of ultra and trail running. I can't wait for Hardrock and it is always my favorite race to follow all year!

  26. @coachjacobpuzey

    I usually find Geoff's perspectives insightful, but I also have to disagree with this analysis. If the Top 5 contenders in this year's Hardrock had run WS instead, the overall winners of WS would likely still be the same. They are two totally different races, that suit totally different skill sets. They are both iconic races and will always attract top talent, but the fact that Kilian, Timmy, and Dakota are doing one doesn't mean that it is a more competitive race than the other. None of the runners doing Hardrock would have wanted to or could have gone out with Max and had they tried Rob would have swept them up in his wake. An alternatively polemic perspective of Geoff's is that perhaps the reason the field at Hardrock is so deep this year is that the odds were so heavy in Rob's favor that they intentionally avoided competing against him and other speedsters so they chose a race that better suited their skill sets.

Post Your Thoughts