2015 Western States 100 Women’s Preview

Clif Organic Energy FoodThe 2015 Western States 100 women’s race is sure to be an exciting one. It includes a good mix of regular returnees and newbies to Western States or even 100-mile races, period. Last year’s champ, Stephanie Howe, returns to defend her title, but the story is far from over as she’ll contend with four or five women who have podium potential and 15 others who could go top 10. From an ultrarunning fan’s perspective, the women’s race shall be a fun one to follow!

Many thanks for CLIF for their generous support of our coverage of this year’s Western States.

FloraThanks, too, to Flora and Inov-8 for making our Western States coverage possible.

As usual, we’ll have live coverage on race day, Saturday, June 27, along with plenty of articles and interviews leading up to the Inov-8 logorace. And don’t forget to cast your votes in our seventh-annual Western States prediction contest.

As usual, we’re interviewing some of the top contenders on camera before the race. You can watch our interviews with Magdalena Boulet, Stephanie Howe, Aliza Lapierre, Emma Roca, and Michele Yates.

You can also enjoy written interviews with Stephanie Howe, Magdalena Boulet, Michele Yates, and Meghan Arbogast as well as Emma Roca, Pam Smith, Anita Ortiz, and Nicole Studer.

Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s preview, too.

A Quick Last-Year Look Back

As a refresher, here’s the women’s top 10 from last year, with a strike-through on the women who are not returning this year.

  1. Stephanie Howe – 18:01:42 (pre-race, finish-line, and post-race interviews as well as race report)
  2. Larisa Dannis – 18:29:18 (post-race interview)
  3. Nathalie Mauclair – 18:43:57 (post-race interview)
  4. Pam Smith – 19:10:42 (pre-race interview)
  5. Nikki Kimball – 19:51:31 (pre-race interview)
  6. Kaci Lickteig – 20:07:10 (pre-race profile)
  7. Denise Bourassa – 20:19:30
  8. Meghan Arbogast – 21:14:48 (pre-race interview)
  9. Shaheen Sattar – 21:20:49
  10. Sally McRae – 21:24:43

Possible Women’s Winners

Stephanie Howe

Stephanie Howe

Last year’s women’s champ (pre-race, finish-line, and post-race interviews as well as race report), Stephanie Howe (pre-2015 interview), is back to defend her title. We all know how hard it is to have really strong runs two years in a row at the finicky 100-mile distance, especially when there are so many women ready to take over if you have a bad patch. If there’s a woman who can do it, it’s Stephanie. She’s one of the smartest female ultrarunners out there right now, racing infrequently and choosing a couple races for which she peaks each year. Since States last year, she also ran to third at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (interview). Before States last year, she took second in 7:33 at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. This year, she won in 7:08 (interview). Yeah, she’ll defend her title well, I think.

Even though this will be Magdalenda Boulet’s (pre-race interview) debut 100 miler, I still believe she’ll be in contention for the win. Since arriving on the scene in late 2013 with a second place at the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships (interview), this Olympian road runner turned trail runner has annihilated almost every women’s field she’s raced with. Her biggest performances in the last year have been a win of the 2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Championships (interview), where she beat third place Stephanie Howe by 20 minutes, and a win at the inaugural 2015 Canyons 100k. At the Canyons 100k, she ran uncontested among a small field but this is significant because she spent a long time running on the WS 100 course. She earned her WS 100 entry by winning the Montrail Ultra Cup’s Sean O’Brien 100k this spring. I can’t figure what her 100-mile racing style will be, but her run will be a fascinating and likely really fast one.

Michele Yates - 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100

Michele Yates

If there’s one thing we know about Michele Yates (pre-race interview), it’s that she’s going to go from the gun. She’s not afraid of racing aggressively. This leads her to nail some races and end up on the DNF list of others. Michele is a new mama, and her running since the birth of her baby has included, among a few other races, a DNF at the 2015 Black Canyon 100k and a win at the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, two Montrail Ultra Cup races (the latter being her means of gaining WS 100 entrance). She has the credentials to contend for the win, including a win of the 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile Championships (interview), where she beat second-place Magda Boulet by 10 minutes, and being named UltraRunning Magazine’s 2013 Ultrarunner of the Year for her series of performances that year.

Women’s Top-10 Potential

Larisa Dannis was second here last year (interview) with an impeccably run race: even and steady all day. She continued her success with a sub-6-hour win of the USATF 50-Mile Road National Championships last fall (race report). H0wever, she pulled up lame with injury at the IAU 100k World Championships last November, and the poor gal has been suffering injury setback after injury setback since then. She’s still listed as a starter, and social media says she’s racing the Mount Washington Road Race this weekend–just a week before States–so I can’t imagine she’s racing. Can anyone confirm Larisa’s status for this year’s race? [Update June 17: Larisa Dannis is not racing.]

Nikki Kimball - 2014 Western States 100

Nikki Kimball

In running to fifth last year, Nikki Kimball logged her ninth top-10 States finish. Nikki will finish this year–that’s an almost certainty–and there’s really no reason to think that her finish will be outside the top 10. She has raced prolifically since last year, including in the immediate lead-up to this year’s States, but she’s done that before and it doesn’t seem to bother her much. Earlier this month, she finished second at a four-day stage race in South Africa called the Richtersveld Wildrun. In 2014 after States, she won the iconic 20-mile Bridger Ridge Run and the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile.

I think Kaci Lickteig is set up for another solid WS 100 finish on the heels of her sixth place here last year. In the last year, she’s won the 2014 Javelina Jundred, came fifth at the 2015 Lake Sonoma, and second at the 2015 Silver State 50 Mile. Kaci had an injury hiccup earlier this year that led to a DNF of the Black Canyon 100k, but she appears to be back on track now.

Denise Bourassa is a three-time WS 100 finisher, with an 11th in 2012, eighth in 2013, and seventh last year, which was part of her successful bid at the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Denise is Ms. Consistency here at States, it seems, and I think she’ll probably finish top 10 again this year. Since last year’s race and in addition to her three additional 100-mile finishes as part of the Grand Slam, she finished eighth at the competitive 2015 Lake Sonoma. It probably should be noted that she just preventatively DNFed The North Face Endurance Challenge 80k – Costa Rica because she was experiencing heat exhaustion. Hopefully pulling the plug there will prove a smart move for States.

Meghan Arbogast - Pre-2014 Western States 100

Meghan Arbogast

Meghan Arbogast finished eighth last year while managing a biomechanical issue in her lower leg. She has eight total States finishes and all of them have been in the top 10. There’s no reason to think that she’s not going to be in the mix again this year. Her notable performances since last year have been a sixth at the 2015 Sean O’Brien 100k, a seventh at the 2015 Lake Sonoma, and a win of the 2015 Quicksilver 100k.

Spain’s Emma Roca (pre-race interview) will be an interesting runner to watch. While she’s better known for her mountain running in Europe, the adventure racer turned ultrarunner is an almost-guaranteed top-1o women’s finisher here. Last year, she won the more runnable Leadville Trail 100 Mile, proving her ability to give it on a flatter-than-Euro-ultras course. Her racing style is tempered at first with her staying solid through the finish. I expect to see her running outside the top 10 for the first 40 or 50 miles before working her way up through the field later. I’d say a good day for Emma would be a fifth- or sixth-place finish. Her race entry is via an Ultra-Trail World Tour slot.

How the heck is Aliza Lapierre (pre-race interview) this far down the list? Her position here is no indicator of my thoughts on her finishing potential, however. It’s just that she didn’t race States last year because she was recovering from a lengthy foot injury. Aliza is a three-time WS 100 finisher. Each of her finishes have been in the top 10 with her highest being third place in 2012. Earlier this year, she won the Bandera 100k, a Montrail Ultra Cup race, to earn her entry here. In the process, she beat second and third place finishers Nicole Studer and Caroline Boller. She recently tuned up for States by winning the Pineland Farms 50 Mile, one of her personal race proving grounds at which she’s raced a number of times, in 7:29.

Anita Ortiz - 2013 Speedgoat 50k

Anita Ortiz

Well, well, well, if it isn’t Anita Ortiz back at Western States. How exciting! The 2009 Western States champion was off the radar for several years following a nasty foot injury that required surgery and serious rehab. However, her results from the last year indicate that she should be a top-10 player this year. Among her results are a win of the 2014 Pikes Peak Marathon and a second place at the 2015 Sean O’Brien 100k, 50 minutes back from winner Magda Boulet. Anita used that finish at Sean O’Brien, a Montrail Ultra Cup race, to get her States entry. She just had another foot-injury scare due to a freak accident while trail running, but she’s apparently okay and still plans to race.

There are some women who, for various reasons, I get really excited to watch race. Nicole Studer is one of those women. As far as I can tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong!), Nicole almost never races outside of her home state of Texas. One exception was her 2013 racing of the Leadville 100 Mile, where she finished way off her potential in ninth. Nicole excels in races in her home state, whether or not they are flat and fast or rolling and rocky. She gained entry to States via a second place at the Montrail Ultra Cup’s Bandera 100k this January, and then she turned around just a few weeks later to win the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in a super-fast time (interview). Nicole was a DNS at States last year due to a calf injury, which probably means she’s all the more eager for this year. I’m fascinated to see how Nicole does among an internationally competitive field on a mountain course.

Joelle Vaught earned her entry into States via a second place at the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, a Montrail Ultra Cup race, where she finished less than 10 minutes back of winner Michele Yates. She’s given States a go three times before, finishing seventh in 2010, 13th in 2012, and DNFing in 2013. Also this year she’s been eighth at the Tarawera Ultra and second at the Quicksilver 100k, where she was a good deal back from winner Meghan Arbogast and ahead of Denise Bourassa. Both of Joelle’s finishes at States have been between 20 and 21 hours, and I think her potential here is in the high 18’s or low 19’s. It would be cool to see Joelle finally nail the WS 100.

Other Women to Watch

Pam Smith - 2013 Western States 100 - trophy

Pam Smith

Pam Smith was fourth at States last year after winning in 2013 (interview). She told me that she should be placed lower in our preview than everyone would expect, that she plans to race non-competitively, and she’s only looking for a sub-24-hour finish. Why? Pam thinks she’s in bounce-back mode from a brush with long-term overtraining/over-racing in the first half of 2014 when she took fourth at States and then won the Angeles Crest 100 Mile a little more than a month later. Last late fall, she took a solid 10th at the IAU 100k World Championships, a bit off her potential at the distance but still strong. Even if Pam is looking for a bit more of a chill race, I could still see her finding a spot in the back of the top 10, especially if this is a hot year.

A Brit living in Hong Kong, Claire Price earned entry through the UTWT. She has one previous WS 100 finish, an 18th in 2012. Claire has been training and racing of late in the U.S., including a win of the inaugural Canyons 50k in May, which takes place on the States course.

Caroline Boller is a relatively new arrival to the trail ultrarunning scene. She came on our radars when she nicked the back of the top 10 at the 2014 Lake Sonoma. Since then, she took a strong fifth at the 2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Championships, was third at the 2015 Bandera 100k, and won at the 2015 Black Canyon 100k. She gained entry through her Black Canyon win, which was a Montrail Ultra Cup race. As far as I know, this is her debut 100 miler.

Zzzzrip! Stop the presses. Kerrie Wlad took fourth at Lake Sonoma two months ago, ahead of 2014 WS100 top-10-ers Kaci Lickteig, Denise Bourassa, and Meghan Arbogast. Where’d that come from? Well, she’s a former(?) triathlete who competes with regional success in trail races in Colorado. She gained entrance to States via that fourth-place finish at Sonoma, a Montrail Ultra Cup race.

I honestly have no idea how Maria Semerjian will fair here at States. She gained entry through the regular ol’ lottery. She’s from France, and she’s proven herself decently at mountainous races in Europe, including a third place at last year’s Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (interview).

Shaheen Sattar was ninth here last year. Since last year, she’s logged some 50k finishes in her home state of Texas, including two wins and a second place behind Nicole Studer. I’ve watched Shaheen race 100 miles smartly a couple times now, so though she’s off many runners’ radars, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her move into the back half of the top 10 later in the race, just like last year.

Sally McRae

Sally McRae

Sally McRae rounded out the top 10 at States last year. She ran steady early in the back of the top 10, slowed in the middle of the race with knee pain, and surged back into the top 10 late. There’s no reason she can’t finish in the back of the top 10 again even though, on paper, there are more than 10 women who should run faster than her. I think another top-10 finish would have to come from a similar racing tactic, chilling early so she can pick off carnage later (with hopefully no bothersome knee issue this time).

This will be Gina Lucrezi’s second go at States, but she’ll be looking for her first finish (as well as her first 100-mile finish). Gina’s a former collegiate runner turned mountain runner turned ultrarunner. She started States and dropped last year after gaining late entrance via the Montrail Ultra Cup and, therefore, started unprepared for the 100-mile distance. This year, she took third at the Montrail Ultra Cup’s Black Canyon 100k and got another ticket to race States. Though she’s still searching for her first 100-mile finish as she moves up in distances, she’ll start this year much more prepared than last.

Serena Wilcox finished 12th at last year’s States. She might squeak into the back of the women’s top 10. Her entry comes from a sponsor spot.

Robin Watkins earned entry through the lottery, and this is her first go at the WS 100. She won the 2013 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, the 2014 Grindstone 100 Mile, and was second at the 2015 Mount Mitchell Challenge 40 Mile, among other races.

Call for Comments

  • So, which woman will win Western States this year?
  • Is anyone more specifically prepared or fitter than we know about? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance at the top 10?
  • Have we listed anyone above who you know won’t be racing? Let us know in the comments section!
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Senior Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 21 comments

    1. @chuckgnomis

      I disagree! The women's field is going to be a tight race. Kaci, Magdelena or Eliza are podium contenders with so many other possibilities for an killer performance with the right combinations by Meghan, Anita or Nicole. Pam may not be contending for the win, but how many times do we read about the race won when someone is not focused on the win? ( No pressure Pam, but I will be tracking you as usual this year!)

  1. Hillrunner50

    Every single athlete mentioned above is incredibly talented and strong. I mentioned this for the men's prediction: whoever isn't over-raced and over-trained, and whoever has great training specificity and rest and recovery going into this has a chance to take it. It'll be fun to keep up with their progress throughout the race.

  2. 00joeuhan

    Pam Smith –> Sand-bagger! ;-)

    That a champion a year removed can already be a long-shot darkhorse is what makes this sport so fascinating (and, at times, ridiculous).

    If it's even remotely hot (>95F), watch out, ladies!

  3. wnyates

    I am admittedly extremely bias in my prediction for the win. However, I will say I think Kimball will get her 10th top 5 finish to even further solidify her ranks among ultra running legends. I also think Aliza is one that could be top 5 and pushing for a podium finish. Sad to hear about Pam Smith, I hope she recovers and gets back to her old self because she was fun to watch.

  4. Sarah

    I'm betting on Magda 1st, Stephanie 2nd. But whatever the outcome, thank you, Meghan, for this rundown and coverage. Reading it feels like a big, welcome kick in the pants–totally motivating and inspirational!

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