The Lore Of Western States: The Golden Hour

[Author’s Note: This is the third of my three-part series on ‘The Lore of Western States.’ The first piece, published in April, was about the agony of 11th place, and the second piece in May discussed the silver buckle. I hope you enjoy this third and final piece on the Golden Hour.]

Of all the highlights of Western States weekend, my fondest takes place on Sunday morning at Placer High School. Known as the Golden Hour, the final hour of the race is truly a celebration of persistence, courage, and grit. Between 10 and 11 a.m. each year, a parade of runners, sometimes as many as 50 over the course of those 60 minutes, enter the track to finish the race within an hour of the 30-hour cutoff. Typically rounding the track with crews and pacers alongside, these brave warriors are the ones who, according to the race organizers, “spent the longest time enjoying the Western States Trail.”

Over the years, the Golden Hour has also been a place of high drama and, occasionally, near misses. Going back to the early years of the race, 19-year old Karin Stok recorded a 30:00 hour finish in 1979 as did George Peavy in 1985. Back then, times were not recorded quite as meticulously as they are today as the finish results did not even include seconds. That, however, did not seem to deter Western States pioneer Ken Shirk, AKA Cowman A Moo Hah, from cutting it really close in 1984 finishing with a minute to spare in a time of 29:59.

In the modern era (1986 to the present), the closest call anyone has had was Joann Hull in 1994 rounding the track and crossing the line in 29:59:44. Sixteen seconds to spare!

Twice in the 1990s, the cutoff was extended by two hours due to the snow conditions in the high country. First, in 1995, longtime Western States supporter Kathy Hamilton finished in 31:56:32 and then, in 1998, Dennis Curley nearly equaled Kathy’s time finishing in 31:56:21. According to current race officials, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see an extension of the cutoffs again.

One of the more incredible Golden Hour survivors is 10-time finisher Tom Green. No fewer than three times in his 10 finishes Tom crossed the line within minutes of the cutoff. In 2003 he made it home in 29:53:33. Amazingly, 10 years later, he bettered his 2003 time by seconds to finish in 29:52:45. Then, in an extraordinary finish last year, Tom was the last person around the track when he awed us all with his 29:57:32 finish to notch #10.

Germany’s Helga Backhaus also tested the limits of time when she notched her 10th finish in 29:58:09 back in 2005 and for Jerry Bloom it took him two tries to get #10 as he crossed the line unofficially about a minute late in 2012 only to return in 2013 to get the job done in 29:35:33. One can only imagine the stress involved in that kind of finish.

Going into this year’s race, of course, there is no way to predict who will be chasing the Golden Hour on Sunday morning. While much attention is paid to the front runners at Western States, I believe the brave soldiers coming in at the back of the pack deserve just as much credit. For them, arriving at aid stations as they are being packed up and being chased down by Tim Twietmeyer and the mounted sweeps is a true test of mettle. I am looking forward to many things next weekend but most of all I look forward to another celebration of the Golden Hour.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Maine Beer Company Dinner Double IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Maine Beer Company. Known for their award-winning IPA, Lunch, they recently released their first Double IPA appropriately named Dinner. Weighing in at 8.2% ABV, Dinner is not an overwhelming DIPA but is more subtly balanced than most. After a couple of sips I was reminded a bit of Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper with a bit of Sculpin at the end. All in all, a fine beer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you finished a 100-mile race within an hour of the cutoff? Can you tell us about your experience?
  • Have you or one of your loved ones finished Western States during the Golden Hour? Leave a comment and describe what happened!

There are 5 comments

  1. senelly

    After finishing the Western States 100 in 22:13 with paltry training and then jogging the Angeles Crest 100 under 30 hours with six friends in a widely ridiculed peloton formation, I thought, "Hey, this is easy". I forgot one of the mantras of my running non-club HURT: "You wouldn't want it to be easy". So, after running a couple of 36 minute 10K's at sea level, I went for a Hardrock 100 high altitude jaunt. Oy vey! 47 hours, 59 minutes, and 35 seconds later, I finished in an eye-bulging, bullet-sweating panic! Holy crap. I immediately sought shelter from the unwanted attention I got that began a few miles out and continued through the awards ceremony. I even got a mention in the local newspaper… Embarassed or not, I had to own my performance (or lack of it). Now, nearly 20 years later, I still dream about that run, including the midnight missed turn on Engineer Pass that led me some 5 miles down the wrong trail (followed by a mid-race eye-bulging panic retracing of steps and search for the missed turn). In my dreams, I still sweat bullets.

  2. mikehinterberg

    Good stories. Proud of Dennis Curley — classy and supportive local family.

    Another great story and classy guy is my good friend Alex May, who was timed out while on the track at Placer High in 2013. Alex had dreamed about WS for a few decades, after hearing about it from his high school teacher. He finally got his chance, and had a rough day, yet was still pushed through aid stations right at cutoffs from supportive crew (wish I were there, Alex) and volunteers. Despite knowing the unlikely math, he kept pushing, so he could keep his promise to his daughter to run on the track with her, which he did. Instead of finishing in the dead of night in front of a handful of spectators, they ran the track to laud applause, even after the clock officially stopped.

    Unfortunately, the new reality of lotteries makes it much harder for people to go back for popular races, so some of these finishes are even more heartbreaking. (Another iconic example is the Leadville 100 "shotgun" finish down the long-view of the Boulevard). But Alex has a great story and proudly experienced every step of the course. Hats off to everyone pushing it right on the edge, whatever edge that might be!

  3. @jmaytum13

    If I could transplant myself to the placer track for a single hour to watch finishers…it would be the final hour. I was there last year during the final 60 minutes and it was a fantastic experience. Sadly I won't be there this year…but I plan on watching those finishes at home with my 2 year old remotely cheering on all those who managed to finish western states while enjoying two sunrises.

  4. @sockgeek

    Thanks for the great WS100 pieces, easily the best day+ in sports. Here's one to research, closest personal finishing times. I have back-to-back finishes :06 a part. Goofy thought but an interesting phenomenon in consistency over the 100 mile distance. Wonder if anyone has ever had two WS finishes with the exact same time?

  5. rgwillim

    Seeing the elite runners blaze into finish lines is very impressive and we are all amazed by their ability. However, knowing (personally) the obstacles that the final finishers go through damn near brings a proud tear to my eye. Those are my people. They have accepted the challenge and they're freaking doing it!

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