2016 Western States 100 Men’s Preview

Flora HealthWell, this year’s Western States 100 will be a new kingmaker for someone in the men’s field as only one past champion (Gordy Ainsleigh) will be running and, indeed, the top returning runner from last year’s race is Thomas Lorblanchet, who finished fifth. So, sometime roughly 15 hours after the 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 25th start, one of the men discussed below will break the tape on the Placer High track to be come the Western States champ for the first time.

Special thanks for Flora for making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!

Inov-8 logoThanks also to Inov-8 for their support of our Western States coverage.

As you’d expected, we’ll be providing plenty of video interviews leading up to the race as well as plenty of live coverage on race day. To learn about the other half of the field, read our women’s preview.

The Likely Winners’ Pool

Sure, in theory there’s a large list of men who could be the first to cross the finish line on the Placer High track, but there’s a much smaller list from which the eventual winner is likely to come. Here’s that short list.

Francois Dhaene - 2015 Western States 100

François D’haene

François D’haene’s (pre-race interview) won’t be racing due to an ankle injury. [Update June 24] When I think of François D’haene’s (pre-race interview) sweet spot, I don’t think of the fast and hot Western States 100 course. That said, you’ve got to consider him in the mix to win it given all the major 100 milers he’s won in the past three years: UTMB in 2014, Diagonale des Fous in 2013 and 2014, and Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji in 2014. Battling illness, D’haene took 14th at last year’s WS100. He started off 2016 on a high note, winning the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in its final kilometers, before setting the FKT for the 180km GR20 on Corsica earlier this month. As a reminder of this Frenchman’s foot speed, he did take take second at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships in 2012.

If David Laney (pre-race interview) could take third at UTMB last year in his first big mountain 100 miler, I’ve got to consider him a contender for the Western States win given his speed background. His surge during the later portions of last year’s UTMB was stunning. Laney also has the experience from running Western States the past two years when he took 20th in 2014 (his first 100 miler) and eighth in 2015.

Sage Canaday Pre-2015 UTMB sq

Sage Canaday

While he’s 0 for 1 at 100 miles after dropping from last year’s UTMB after a bad fall, Sage Canaday (pre-race interview) has all the tools to win Western States. He’s won big 50 milers like Lake Sonoma and the TNF EC 50 Mile. He’s won big 100ks like Tarawera and Bandera. After spending late 2015 and early 2016 on road marathons in hopes of getting an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, Canaday quickly switched gears in winning the Black Canyon 100k to earn his spot in this year’s Western States. Last month, he took third at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon for the third time.

The last time I included a complete 100-mile rookie as a possible Western States men’s winner it was Rob Krar in 2013. (He took second.) Well, this year I’ll add Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) to that short list. As far as I can tell, he’s undefeated on U.S. trails since taking fifth at Lake Sonoma in April 2015. Since then, he’s won plenty of races including the 2015 JFK 50 Mile, 2016 Bandera 100k, 2016 Red Hot Moab 55k, and the 2016 Lake Sonoma in a course record 6:00:52. That’s more than 8 minutes faster than Alex Varner’s win last year and more than 10 minutes faster than Zach Miller, Rob Krar, and Sage Canaday ran in their 2014 slugfest. Aside from his inexperience at the 100-mile distance, one might question Walmsley’s mountain worthiness. To that point, does have the course record at Montana’s Old Gabe 50k, but he also finished 28th at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k.

Other Likely Podium Contenders

Didrik Hermansen - 2016 Transgrancanaria

Didrik Hermansen

If there’s someone I could bump up to the above list with the slightest breeze, it’d be Norway’s Didrik Hermansen. In the past year, he’s been second and, then, first at Transgrancanaria along with winning last year’s Lavaredo Ultra Trail. He has a deliberate training progression and generally races methodically, but he DNFed his first attempt at running 100 miles at UTMF last fall when his stomach went bad in the race’s second half.

Unless I’m mistaken, Tòfol Castanyer has attempted two 100 milers, taking second at UTMB in 2014 before dropping out at the same race in 2015. More recently, he took second to Zach Miller at the 115km Madeira Ultra-Trail by 20 minutes in late April. I don’t think of him as a flat and fast runner, but he’s got enough talent that if he’s focusing on Western States, he could crack the top three.

After taking fifth last year, Thomas Lorlanchet (pre-race interview) is the highest-finishing returnee from last year’s race. Of the top Frenchmen in ultrarunning, he’s one that I identify as more toward fast end of the speed-to-steep spectrum. As evidence in that regard, Thomas won the Leadville 100 Mile in 2012 in 16:29.

Other Top-10 Favorites

Ian Sharman - 2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mile Champion sq

Ian Sharman

Until it doesn’t happen, expect Ian Sharman to finish in the top 10 at Western States… as he’s done for each of the past six years. In order, he’s placed eighth, 10th, fifth, fourth, sixth, and seventh. He’s run under 16 hours twice with 15:54 in 2012 and 15:47 in 2014. Sharman ran a speedy 13:45 at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in February, but, remarkably, that’s his slowest of four finishes at the race!

If the past year is any indication, look for Australia’s Andrew Tuckey to finish right around Mr. Sharman. Tuckey finished ninth to Sharman’s seventh at last year’s Western States (although 35 minutes back), while Tuckey finished 6 minutes ahead of Sharman (6:19 to 6:25) at the Comrades Marathon at the end of May. Tuckey also has a sixth place at UTMB in 2014 on his resume.

Jeff Browning - 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji third place sq

Jeff Browning

Jeff Browning took third at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji last September. He also took third at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in both 2013 and 2014. He’s won plenty of other 100 milers such as the HURT 100 Mile in January, the Ultra Fiord 100 Mile in 2015, and Grindstone in 2014. While I can’t imagine Jeff pulling any punches, he’s also got the Hardrock 100 in mid-July.

The U.K.’s Paul Giblin has plenty of experience running fast 100 milers to do well at Western States. His fastest such race is a 13:49 at the Javelina Jundred in 2015. He’s run the 153km West Highland race each of the previous five Junes, improving each and every year from a 19:07 in 2011 to win the past two years in 14:20 and 14:14. He’s not seen nearly that sort of success when you throw in mountains as evidenced by his runs at TDS (25th in 2012), Transgrancanaria (19th in 2015), and IAU Trail World Championships – Annecy (32nd in 2015). He was 6th at the Black Canyon 100k back in February.

Chris Denucci’s had great results at notable races like the Gorge Waterfalls 100k (2nd 2015), Bandera 100k (2nd 2016), and American River 50 Mile (1st 2016). On the other hand, he’s not fared as well on the biggest stages, taking 21st at Western States last year and 19th at the TNF EC 50 Mile in 2014. So, he certainly has the ability to go top 10 at States, if only he can find the right approach for the race.

Mario Mendoza - 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile third place sq

Mario Mendoza

Mario Mendoza seems to be an all or nothing racer. He led the 100km Ultra-Trail Australia in May more or less until he dropped out. Still, when he finishes, there’s no doubt that he’s strong. He finished third at the Lake Sonoma 50 in April after taking second at the Chuckanut 50k in March. Last year, he won the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile. He’s finished one race over 50 miles, taking second at the UROC 100k last September.

The past three years, Paul Terranova has ridden the cusp of the men’s top 10 at Western States having taken eighth, 13th, and 10th, in that order. He’s a steady-eddie racer who won’t let harsh conditions or others’ race plans phase him. In early May, he won the Quicksilver 100k in line with his time from last year.

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

When it comes to Western States, I think of Jesse Haynes right alongside Terranova. That’s because in 2013 and 2014, Haynes finished in front of Terranova to take seventh and 10th, respectively. However, last year Haynes DNFed at States. In April, he ran a 7:39 at Lake Sonoma, a tad slower than his 7:28 back in 2014. On the other hand, just a week later, he ran a 7:08 to win the Leona Divide 50 Mile, six minutes faster than in 2013, when he went on to take seventh at Western States.

[June 14 Update] Tim Freriks won’t be running Western States due to academic obligations. Tim Freriks’s second-place 6:17:58 in April was the eighth-fastest time in the nine runnings of the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. (Only Walmsley, Varner, Miller, Krar, Canaday, and Dakota Jones have run faster.) Tim, who? I’ll be honest, I had to go to Meghan’s post-Sonoma interview learn about Tim, who made his ultra debut at the race. He’s a former cross country, 5k, and 10k collegiate standout who’s always enjoyed the trails and is jumping into ultras after taking a few years away from competing. Based in Flagstaff, Arizona, he’s got plenty of brains to pick about Western States.

Other Notable Men

  • Benjamin Bucklin — 1st Sun Mountain 50 Mile 2016; 2nd San Diego 100 Mile 2015; 3rd Bighorn 100 Mile 2014
  • Caleb Denton — 2nd Georgia Death Race (68 miles) 2016
  • Pierre-Loic Deragne — 4th Cascade Crest 100 Mile 2015; 4th Bear 100 Mile 2014; 4th Massanutten 100 Mile 2014
  • Lon Freeman — 3rd Canyons 100k 2016; 5th White River 50 Mile 2015
  • Jeremy Humphrey — 3rd Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016; 1st The Bear 100 Mile 2013; 1st Pinhoti & Cascade Crest 100s 2012
  • Pete Kostelnick — 1st Desert Solstice 24 Hours 2015 (163.68 miles); 1st Badwater 135 2015
  • Andrew Miller — A twenty year old who’s run ultras since he was 14. 3rd Pine to Palm 100 2014; 1st Bighorn 100 2015 (course record); 1st Georgia Death Race (68 miles) 2015 & 2016
  • Chris Mocko — 2nd Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016; 8th Way Too Cool 50k 2016; 3rd Black Canyon 100k 2016
  • Brian Morrison — 1st finisher at 2006 Western States 100 before DQ (interview on return to 100 milers)
  • Kyle Pietari — 2nd Leadville 100 2015; 4th Leadville 100 2013; 1st TNF EC 50 Mile-Washington, DC 2016
  • Bob Shebest — 2nd Canyons 100k 2016; 2nd Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile 2015; 1st San Diego 100 Mile 2015
  • Zach Violett — 1st McDonald Forest 50k 2016; 4th Bighorn 100 Mile 2013
  • Charlie Ware — 2nd Black Canyon 100k 2016; 1st Zane Grey 50 Mile 2016; 7th Javelina Jundred 2015 (1st 100-mile finish)
  • Stephen Wassather — Only 25, he’s got 5 years of ultra experience. 18th WS100 2015; 4th Bandera 100k 2016; 1st Sean O’Brien 100k 2016
  • Christopher Wehan — 2nd American River 50 Mile 2016; 3rd Miwok 100k 2015; 4th Sean O’Brien 100k 2015

Notable Non-Starters

Five of last year’s top 10 won’t be starting.

Other men who won’t be starting:

  • James Elson — Staying in the U.K. for family reasons.
  • Jason Schlarb — Declined his sponsor slot to focus on Hardrock

Call for Comments

  • Who’s going to win Western States this year?
  • Anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance to crack the top 10?

There are 68 comments

  1. Gibb

    I’m sure many people will have names to add to the lists of favorites, and possible top 10 list above. Let me be the first to say Idaho runner Mark Austin will be among top 10! He’s trained hard and he’s hunger for revenge. Go Mark!

  2. Matthew

    My podium (in no particular order) Walmsley, Sage, and Francois.

    Backing Jim Walmsley for the win despite his first time at the distance, also the fact he looks like a young Scott Jurek with the long hair!

    1. Tess

      Mine also, but it’s hard to overlook Laney, he has been putting in an insane amount of miles on the course. If he doesn’t podium, he will definitely get fourth. Would love to see Walmsley and Sage duke it out for 1st.

      1. Matthew

        Yeah I meant to put Laney there or thereabouts! Western experience, and his UTMB was massive. Cannot wait to see how it unfolds!

  3. Jody Fischer

    I may be biased but watch for Andrew Tuckey, I still think his CR for Australia’s Coast2Kosci Ultra of 24hrs for 235km is pretty impressive and he knows how to run and work through the field as he did last year….

    1. Phillip

      He said after last year that he wasn’t going to be racing this year. Has said he’ll be back some day, I’m sure he has something cooked up for later in the year.

    2. Mike Behnke

      How about Mike Morton? Could someone speak as to if he has retired from racing? Haven’t heard anything since he took 3rd a few years back!

      1. Drew Smith

        I hung out with him spectating States last year. He’s been very busy at work and isn’t running that much. He did mention future 24hr record as still on his radar.

  4. Christopher Thomas

    It’s time for Bob Shebest to win #racer74! He holds the CR at Tahoe Rim Trail 100. His training is impeccable and he is in his top form! Go Bob Go!

    1. Brian

      Totally. At the very least he should be moved up to the Top 10 contender list. I think he was in last years Top 10 UROY, so he’s definitely more than capable of a Top 10 at States. Solid runner; great guy.

  5. Elisa Laverty

    Oh man, WS100 is all I can think or talk about for the past month. So excited to be there to see how it all plays out; my top 3 are Laney, Walmsley, and Canaday. Not in that particular order though! I think that Walmsley is probably going to take the win, and potentially set a CR…. But I’m also torn with Laney, and feel that he is also very capable of the same; not to mention that he does have the experience of doing Western before, and completed at least a few hundos.

  6. nevtrik

    Andrew Miller has top 10 potential for sure. He’s fast and has enough 100M experience. I think he only blew up once at Gorge 100K in 2015, which he ran one week after winning GDR.

  7. Ryan

    Walmsley and Canaday battling for the win. I think both could run CR times even in the heat if they run smart.

    I know Krar isn’t running, but does anyone know if he’s taking the year off? He’s not on the UTMB start list.

  8. Erin

    I think the writer is underestimating the running power (and prior success) of Bob Shebest. No doubt a top ten contender, at least in my book!

    1. Remi Delille

      I completely agree with you, Erin. The 100-mile distance is his bread and butter, and the thoughtfulness of his training plans are something to be admired. He won’t compete for the podium, but he’s definitely on my list for Top-10. I would watch for him to pick off people in the last 40-miles as they succumb to poor fueling or the heat.

  9. D

    Sage or Laney for the win. Dhaene will be in the top 5 but won’t win, because of the fkt he set recently. Walmsley will either dnf or lead early and fade back later. I predict that the winner will run slower than Krar’s fastest time.

  10. Aaron Ophaug

    Maybe this is common knowledge but I missed out on why Krar is not running. Anyone know??

    I’m going on a limb and saying Laney, Walmasly and Sage – 1,2,3. Sheebest in the top 10 no doubt.

  11. Katie June

    Laney or Walmsley for the win. Both fast and will be close to CR. Sage early lead but will fade in the last third. Andrew Miller and Ian Sharman top 5

  12. JacobsA

    In terms of pure talent, I think this is Walmsley’s race to lose. If he executes well, I think he can run away with it. Laney and Sage have similar marathon speed too, but Laney’s 100 miler experience may prove his advantage. Though I don’t see him on a podium, it’s going to be a lot of fun to see Browning on the last 40, as well as Nicole!

  13. Luke

    Walmsley and Sage will duke it out and start to fade…LANEY will be patient and then close out very smart and fast and take the win.

  14. Andy

    Wow, What speedsters up at the front. Sage and Jim have obviously earned wonderful 50 mile and 100k wins and records. However, Both have not, to My knowledge, raced a hundred miler, with the exception of Sage’s UTMB that He dropped from, Due to a fall and injury. This being said, The race starts after Foresthill. I believe nutrition, weather and Their own positive motivation will be key for a win. These factors will have to be perfect for a win or record. Timmy Olsen’s record is a very stout one, to say the least. God Bless all runners on the course pursuing Their dreams.

    1. Jesse L

      That Forsberg footage always makes me smile. She seems to be recovering well from her surgery. She did her first race coming back a couple of weeks ago.

  15. A.Lapierre

    I am excited to see what Brian Rusiecki can do on the Western States course and amongst such talent. Not as well know to the West Coast, but a solid runner from the East who has a stout race resume. He will certainly fly under the radar, but I will not be surprised to see him amongst the top 10 if he runs his race.

  16. Brett-SC

    Always a fan of the every-men Ian Sharman and Jeff Browning. Grizzled veterans who put on clinics every 100 mile run.

  17. speedgoat Karl

    Canaday and Walmsley will beat each other into the ground. :-) One of them will prevail. Plenty of talent behind em’ to mop up carnage. it could also be a year for someone to “steal” the win from Sage or Jim…it’s not a race to Foresthill…..we shall see who excercises patience.

  18. Kevin

    Book it…

    1. Walmsley
    2. Laney
    3. Canaday
    4. A. Miller
    5. Lorlanchet
    6. Browning
    7. Kostelnik
    8. Sharman
    9. d’haene
    10. Shebest

  19. Placer Pete

    IRF, how about we go one step further and discuss why the WS field is getting continually diluted over the years?

    1. Jon Tanner

      Good question. I was thinking about that for this year in particular. Is it a diluted field this year, or just a changing of the guards? Right now I tend to agree it is diluted, but maybe in 5 years we will look back at Laney, Walmsley, Canaday, and others as all time greats.

    2. Amy

      For getting “continually diluted over the years” the times are sure getting a heck of a lot faster (past 5 years compared to the decade+ before that) to get in the top 10.

        1. Mike S

          I personally am VERY excited to follow along this year. It will be one heck of a race! But I believe ‘diluted’ is just referring to a dozen or so of the ultra scenes biggest names opting out this year. Past champs Timmy O and Krar moving on. Seth down by injury. Mike Foote and Nick Clark running Lavaredo. Kilian, Schlarb and others concentrating on Hardrock. And lastly, UTMB with a list of Bowman, Miller, Tollefson, Sandes and Maravilla to name a few. Just too many amazing races!

      1. Bryon Powell

        It’s an artifact of doing much of the article preparation a few weeks early before my Hardrock training really ramped up. Seth was still in when I picked the thumbnail. :-)

  20. Andy

    Anything can happen to all 100 mile runners. For the Male or Female runners to create a ” race strategy”and rely on it and Their training to get Them to placer high school is irrelevant. Their mental fortitude and nutrition are going to take care of Their goal. How do I know? I have run 20 ultras.

  21. sam bosworth

    The speed at which the winners are running this race the last few years decimates bodies-Rose, Tony (2nd but fast), Olson, Krar….anyone who runs that in under 15:20 is statistically in for some problems. 100 miles at that speed in that heat

    1. Michael Miller

      Agreed. Ultra-running has always been about exploring the edge of human potential. I suspect we may have reached that limit. Except for Kilian…..

      1. sam bosworth

        Until the Africans throw their hats in I don’t think the times will go down much. Other than Uli Steidl I don’t think we’ve seen a sub 2:10 guy on American Trails. All these 2:25 guys have gotten bout as fast as theyre gona on trails methinks

  22. Andy

    Michael,
    I believe the limit continues to be pushed. For example, The Grand Canyon r2r2r record has been lowered twice since Dave Mackey set it. Also,, Scott Jurek received alot of doubt before His Apalachian Trail FKT.

    1. Michael Miller

      Pushed? Certainly. I’m sure we will see new CR’s. But pushed by people who can do it sustainably over the long term??? I would love to be proven wrong, but I think the empirical data suggests that if you push your body as hard as you have to in order to win a very competitive race these days, your career will be short.

  23. Charlie

    Walmsley, Laney, Sage and Miller to all take down the course record or blow-up in spectacular fashion. Should be great to watch.

    1. Cary

      Charlie:

      You sort of called it early, except for young gun Miller, who was more patient. Jim ran Sage and David into stomach distress and both blew-up. Interesting to see what happens next year.

  24. Andy

    Michael, I believe Scott Jurek is a prime example of an Ultra Running Athlete that has succeeded in sustaining longevity in the sport. His resume is absolutely legendary. Trason and Tweitmeyer also come to mind.

    1. Michael Miller

      I didn’t say you couldn’t have longevity. I said I think we’ve reached the limit of how fast a human can run and be sustainable.

      Top 10 fastest times at WS have been Tim Olson, Rob Krar, Jim King ( I think a short course) Ryan Sandes, Geoff Roes, Anton, Seth Swanson. I’d love to see any of them mount a comeback and return to the top of the game. Hard to know whats in store for Krar and Swanson as they are relatively new and don’t talk much but it seems they are either injured or just not racing for some reason. It just seems to me that the guys who are running the times required to win these days aren’t lasting. Toss in Skaggs, Finkel, many others and it seems that when you push your body that hard Adrenal fatigue, OTS, rhabdo, stress injuries take their toll.

      Kilian seems to be on another level but he’s not doing intervals or racing that often. Mostly slower, low impact mountaineering and skiing stuff.

      Yes, I think ultra-running is at the point where marathon running was when the WR was in the 2:05 range. Very close to the limit of human potential. Is it possible to run faster. sure a little bit. But not much faster, not sustainably. Its just too much stress on a body.

  25. Vincent

    It would be fun to get predictions from the irunfar contributors and Bryon, Meghan. Have you thought about it? Bryon, who’s your favorite for the win?

  26. Jesse L

    I think Sage and Walmsley have the confidence (and talent to back it up) to go for the win and will slug it out. Laney has the strong UTMB finish still fresh in his mind but he’ll have to time his final approach just right and hope that there’s carnage up front. If Andrew Miller can stay strong all day he could finish top 2. Browning, Sherman and Terranova will be in the next chase pack and could benefit from carnage up front as well to make up the bulk of top 5 with Jesse Haynes nearby.

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