[Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of three columns here in AJW’s Taproom leading up to this year’s Western States 100, which takes place on June 25th in California.]
Each year at the Western States 100, there are intriguing storylines that capture my imagination and make the event so much more than just another race. In thinking about this year’s event, five things stand out to me: the lack of a clear favorite in the men’s race, a dynamic field in the women’s race, three 70-plus-year-old runners at the starting line, the seemingly ageless potential of Meghan Arbogast and Mark Richtman, and the return of Seattle, Washington’s Brian Morrison 10 years after his collapse on the Placer High School track at the race’s finish. Here are some brief thoughts on each:
Going into this year’s race, aside from Gordy Ainsleigh, the founder of the race and the winner in 1974, there is no former winner in the field. It’s been many years since this was the case and as such I believe it leaves the field for the men’s win wide open. Interestingly, only five of last year’s top-10 finishers are back in the race this year. Thomas Lorblanchet, last year’s fifth-place finisher is the highest-returning runner joined by Ian Sharman (seventh), David Laney (eighth), Andrew Tuckey (ninth), and Paul Terranova (10th). Beyond that group are four strong international entrants in François D’haene, Tòfol Castanyer, Didrik Hermansen, and Paul Giblin followed by an impressive list of Golden Ticket winners in Jim Walmsley, Sage Canaday, Chris DeNucci, Andrew Miller, and Jesse Haynes. My pick for the win comes from a five man list of Lorblanchet, D’haene, Laney, Walmsley, and Canaday.
In contrast to the men’s field, the women’s field contains two recent winners and eight of last year’s top-10 finishers. Leading the way are the top-four runners from last year, Magdalena Boulet, Kaci Lickteig, Stephanie Howe, and Aliza Lapierre who will, in my opinion, be battling it out for the win with Golden Ticket winners Amy Sproston, Devon Yanko, and Bethany Patterson as well as last year’s sixth- and seventh-place finishers Nicole Studer and Sally McRae. All in all, this could be the most competitive women’s field we’ve ever seen at Western States.
As most Western States observers know, last year’s event was highlighted by the dramatic finish of 71-year-old Gunhild Swanson with just six seconds to spare before the race’s cutoff. This year, Swanson is back to run again and she is joined by two other septuagenarians, Rod Dickson and Wally Hesseltine. If all three of these amazing runners make it to Placer High School it will be the first time in race history that three runners over the age of 70 have finished the race in one year.
Amazing Age Groupers
A bit further up the age spectrum but no less impressive are two other incredible athletes, 55-year-old Meghan Arbogast and 61-year-old Mark Richtman. Arbogast, a multi-time top-10 finisher and the holder of many age-group records around the world, is going for her 10th finish and Richtman, an ageless runner with the body of a 30 year old, is gunning for the 60-and-over record of Roger Dellor which was set back in 2001.
Brian Morrison’s Return
Finally, and no less impressively, is perhaps the story of the 2016 Western States 100, the return of Brian Morrison 10 years after his collapse on the track while in the lead of the 2006 race. Morrison, who has battled those demons for a decade, completed the Cascade Crest 100 Mile back in August and gained entry to this year’s race, appropriately, through Special Consideration. While the eyes of many will be on the stories listed above, I have to believe that there will not be a dry eye in the place when Morrison circles the track later this month to finally put to rest his dramatic collapse all those years ago.
And, there you have it, my top-five storylines going into my favorite race of the year. As the excitement continues to mount in the next two weeks I hope you all will join me in this annual celebration of Statesmas. Until then,
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, California. Their flagship wheat beer Hell or High Watermelon is a delicious treat. And as we toast the arrival of summer, this is a wonderful variety to drink on a hot afternoon after a long run on the trails.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Which of these stories will you, too, be closely following?
- Are there more stories we should know about other runners at this year’s Western States? Let us know if you think the community should be following another runner’s unique story!