As any regular reader of this column knows I am a huge fan of the annual Golden Ticket races. Over the last few years, these early season tests have proven to be exciting and dramatic as runners from across the country have pushed themselves into early season shape with the hope a securing a precious spot in Western States. Interestingly, as well, a majority of the top-10 finishers over the past few years have come from two batches of people, previous top 10-ers and Golden Ticket winners.
And so it was with great interest that I followed along with the first two races in this years series, the Bandera 100k and the Sean O’Brien 100k. As has been the case the last few years, these Golden Ticket races have provided speedy newcomers a path into the Big Dance while also providing a chance for some veteran runners, with previous Western States experience but without a top 10, to scrap their way back to Squaw to a triumphant return on the fourth Saturday in June.
From my point of view, the two big stories in the first two Golden Ticket races were from two women who’ve enjoyed past glory at Western States and have had a few bumps in the road since but have now emerged seemingly faster and stronger.
First, former Western States champion Stephanie Howe, coming off major surgery, headed down to Texas last month and not only nabbed a Golden Ticket but also won the race outright. Now, with just under five months to train it is clear that Stephanie is back and will run her way right back into the top 10 if all goes well.
Then there’s the story of former University of Virginia cross-country star and past Western States top-10 finisher Emily Harrison, who had a few struggles the last time she toed the line at Squaw and had a disappointing day back in November at the JFK 50 Mile yet pulled it together to nab the women’s win at Sean O’Brien and along the way punch the ticket to her third trip to the Big Dance. Now, in addition to training, all she has to do between now and June is get married to grizzled veteran and coach Ian Torrence. What a spring those two have in store!
One can only hope that the next few Golden Ticket races hold half as much drama and excitement. Next up is the Black Canyon 100k in Arizona next weekend and there we will see whether the race opens itself up to a speedy newcomer, an accomplished runner making a comeback like Stephanie and Emily, or perhaps some of both.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Stephanie Howe’s hometown of Bend, Oregon. Home to one of the oldest microbreweries in the country (although some might not call it ‘micro’ anymore) Deschutes Brewery has for over two decades produced a simple elegant stout that never fails to impress, especially on nitro at the brewery. Deschutes’s Obsidian Stout should be on any stout fan’s list of must haves.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What are your thoughts on the Golden Ticket race series?
- Who do you know of scouting a Golden Ticket this year?