2017 Western States 100 Men’s Preview

Drymax - 2017 Western States 100Well, well, well, here we are. One hundred (point two) miles, 18,000 feet of climb, 22,000 feet of descent, high-country snow and altitude, canyons heat, 43 years of prior history, the original 100-mile trail foot race: the 2017 Western States 100 is nearly upon us. As always, this race is well-anticipated by the trail and ultrarunning community for multiple reasons, including its front-of-the-pack competition.

There’s no reason to think this year will be any different. We have eight of last year’s top 10 returning for business. We’ve got a great group of international talent, most of whom actually have previous experience racing and/or training on the course, which will allow them to better compete. We’ve got that one guy looking for what I’d call redemption. And we’ve got up and comers and a few people who we’ve heard are super fit and, thusly, primed for a breakout. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Ahead of the race, we’ll publish interviews with some of the men’s favorites and, of course, we’ll be covering the race live starting at 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 24. Stay tuned.

GU EnergyAltra logoA special thanks to Drymax for making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!

Thanks also to GU Energy and Altra for their support of our Western States coverage.

Be sure to check out our in-depth women’s preview and how all of you think the race might turn out in our group-think predictions.

Top-10 Returnees

In storylines of this historic race, much emphasis is put on how runners gain entry into the race. In deference to this, we begin with the top-10 finishers of last year’s race who are returning this year. In short, we’ll see third through 10th place return, and we’ll miss the presence of last year’s champ, Andrew Miller, and second-place Didrik Hermansen of Norway.

2016 Western States 100 - Jeff Browning

Jeff Browning

3. Jeff Browning — 16:30:40 (pre-race interview)

Jeff Browning’s third place last year came as the first part of his stellar Western States-Hardrock 100 Mile double where he went on to finish fourth in the latter race. Also last year, Jeff took fourth at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile behind winner Alex Nichols and second-place Mark Hammond, both of whom are racing States this year.

4. Thomas Lorblanchet (France) — 16:39:55

Not only is Western States a race Thomas Lorblanchet seems to like, but I also think he likes racing in the U.S., as we’ve seen the Frenchman on this side of the pond a number of times over the years. Thomas has two States finishes, fourth last year and fifth the year before that in 15:56. I suspect we’ll see him run right around fourth or fifth place again this year.

5. Paul Giblin (United Kingdom) — 16:53:20

Paul Giblin nailed it last year, running smart and steady all day long. Since finishing fifth, he’s gone on to, among other things, a top-20 finish at the stacked 2016 UTMB and a third place at the 2017 Istria 100 Mile in Croatia.

Ian Sharman - 2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mile Champion sq

Ian Sharman

6. Ian Sharman — 16:55:11

Betting against Ian Sharman finishing in the top 10 at Western States would be like betting against the sun rising tomorrow. Ian is up to seven top-10 finishes of this race: 2016 = sixth, 2015 = seventh, 2014 = sixth, 2013 = fourth, 2012 = fifth, 2011 = 10th, and 2010 = eighth. I don’t really know what else to say, except, “Hey Ian, see you at the finish line between 16 and 17 hours, but possibly in the 15s if you’re on fire. Have a nice 100 miles!”

7. Chris Mocko — 17:01:47 (pre-race interview)

The way I see it, we’re looking at a better Chris Mocko than the one who finished seventh last year, and that’s saying something because he ran remarkably strong and smart in what was his debut 100 miler. He’s raced a shit ton in the last year, especially this spring, and his top performances have been a second place at the 2017 Way Too Cool 50k and a third place at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. If he runs his own best race and he’s recovered enough from his ultra-race binging of late, this year’s Chris Mocko should run inside the men’s top five.

8. Kyle Pietari — 17:05:01

I should not have been surprised to see Kyle Pietari roll across the 2016 Western States finish line in the top 10 last year, as he had plenty of other indicators of his potential States success, namely two previous finishes of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile in between 18 and 19 hours. Following his run at States last year, he went back to Leadville for another second-place outing behind winner Ian Sharman. Like last year, I suspect that he’ll go out easy and creep up into the top 10 later in the race.

9. Christopher DeNucci — 17:07:57

In 2015, Chris DeNucci finished Western States in 19th place and just over 19 hours, well off the potential he’d shown at other races. He came back last year and blew that out of the water by running his own race start to finish. Chris’s 2016 UltraSignup results are lengthy and, in contrast, they log just one 2017 result. His Strava account, however, shows at least a couple months of focused training. What can our readers tell us about where Chris is ahead of this year’s race?

2016 Western States 100 - Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

10. Jesse Haynes — 17:12:30

Who finishes M10 at Western States twice? Jesse Haynes does–or did, in both 2014 and 2016. Jesse has collected three silver buckles over the years, including a third one for a seventh place in 2013. Since last year’s States, he’s raced a good amount, collecting a win at the 2016 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile, a fifth place at the 2017 HURT 100 Mile, and a second place at the 2017 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile.

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion sq

Jim Walmsley

Yeah, Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) gets his own category in iRunFar’s 2017 Western States men’s preview. Last year, Jim was probably the only guy who could have beat Jim–and that’s exactly what happened. He went out hot and ran way ahead of course-record pace until the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78, where he began to falter. From there, he gave back time on the course record and, then, lost the rest of that time and more when he went way off course after the 90-mile mark. He walked back onto the course and to a 19th-place finish. That’s the only blemish on the resume of UltraRunning magazine’s 2016 Ultrarunner of the Year, though, and since then he’s been an animal, and among his accolades have been a JFK 50 Mile course record, a new FKT of the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route, and a Tarawera Ultramarathon course record.

Again this year, I’d argue that the only man in this race who can beat Jim is himself. Jim says he wants to run 14 hours, which would better by a historic bunch Timothy Olson’s 14:46:44 record from the cool-weather race of 2012. With deep snow in the high country, we don’t yet know how course conditions will–or if the race will take one of its alternate snow routes [Update June 16 — The course will be run on the standard course rather than an alternate snow route]–affect his ability to see this goal through. I don’t doubt, however, that he will dominate the race from start to finish, by whatever route or in whatever conditions.

Last year, I would have bet against Jim winning Western States. He needed more time in this sport to develop the physical and mental experience needed to do what he wants to do. This year, my bets are on him. He’s a different version of himself than last year and he will crush.

Top-10 Potential

Ryan Sandes - 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon

Ryan Sandes

“I can’t quit you, baby.” I’ve probably got that all wrong, but that’s the song verse that comes to mind when I think about South Africa’s Ryan Sandes and Western States. Ryan has two finishes of this race, a second in 2012 and fifth in 2014, both in between 15 and 16 hours. In addition to his successes, he also has a couple races which didn’t go his way, a DNS due to injury in 2013 and a DNS due to illness in 2015. For a guy who can make a living traveling and racing anywhere in the world he wants to, he clearly feels incredible draw to Western States. Ryan’s best, most-recent race was his fourth place at the competitive 2016 Diagonale des Fous last fall.

Tòfol Castanyer of Spain took on Western States last year and suffered the heat and, perhaps, a hot early pace, to finish 12th. Tòfol has a wealth of high-profile race success under his belt, including a tie for second at the 2014 UTMB, a fourth at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, and an eighth at the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships. Coming back all the way across the pond with a year’s worth of States knowledge and his racing pedigree, it’s silly to not expect him inside the top 10 this time.

Jonas Buud - Post-2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon sq

Jonas Buud

Something like the Western States course seems right up the alley of a guy like Sweden’s Jonas Buud (pre-race interview). We last saw him race in February, where he took second at the Tarawera Ultramarathon behind champ Jim Walmsley, where he suffered a bit in returning to fitness following a late-2016 injury layoff. In 2016 and pre-injury, he won Tarawera and came fifth at Transgrancanaria, among other races. Jonas is taking this race seriously, as he participated in the Western States Training Camp over Memorial Day weekend for course recon and training. Also, he’ll arrive early ahead of the race to adjust to the different time zone, the heat, and the altitude. There’s no reason not to see Jonas inside the top 10 via a metered, all-day strong effort.

Alex Nichols - 2015 Les Templiers

Alex Nichols

I don’t know about you, but Alex Nichols (pre-race interview) is a guy I’ve been waiting to see run a race like Western States for a while now. That said, he’s been wise about not stepping up in distances too soon. In his debut 100 miler, he won the 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. He followed that up with a fifth place at the 2016 TNF EC 50 Mile, and then had a heckuva run in bad weather on a rain-altered course to win the 2017 Black Canyon 100k and earn an entry into Western States via the Golden Ticket race series. Alex had a month layoff from running in late March into April, but looks to have been back to training the past month and a half.

Elov Olsson (pre-race interview) has the potential to be the highest finisher who fans will know the least about. Here’s your notice: keep your eyes on Elov Olsson, another speedy Swede in States this year and a likely up and comer in our sport. In the last eight months, he’s had two strong performances, an 11th place at the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships in 6:44 and a second place at the 2017 Black Canyon 100k less than three minutes behind winner Alex Nichols. In December 2014, Elov ran 253km (157 miles) in an indoor 24-hour race (1,058 laps!?). He recon-ed the course with Jonas Buud over Memorial Day Weekend, and word in the Scandanavian rumor mill is that Elov is fit.

Erik Clavery of France is a super experienced and successful trail ultrarunner, and I bet I am underestimating his potential here. His top performances in the last couple years include a sixth place at the 2015 UTMB, fifth place at the 2016 Marathon des Sables, and sixth place at the 2016 Diagonale des Fous. That said, he’s also got legs for shorter, faster stuff as he was sixth at the 2016 French Trail National Championships in a 55k race. And if we go in the way-back machine, he was the 2011 IAU Trail World Champion.

Ryan Kaiser is a guy who quietly goes about the business of kicking trail-ultrarunning ass. He has one previous Western States finish, that dreaded 11th-place position in 2015. Later that same year, he nailed it in taking sixth at the stacked TNF EC 50 Mile. Last year, his racing highlight was fifth at the Hardrock 100 Mile. Ryan raced his way into States by taking second at the 2017 Sean O’Brien 100k and earning a Golden Ticket.

Australia’s David Byrne is racing! The former track-and-field runner has been giving ultrarunning a go over the last few years. We watched him ourselves run to second place in 2016 (behind winner Jonas Buud) and fourth place in 2017 (behind winner Jim Walmsley and second place Jonas Buud) at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. About a month ago, he was fourth at the 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia. I believe this will be his debut 100 miler. [Added June 14]

It’s hard to know exactly where to put Avery Collins in this list, because he’s a talented runner but he doesn’t typically run the most competitive races so that we can see how he stacks up. Avery earned his Western States entry by winning the 2017 Georgia Death Race. Among his races last year, he was fourth at the HURT 100 Mile and he won the Ouray 100 Mile.

Brian Rusiecki is one of the East Coast’s best on long courses. As such, he’s been winning tough ultras in his relative neck of the woods for a decade. His most recent top results include winning the 2016 Hellgate 100k, finishing third at the 2017 UROC 100k behind winner Chris Mocko, and taking second at the 2017 Cayuga Trails 100 Mile, the 2017 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships. Historically, he hasn’t performed as well when he leaves the East Coast, though he showed he’s capable of it when he took 14th at the 2014 UTMB.

More Men to Watch

  • Jeff Ball — Gained entrance via 2nd place at the 2017 Bandera 100k Golden Ticket race; 11th 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which was the 2016 USATF 50k Trail National Championships
  • Jared Burdick — Earned his ‘ticket’ via 5th at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; he’s a 2:57 50k-er, which he ran to win the 2016 Caumsett 50k, the 2016 USATF 50k Road National Championships; I believe this is his 100-mile debut(?)
  • Davide Grazielli — 4th 2016 Rio del Lago 100 behind winner Mark Hammond
  • Mark Hammond — 2nd 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile behind winner Alex Nichols and ahead of 4th-place Jeff Browning; winner 2016 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile
  • Nate Jaqua — Winner 2016 San Diego 100 Mile ahead of 4th-place Michael Wardian
  • Ben Koss — Earned Golden Ticket via 2nd at 2017 Gorge Waterfalls 100k behind winner Jim Walmsley; 7th 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; 10th 2017 Way Too Cool 50k; I think this is his 1st 100 miler(?)
  • Jesse Lang — Winner 2015 and 2016 Cascade Crest 100 Mile
  • Dominick Layfield — 2nd 2016 Angeles Crest 100 Mile; 4th 2017 Georgia Death Race behind winner Avery Collins
  • Jake Rankinen — 4th 2017 HURT 100 Mile ahead of 5th-place Jesse Haynes
  • Zach Szablewski — Earned Golden Ticket via a 4th at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
  • Mike Wardian

    Michael Wardian — Mike has three Western States finishes, most recently 21st in 2015. He’s got a tough double on his always-full racing calendar, as three weeks after States he’ll run the Hardrock 100 for the first time.

  • Jeremy Wolf — 9th 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; 2nd 2017 Yakima Skyline 50k behind winner Jeff Browning

Call for Comments

  • Who’s going to win Western States this year? Alright, and who is going to take second place?
  • Anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance to crack the top 10? Leave a comment to let us know who and why you think this way.
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 65 comments

  1. Ezequiel Cruz

    Had to laugh when I saw “Jim Walmsey” category jajaja, but man, guess we all know he’s gonna kick ass, what we don’t know is in what time??

    1. bob

      Yep, I agree with ya. He is going unbelievable this past year. I’m looking forward to the race where he actually has competition to overcome versus others than himself….like at UTMB.

      1. Ezequiel Cruz

        Same bob! I can’t wait for UTMB to happen, as I’ll be on fanboy mode to cheer KJ. Really looking forward to that race!!

  2. Ben

    Ryan Kaiser is ready to crush this one. Predicting some fireworks by the time he hits No Hands as he picks off those who aren’t moving as fast. Woof!

  3. Tropical John

    Right, will confirm that Andrew Miller was injured all spring and is just now starting to train again. He says he might be in 50K shape in a month or so, but nowhere near ready to run 100 miles.

  4. ARIrunsATL

    Will there be some type of added course marking this year after the River Crossing specifically for Walmsley to indicate which way NOT to go? Walmsley’s finish last year was perhaps the most epic 19th place ever, so maybe a commemorative plaque at that spot would be more appropriate.

  5. Slaton Whatley

    Question for those Western States history buffs out there. When was the last time the course was altered due to snow or some other reason?

    Stoked to see Jim run this race but also excited to see how Mocko, DeNucci and of course Mr. Jeff Browning do. Going to be one helluva race!

  6. Trevor J

    whoa whoa whoa– come on now what about Avery Collins?

    #1 at Quest for the Crest.
    #1 at Georgia Death Race
    #1 at Ouray
    #4 at HURT

    The cornrows cometh!

    seriously I don’t think he can beat Walmsley but I think he’s going to be strong finisher!

  7. B-rett

    In case anybody was wondering what racing a ‘shit-ton’ means, its a metric measurement that equals ‘more than several’.

  8. ARIrunsATL

    Whatley – my guess is 2011 (snow route used) but I also seem to remember a slight tweak to the course in 2014 due to the American Fire (could be wrong about that and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am)

  9. Magnus Näsmark

    Elov Olsson also won the Swedish location of Wings For Life World Run 2017 at 75.05 km which also awarded him the 7th place internationally. So yeah, he is having a great year!

  10. Scott

    Step 1. Ignore Kyle Boykin.
    Step 2. Watch him podium.
    Step 3. Repeat.

    Maybe we should call it the “Andrew Miller Award” where a young guy gets barely any attention from media despite results.
    Previous winner isn’t coming and no one bothers to say why or even that they tried to find out but couldn’t. A guy who got 10th at Way Too Cool got more written about him than Andrew…

    1. Trinity

      Just checked the entrant’s list and Kyle Boykin isn’t on the registered or wait list for WS100, so I’m not sure that anyone is trying to ignore him.

    2. Ben

      Scott, let’s perhaps keep it a bit more positive and wait and see. You can’t expect irunfar to cover everyone and given Kyle’s relatively brief ultra running career it’s an honest mistake. This will be his first 100 miler, right? And he’s only run one 50 miler and one 68 miler?
      Let’s wait and see ;) I hope your confidence in him rubs off on his result though!

    3. Meghan Hicks

      Scott,

      I’m not sure why you’re choosing such a negative way of responding. We spend loads of time trying to learn about the runners who we see race before we do so. We can’t know everyone, but we do try really hard.

      First, Kyle isn’t on the entrants list anymore. He was on my short list several weeks ago as he was on the entrants list at whatever point I pulled top runners’ names from it, but at some time since then he must have withdrawn from the race.

      Second, iRunFar doesn’t try to pry into anyone’s life. We do watch runners’ social media and some choose to write us and share private details of their lives. Sometimes, when we have a deeper personal relationship with someone, we know their health status and the like. But I don’t consider it my job or my right to pry beyond someone’s public information. It’s not out if disrespect to them as a runner, it’s out of respect for them as a human being.

      1. Kyle Boykin

        Thanks Meghan. You’re spot on. I had to withdraw due to a knee injury sustained durring GDR. I’ll return when I can run again.

  11. Russell

    This is a fantastic preview Meghan, thank you! I’m wondering if anyone knows why Golden Tickets don’t roll down when someone accepts the spot and then subsequently pulls from the race? (as in the case with Kyle Boykin and Chris Wehan among the men listed as ticket winners but no longer on the WS Entrant list) Seems a shame for a guy like Bob Shebest who would be next in line there based on results at GDR & Sean O’Brien 100k.

  12. Bryan

    Hands down, best writing from you on this site. Great preview. First paragraph was fire. Going off.

    Walmsley goes 14:25 and Mocko takes second. Elov caps off the podium.

    1. Cam

      Like the way you’re thinking, but pick Walmsley for the win, but think Elov for second and Buud for third. Mocko best of the rest.

  13. Dan Bleakman

    Shout for Dave Byrne from Australia… certainly top 10 material after his 4th at UTA behind Tim Tollefson and Rob Krar. Course will suit him too.

    1. Wes

      Yep and he has raced some of the best in NZ the last 2 years so he’ll known what he needs to do to get a result. My prediction for DB, the quickest ever Aussie finish at WSE100.

    2. Meghan Hicks

      Dan,

      Thanks for shouting out! I can’t believe I missed his name on the entrants list. Added him. Loads of leg speed and some great wisdom from a few years of tough races, he should show well, I think. Thanks again!

      1. Dan Bleakman

        No worries Meghan, I know how it is… there’s always a few people missed in any preview and its never deliberate, as much as some people thing it is. Had my fair share of it too! Great preview BTW and looking forward to following this!

  14. Tropical John

    Nelson, all the splits are on the WS website. Walmsley was 33 minutes ahead of Timmy Olson’s record time in 2012 at the Rucky Chucky River Crossing, mile 78. He was 26 minutes ahead at Green Gate (having lost about 5-6 minutes in his attempt to swim), 20 minutes at Auburn Lake Trails, 17 minutes at Brown’s Bar. So, he was giving back a bit less than a minute a mile after the river, 9 minutes in 10 miles. Extrapolating that to the finish would have brought him in around 14:39. Of course, extrapolation is always tricky business.

    1. Nelson

      Muchas gracias, Tropical John! One minute per mile is pretty significant, but there’s no telling what could have happened — he could have slowed more, he could have picked up the pace seeing he was closer to the track. Either way, victory was his if not for the wrong turn.

      I hope he has better luck this year. 14 flat seems too ambitious, though.

  15. AJW

    If you create a list of the fastest splits ever run in each segment on the current “Regular” course you get just over 13:51. So, perhaps sub-14 is possible. But it would take a massive effort. #seeyouinsquaw

  16. Jenny

    Chris DeNucci is doing great and ready to race. His whole crew is excited to be returning to Squaw to support him again this year. Thanks Meghan for a thoughtful preview. Good luck to everyone!

  17. Cameron Taylor

    Meghan,
    I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim and Tommy Puzey over a couple of beers last weekend in Flagstaff following the Big pines 50k. Two of the most low key, humble guys you could meet. you mentioned a couple of Jim’s races leading up to States this year and left off his total domination at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k where he beat 2nd place by over 57 minutes (his golden ticket race). We talked at great length about 2016 States and although he purposefully gave up 3 minutes on the climb after Rucky Chucky, he was in total control of the race up until he missed the left hander….This is his year! #coconinocowboys #bangbang

  18. Kerry Suter

    Jonas for “coolest trucker hat in the business”
    Love that guy.
    Confirmed Byrne’s debut miler.
    Great preview team. Love your work as always. Have fun out there!

  19. Cameron

    Jesse Lang will be the highest finisher that no one has heard about. His two wins at Cascade Crest 100 and his ability to run in the heat, could put him ahead of everyone but one guy…just putting that out there before on this Thursday ahead of the race…

    1. Trevor

      YES! Lang raced at colossal vail where my brothers and I met him and he made everyone feel slow. definitely think he can finish big and get himself recognized!

  20. Todd Falker

    1 Wamsley Wang
    2 Elov Howe
    3 Sandes Kaci
    4 Mocko Huser
    5 Buud magda
    6 Browning Studer
    7 Lorblachet Guterl
    8 Sharman Herron
    9 Castanyer St Laurent
    10 Layfield Queen Meghan
    11 DeNucci Gallagher
    12 Kaiser Harrison
    13 Pietari Bradley
    14 Haynes Sproston
    15 Giblin Anderson
    Looks like I was too late for the entry, which is a bummer, so I’ll post here anyway!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Ha! In a frantic day I was glancing at comments and was like, who the hell is Pietari Bradley! ;-)

      I wonder what “This is your XX name” meme these names would be best labeled as. :-D

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