2012 Western States 100 Men’s Preview

A preview of the men’s field at the 2012 Western States 100.

By on June 15, 2012 | Comments

Western States 100 logoIt’s become trite, but once again, one of, if not the best 100 mile field of all time will be lining up in Squaw Valley the morning of Saturday, June 23rd. Start with the fact that every single man from last year’s Top 10 reentered this year, throw in a wicked talent infusion by way of Montrail Ultra Cup entries, and cap that off with a pair of stellar international additions and we’re talking a historic race. We’ll preview these natural groupings before sharing a few other notable entries.

[We’ve also got a preview of the stellar women’s field.]

2011 Western States 100 Top 10 Men

  1. Kilian Jornet (15:34:24 – 2011 WS time) – Kilian needs no introduction. He’s the defending Western States (interview) and TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (interview) champ. He’s won the vast majority of ultras he’s ever entered. He’s the man. However, Kilian finished third at WS ’10 (interview) and third at this year’s season-opening Transvulcania ultra (interview), showing he’s beatable. He did win Zegama (interview) the week after Transvulcania, so he can still crush it, but he doesn’t appear as overwhelmingly dominant on skis or on foot as he was just 9 months ago. [Update: Kilian will not be running this year’s WS100 due to the tragic death of Stéphane Brosse while the pair were attempting a Mont Blanc ski traverse as part of Kilian’s Summits of My Life project.]
  2. Mike Wolfe (15:38:29) – Mike had one heck of a year last year, so good that he recently left his legal practice to focus on running. His most impressive performances last year were his close chase of Kilian to finish second at WS and his win at the season-closing TNF EC 50 Miler (interview). He’s run strong in a few showings this year, but has yet to have a standout performance of which he’s capable.
  3. Nick Clark (15:50:23) – Nick’s Western States (interview)/Hardrock (interview) double early last summer (third at both) is the stuff of legend. However, just last week he admitted, “My training hasn’t been optimal this year and my racing has been just okay,” but he’s not writing himself off and neither should anyone he’s chasing down.
  4. Jez Bragg - UTMB 2010

    Jez Bragg

    Jez Bragg (15:55:08) – Jez has third and fourth place finishes at Western States to his credit. He had some injury trouble through the winter before pulling himself from the IAU 100k World Championships field. He came back with a win at the UK’s Fellsman race, but dealt with adversity at the TNF 100 in Australia.

  5. Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (16:07:04) – Kaburaki set the WS masters course record of 16:52 en route to second place in 2009 and then shattered his own record with a fifth place 16:07 last year. Later in 2011, he finished seventh at UTMB and sixth at the TNF EC 50 mile. In other words, he’s darn consistent in top races.
  6. Timothy Olson (16:18:42) – Tim was the surprise of the 2011 race. Even a podium finish at States wouldn’t surprise anyone this year. However, he’s got to balance going for it with the fact that a conservative finish will bring home $5,000 for winning the Montrail Ultra Cup after wins at the Bandera 100k (interview), a pair of seconds at the Lake Sonoma (interview) and Leona Divide 50 milers, and a ninth at Ice Age 50 mile, where he was slowed by plantar fasciitis.
  7. Graham Cooper (16:34:41) – Despite winning Western States in 2006 and taking third a year later, Graham was another surprise in last year’s top ten. After 2007, he continued racing ultras, but nowhere near the level he attained in ’06 and ’07. That was, until his reemergence last June. Graham showed that his ultra resurgence has legs by taking sixth at the TNF EC 50 in December.
  8. Dave Mackey (16:36:21) – I like giving Old Man Mackey crap, mostly because I respect him so much. He’s been on top of his ultra game for the past decade with no sign of slowing down. In January, he was second in a loaded Bandera 100k field, followed that with seventh at the Chucknut 50k in March, and won Miwok for the fourth time in May. For those who discount Mackey at the 100 mile distance, remember he was second to Scott Jurek in 2004 in what was then the fastest runner-up time in WS100 history.
  9. Andy Jones-Wilkins (16:39:30) – It’s with a heavy heart that I write that AJW will be on the sidelines of this year’s race after a streak of 7 straight top-10 men’s finishes. A few weeks ago, he finally acknowledged that a knee injury would keep him out of The Dance. One small consolation? He’ll be joining the iRunFar team in covering all the action before, during, and after the race. That said, he writes, “I plan to be back stronger than ever in 2013.”
  10. Ian Sharman (16:40:19) – Racing machine/addict raced at least five ultras totaling over 270 miles (not to mention his marathon and short races) in the 2011 before running Western States. That stretch included a North American-soil-best 100 miler of 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon (interview). This year, he’s controlled his urge to race a bit better, so his fitness level isn’t as evident. However, he’s been working on his relative weakness – ascending – by running Europe’s mountains for much of the past month.

Montrail Ultra Cup Entries

Montrail Ultra CupBelow are this year’s Western States 100 competitors who gained entry via the Montrail Ultra Cup in chronological order of when each entry was earned. It’s worth noting that the only man to decline a MUC entry into Western States was Dakota Jones, who is saving himself for the Hardrock 100 three weeks later.

  • Nicholas Triolo (3rd, Waldo 100k – method of MUC entry) – Nicolas finished third to Dave Mackey and Ian Sharman at the Waldo 100k to earn his WS spot. Since then, he’s finished second at the McKenzie River Run 50k (3:54) and won both the Capital Peak 50 Mile (7:06) and McDonald Forest 50k (4:04).
  • Zeke Tiernan (1st, Run Rabbit Run 50) – Zeke won last year’s Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile, beating out Nick Clark. He also won the RRR50 as his first ultra in 2007. He’s got a second (’10) and third (’08) to his credit at the Leadville 100.
  • Ryan Burch (3rd, Run Rabbit Run 50) – Burch is always a podium contender although arguably he didn’t win a premier race in his first 6 years of ultrarunning. Last year, a restricted airway forced him to drop from Western States. This year, he might just be having his best season yet with a win at the Quad Rock 50 in May and a second at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty in early June.
  • Michael Dixon (1st, Vermont 50) – Michael has the distinction of possibly being the first New Jersey resident to make an iRunFar preview. He does so by virtue of his winning last year’s Vermont 50, which is little surprise as he’s won his seven of his last eight ultras, including a win at this year’s HAT Run 50k. Still, this will be his first 100 and his first big race out west. Can he have a better showing than his recent fifth at TNF EC 50 Mile – Bear Mountain?
  • Josh Katzman (2nd, Vermont 50) – Another East Coaster, but with a 100 miler under his belt. He was fifth at Rocky Raccoon this year in 15:35. He also came within five minutes of a respectable course record in winning the Stone Cat 50 last November.
  • David Riddle (1st, JFK 50) – Uh, David smashed the JFK 50 mile record last November (5:40:44!) and led the US contingent in placing fifth (6:45:19) at the IAU 100k World Championships in Italy in April. In other words, dude has some wheels. However, Western States will be his first 100 and he had a less than stellar run in placing fifth at the Quad Rock 50 last month, which was notably his first mountain race out West.
  • Michael Wardian - Marathon des Sables 2009

    Michael Wardian

    Michael Wardian (2nd, JFK 50) – Wardian also broke the existing JFK 50 course record last November, even if he didn’t beat Riddle. He’s not had a typical Wardian season so far. He didn’t win the Caumsett 50k (2nd) and was 37th at Comrades, although he did manage eighth at the 100k World Champs. Still, Wardian has been working on his trail running and can run with the world’s best when he’s on.

  • Joe Uhan (3rd, Bandera 100k) – A year ago, Joe finished 31st at States. (He even let a slow ginger runner beat him.) Since then, he’s been third at the Bandera 100k and fifth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile as well as logging a 3:18 50k last October. Joe Uhan might very well be this year’s Top 10 surprise.
  • Dylan Bowman (1st, Leona Divide 50) – Joe Uhan just edged out Dylan for the final MUC WS spot at Bandera, but did that deter young Dbo? Oh no! He crushed the field and a 17-year-old course record to win the Leona Divide 50 in April. Boom! For only being 26, he’s got 100 mile experience with a second (’11 17:18:59) and third (’10) at Leadville and a win at last year’s San Diego 100.
  • Jorge Maravilla (3rd, Leona Divide 50) – While behind Bowman and (just barely) Tim Olson at Leona, he was still 13+ minutes under the old course record. With his ebullient personality, he’s an instant crowd favorite in any race. His ever-positive attitude could be a huge benefit late in the race.
  • Zach Bitter (1st, Ice Age 50) – Zach ran the fastest American 50 mile time (5:26:52) in 2011. He’s also placed sixth at JFK (Nov. ’11), run a 3:03 50k (April), and, last month, won the Ice Age 50 Mile (6:05:45). That said, it’s time to add the first Western States and first 100 miler caveats.
  • Chris Kollar (2nd, Ice Age 50) – Chris is stepping up his game fast for a 26 year old with only five ultras to his credit. While he was second at Ice Age (6:14), his most impressive race might be his fourth at Chuckanut back in March (3:51:07).

International Entries

The Western States lottery system includes the following provision, “All foreign entrants not drawn in the lottery will be eligible for special consideration with the goal of achieving global representation only.” It’s that provision that resulted in the late addition of:

  • Miguel Heras - TNF EC 50 Mile 2010

    Miguel Heras

    Ryan Sandes (South Africa) – Ryan won last year’s Leadville 100 in the third fastest time ever and looks to win another US major at Western States. At one time he was best known for his efforts at self-sufficient stage races, but has excelled at single-go races this past year. Already this year, he’s won the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in course record time and the TNF 100(K) Australia. AND

  • Miguel Heras (Spain) – Miguel made his mark in the US when he won the TNF EC 50 (interview) in December 2010. We may not have heard much of him in the US since then, but won numerous important ultras since then including Transvulcania, Zugspitz, Andorra Ultra Trail, and Cavalls del Vent in 2011 and the TNF 100 – Taiwan this year. Alas, the knee injury that forced him to drop while in the thick of things late in last year’s UTMB and has continued to hamper him this year and he has just withdrawn from the Western States field.

Other Top Entries

While there are a few dozen more men running Western States that deserve a mention, here are ten more that standout. In alphabetical order:

  • Dan Barger – Dan has five WS100 finishes with two Top 10 finishes – eighth (’98) and tenth (’10) – more than a decade apart. He’s been racing, but without standout results the past two years.
  • Thomas Crawford – Thomas may only have a single 100 miler to his credit, but it was a 17:47 win at the Tahoe Rim 100 two years ago. He was 11th at the Lake Sonoma 50 this spring.
  • Yassine Diboun – Yassine is a habitual racer with always solid performances. His eighth at the Bandera and seventh at Leona Divide this year suggest he aim for the Top 20 with Top 10 being in reach if he runs the perfect race.
  • Grand Slam of Ultrarunning - Neal Gorman and Tom Green

    Neal Gorman (left)

    Neal Gorman – Neal is the current Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder. His 18:14 from his 2010 Slam won’t be enough for Top 10 (he was 13th that year), but as this is his primary focus, there’s a chance he could run much faster. He was third at last year’s Leadville (17:48).

  • Mark Lantz – Mark has six WS100 finishes topping out at tenth overall (ninth guy) in 18:45 in 2009. He ran 17:19 on last year’s snow course to finish 15th. Mark managed 11th (6:42) at the American River 50 this spring, which was only two minutes slower than his AR time from 2009.
  • Jon Olsen – Jon likely has more ultra wins than anyone else on this “Other” list. Most recently, he won the NorthCoast 24 with 158.53 miles logged… less than two weeks after placing seventh at the IAU 100k World Championships in 6:48. In February, he won the Rocky Road 100 in 13:14:44. Despite all that speed, he’s yet to really nail one in the mountains. (Yes, he was eighth overall at States on the hot year of 2006.) Still, he’s having the best season of his life (heck, he’d be in the hunt for ultrarunner of the year right now), so Top Ten… or even Top Five are a possibility if he’s been hitting the mountains.
  • Erik Skaden – If AJW had a doppelganger, it’d be Skaden. He’s got seven WS finishes with his first five all in the Top 10, including two seconds and a fourth place finish. He was 11th in 2010 before finishing 28th last year. Still, his American River 50 time this spring (6:26) is only two and four minutes slower than his 2006 and 2007 times, respectively, and he was Western States runner up both those years.
  • Jay Smithberger – A flat and fast guy from the Old Northwest (Ohio). He’s run 14:53 at Umstead, but Umstead is no States. His two most mountainous finishes – MMTR 50 ’09 (21st) & Wasatch ’11 (52nd) – are off his usual Top 5 finishes.
  • Lewis Taylor – Lewis has run one strong Western States (15th in 2009) with a couple not so good ones (’07 & ’11). However, he did win Way Too Cool (3:41) in 2007 and has been quite focused on this year’s States and has trained extensively with last year’s 11th place finisher, Dan Olmstead.
  • Paul Terranova – Paul has an extensive triathlon background and will be headed to Kona Ironman this year, but first he’s got a slew of 100 mile runs to tackle. He’s got a bunch of podium finishes over the past two years as he’s gotten into ultras. He doesn’t have much mountain racing experience (he finished 12th at Quad Rock last month) and this will be his first 100.

 Call for Comments

  • Who would you add to this preview?
  • Got any insight into the fitness level of anyone listed above? If so, do share. Likewise, let us if you know any of the above will not be racing.
  • Who from the Montrail Ultra Cup entries has the highest potential for this year’s race? How has the MUC affected the quality of the race field?
  • How will Ryan Sandes fare? Anyone know how Kaburaki-san has been running this year?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.