2013 Western States 100 Women’s Preview

Western States 100 logoAt the 2012 Western States 100, Ellie Greenwood’s 16 hours, 47 minutes, 19 seconds on course were probably close to the smartest, strongest racing we’ve seen in the history of women’s ultrarunning. Sure, she had cool weather on her side in the second half of the race, but she also battled inclement weather in the race’s first third as well as the hyper-aggressive racing style of Lizzy Hawker and a cadre of other fit women breathing down her hydration pack. In the end, she came out the victor and new course-record holder while we all whispered around her, is she the new Ann Trason?

But with the defending champ out of this year’s race due to a stress fracture of her fibula, the pearly gates of Placer High School track heaven are open wide for a new lass to carve her name into ultrarunning’s history. Last year’s Western States Women’s Preview had something like 35 names on it, and this year’s group of top women probably has just a bit less depth. But where the group might “lack” in depth versus 2012, I think the women’s entrants list more than makes up in breadth. As we shall see, the women toeing the line at this year’s race bring with them some stellar creds.

And what I find fascinating about this group of women is that I think each and every one of them has, in addition to supreme talent, the smarts and patience to run intelligently from Squaw to Auburn. In my mind, there are seven or eight women with winning potential. Any gal’s game, this year’s WS100 is.

Editor’s Notes/Update:
We published a full 2013 Western States 100 Men’s Preview and Group Think predictions as well as the following interviews and profiles.

Last Year’s Top Ten

Obviously we know that Ellie’s out, but not because she doesn’t want to be here! Last year’s fourth and sixth respective places, Krissy Moehl and Lizzy Hawker, have chosen not to claim their F4 and F6 bibs for a 2013 return. Here are the seven she-beasts from the 2012 top ten who are back for more:

Rory Bosio - Western States 100 20112nd – Rory Bosio (18:08:06) – This 28 year old has run the WS100 three times, placing second in 2012 (post-race interview), fifth in 2011, and fourth in 2010. I can hardly wait to see what this happy-go-lucky States expert throws down this year. And, I can also hardly wait to see how she chooses to decorate her racing singlet. Since her run at States last year, she went on to finish fourth and first American at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (pre-race interviewpost-race interview), second at the 2013 Way Too Cool 50k, and fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Because UTMB became a weather-adjusted, 100k-ish course, Western States is still the only 100-miler she’s run. Being a hometown gal with a boat-load of course experience and her talent, she’s winner’s material this year. I don’t expect her to be an early leader, however, maybe fourth, fifth, or sixth position at Robinson Flat. But in the race’s second half, girls–and boys–beware. And, it’s possible she might be singing and dancing as she flies by you.

3rd – Aliza Lapierre (18:18:29) – Aliza’s 18:18 last year (pre-race interview) was another smartly, steadily run race, but Aliza’s running life since then has been a mixed bag. She went on to finish fourth at the 2012 Leadville 100 (pre-race interview). Just before that race, though, she injured her foot in what she thought was a minor way. She eventually had to have surgery and just returned to running this March. She ran and won the Pineland Trail 50 Mile in May and has put in only three months of training for this year’s WS100. She’s tough as nails and fit, but does she have the same set of legs as last year?

Nikki Kimball - 2012 Western States 100 - pre-race

Nikki Kimball

5th – Nikki Kimball (18:31:39) – There’s probably only one other woman in this preview who knows the Western States Trail as well as Nikki. (See Luanne Park below.) She won the race in 2004, 2006, and 2007. And, she’s run to fourth in 2009, third in 2010 and 2011, and fifth last year (pre-race interview). The 42 year old’s fastest time was 18:12 in 2007. Nikki excels at downhill running, of which we know this course has in spades. Nikki also excels as conditions decline. Case-in-point: only two men finished faster than her in 2006, the notoriously hot year. She’s run a couple 50-milers since the WS100 last year, winning The North Face Endurance Challenge Atlanta 50 Mile and finishing second at The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain 50 Mile. We know she pulled out of the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile a couple weeks before the race due to a tweaky knee. No matter what, in this, her eighth go at the race, it’s impossible to not imagine her outside of the top-ten women.

7th – Tina Lewis (19:09:49) – As of this publishing, the ever-energetic Tina is still on the entrants list, though she hasn’t run a step in a couple weeks and she’s confined to a walking boot. The 40-year-old, who seriously looks like she’s 27, has a stress reaction in one of her toes that she’s hoping will heal by race day. If she can race, she’ll likely finish in the top ten. Tina made a name for herself by earning this year’s F7 bib, and then then she cemented her name among the list of top American female ultrarunners by ousting a thick women’s field for the top spot at the 2012 Leadville 100 (ahead of Aliza Lapierre). In addition, she won the 2012 Miwok 100 and was sixth at the 2012 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship. If Tina can get and stay healthy, I think we’re just beginning to see what she’s capable of. [Update: Tina Lewis is out due to that foot injury.]

Amy Sproston8th – Amy Sproston (19:11:02) – Amy’s the reigning World 100k Champion (post-race interview with Meghan Arbogast and Pam Smith), which proves her road-running prowess. Last year, she ran near to the leaders early while falling behind late due to what she calls “quad death.” If she can keep her quadriceps in working order, a finishing time that’s equitable to her fitness would start with 18. Just four weeks out from States, she ran (and finished second but hand-in-hand with winner Meghan Arbogast) Japan’s Shibamata 100k. A road race? For a woman who doesn’t want to experience quad death again, this seems little counter-intuitive. Also this spring, Amy won the Ray Miller 50 Mile, was third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and she won the Orhangazi 80k in Turkey just one week after Lake Sonoma. They are all hilly races, though, so I think things are looking good for Amy’s legs this year.

9th – Ashley Nordell (19:26:30) – Let me begin by saying that I think Ashley will run faster this year than last year, even if hot weather dominates. Last year was her first hundred back after giving birth to her daughter, and I think she was still on the upward curve of regaining her fitness and figuring out how life with a littleun’ works. Since last year, she ran to third at the 2012 Leadville 100 (ahead of Aliza Lapierre and behind Tina Lewis), took third at the Hagg Lake 50k, and second at the Gold Rush 100k. We hear that temperatures during the Gold Rush 100k were near-records for that part of California in May, so let’s hope she’s still got some leftover heat acclimatization and tenacity from that.

Meghan Arbogast 2012 IAU 100k World Championships

10th – Meghan Arbogast (19:45:24) – Meghan, oh Meghan, where do we start with The Queen? How about the fact that this hater of cold weather survived last year’s early storm and squeaked out a 10th-place finish. Or that she’s the age 50 and older record holder for the women at States, which she earned by running 18:50:19 in 2011. (Don’t forget that this record is a mere 6 minutes, 21 seconds off the men’s age-group record. Take that, gentlemen.) Or that she won the 2013 Way Too Cool 50k, surging past Rory Bosio in the final mile or two. Or that she was fifth at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Or that she won the Ice Age 50k in May. On an off-the-charts day for The Queen, she’s inside the top five. On a great day, she’s a top-ten shoo-in.

Other Top-Ten Possibilities with 100-Mile Experience

A runner who is back to avenge her 28 hours, 58 minutes of “adventure” on the course last year is Oregon’s Pam Smith, who gained entrance to the race via the Montrail Ultra Cup (MUC) with a win at the 2012 Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile. Pam got sick during last year’s race, basically moved into an aid station for a while, and plodded along to a still-smiling finish. Pam’s run the WS100 two more times, finishing 10th in both 2010 and 2011. Her fastest time on the course is 20:40, but I think a fit Pam Smith who’s ready for States’s rigors can go under 19 hours if the weather isn’t too outlandish. And that finish, I think, would put her back in the top ten.

Joelle Vaught MontrailJoelle Vaught gained MUC entrance via a win at the 2012 Waldo 100k. She’s run the WS100 twice before, 13th and 20:59 in 2012 and 7th and 20:19 in 2010. These finishes don’t reflect Joelle’s overall ultrarunning talent, though, as she’s almost exclusively winning or on the podium of 100k or shorter races. Among her 2013 runs, she finished second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and she recently won the Pocatello 50 Mile in 9:03, which is off-the-charts fast for that course and a 23-minute improvement on her own course record. If she could “figure out” the 100-mile distance, Joelle has the talent to finish top five among this year’s entrants.

Second place at the 2012 Waldo 100k (behind Joelle Vaught), “Endurance Capitol”/Bend, Oregon’s Denise Bourassa got into Western States with a MUC entry there. Denise has been a strong ultrarunner for years, but the last couple have seen her racing well at progressively higher-level events. In the last year or so, she won the 2012 Ice Age 50 and came second at the 2013 version, placed fifth at the Speedgoat 50k, and finished ninth at both the Chuckanut 50k and the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile this spring. She was 11th woman at the 2012 WS100, so my guess is that she’s got the eye of the tiger for a top-ten placing.

She won’t know I’ve written about her until after the race, as Jennifer Benna‘s gone off the social-media radar to keep her mind honed on her goal: a finish in the top ten. The 33-year-old mom and film-company producer dropped from last year’s race due to illness, but she’s been on the rise as an ultrarunner after her daughter’s birth in 2010. She was fourth at the 2012 Miwok 100k, seventh at the stacked 2012 Speedgoat 50k, and first at the 2013 Bandera 50k. Her most recent finish was a win at the Zion 100 in April. My take? She’s very talented but needs a perfect day to crack this year’s top ten.

100-Mile Newbies Who Will Stir the Pot

Emily Harrison - ultrarunnerEmily Harrison gained a MUC entry by taking second at the 2012 JFK 50 (post-race interview). In her debut ultra, she lost to Ellie Greenwood but she and Ellie both ran far faster than the previous course record. Since then and since accepting her MUC entry, she’s run just two more ultras, wins at the Moab Red Hot 55k and the Mormon Fat Ass 50 Mile. Her Red Hot win was another major course record in a deep field. She’s a former Division I college runner who was sixth at the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and who has a 2:32:55 marathon PR. She trained for several years of road racing with the McMillan Elite crew in Flagstaff, Arizona, where trail running began to grow on her. Additionally, she’s coached by ultra star Ian Torrence. Though I believe she has the talent, I think it’d take a special kind of day for Emily to win, as all the stars aligning in your first 100 is pretty difficult. But if there’s anyone who is setting themselves up for this, it’s Emily.

2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile - Cassie ScallonJust watching 100-mile newbies Emily Harrison and Cassie Scallon duke it out would be a great race, let alone all the other women they will be surrounded by next weekend. The Wisconsin native who now lives in the “Other Endurance Capitol,” Boulder, Colorado, Cassie earned a MUC entry by winning the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (ahead of Joelle Vaught and a bunch of other women in this preview) (post-race interview). Though the 2013 WS100 will be her debut, she was on the 2012 entrants list. She turned up in Squaw Valley to race, but got a call from her doctor asking her not to start. For the rest of the year, she was healing a pelvic stress fracture. The beginning of 2013 was good for her because, in addition to her win at Lake Sonoma, she took second at the Moab Red Hot 55k (behind Emily Harrison), fourth at Chuckanut 50k, and won the Ice Age 50 Mile in a new course record (ahead of Denise Bourassa). She just dropped from the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile two weekends ago after she fell and injured her hamstring. She intends to start States. If I knew a 100% healthy Cassie was turning up, I’d give her an equal shot at the win as Emily Harrison.

Kerrie BruxvoortColorado’s Kerrie Bruxvoort stormed into the world of ultrarunning about 15 months ago, and has run at least 14 trail races and won half of them since then. She gained entry via the MUC and a second place (behind Pam Smith) at the 2012 Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile. Her most impressive performance among her outings was not a win, however; it was her second place in the 2012 Speedgoat 50k’s deep field. She’s run well at a couple gnarly 50 milers this spring, which is probably the best prep possible for someone without a 100-mile finish (she dropped from the Leadville 100 last year) and WS100 virgin. This spring, she won both the Zane Grey and Quad Rock 50 milers. Though new to ultrarunning, the 36 year old says she’s been running for about 20 years, and she has a 2:55 marathon PR. I’ll call her definite top-five material if she runs smart and patient.

More Women Who Could Make Some Top-Twenty Noise

Melanie Peters is from Michigan and 29 years old, and she gained a MUC entry by winning the Leona Divide 50 Mile in 7:30. I believe she’s run one 100-miler, the Burning River 100 last year where she finished under 21 hours and in fourth place. I don’t think this is reflective of her running talent, however, as Melanie was a University of Miami runner with PRs of 4:26:03  for 1500m and 16:44.10 for 5,000m. After college, she focused for a while on road racing, and I believe her marathon PR is 2:46:45. Melanie could very well be a rising star of ultrarunning.

Mary Churchill (née Fagan) got into States via the lottery. Though the 37 year old has been pretty busy for the last several years having two children, Mary’s major return to ultrarunning is via the Big Dance. She’s been an ultrarunner since about 2001, I believe, and her ultrarunning has coincided with road racing, too. Some of her best performances include a win at the Vermont 100 in 2007 and a second place in 2011. She has tremendous natural talent and a known ability to run 100 miles. The only question is, with a toddler and an infant at home, how has her training and recovery been going?

Canada’s Nicola Gildersleeve also got in via the ever-more-elusive lottery. She’s run the WS100 once before, a 21:40 and 11th place in 2010. Recently, Nicola won the 2012 Tarawera 100k, was 10th at the stacked 2013 Chuckanut 50k, and she won the 2013 Yakima Skyline Rim 50k in April, which has insane vertical and is a good sign for her mountain legs. She might be hungry for a top-ten spot after finishing 11th a few years back, but I’m going to call that a long shot with this year’s field.

Rhonda Claridge gained her entry from finishing second at the 2012 Run Rabbit Run 100. She made noise last year when she finished second at the Hardrock 100, though she was more than 3.5 hours behind winner Darcy Africa. She lives in Ophir, Colorado, which is only a mile or two from the Hardrock course. She’s, thus, got a great set of legs for the high-altitude mountains, but probably not enough leg speed for the runner’s race that is the WS100. She’s got at least 17 podium finishes in ultramarathons to her name, so I’m certain she’ll be at States to compete hard.

Always a strong force in Cali races is Bree Lambert. She’s got at least three 100-mile wins under her belt, most recently a win at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in 2011. Since then, she’s been fourth at the 2013 Bandera 100k, eighth at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and a win at the Quicksilver 50k in May.

Luanne Park, at 52 years old, is always tough. This year, she’s been 12th at the Way Too Cool 50k and seventh at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in 2013. She has four podium finishes at Western States to her name, with the best being second in 19:42:40 in 2004. She’s going for her 10th finish this year so I’m thinking she might be planning to finish come he££ or the high water of Rucky Chucky.

Leila Degrave gained her MUC entry from finishing third (behind Rhonda Claridge) at the 2012 Run Rabbit Run 100. Based on her results on Utrasignup, this Evergreeen, Coloradan feels at home on the podium of Colorado and other regional races. Her most recent win is an 8:01 at the Collegiate Peaks 50 Mile in May, I believe. I predict a strong and steady day for Leila that lands her a top-20 spot.

Megan Hall, from Washington state, got a MUC entry by taking second at Pinhoti 100. Megan’s won maybe six or eight local-to-her ultras, but I believe States to be her first national and international-level competition. (The race doesn’t have many non-U.S. elites this year, but I call it an international-level race because the competition is equitable.) Just inside the top 20 for Megan, per chance?

54-year-old Kelly Ridgway has been running ultramarathons since many of the race’s younger entrants were in high school. She’s had some health issues in recent years, but her health and fitness seem on the upswing since the second half of 2012. This year she’s finished 14th at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and first at the Quicksilver 50 Mile. She’s run States twice, in 2004 and 2007, with her highest finish as 16th place. She’d have to run faster than the 23:42 that got her there in 2007, but I think she’s got that in her running arsenal if she’s totally “back.”

Traci Falbo is a 41 year old from Indiana with 15 wins out of 22 ultras listed on Ultrasignup. The standout performance among those was a 17:02 win at the 2012 Umstead 100. That said, she has almost no mountains-of-the-west races on her resume.

An experienced (and relatively local) runner who finished 19th woman in 22:34 last year, what will this year hold for Amber Monforte?

Notable DNSes

  • Elissa Ballas – Accepted a MUC entry from finishing third at the JFK 50 Mile. Her name is now off the entrants list, too.
  • Melanie Fryar – She accepted a MUC entry from finishing third at the Pinhoti 100, but her name is no longer on the entrants list.
  • Ellie Greenwood – As we’ve discussed, is not defending her win due to to injury.

Call for Comments

  • Who will win? Who will make the podium? Who will make a major racing breakthrough?
  • Have we missed anyone you think should be added to this preview?
  • Do you have insight into the fitness level of any of the women we’ve listed? If so, share! Likewise, let us know if any of the above will not be racing.
  • What do you think the front of the race will look like for the women? A robust “pack” through 50 miles that gets strung out in the second half? Someone who runs a la Lizzy Hawker in 2012 and far off the front? A Geoff Roes in 2010-esque late-race surge?
Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.