[Author’s note: This week’s column is the first in a five-part series leading up to the Western States 100 on June 29th.]
One of ultrarunning’s most prestigious honors is donning a top-10 number at Western States. As most folks know, a top-10 finish in the race guarantees a spot the following year and comes along with a special “F” or “M” number. While winning the race is, most certainly, the goal of many elite runners, finishing in the top 10 can be almost as fulfilling.
As we prepare for this year’s running of Western States, it is interesting to note that there are five top-10 streaks of three or more years on the line this time around, two for the men and three for the women.
Let’s take a look at all five. First, on the men’s side:
Ian made his Western States debut in 2010 and jumped right into the top 10. Less than two weeks after an impressive top-30 finish at Comrades, Ian showed up at Western States and ran a smart, well-paced race to make his way into the top 10. I recall vividly when he came up behind me shortly after the mile 85 aid station and he passed me like I was standing still. He was characteristically polite with the pass, but he also left no doubt that he would be leaving me in the dust. In his subsequent two races, he has improved his early pace and his closing speed has remained consistent. This year, look for Ian to methodically make his way through the field between Last Chance and Highway 49.
Nick appeared on the Western States scene in 2010 as well, and quickly served notice that he would be a force to be reckoned with. Running an assertive pace that was controlled all day, Nick finished in an impressive fourth place in his WS debut. His two third-place finishes in the ensuing two years have solidified him as a true threat to win on any given day. And, perhaps most notably, he is the only runner in the history of the race to run under 16 hours on two separate occasions! So, needless to say, Nick has three streaks on the line this year, top-10, top-5 and sub-16. Gonna be fun!
And, for the women:
Rory, a local from Truckee, California, has made her three consecutive top-10 finishes look easy. In fact, her signature smile and her ability to tell jokes to aid station volunteers and fellow runners along the trail has made her into somewhat of a legend. Plus, she runs on pure heart and doesn’t pay much attention to splits or competition. Rather, she simply embraces being out there. And, along the way her times and places have improved each year since 2010. With Ellie Greenwood, unfortunately, out of the race this year due to injury Rory deserves a serious look as a potential winner with not only a fourth consecutive top 10, but also a long-deserved return of the Cougar trophy to California!
Meghan made her Western States debut at the infernal 2006 race and made it in to the top-10 finish with a time just over 23 hours. Interestingly enough, the conditions that year were such that the average women’s times relative to other more benign years were far superior to the equivalent men’s times leading many to suggest that women simply take care of themselves better. Nikki Kimball’s third-place overall finish that year was the closest a woman-not-named-Ann Trason has been to winning the race outright. More on Nikki later. In the meantime, since 2006, Meghan has consistently and methodically finished in the top-10, finishing as high as second in 2010 and barely missing the overall 50-and-over course record in 2011. Amazingly, well into her 50’s, Meghan keeps getting better. She will be running for her seventh consecutive top-10 this year.
As noted above, Nikki’s third-place overall finish in the 2006 “hot year” stands as one of the most incredible runs in Western States history. And, amazingly, she has followed up, year after year, with top-10 finishes each time. Admitting that some of those results have not been when she’s been on top of her game, Nikki has proven to be one of the toughest, grittiest competitors out there. She, like Meghan, will be gunning for her seventh consecutive top-10 finish next month.
So, there you have it, five incredible runners doing incredible things. And, while there are many intriguing story lines going into this year’s race, to me, these five seem right up there near the top of the list. To Ian, Nick, Rory, Meghan, and Nikki…
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This past week I finally got my hands on a six-pack of Zombie Dust from 3 Floyds Brewing Company. I had heard a bit of the hype about it and wanted to give it a try to compare it to the two other over-hyped-but-very-good IPAs that are out there, Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper. After drinking a couple of these Zombies, I concluded that it’s a bit nicer on the palate than Pliny without even close to the smoothness and drinkability of Heady. A good beer that is surprisingly sessionable, this is a good Beer of the Week to kick off the Western States series.
Next week: The Mystique of The Western States Course
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- AJW’s done an awesome job of noting the high-level streakers at this year’s Western States. We know there are many more stories like these within the balance of runner ranks. Who else has a streak they are bringing to the WS100 starting line?
- Among our gal and guy streakers, who do you think has the best chance of striking gold in California’s gold country next month?