[Editor’s Note: We’ve got an avalanche of Western States coverage. You can check it all out on our dedicated Western States 100 page.]
It’s the second half of June, which means the Western States 100 is right around the corner. On June 29th, 400-or-so runners will head out from Squaw Valley with a bevy of top dudes leading the way. Perhaps two dozen will compete for a top-ten spot with maybe 10 having at least an outside shot at the win. This year’s race is heartily stocked with past WS100 champs and even more returnees from last year’s top ten. There are also a handful of Western States newcomers who promise to spice things up.
Perhaps the most notable absence from this year’s race is foreign-residing competition. In recent years, the likes of Kilian Jornet, Ryan Sandes, Jez Bragg, and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki have added an international flavor to the race. This year will see US-residing Brits Nick Clark and Ian Sharman competing and Gustavo Reyes making the trip north from Argentina; however, this is a far cry from, say 2011, when nine of the top-14 runners were foreign born with five of those living outside of the US at the time.
- Dylan Bowman video interview
- Nick Clark video interview
- Rob Krar video interview
- Mike Morton video interview
- Andy Jones-Wilkins video interview
- Timothy Olson video interview
- Rob Krar long-form profile
- Timothy Olson, Hal Koerner, and Mike Morton written interviews
- Nick Clark, Dave Mackey, and Ian Sharman written interviews
- Dylan Bowman, Cameron Clayton, and Karl Meltzer written interviews
Champions of the “Recent” Past
The most likely place to look for future champions is among those who have already proven they can win. Western States is no different, as its history with many multi-win champions shows.
The more recent a success, the more useful it is in predicting future success. So it should be little surprise that I open this preview with last year’s champ and course-record holder, Timothy Olson. Great conditions or not, his 14:46:44 last year is unquestionably one of the best performances ever run on the Western States Trail. Olson started the year off well enough with a win at the Bandera 50k and second at the Ray Miller 50 Mile before a knee injury slowed him to 13th at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April. However, he quickly figured out his injury and bounced back to a very strong fourth at Transvulcania in early May. Olson clearly has the fitness and desire to be the first repeat winner since Hal Koerner, his pacer from last year.
Hal Koerner won Western States in 2007 and 2009 with no race run in 2008 due to forest fires. Since then, Koerner’s continued to run an huge number of races with some standout performances as well as plenty of ho hum (for him) runs. Still, when he focuses on a race, he’s almost always damn good. Witness, his 2012 Hardrock 100 win. I’ve not seen Koerner recently enough to know if he’s all in for States, but we can only assume he is!
Going just a biiiiit further into the past, 1997 Western States champ and former-course-record holder Mike Morton is returning after a 16-year hiatus. Normally, such a long break would suggest a runner is returning simply to make a token appearance as a celebrity. Nothing could be further from the case with Morton this year. In fact, Morton might represent the most exciting addition to this year’s men’s field. After many years away from competitive running, he spent a few years killing 24-hour races before crushing Scott Jurek’s 24-hour American record by running 172+ miles in a day last September. He also won the Badwater 135 last July, just seconds off the course record. Last month, Morton skipped the 24-hour world championships to make sure he’d be in top form come WS.
Despite winning Western States by the largest margin of victory (51 minutes) since Scott Jurek’s 54-minute win over Dave Mackey in 2004, Graham Cooper’s 2006 victory will always be looked at differently given Brian Morrison hitting the track in the lead with a comfortable margin before failing to finish under his own power. Following his win, Cooper has finished in the top ten twice more with a third in 2007 and seventh in 2011. Cooper’s only ultra finish in 2013, fourth at the Quicksilver 50 Mile in 7:36 in May, suggests a top-ten finish would be a good one for him this year.
Last Year’s Top Ten
With less than two weeks until race day, it looks like seven of last year’s top-ten men will toe the line in Squaw Valley on June 29th. That would match last year’s top-ten-returnee rate. The three M10s known not to be running as of June 16th are Ryan Sandes (2nd), Zeke Tiernan (6th), and Neal Gorman (10th). Aside from Olson (discussed above), here are the returning runners from last year’s top ten.
3rd – Nick Clark (15:44:09) – Nick Clark is the only runner in modern Western States history (1986 on) to twice break 16 hours. He’s also the only runner during that span to have two of the ten-fastest times. (Last year’s time is good enough for 9th all time and his 15:50:23 from 2011 is 10th.) This year, Clark won the Fuego y Agua 100k unchallenged in February but finished a disappointing tenth at Lake Sonoma in April. Still, I don’t see Clarkie disappointing on race day – he’s a top-five guy. Period.
4th – Dave Mackey (15:53:36) – Mackey improved on his eighth place in 2011 with fourth place last year. He also broke 16 hours and broke Tsuyoshi Kaburaki’s masters “unbreakable” course record of 16:07:04. Mackey’s run some strong performances this year, including second (to Sage Canaday) at the Bandera 100k in January, winning the Mount Mitchell Challenge, and fifth at Lake Sonoma. He’s also been cranking out massive amounts of training after years of being stretched thin by schooling. However, I can’t quite figure out why he started the San Diego 100 (but DNF’ed due to taking a wrong turn after mile 60) on June 8th. Dave, care to explain what were you thinking?
5th – Ian Sharman (15:54:38) – Sharman also made a big jump from 2011 to 2012, going from tenth to fifth while taking 45 minutes off his time. Sharman continued to excel later in 2012 with fourths at the UROC 100k and JFK 50 Mile. This year, the most competitive ultras he’s run have been the Gorge Waterfalls 50k and Miwok (modified) 60k – he placed fourth at both. Those places aren’t encouraging indicators for Sharman improving to fourth or better at this year’s WS; however, he’s methodical and likely to work his way into a solid position in the top ten in the final 40 miles. Along with Nick Clark, Sharman is also only one of two men to have placed in the top ten at least three years in a row. It’s worth noting that Sharman is competing in this year’s Grand Slam, so we’ll see if he holds back with the Vermont 100 and beyond in mind – I doubt it.
7th – Dylan Bowman (16:03:24) – Last year, Bowman faded his way to seventh in just over 16 hours. I could be wrong, but I think he was the top-ten runner most disappointed with his performance on the day. With another year of experience and training, Bowman should be disappointed if he’s not top five this year. He’s won both of his ultras – the Ray Miller 50 Mile and the Miwok 60k – in 2013 and ran the Grand Canyon R2R2R in 6:55 (the 3rd-fastest time ever?) in mid-May.
8th – Jorge Maravilla (16:05:30) – Maravilla is another runner who should greatly benefit from another year of ultra training and, more importantly, racing. As well as he ran at Western States last year, he was even more impressive… and aggressive in taking third at UROC last September. Amidst jetsetting to races around the world this year, Maravilla took fourth at Lake Sonoma in April. Hopefully, he doesn’t have too many flying and/or racing miles under his belt in 2013.
9th – Joe Uhan (16:13:14) – Despite having frequent contact with Uhan as he’s an iRunFar columnist, I’ll admit that his top-ten performance was still the biggest top-ten surprise in last year’s race. A year later, I see that I shouldn’t have been or be surprised by Uhan cracking top ten at States. He’s following in the footsteps of runners like Craig Thornley and Andy Jones-Wilkins in being 100%-focused on Western States preparation and performance. While others are chasing competition, prizes, and adventure in racing, by design Uhan has run but one ultra in 2013, taking seventh at Lake Sonoma. Although that’s two spots lower than he finished at Sonoma in 2012, it was also almost 19 minutes faster.
While it’s fun to think about how Western States veterans will fare in an upcoming edition of the race, talented newcomers add a whole different level of excitement to the event. This year, there are four men making their Western States debuts who could really shake up the race from start to finish. As a bonus, this group is as varied as can be, with three of the runners making their 100-mile debuts and another who has more 100-mile wins than any other runner in history.
Rob Krar is fresh off breaking Dakota Jones’s Grand Canyon R2R2R FKT by 32 minutes(!) not long after taking 7 minutes off the Leona Divide 50 Mile course record Dylan Bowman set last year. Of Krar’s four official ultras, he’s set course records at his last three. In his ultra debut last November, he finished just behind Jason Wolfe at the Bootlegger 50k, and now sits two-and-a-half minutes off the course record there. Krar’s ultra success comes hot on the heels of dominating the La Sportiva Mountain Cup in 2012 and a long pedigree on the track (1:51 800m PR) and roads (1:06 half marathon PR). Honestly, I can see Krar winning Western States despite being a rookie at the distance… and that’s saying something.
Undoubtedly, Cameron Clayton will go big or go home, or perhaps more accurately given the difficulty of the race, he’ll be at the top or on a cot. It takes a 24 year old with some chutzpah to say he’d rather go for 14 hours than 15:10 at States. That said, this recent University of Colorado runner has performed admirably at his first three ultras. Last September, he ran his way into Western States by winning the Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile. That, his ultra debut, was also a course record, besting Geoff Roes’s 2010 time by 2 minutes. This spring, Clayton’s followed that up with a second to Sage Canaday at Lake Sonoma before taking seventh at Transvulcania (pre-race interview). It’s worth noting that Western States rarely favors the bold.
Trent Briney ran his way into Western States when he took second at the 2012 JFK 50 Mile behind Max King. Despite having previously run only one ultra, a 50k three months earlier, he ran the second-fastest time in JFK history. It’s quite likely that Briney’s 2:12:34 is by far the fastest marathon PR of anyone in this year’s WS100 field. (57-year-old Bruce Fordyce, who was to make his WS debut this year would have been close, but he’s not running.) No, that doesn’t guarantee success at 100 miles, but that and his run at JFK sure show he has potential. That said, Briney did not fare well at the Quad Rock 50 Mile last month, taking 15th. He’s currently unsure about running States this year after battling illness. [Update: Trent Briney has withdrawn due to illness.]
With 35 100-mile wins, Karl Meltzer probably needs no introduction here. However, he may need an introduction to some of the locals along the Western States course as, while it’s hard to believe, this will be Meltzer’s Western States debut… and he’s been excited about that since he qualified with his win at the Run Rabbit Run 100 last September. Since then, he’s thrown down a 14:33 100 mile at the Buffalo Run… but has been battling a calf issue in recent months, which has limited his training.
A Few Additional Contenders
- Yassine Diboun – Twelfth at last year’s WS100, Diboun ran himself into this year’s race by taking third at the Pinhoti 100 in November. Not sure what’s behind his racing three of the past four weekends, including placing fifth at the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile on June 8th.
- Topher Gaylord – His racing in the US has rarely reflected his fitness, particularly at Western States. However, in following his training on Strava, Gaylord impresses me on a regular basis. It’s time for him to finally bust one at States.
- Jeremy Humphrey – This will be Humphrey’s first highly competitive ultra since he’s broken out in the past two years. He earned his way into WS with a second place at the Pinhoti 100 last November (beating Yassine Diboun) after winning the Cascade Crest 100 last August just 4 minutes off Rod Bien’s course record.
- Andy Jones-Wilkins – AJW had his seven-year, men’s-top-ten streak broken when an injury kept him out of last year’s race. He’s trained well and knows how to race this course as well as anyone. A low-teens finish would be a triumph after his injury-riddled 2012.
- Mark Lantz – Earned M9 at the 2009 WS100, but is a teens-at-best runner in the new era of Western States. Took fifth at the American River 50 Mile this April, but 44 minutes off the win.
- Nick Pedatella – Pedatella likely lacks the raw speed needed for at top-ten finish at States and he’s running the Grand Slam this summer. That said, he’s super strong in 100s and likely to finish in the second ten. If it’s a hot day, Pedatella’s smarts could squeeze him into the top ten.
- Gustavo Reyes – A speedy Argentine runner who took eighth at El Cruce in February before a rough go at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in May. He could be the top non-North American resident in this year’s race.
- Jacob Rydman – Although he only has one 100-mile finish (a 22-hour Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in 2011) to his credit, this local and Western States devotee should not be underestimated. Rydman was the first person to run himself into this year’s States via the 2012-13 Montrail Ultra Cup when he placed second behind Timothy Olson at last August’s Waldo 100k. Rydman ran a respectable 11th at Lake Sonoma in April.
- Paul Terranova – Without the Grand Kona Slam (Grand Slam of Ultrarunning plus Kona Ironman) on his plate this summer, Terranova can focus on States. He’s run well this year with a third at the Bandera 100k, second at the Nueces 50 mile, and wins at the Hells Hills 50 Mile and Squak Mountain 50k. He could have had his confidence shaken by his most recent race – an eighth at the Quad Rock 50 Mile last month.
Other Speedy Entrants
- Dan Barger
- Quent Bearden
- Joseph Czabaranek
- Lon Freeman
- Jesse Haynes
- Paulo Medina
- Erik Skaden
- Brandon Stapanowich
- Bruce Fordyce
- Neal Gorman – Out due to a bout with cytomegalovirus.
- Ryan Sandes – Last year’s runner up and owner of the second-fastest run in WS history is out with ankle injury.
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win? Who will join him on the podium? Any big surprises looming?
- 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 know if any of the above will not be racing.
- Any thoughts at the decline in foreign participation in this year’s Western States whether on the cause or the effect?