2014 Western States 100 Women’s Preview

Western States 100 logoHooray! The 2014 Western States 100 is upon us, and for the trail ultrarunning community, it’s a bit like Christmas–er, Statesmas–day. iRunFar covers the race each year with more depth and breadth than we do any other ultra. We’re already more than a half-dozen articles deep into coverage of this year’s race, which takes place on Saturday, June 28.

Before the race last year, I called it “any gal’s game” but I never would have guessed the gal whose game it ended up being. Pam Smith emerged as the toughest woman of them all, winning the race skillfully and without challenge from the rest of the field. When I look at this year’s women’s race, the main questions I have are:

  • Can Pam can once again deflect both the heat of the course and other competitors with her analytical approach from start to finish?
  • Who will be Pam’s biggest challengers?

Those answers won’t come until game day, but for now let the fun ruminations begin. In this article, we break down the main competitors via the means they got into the race. First, a quick look at other Western States resources here on iRunFar:

2013 Top 10 Returnees

Here are the six women from last year’s top 10 who are planning to wear their “F” bibs at this year’s race.

Pam Smith - 2013 Western States 100 - trophy

Pam Smith

Winner – Pam Smith (18:37:21) – Few would have called Pam Smith as the 2013 champ (finish-line interview, post-race interview) ahead of the race. I think she even surprised herself. Her two post-race report and deep, deep after-race analysis are lessons for anyone who wants to give their goal race their best shot. Her pair of WS 100 10th places and another, ahem, well-out-of-contention finish prior to last year did not give any hints as to what she could accomplish. But since last year’s race, this girl has been on fire, including a 100-mile track world record at the Desert Solstice Invitational last December (race report) and a win of the Mad City 100k in 7:47 this past April. She just ran a 25k tune-up race, the Beacon Rock 25k last weekend, running a 13-minute course record to conclude a heavy week of training. She’s fit and ready, she says, just eager for race day to see how things play out.

Nikki Kimball - Western States 100

Nikki Kimball

2nd – Nikki Kimball (19:21:43) – Nikki Kimball’s second place last year (post-race interview) came as a surprise to her. She told me in an interview earlier this year that she was less fit for last year’s race than she was for any other Western States. She was inordinately happy, however, and she used that happiness to carry her into second position. She’s a three-time WS 100 champ and she’s finished the race a total of eight times. Since her second last year, she’s had another second place at the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, a win at the tough 2014 Marathon des Sables (post-race interview and race report), and a win at the 2014 Silver State 50 Mile. Ahead of her run at the MdS, Nikki said she was using it to train for her weakness, the runnable parts of the WS 100. So long as she’s still sharp after all that early-season mileage, her MdS run should have set her up well for a good day.

4th – Meghan Arbogast (19:30:50) – She may be 52 years old, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s a threat for any position in the top 10. She’s gone 18:50 on this course before, and she holds tightly to a goal of breaking the 18:30 barrier someday, which would put her in contention for the win many years. Meghan’s a seven-time Western States finisher who in the last year has moved to the western Sierra Nevada and basically lives on the course now, giving her an extra training advantage. Since last year’s race, she’s taken second at the White River 50 Mile, 13th at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, won the Bandera 100k, taken seventh at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, fifth at the Tarawera Ultramarathon, and won the Bishop High Sierra 100k. Phew! Kind of like Nick Clark on the men’s side, Meghan’s version of a bad day is what many people would call a dream day, so look for her inside the women’s top 10 if she’s not having her best race and expect her in the podium hunt if she’s totally on her game.

Emily Harrison - 2013 Western States 100

Emily Harrison

7th – Emily Harrison (20:28:40) – Emily Harrison is used to winning and setting course records or, at least, nearly winning. It was like that for her in high school, college, and on the road scene. Who would expect different when she hit the trails? Something, thus, tells me that last year’s seventh place at States, her first 100 miler, left her hungry for more. When Emily ran last year’s WS 100, she had all of about six months of experience under her belt. She’s now tripled that and had some stellar races including a win at the 2013 JFK 50 Mile, a course record at the Caumsett 50k (post-race interview), and a win at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview). She’s had some shorter-distance tune-up races at which she’s annihilated the field, and she participated in the three-day Western States Training Camp on the course. What’s a supremely talented young woman with fitness and hunger to win on her side? Dangerous. She’s my call as one of the biggest threats to the defending champ on game day.

8th – Denise Bourassa (21:44:37) – Denise is a two-time WS 100 finisher with an 11th place in 20:28 from 2012 and last year’s eighth under her belt. Since last year’s race Denise has also had some strong outings including a third at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile behind Sally McRae and a win at the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Mile. Overall, she’s a consistent finisher. I haven’t watched Denise race too much, but I have closely studied her results and I personally think she can run sub-19:30 at States if she can put all of the race’s pieces together. That would put her inside the top five most years.

9th – Leila Degrave (21:59:26) – Since her ninth place last year, she’s logged additional strong runs. Leila’s got a nice string of wins and podium finishes at Rocky Mountain regional races including a recent third place at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k in Colorado. She’s got top-10 potential again, for sure.

Top-10 returnees still on the entrants list who aren’t running

  • 3rd – Amy Sproston – Amy is not running due to a hamstring injury.
  • 6th – Aliza Lapierre – Aliza is still returning to running after an earlier-season stress fracture.
  • 10th – Abby McQueeney Penamonte – Abby is not running due to health issues.

Top 10 finishers not racing and not on the entrants list

  • 5th – Rory Bosio – She’s chosen to race the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy the same weekend.

Montrail Ultra Cup Entrants

Here we list the runners who’ve gained entry into Western States via the Montrail Ultra Cup in the order in which they obtained their entry.

Melanie Peters – third place Bandera 100k – On paper, Melanie should rock States, as she’s got a baller resume. She’s run 4:26.03 for 1,500 meters and 16:44.10 for 5,000 meters in college and 2:46:45 for the marathon post-collegiately. She’s got two 100-mile finishes to her name, a fourth at the 2012 Burning River 100 Mile and a 15th at the 2014 Zion 100 Mile. She also dropped from last year’s States. She clearly hasn’t found her potential at this challenging distance just yet, but she has the talent to easily go top 10 if she can put the puzzle together. In finishing third at Bandera this spring, she finished 48 minutes behind winner Meghan Arbogast.

Silke Koester – fourth place Bandera 100k (roll-down spot from winner Meghan Arbogast who was already entered as a previous year’s top-10 finisher) – Silke finished just a minute or so behind Melanie Peters at January’s Bandera 100k. Silke is one of those women who seems to quietly go about her business of generally kicking butt in whatever race she enters, doing things like taking second at the 2013 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile, seventh at last year’s stacked Speedgoat 50k, and fourth at the Quad Rock 50 Mile. Curiously, she’s logged finishes at ultras since at least 2008, but there’s no record of her finishing a 100 miler on UltraSignup, so this could be her first one. Even if this is her first 100-mile race, she’s top-10 material. [Added: Readers have confirmed that this is Silke’s first go at 100 miles. Thanks to Amy O’Connell and Patrick Lyons for the tips!]

Nicole Studer – winner Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile – Though Nicole is unlikely to be racing due to a calf injury, she has not yet withdrawn from the race, so we include her here. Having won almost every trail race she’s entered, having raced almost entirely in Texas, and having gone 15:42 for 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile earlier this year (post-race interview), she would be fascinating to watch as she takes to some big mountains and international competition for the first time.

Kaci Lickteig - 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

Kaci Lickteig

Kaci Lickteig – second place Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile – Kaci has been blazing saddles in 2014. It’s difficult to remember that Kaci arrived onto the national racing scene less than six months ago with her second place at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile (post-race interview) just three minutes behind winner Nicole Studer and the fourth-fastest finish time in the race’s long history. She’d been racing ultras since 2012, however, and road marathoning before/during that. Also this spring, Kaci took third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) behind winner Emily Harrison and second place Stephanie Howe, and set a course record at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile. Kaci should be a strong presence, and the only question marks I have for her are related to her lack of specific experience with the Western States 100 and the mountainous terrain it involves. She is another of my picks for biggest threats to the defending champ. We shall soon see!

Shaheen Sattar – third place Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile – Shaheen is another strong, quiet presence in the trail ultra world, especially in Texas. Last summer, we watched Shaheen race her way to second at the 2013 Leadville 100. In finishing third at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile this winter, she bettered her finishing time there by more than 90 minutes over last year. Given that she’s shown she can race well in the mountains with her Leadville run, I think she has great potential for a finish just inside the women’s top 10 here.

Sally McRae

Sally McRae

Sally McRae – second place Sean O’Brien 50 Mile – I’m not going to lie, Sally is one of my biggest mysteries in this year’s women’s field. Basically, I don’t think she’ll spectacularly blow up and finish way out of contention, but I can’t figure where in the women’s top 10 she’ll land. On an awesome day for her, I could see third or fourth place. On a solid to okay day, I say eighth. Sally earned her way into Western States with a second at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, finishing ahead of third place Denise Bourassa, fourth place Tera Dube, and seventh place Meghan Arbogast. Later this spring, she placed sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile behind Emily Harrison, Stephanie Howe, and Kacki Lickteig but again ahead of Tera Dube. According to her postings on social media, she’s been training for States with singular focus. I think Sally lacks the speed of ladies like Pam Smith, Emily Harrison, Kaci Lickteig, and Stephanie Howe, but specificity of training can bridge gaps in races with unique challenges like those of Western States. Race day will be an interesting one for Sally.

Tera Dube – fourth place Sean O’Brien 50 Mile (roll-down spot from third place Denise Bourassa who was already entered as a previous year’s top-10 finisher) – Tera has finished States once before, an 18th place in 25:21 back in 2005 before she sped up with her ultrarunning. She’s got solid performances on her resume including a fifth at the 2013 Way Too Cool 50k, a fourth at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile where she earned her entry into the WS 100, and a fourth at the Miwok 100k. What’s my guess for Tera? 22-ish hours and inside the top 10.

Larisa Dannis – third place Ice Age Trail 50 Mile – While not new to ultras after running her first one in 2010, it seems like Larisa has been finding her leg speed over the last couple years. In the last year, she’s won the Vermont 100 Mile, took fourth at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile behind Nicole Studer, Kaci Lickteig, and Shaheen Sattar, run 2:44:14 at the Boston Marathon, and took third at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile behind Kaci and ahead of Gina Lucrezi. I’m going to call Larisa to finish around fifth place.

Gina Lucrezi sq

Gina Lucrezi

Gina Lucrezi – fourth place Ice Age Trail 50 Mile (roll-down spot from winner Kaci Lickteig who already earned a spot via the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile) – Gina earned her entry into WS 100 last minute with a qualifier via the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile. With two 50 milers and a handful of 50k’s under her belt in the ultra world, I’m just not sure that Gina has enough ultrarunning experience to run to her potential in this, her first 100 miler. I do think, however, she’s going to be loads of fun to watch trying, given her continually eager and peppy approach to our sport.

Montrail Ultra Cup entrants still on the entrants list who aren’t running

  • Liza Howard – second place Bandera 100k – Liza’s out due to a suspected fibular stress fracture.

Ultra-Trail World Tour Entrants

The Western States 100 joined the Ultra-Trail World Tour for 2014, and as such, two international-level female runners have been granted entry.

Nathalie Mauclair - 2014 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji

Nathalie Mauclair

Nathalie Mauclair – Frenchwoman Nathalie Mauclair should be very interesting to watch. She’s short but well-muscled, perpetually smiling, and extremely animated during her racing. And, she went off the starting line of her last major race, the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, at the pace of the top-10 men. In fact, she ran in the top-10 overall for some 15 or so kilometers! Though she’s relatively new to ultras as of 2011, she’s garnered an impressive resume in Europe including a win of the 2013 IAU Trail World Championships; a win at the 2013 TDS, a sister race to UTMB; and a win at the 2013 Diagonale des Fous on Réunion Island. She’s got a 2:49 marathon PR that precedes her ultra history so she’s also got decent leg speed on the flats. She’s been healing a plantar-fascia issue since dropping at UTMF a couple months ago, and I’m not yet convinced she has enough experience on the highly runnable terrain of this race course to succeed here.

Beth Cardelli – Beth Cardelli is one of Australia’s top female runners. She’s a four-time winner of The North Face 100k – Australia and the 2013 winner of the Trans d’Havet 40k in Italy. She’s been nursing an injury that kept her from starting two major races in the last few months, including the TNF 100k – Australia last month, but it appears she’s racing the WS 100.

Top Lottery or Other Entrants

These are the expected top entrants who gained entry into the race by–gasp–the lottery or other ‘regular’ means.

Stephanie Howe - 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

Stephanie Howe

Stephanie Howe – lottery – Stephanie is my third and last pick for someone who I think is going to challenge Pam Smith, the defending WS 100 champion. Her talent combined with her drive/focus on this race makes me think she has a winning combination. Stephanie’s got just one big question mark hanging above her head, however: she hasn’t run longer than 100k. We last saw Stephanie having a solid outing while running to second place at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April (post-race interview). Since then, she’s had her head down and training hard, spending lots of time on the Western States course. In the last year, she’s also won the 2013 Speedgoat 50k against a huge field (post-race interview) and she took second at the 2013 UROC 100k (post-race interview). If Stephanie can run smart in the first half of the race so that she can actually race the second half, look out ladies!

Margaret Nelsen – lottery – Margaret Nelsen does a heck of a lot of ultrarunning in California, and she wins nearly every race she finishes including the Leona Divide 50k and the PCT 50 Mile so far in 2014. She left Cali to race the Leadville 100 last year where she came in 10th. She’s a Western States wildcard, for sure.

Serena Wilcox – sponsor – Serena has been logging ultra finishes since 2008, and she shows a respectable resume containing many podium finishes in the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas. She appears to have four ultra finishes so far in 2014, including a win, two second places, and a fourth place. It will be interesting to see how she stacks up against a decent chunk of our nation’s best.

Megan McGrath – lottery – Fourth at the 2014 HURT 100 Mile and second at the 2014 Bull Run Run 50 Mile, she could run her way into the top 10.

Ronda Sundermeier – lottery – With loads of ultra experience dating back 15 years, Ronda seems to be stronger when the race is longer. She’s finished the WS 100 four times previously, with her fastest finish at 22:59 in 2005.

Top lottery or other entrants still on the entrants list who aren’t running

  • Paulette Stevenson (née Zillmer) – Paulette will not run due to an ankle injury.

 Call for Comments

  • Who will win?
  • Who will bring a race that none of us is expecting?
  • Who will round out the women’s podium?
  • Do you know something about the training and racing of anyone listed here that would advance this conversation?
  • Also, if you know someone isn’t racing who we listed, let us know. Likewise, if you think we missed someone you think should be included here, let us know!
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.