There are 315 men entered in the 2014 Western States 100 and one of them will be crowned a first-time champion on the Placer High track late on June 28. That is, unless the only returning champion, Gordy Ainsleigh, improves on the form that made him the first-ever runner to finish the Western States course in one day 40 years ago. Still, many a champion from other prestigious races will brave the course and the competition in hope of a win.
As has been the trend in the past half decade, that competition will feature more top foreigners than earlier editions of the race. This year that foreign contingent has been bolstered by more top entrants via the “foreign consideration” route as well as the addition of the race to the Ultra-Trail World Tour. As has probably been the case forever, there are a slew of talented newcomers to Western States and, in some cases, even the 100-mile distance. Much has been said of the plight of such individuals in the past (… although I’ll point out that Rob Krar had a pretty strong 100-mile debut at States last year). The Montrail Ultra Cup has been a constant source for such runners in recent times. Unsurprisingly, many former top-five and even more top-10 runners are also back to give another go at the race as they try to improve upon previous placings.
Who are these talented men? Let’s find out!
First, a quick look at other Western States resources here on iRunFar:
- Live race-day Western States coverage(!);
- Pre-race video interviews with Mike Aish, Dylan Bowman, Miguel Heras, Andy Jones-Wilkins, Max King, Ryan Sandes, and Alex Varner;
- Written interviews with Ryan Sandes, Nick Clark, and Dylan Bowman as well as Max King, Michael Aish, Karl Meltzer, Yoshikazu Hara, and Jez Bragg;
- iRunFar’s 2014 Western States women’s preview;
- Our “Group Think” Analysis the our prediction contest;
- Our non-iRunFar Western States story roundup; and
- iRunFar’s dedicated Western States 100 page.
The Potential Winners
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing this at 10 p.m. on my 36th birthday, but I’m feeling a bit more comfortable with the thought of editorializing than I normally am. With that in mind, there are three runners that stand out as probable victors in my mind: Rob Krar, Ryan Sandes, and Miguel Heras.
He may not race as prolifically as others, but Rob Krar has been the most dominant ultrarunner on American soil the past year and a half. Last year, he won the Red Hot Moab 55k, Leona Divide 50 Mile, UROC 100k (post-race interview), and TNF EC 50 – San Francisco (post-race interview), and was second at Western States (post-race interview), his 100-mile debut. He also set the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim record. (He did drop from the JFK 50 Mile last November after leading most of the race.) This year, he was second to Zach Miller at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview). That’s a pretty good stretch, especially when you consider the competition he’s faced each time. He is quite focused on this year’s Western States. He’s also fresh.
Ryan Sandes, on the other hand, keeps banging out unreal effort after unreal effort this year. He’s already won Transgrancanaria (post-race interview), set the Drakensberg Grand Traverse FKT, and placed second at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (post-race interview) on a day where winner François D’Haene looked unbeatable. That’s a lot of hard miles on Ryan’s legs already this year. Like Krar, Sandes has been runner-up to Timothy Olson at Western States. He did so in 2012 in the second-fastest time ever at Western States history – 15:03:56 (post-race interview). Sandes also has a major 100-mile win having taken Leadville in 2011. Sandes has already been training on the Western States course for a couple weeks.
Miguel Heras is as dangerous an ultrarunner as there is. In 2011, he ran with Kilian Jornet, Seb Chaigneau, and Iker Karrera until mile 90 of UTMB when a knee injury forced him to withdraw. Just last year, Heras finished UTMB for the first time, taking second in the process (post-race interview). Twice, in 2010 and 2012, Miguel won the TNF EC 50 Mile championships in San Francisco. Just last month, he won the Spanish ultrarunning championships at Penyagolosa. For all of his talent and training, or perhaps because of it, Heras is often injured and has failed to start or to finish numerous races he has entered, including not starting Western States in 2012. That said, if Heras is in and healthy, watch out!
I’d say there’s a better-than-even chance that one of the above runners wins this year.
If I were to pick three more runners living in the U.S. and three more foreign residents who could win but who also have the best shot for a podium finish it’s the next six guys. To clarify, I think these are guys with a solid shot at the podium who have at least a chance of winning as opposed to more dark-horse/long-shot candidates to win or land on the podium.
Although Timothy Olson and Mike Morton joined him last year, Nick Clark is still one of only three runners ever to twice go under 16 hours at States. The past four Western States, Clark has finished fourth, third, third, and sixth. After being a bit more aggressive than normal at last year’s race, he plans on running his own race this year and taking a shot at Mike Morton’s 15:45 masters course record now that he’s 40. We’ve got precious little to go on in terms of telling race results for Nick this year as his stomach went south late in Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (he was 10th, but far off the lead) and he jogged the Lake Sonoma 50 with a heavy pack two weeks prior to UTMF.
Dylan Bowman impressed me greatly in winning the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile (post-race interview) this February after racing a strong fifth at the TNF EC 50 mile championships in San Fran last December. That said, his ability to run 100 miles so consistently well has impressed me even more. The past two years he’s been seventh and fifth at States and I don’t think that’s near what he’s capable of. Previously, he’s taken third and second at Leadville (2010 and ’11, respectively), won the San Diego 100 Mile in 2011, and taken second at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in 2012 (post-race interview). He’s ready to knock States out of the park.
Ian Sharman won and set a new record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning last year. Along the way he logged his highest Western States placing to date–fourth (he was fifth in 2012)–and a win at Leadville. Those are some pretty good 100-mile credentials right there. On top of that, he has the fastest trail 100-mile time ever on American soil (12:44:33) and has already run a 13:38:03 at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile this year. Still, Western States doesn’t offer up the ideal terrain for Mr. Sharman.
Behind Sandes, Jez Bragg is the foreigner with the best recent Western States performances returning to this year’s race as he was third in 2009 and fourth in 2011. In between, Jez won the altered 100k version of UTMB in 2010 (post-race interview). We had concern that his epic (and we don’t use that word lightly) run of New Zealand’s Te Araroa last year would leave a long-lasting negative effect on Jez’s racing. He allayed that concern in taking 11th at UTMB last year in a smart, gutsy effort. We’ve heard rumors that Bragg is in top form and we’re inclined to believe them.
Give Thomas Lorblanchet a runnable, “hilly” ultramarathon and he’s a machine. He won Leadville back in 2012 (post-race interview) and has won the 73k La Grande Course des Templiers four times among many top finishes there. In 2009, Thomas won the IAU Trail World Championships. He has less 100-mile experience than anyone listed above, but he’s been running ultras for more than a decade and does have a top 100-mile win to his credit. [June 25 Update: We have confirmed that Thomas Lorblanchet badly sprained his ankle during Out Run The Sun on June 21 and will not run Western States.]
Yoshikazu Hara has battled injuries this year and ended up dropping from Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. However, he shot onto the world’s radar with a win there last year among a strong international field. If speed becomes a factor late, Hara-san’s road 100k PR of 6:33:32 should prove useful.
Dang, This Field is Deep
As if the above wasn’t enough, there are at least another 20 guys with top-10 potential this year. Below are some of those runners at least half dozen of whom could win it if the stars absolutely align.
Michael Aish – Aish is still on the steep part of the ultrarunning learning curve. He went from DNFing Leadville in 2012 to finishing third last year (post-race interview)… while still taking it out “rather aggressively.” He also raced the Leadville Marathon on June 14 this year. Learning curve. What Aish lacks in experience he might just make up for in talent/training history (two-time Olympian with a 2:13 marathon PR) and balls-out attitude.
- Vajin Armstrong – Vajin’s already had two strong UTWT showings this year with a fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k and a third at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. He’s previously seen NorCal success in winning the 2012 American River 50 Mile in 5:53:32. Unless I’m mistaken, this will be Vajin’s first go at 100 miles. (Please let me know if I’m wrong.)
- Jorge Maravilla – He did not have the Western States he wanted last year after finishing eighth in 16:05 in 2012 (post-race interview). I suspect that’s just growing pains as he feels out his body and its limits. He’s improved his position each of the past three TNF EC 50 mile championships, going 21st, 16th, and then seventh.
- Brendan Davies – Davies has been rounding into shape through the UTWT season, going from 11th at Tarawera to sixth at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji before taking third at TNF 100k – Australia last month. That was the plan with a focus on Western States.
Matt Laye – He had an impressive 100-mile debut in winning Rocky Raccoon in 13:17 this February (post-race interview and race report). He ran 6:17 to take fifth at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile last month.[June 26 Update: Matt Laye will not be starting Western States this year.]
- David Laney – Since winning his ultra debut at the Chuckanut 50k in March 2013, Laney has made a name for himself. He’s also won the Waldo 100k last year, taken second at the Bandera 100k and Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview) this year, and placed fifth at the highly competitive Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April. 100-mile rookie.
- Alex Varner – Ran his first ultra last August. Since then he’s won the Bootlegger 50k (USATF Trail 50k champs), taken second at the Way Too Cool 50k, and fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50. 100-mile rookie.
- Max King – Max has been messing around with ultras for sixth years now… and he’s finally making his 100-mile debut. Over that time, he’s won plenty of big races from 50k to 100k, most recently at the Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview) and Ice Age 50 Mile, both in course-record time. If I felt like he was focusing more narrowly on racing a 100 miler, I’d likely be placing him elsewhere. 100-mile rookie.
- Brian Condon – Listed here by virtue of running a 5:58 in placing third at the Ice Age 50 mile this spring. Relative ultra newbie and 100-mile debutant.
- Yassine Diboun – Ninth man (10th overall) at Western States last year after taking 12th in 2012. Recently fourth at the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile.
- Dominic Grossman – Winner Angeles Crest 100 Mile 2013; fifth Sean O’Brien 50 Mile 2014.
- Jesse Haynes – Took seventh at least year’s scorching States. Later last year, was second at Waldo 100k and sixth at Run Rabbit Run 100. His results this year have not been up to the same standard.
Karl Meltzer – Where’s Karl? Winning 100s… where else! He won the Massanutten 100 already this year (as well as the Zion 100k) after finishing 10th man (11th overall) at Western States last year.
- Chris Price – Fourth at the Hardrock 100 and Zane Gray 50 Mile last year and, to qualify for Western States via the MUC, the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile this year. Won the Angeles Crest 100 in 2012.
- Paul Terranova – Eighth at least year’s race. Fourth at Bandera 100k this January in a faster time than his WS-qualifying third place there in 2012.
- Scott Wolfe – Dubious distinction of M11 from last year’s race. Now a masters runner… and as focused as ever on this race.
Other Names to Know
- Dan Barger – 10th WS 100 2010
- James Bonnett – winner Zane Grey 50 2013; 14th WS 100 2007
- Adam Condit – 3rd TNF EC 50 Mile – Wisconsin 2013 in 6:08
- David Eadie – 9th Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon 2013
- Gary Gellin – 11th at Lake Sonoma 50 2014; has not cracked the 100-mile nut yet
- Adam Hewey – 2nd San Diego 100 2012
- Andy Jones-Wilkins – Previously seven-straight top-10 WS 100 finishes; 17th in 2013; going for his 10th WS 100 finish
- Mark Lantz – 10th WS 100 2009
Marc Laveson – 3rd San Diego 100 2013[June 18 Update: Marc Laveson won’t be running Western States this year.]
- Javier Montero – 10th Leadville 100 2013
- Chikara Omine – Multitude of fast results to 100k; highest upside potential on this list
- Glen Redpath – 7th WS 100 2010 in 17:10
- Brett Rivers – 2nd San Diego 100 2013; 4th Way Too Cool 50k 2014
- Erik Skaden – Going for his 10th finish
- Steve Speirs – 4th Rocky Raccoon 100 2014 in 15:26
- Mike Morton – He’s on the upswing from injuries, but isn’t ready to race yet.
- Timothy Olson – While never entered in this year’s race, it’s worth noting that the two-time defending champ isn’t returning to the race this year.
- Gustavo Reyes – This Argentinian runner is sidelined with a hip 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.