The lottery is six months behind us, sponsors and the Ultra-Trail World Tour have named their designated runners, and all the Montrail Ultra Cup races have been run. In other words, barring late injuries, the 2015 Western States 100 field is set… and what field it is! Nine of the top-10 runners from 2014 are back. A plane full of top foreign runners are in through “foreign consideration” entries or the UTWT. The Montrail Ultra Cup let in a few more top contenders. Now, it’s time for all of them to taper while the rest of us get excited for the big day.
Many thanks for CLIF for their generous support of our coverage of this year’s Western States.
As usual, we’ll have live coverage on race day, Saturday, June 27, along with plenty of articles and interviews leading up to the race. And don’t forget to cast your votes in our seventh-annual Western States prediction contest.
As usual, we’re interviewing some of the top contenders on camera before the race. At the moment, you can watch our interviews with Dylan Bowman, François D’haene, Rob Krar, Ryan Sandes, Seth Swanson, and Alex Varner with more to come.
You can also enjoy written interviews with Seth Swanson, Ryan Sandes, Dylan Bowman, and Brendan Davies as well as Rob Krar, Jared Hazen, Ryan Bak, and Gediminus Grinius.
Don’t forget to check out our full women’s preview, too.
Guys Who Can Win It
After winning Western States and Leadville and Run Rabbit Run last year along with everything else he’s done the past two years, Rob Krar (pre-race interview) must once again be the favorite at this year’s Western States. After running a 15:22 to take second to Timothy Olson at the 2013 Western States (interview), Krar improved his time by almost half an hour to 14:53 last year (interview). Who knows what he’s capable of? He did have a bit of a stumble in DNFing the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April, but ran 9:20 in winning the Canyons 100k on the States course in early May.
Ryan Sandes (pre-race interview) has run Western States each of the past three years. His best performance was his 15:03 second place to Timmy Olson back in 2012 (interview). He DNFed in 2013 before taking fifth in 15:46 last year. Ryan has already been over in the Sierra Nevada training, so he’ll be more specifically ready for the course’s terrain come race day than any of the others who realistically have a shot at the win.
Throw in another 10,000 feet of climb and François D’Haene (pre-race interview) would be your hands-down favorite to win this or any other 100 miler in the world. At the moment, he’s the best mountain 100-mile runner in the world whose name isn’t Kilian Jornet. Want proof? Last year, he won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (interview), the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (interview), and the Diagonale des Fous… looking comfortably dominant in at least the first two of those races. One small (and perhaps only) reason for pause is his fifth at The North Face 100k-Australia last month, after which he jokingly remarked that he shouldn’t turn up if he has run as fast at Western States. Well, to win, he just might!
Over the past three years, Dylan Bowman (pre-race interview) has gone from seventh to fifth to third (interview) at Western States. That trend puts him on track for a win in 2015… and his racing the first half of 2015 confirms that as a difficult, but achievable target. In early February, Dylan traveled to New Zealand where he dominated the Tarawera 100k (interview). Last month, he again flew to the Southern Hemisphere where he beat an even-stronger field at The North Face 100k-Australia (interview). In between, he did have a setback when heat exhaustion (or the like) suffered during a local, short race forced him to take a few weeks very easy. In the end, that break may leave him fresher to take a run for the win at Western States.
After a few years of incredibly strong regional performances, Seth Swanson (pre-race interview) had a breakout performance in taking second at last year’s Western States in a blazing 15:19 (interview). Later last summer, he set a big course record at the Cascade Crest 100, the classic 100 miler of Pacific Northwest. This year, Seth’s taken second at the Sean O’Brien 100k and sixth at Lake Sonoma–both strong performances, but neither is indicative that he can win Western States this year. That said, he certainly surprised us last year!
Alex Varner (pre-race interview) had one heck of a 2014, his first full year as an ultrarunner. He was second at Way Too Cool 50k, fourth at Lake Sonoma, seventh at Western States (his 100-mile debut), and third at the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships in San Francisco (interview). It’d be a big jump to go from seventh last year to a win at States this year, but (1) he did run conservatively at States last year and (2) his win at Lake Sonoma back in April (interview) suggests that this is possible. He did have a bit of a stumble at the IAU Trail World Championships in May where he took 18th.
Other Podium Contenders
While some more mountains would improve his finishing potential, watch for Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius to make a strong North American debut. Outside of the even stronger D’Haene, he’s had as strong a past year of long, tough ultras as anyone. Last year, he was third at Lavaredo, fifth at UTMB, and fourth at Diagonale des Fous. He opened this year up with a win at Transgrancanaria (interview). Admittedly not a shorter-distance specialist, he was 14th at the IAU Trail World Championships last month, but by going out well back and steadily moving up in the second half.
Sondre Amdahl has had a strong last 12 months with a seventh at the 2014 UTMB, fourth at the 2015 Transgrancanaria (after taking sixth in 2014), and second at the 2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k (interview). He’s also dedicated to the cause of racing well at Western States this year. He’s already in the U.S. heat training, logging the vert, and getting on the course.
Ian Sharman is a damn good bet for top 10 at Western States. The past five years he’s been eighth, 10th, fifth, fourth, and sixth. He’s twice gone sub-16 with a 15:54 in 2012 and 15:47 last year. That 15:47 was only 11 minutes behind Bowman’s third-place finish almost exactly as far back as he was from Nick Clark in third in 2012. With such consistency, it’s hard to see where Sharman will make up time, but perhaps his continued trend of racing less could leave him fresher and more specifically prepared.
It feels odd placing Julien Chorier this far down a race preview, but I’m afraid there just aren’t enough mountains for him on the Western States course. We’re talking about a guy who’s won (2011) and taken second (2014) at the Hardrock 100 (2011 and 2014 interviews), been second at UTMF (2013), and sixth at UTMB (2013). Reinforcing this notion is Chorier’s eighth-place finish at the TNF 100k-Australia in late May.
Others Top-10 Candidates
Experience counts big time at Western States and past performance is a good indicator of future performance. With than in mind, last year’s eighth through 10th-place men–Brendan Davies, Brett Rivers, and Jesse Haynes–are back to give the race another go this year. Davies’s 15:56 from last year was quite a bit quicker than the other two and he’s got the best potential to move up further in the ranks. Rivers, on the other hand, seemed to run about as smart and strong a race as he could in taking ninth last year (interview) and his time from March’s Way Too Cool 50k suggests he’s in similar shape to last year. Haynes took 10th in 2014 by running 68 minutes faster than he did in the fiery 2013 when he took seventh. He’s run many of the same races this year as he did last year with a mix of faster and slower results, so he’s at least go the potential to run as well as last year.
While distinctly different courses, a win at the Leadville 100 is solid credential to have if you’re racing Western States and Thomas Lorblanchet did just that in 2012 (interview). He’s also won Les Templiers four times (most recently in 2013), a 73k course with mix of difficult terrain and speedy stretches that could remind one of Western States. That said, Lorblanchet didn’t run as well in 2014 as he did in 2013 and he took 11th at the Madeira Ultra Trail in April.
Last year, Jared Hazen took 14th at Western States as a 19 year old. Look for him to improve on that this year. Already in 2014 he was third at the Bandera 100k and even more impressive in taking third at Lake Sonoma in April (interview), where his primary goal was to earn a spot in Western States. I’m guessing his goal at States this year is top 10, so he locks up his 2016 spot as early as possible.
Perhaps the biggest wildcard in this year’s Western States is Justin Houck. He ran the third-fastest time in White River 50 Mile history last year in winning the race and crushed the Gorge Waterfalls 100k this spring. On the other hand, he went for it and paid the price with a 21st-place finish at last December’s TNF EC 50 Mile Championships. Western States will also be his first go at 100 miles… but I can’t imagine him pulling any punches.
David Laney has wins at the Bandera 100k and Way Too Cool 50k so far in 2015. He did run Western States last year, but it was his first 100 miler and he was 20th in 18:18. Last month, he was 12th at the IAU Trail World Championships. If he learned enough during last year’s States, he’s certainly got the potential to run near the middle of the top 10.
Continuing the streak of super-speedy, but unproven at 100 miles runners we’ve got Ryan Bak. If this was the Western States 10 Mile, I’m putting money on Bak to show. However, he’s raced over 50k exactly once. Granted, that was a second place at Lake Sonoma in April (interview). As a testament to his fitness, this spring he was second at the Way Too Cool 50k in 3:10 and, later, broke Max King’s course record at the Horse Butte 10 Mile.
Australia’s Andrew Tuckey was sixth at UTMB last year after taking second at the TNF100k-Australia. This April, he ran 21 minutes faster than last year at the 76k Buffalo Stampede to improve from third to second. On the other hand, he DNFed the TNF100k-Australia last month. Last December, Tuckey did win the 246k (153-mile) Coast to Kosci Ultra in 24:33.
Perhaps the hardest person for me to know where to place on this list is Yoshikazu Hara. He was 38th at last year’s Western States, but in 2013 he won Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, ran a 6:48 100k, and ran 273 kilometers (169.6 miles) in 24 hours. This February Hara-san did take third at Tarawera before a less-than-stellar 215k (133.6 miles) at the IAU 24-Hour World Championships in April. [June 15 Update: According to the Western States organization, Yoshikazu Hara will run the Saroma 100k rather than Western States this year.]
Paul Terranova is not the sort of ultrarunner who will wow you with his speed or flashy ways. No, he’s the solid ultrarunner who’ll sit back, run his own race, and work his way toward the front of the field late. Last year, he was 13th at States after taking eighth in the attrition fest that was the 2013 race. He ran to a non-impressive 19th at Lake Sonoma in April, but earlier in the year placed second at the Bandera 100k and third at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, where he ran 14:05.
Last year, Emmanuel “Manu” Gault took second at 75k Le Saintelyon and seventh at the 74k Les Templiers after winning the 80k EcoTrail de Paris in 5:40. This year, he’s already won at least three 80k races, including improving by 5 minutes to a 5:35 at EcoTrail de Paris. Back in 2011, Gault won the CCC. As far as we can tell, he’s never raced longer than 110k.
Chris Denucci will be making his 100-mile debut after qualifying for Western States with a runner-up finish at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March. Last December, he was 19th at his 50-mile debut at the TNF EC 50-Mile Championships. (DBo, I’m waiting for you to chime in on behalf of Denooch.)
Ford Smith is the other 19 year old in our preview. He qualified for Western States by winning the Black Canyon 100k less than two minutes ahead of Dave Mackey. He’s given 100 miles a go three times with a 10th at Rocky Raccoon 2014 (16:09), 39th at Bighorn last year, and DNF at The Bear in 2013. In March, Ford ran 3:48 at the Antelope Island 50k, in line with what Nick Clark ran there back in 2010 and 2011 when he finished fourth and third at WS, respectively.
If Cyril Cointre finishes in the top 10 at Western States this year, it’ll be through persistence rather than through speed. This year he’s been fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k and fifth at Transgrancanaria with both representing improvements in both time and placing over last year. On the other hand, he was 13th at the much speedier TNF100k-Australia last month.
Other Top Men
- Joe Grant — 2nd Hardrock 100 2012; 2nd Jemez 50 Mile 2014
- Devon Olson — 1st Laurel Highlands 2013 & 2014; 1st Behind the Rocks 50 Mile 2015
- Jorge Pacheco — 3rd Sean O’Brien 100k 2015; 1st Leona Divide 50 Mile 2015; 2nd Western States 100 2003
- Ryan Smith — 1st 2015 Sean O’Brien 100k (Montrail Ultra Cup), 1st 2014 Pinhoti 100 Mile, 3rd 2014 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile
- Michael Wardian — 8th Lake Sonoma 50 Mile 2015; 1st Tussey 50 Mile 2014 (5:46); 3rd JFK 50 Mile 2013 (5:55)
Max King finished fourth at last year’s Western States 100 and is the lone top 10-er not returning this year. He’s doing so by choice.
Dave Mackey earned a Montrail Ultra Cup entry by taking second at the Black Canyon 100k in February, but suffered a horrific leg injury in late May. He won’t be racing.
Call for Comments
- Who’s going to win Western States this year?
- Anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance at the top 10?
- Have we listed anyone above who you know won’t be racing?