2016 Western States 100 Men’s Preview

Flora HealthWell, this year’s Western States 100 will be a new kingmaker for someone in the men’s field as only one past champion (Gordy Ainsleigh) will be running and, indeed, the top returning runner from last year’s race is Thomas Lorblanchet, who finished fifth. So, sometime roughly 15 hours after the 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 25th start, one of the men discussed below will break the tape on the Placer High track to be come the Western States champ for the first time.

Special thanks for Flora for making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!

Inov-8 logoThanks also to Inov-8 for their support of our Western States coverage.

As you’d expected, we’ll be providing plenty of video interviews leading up to the race as well as plenty of live coverage on race day. To learn about the other half of the field, read our women’s preview.

The Likely Winners’ Pool

Sure, in theory there’s a large list of men who could be the first to cross the finish line on the Placer High track, but there’s a much smaller list from which the eventual winner is likely to come. Here’s that short list.

Francois Dhaene - 2015 Western States 100

François D’haene

François D’haene’s (pre-race interview) won’t be racing due to an ankle injury. [Update June 24] When I think of François D’haene’s (pre-race interview) sweet spot, I don’t think of the fast and hot Western States 100 course. That said, you’ve got to consider him in the mix to win it given all the major 100 milers he’s won in the past three years: UTMB in 2014, Diagonale des Fous in 2013 and 2014, and Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji in 2014. Battling illness, D’haene took 14th at last year’s WS100. He started off 2016 on a high note, winning the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in its final kilometers, before setting the FKT for the 180km GR20 on Corsica earlier this month. As a reminder of this Frenchman’s foot speed, he did take take second at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships in 2012.

If David Laney (pre-race interview) could take third at UTMB last year in his first big mountain 100 miler, I’ve got to consider him a contender for the Western States win given his speed background. His surge during the later portions of last year’s UTMB was stunning. Laney also has the experience from running Western States the past two years when he took 20th in 2014 (his first 100 miler) and eighth in 2015.

Sage Canaday Pre-2015 UTMB sq

Sage Canaday

While he’s 0 for 1 at 100 miles after dropping from last year’s UTMB after a bad fall, Sage Canaday (pre-race interview) has all the tools to win Western States. He’s won big 50 milers like Lake Sonoma and the TNF EC 50 Mile. He’s won big 100ks like Tarawera and Bandera. After spending late 2015 and early 2016 on road marathons in hopes of getting an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, Canaday quickly switched gears in winning the Black Canyon 100k to earn his spot in this year’s Western States. Last month, he took third at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon for the third time.

The last time I included a complete 100-mile rookie as a possible Western States men’s winner it was Rob Krar in 2013. (He took second.) Well, this year I’ll add Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) to that short list. As far as I can tell, he’s undefeated on U.S. trails since taking fifth at Lake Sonoma in April 2015. Since then, he’s won plenty of races including the 2015 JFK 50 Mile, 2016 Bandera 100k, 2016 Red Hot Moab 55k, and the 2016 Lake Sonoma in a course record 6:00:52. That’s more than 8 minutes faster than Alex Varner’s win last year and more than 10 minutes faster than Zach Miller, Rob Krar, and Sage Canaday ran in their 2014 slugfest. Aside from his inexperience at the 100-mile distance, one might question Walmsley’s mountain worthiness. To that point, does have the course record at Montana’s Old Gabe 50k, but he also finished 28th at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k.

Other Likely Podium Contenders

Didrik Hermansen - 2016 Transgrancanaria

Didrik Hermansen

If there’s someone I could bump up to the above list with the slightest breeze, it’d be Norway’s Didrik Hermansen. In the past year, he’s been second and, then, first at Transgrancanaria along with winning last year’s Lavaredo Ultra Trail. He has a deliberate training progression and generally races methodically, but he DNFed his first attempt at running 100 miles at UTMF last fall when his stomach went bad in the race’s second half.

Unless I’m mistaken, Tòfol Castanyer has attempted two 100 milers, taking second at UTMB in 2014 before dropping out at the same race in 2015. More recently, he took second to Zach Miller at the 115km Madeira Ultra-Trail by 20 minutes in late April. I don’t think of him as a flat and fast runner, but he’s got enough talent that if he’s focusing on Western States, he could crack the top three.

After taking fifth last year, Thomas Lorlanchet (pre-race interview) is the highest-finishing returnee from last year’s race. Of the top Frenchmen in ultrarunning, he’s one that I identify as more toward fast end of the speed-to-steep spectrum. As evidence in that regard, Thomas won the Leadville 100 Mile in 2012 in 16:29.

Other Top-10 Favorites

Ian Sharman - 2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mile Champion sq

Ian Sharman

Until it doesn’t happen, expect Ian Sharman to finish in the top 10 at Western States… as he’s done for each of the past six years. In order, he’s placed eighth, 10th, fifth, fourth, sixth, and seventh. He’s run under 16 hours twice with 15:54 in 2012 and 15:47 in 2014. Sharman ran a speedy 13:45 at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in February, but, remarkably, that’s his slowest of four finishes at the race!

If the past year is any indication, look for Australia’s Andrew Tuckey to finish right around Mr. Sharman. Tuckey finished ninth to Sharman’s seventh at last year’s Western States (although 35 minutes back), while Tuckey finished 6 minutes ahead of Sharman (6:19 to 6:25) at the Comrades Marathon at the end of May. Tuckey also has a sixth place at UTMB in 2014 on his resume.

Jeff Browning - 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji third place sq

Jeff Browning

Jeff Browning took third at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji last September. He also took third at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in both 2013 and 2014. He’s won plenty of other 100 milers such as the HURT 100 Mile in January, the Ultra Fiord 100 Mile in 2015, and Grindstone in 2014. While I can’t imagine Jeff pulling any punches, he’s also got the Hardrock 100 in mid-July.

The U.K.’s Paul Giblin has plenty of experience running fast 100 milers to do well at Western States. His fastest such race is a 13:49 at the Javelina Jundred in 2015. He’s run the 153km West Highland race each of the previous five Junes, improving each and every year from a 19:07 in 2011 to win the past two years in 14:20 and 14:14. He’s not seen nearly that sort of success when you throw in mountains as evidenced by his runs at TDS (25th in 2012), Transgrancanaria (19th in 2015), and IAU Trail World Championships – Annecy (32nd in 2015). He was 6th at the Black Canyon 100k back in February.

Chris Denucci’s had great results at notable races like the Gorge Waterfalls 100k (2nd 2015), Bandera 100k (2nd 2016), and American River 50 Mile (1st 2016). On the other hand, he’s not fared as well on the biggest stages, taking 21st at Western States last year and 19th at the TNF EC 50 Mile in 2014. So, he certainly has the ability to go top 10 at States, if only he can find the right approach for the race.

Mario Mendoza - 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile third place sq

Mario Mendoza

Mario Mendoza seems to be an all or nothing racer. He led the 100km Ultra-Trail Australia in May more or less until he dropped out. Still, when he finishes, there’s no doubt that he’s strong. He finished third at the Lake Sonoma 50 in April after taking second at the Chuckanut 50k in March. Last year, he won the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile. He’s finished one race over 50 miles, taking second at the UROC 100k last September.

The past three years, Paul Terranova has ridden the cusp of the men’s top 10 at Western States having taken eighth, 13th, and 10th, in that order. He’s a steady-eddie racer who won’t let harsh conditions or others’ race plans phase him. In early May, he won the Quicksilver 100k in line with his time from last year.

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

When it comes to Western States, I think of Jesse Haynes right alongside Terranova. That’s because in 2013 and 2014, Haynes finished in front of Terranova to take seventh and 10th, respectively. However, last year Haynes DNFed at States. In April, he ran a 7:39 at Lake Sonoma, a tad slower than his 7:28 back in 2014. On the other hand, just a week later, he ran a 7:08 to win the Leona Divide 50 Mile, six minutes faster than in 2013, when he went on to take seventh at Western States.

[June 14 Update] Tim Freriks won’t be running Western States due to academic obligations. Tim Freriks’s second-place 6:17:58 in April was the eighth-fastest time in the nine runnings of the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. (Only Walmsley, Varner, Miller, Krar, Canaday, and Dakota Jones have run faster.) Tim, who? I’ll be honest, I had to go to Meghan’s post-Sonoma interview learn about Tim, who made his ultra debut at the race. He’s a former cross country, 5k, and 10k collegiate standout who’s always enjoyed the trails and is jumping into ultras after taking a few years away from competing. Based in Flagstaff, Arizona, he’s got plenty of brains to pick about Western States.

Other Notable Men

  • Benjamin Bucklin — 1st Sun Mountain 50 Mile 2016; 2nd San Diego 100 Mile 2015; 3rd Bighorn 100 Mile 2014
  • Caleb Denton — 2nd Georgia Death Race (68 miles) 2016
  • Pierre-Loic Deragne — 4th Cascade Crest 100 Mile 2015; 4th Bear 100 Mile 2014; 4th Massanutten 100 Mile 2014
  • Lon Freeman — 3rd Canyons 100k 2016; 5th White River 50 Mile 2015
  • Jeremy Humphrey — 3rd Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016; 1st The Bear 100 Mile 2013; 1st Pinhoti & Cascade Crest 100s 2012
  • Pete Kostelnick — 1st Desert Solstice 24 Hours 2015 (163.68 miles); 1st Badwater 135 2015
  • Andrew Miller — A twenty year old who’s run ultras since he was 14. 3rd Pine to Palm 100 2014; 1st Bighorn 100 2015 (course record); 1st Georgia Death Race (68 miles) 2015 & 2016
  • Chris Mocko — 2nd Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016; 8th Way Too Cool 50k 2016; 3rd Black Canyon 100k 2016
  • Brian Morrison — 1st finisher at 2006 Western States 100 before DQ (interview on return to 100 milers)
  • Kyle Pietari — 2nd Leadville 100 2015; 4th Leadville 100 2013; 1st TNF EC 50 Mile-Washington, DC 2016
  • Bob Shebest — 2nd Canyons 100k 2016; 2nd Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile 2015; 1st San Diego 100 Mile 2015
  • Zach Violett — 1st McDonald Forest 50k 2016; 4th Bighorn 100 Mile 2013
  • Charlie Ware — 2nd Black Canyon 100k 2016; 1st Zane Grey 50 Mile 2016; 7th Javelina Jundred 2015 (1st 100-mile finish)
  • Stephen Wassather — Only 25, he’s got 5 years of ultra experience. 18th WS100 2015; 4th Bandera 100k 2016; 1st Sean O’Brien 100k 2016
  • Christopher Wehan — 2nd American River 50 Mile 2016; 3rd Miwok 100k 2015; 4th Sean O’Brien 100k 2015

Notable Non-Starters

Five of last year’s top 10 won’t be starting.

Other men who won’t be starting:

  • James Elson — Staying in the U.K. for family reasons.
  • Jason Schlarb — Declined his sponsor slot to focus on Hardrock

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 to crack the top 10?