Well, well, well, here we are. One hundred (point two) miles, 18,000 feet of climb, 22,000 feet of descent, high-country snow and altitude, canyons heat, 43 years of prior history, the original 100-mile trail foot race: the 2017 Western States 100 is nearly upon us. As always, this race is well-anticipated by the trail and ultrarunning community for multiple reasons, including its front-of-the-pack competition.
There’s no reason to think this year will be any different. We have eight of last year’s top 10 returning for business. We’ve got a great group of international talent, most of whom actually have previous experience racing and/or training on the course, which will allow them to better compete. We’ve got that one guy looking for what I’d call redemption. And we’ve got up and comers and a few people who we’ve heard are super fit and, thusly, primed for a breakout. It’s going to be an interesting year.
Ahead of the race, we’ll publish interviews with some of the men’s favorites and, of course, we’ll be covering the race live starting at 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 24. Stay tuned.
A special thanks to Drymax for making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!
In storylines of this historic race, much emphasis is put on how runners gain entry into the race. In deference to this, we begin with the top-10 finishers of last year’s race who are returning this year. In short, we’ll see third through 10th place return, and we’ll miss the presence of last year’s champ, Andrew Miller, and second-place Didrik Hermansen of Norway.
Jeff Browning’s third place last year came as the first part of his stellar Western States-Hardrock 100 Mile double where he went on to finish fourth in the latter race. Also last year, Jeff took fourth at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile behind winner Alex Nichols and second-place Mark Hammond, both of whom are racing States this year.
4. Thomas Lorblanchet (France) — 16:39:55
Not only is Western States a race Thomas Lorblanchet seems to like, but I also think he likes racing in the U.S., as we’ve seen the Frenchman on this side of the pond a number of times over the years. Thomas has two States finishes, fourth last year and fifth the year before that in 15:56. I suspect we’ll see him run right around fourth or fifth place again this year.
5. Paul Giblin (United Kingdom) — 16:53:20
Paul Giblin nailed it last year, running smart and steady all day long. Since finishing fifth, he’s gone on to, among other things, a top-20 finish at the stacked 2016 UTMB and a third place at the 2017 Istria 100 Mile in Croatia.
6. Ian Sharman — 16:55:11
Betting against Ian Sharman finishing in the top 10 at Western States would be like betting against the sun rising tomorrow. Ian is up to seven top-10 finishes of this race: 2016 = sixth, 2015 = seventh, 2014 = sixth, 2013 = fourth, 2012 = fifth, 2011 = 10th, and 2010 = eighth. I don’t really know what else to say, except, “Hey Ian, see you at the finish line between 16 and 17 hours, but possibly in the 15s if you’re on fire. Have a nice 100 miles!”
The way I see it, we’re looking at a better Chris Mocko than the one who finished seventh last year, and that’s saying something because he ran remarkably strong and smart in what was his debut 100 miler. He’s raced a shit ton in the last year, especially this spring, and his top performances have been a second place at the 2017 Way Too Cool 50k and a third place at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. If he runs his own best race and he’s recovered enough from his ultra-race binging of late, this year’s Chris Mocko should run inside the men’s top five.
8. Kyle Pietari — 17:05:01
I should not have been surprised to see Kyle Pietari roll across the 2016 Western States finish line in the top 10 last year, as he had plenty of other indicators of his potential States success, namely two previous finishes of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile in between 18 and 19 hours. Following his run at States last year, he went back to Leadville for another second-place outing behind winner Ian Sharman. Like last year, I suspect that he’ll go out easy and creep up into the top 10 later in the race.
9. Christopher DeNucci — 17:07:57
In 2015, Chris DeNucci finished Western States in 19th place and just over 19 hours, well off the potential he’d shown at other races. He came back last year and blew that out of the water by running his own race start to finish. Chris’s 2016 UltraSignup results are lengthy and, in contrast, they log just one 2017 result. His Strava account, however, shows at least a couple months of focused training. What can our readers tell us about where Chris is ahead of this year’s race?
10. Jesse Haynes — 17:12:30
Who finishes M10 at Western States twice? Jesse Haynes does–or did, in both 2014 and 2016. Jesse has collected three silver buckles over the years, including a third one for a seventh place in 2013. Since last year’s States, he’s raced a good amount, collecting a win at the 2016 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile, a fifth place at the 2017 HURT 100 Mile, and a second place at the 2017 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile.
Yeah, Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) gets his own category in iRunFar’s 2017 Western States men’s preview. Last year, Jim was probably the only guy who could have beat Jim–and that’s exactly what happened. He went out hot and ran way ahead of course-record pace until the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78, where he began to falter. From there, he gave back time on the course record and, then, lost the rest of that time and more when he went way off course after the 90-mile mark. He walked back onto the course and to a 19th-place finish. That’s the only blemish on the resume of UltraRunning magazine’s 2016 Ultrarunner of the Year, though, and since then he’s been an animal, and among his accolades have been a JFK 50 Mile course record, a new FKT of the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route, and a Tarawera Ultramarathon course record.
Again this year, I’d argue that the only man in this race who can beat Jim is himself. Jim says he wants to run 14 hours, which would better by a historic bunch Timothy Olson’s 14:46:44 record from the cool-weather race of 2012. With deep snow in the high country, we don’t yet know how course conditions will–
or if the race will take one of its alternate snow routes [Update June 16 — The course will be run on the standard course rather than an alternate snow route]–affect his ability to see this goal through. I don’t doubt, however, that he will dominate the race from start to finish, by whatever route or in whatever conditions.
Last year, I would have bet against Jim winning Western States. He needed more time in this sport to develop the physical and mental experience needed to do what he wants to do. This year, my bets are on him. He’s a different version of himself than last year and he will crush.
“I can’t quit you, baby.” I’ve probably got that all wrong, but that’s the song verse that comes to mind when I think about South Africa’s Ryan Sandes and Western States. Ryan has two finishes of this race, a second in 2012 and fifth in 2014, both in between 15 and 16 hours. In addition to his successes, he also has a couple races which didn’t go his way, a DNS due to injury in 2013 and a DNS due to illness in 2015. For a guy who can make a living traveling and racing anywhere in the world he wants to, he clearly feels incredible draw to Western States. Ryan’s best, most-recent race was his fourth place at the competitive 2016 Diagonale des Fous last fall.
Tòfol Castanyer of Spain took on Western States last year and suffered the heat and, perhaps, a hot early pace, to finish 12th. Tòfol has a wealth of high-profile race success under his belt, including a tie for second at the 2014 UTMB, a fourth at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, and an eighth at the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships. Coming back all the way across the pond with a year’s worth of States knowledge and his racing pedigree, it’s silly to not expect him inside the top 10 this time.
Something like the Western States course seems right up the alley of a guy like Sweden’s Jonas Buud (pre-race interview). We last saw him race in February, where he took second at the Tarawera Ultramarathon behind champ Jim Walmsley, where he suffered a bit in returning to fitness following a late-2016 injury layoff. In 2016 and pre-injury, he won Tarawera and came fifth at Transgrancanaria, among other races. Jonas is taking this race seriously, as he participated in the Western States Training Camp over Memorial Day weekend for course recon and training. Also, he’ll arrive early ahead of the race to adjust to the different time zone, the heat, and the altitude. There’s no reason not to see Jonas inside the top 10 via a metered, all-day strong effort.
I don’t know about you, but Alex Nichols (pre-race interview) is a guy I’ve been waiting to see run a race like Western States for a while now. That said, he’s been wise about not stepping up in distances too soon. In his debut 100 miler, he won the 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. He followed that up with a fifth place at the 2016 TNF EC 50 Mile, and then had a heckuva run in bad weather on a rain-altered course to win the 2017 Black Canyon 100k and earn an entry into Western States via the Golden Ticket race series. Alex had a month layoff from running in late March into April, but looks to have been back to training the past month and a half.
Elov Olsson (pre-race interview) has the potential to be the highest finisher who fans will know the least about. Here’s your notice: keep your eyes on Elov Olsson, another speedy Swede in States this year and a likely up and comer in our sport. In the last eight months, he’s had two strong performances, an 11th place at the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships in 6:44 and a second place at the 2017 Black Canyon 100k less than three minutes behind winner Alex Nichols. In December 2014, Elov ran 253km (157 miles) in an indoor 24-hour race (1,058 laps!?). He recon-ed the course with Jonas Buud over Memorial Day Weekend, and word in the Scandanavian rumor mill is that Elov is fit.
Erik Clavery of France is a super experienced and successful trail ultrarunner, and I bet I am underestimating his potential here. His top performances in the last couple years include a sixth place at the 2015 UTMB, fifth place at the 2016 Marathon des Sables, and sixth place at the 2016 Diagonale des Fous. That said, he’s also got legs for shorter, faster stuff as he was sixth at the 2016 French Trail National Championships in a 55k race. And if we go in the way-back machine, he was the 2011 IAU Trail World Champion.
Ryan Kaiser is a guy who quietly goes about the business of kicking trail-ultrarunning ass. He has one previous Western States finish, that dreaded 11th-place position in 2015. Later that same year, he nailed it in taking sixth at the stacked TNF EC 50 Mile. Last year, his racing highlight was fifth at the Hardrock 100 Mile. Ryan raced his way into States by taking second at the 2017 Sean O’Brien 100k and earning a Golden Ticket.
Australia’s David Byrne is racing! The former track-and-field runner has been giving ultrarunning a go over the last few years. We watched him ourselves run to second place in 2016 (behind winner Jonas Buud) and fourth place in 2017 (behind winner Jim Walmsley and second place Jonas Buud) at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. About a month ago, he was fourth at the 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia. I believe this will be his debut 100 miler. [Added June 14]
It’s hard to know exactly where to put Avery Collins in this list, because he’s a talented runner but he doesn’t typically run the most competitive races so that we can see how he stacks up. Avery earned his Western States entry by winning the 2017 Georgia Death Race. Among his races last year, he was fourth at the HURT 100 Mile and he won the Ouray 100 Mile.
Brian Rusiecki is one of the East Coast’s best on long courses. As such, he’s been winning tough ultras in his relative neck of the woods for a decade. His most recent top results include winning the 2016 Hellgate 100k, finishing third at the 2017 UROC 100k behind winner Chris Mocko, and taking second at the 2017 Cayuga Trails 100 Mile, the 2017 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships. Historically, he hasn’t performed as well when he leaves the East Coast, though he showed he’s capable of it when he took 14th at the 2014 UTMB.
More Men to Watch
- Jeff Ball — Gained entrance via 2nd place at the 2017 Bandera 100k Golden Ticket race; 11th 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which was the 2016 USATF 50k Trail National Championships
- Jared Burdick — Earned his ‘ticket’ via 5th at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; he’s a 2:57 50k-er, which he ran to win the 2016 Caumsett 50k, the 2016 USATF 50k Road National Championships; I believe this is his 100-mile debut(?)
- Davide Grazielli — 4th 2016 Rio del Lago 100 behind winner Mark Hammond
- Mark Hammond — 2nd 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile behind winner Alex Nichols and ahead of 4th-place Jeff Browning; winner 2016 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile
- Nate Jaqua — Winner 2016 San Diego 100 Mile ahead of 4th-place Michael Wardian
- Ben Koss — Earned Golden Ticket via 2nd at 2017 Gorge Waterfalls 100k behind winner Jim Walmsley; 7th 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; 10th 2017 Way Too Cool 50k; I think this is his 1st 100 miler(?)
- Jesse Lang — Winner 2015 and 2016 Cascade Crest 100 Mile
- Dominick Layfield — 2nd 2016 Angeles Crest 100 Mile; 4th 2017 Georgia Death Race behind winner Avery Collins
- Jake Rankinen — 4th 2017 HURT 100 Mile ahead of 5th-place Jesse Haynes
- Zach Szablewski — Earned Golden Ticket via a 4th at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
Michael Wardian — Mike has three Western States finishes, most recently 21st in 2015. He’s got a tough double on his always-full racing calendar, as three weeks after States he’ll run the Hardrock 100 for the first time.
- Jeremy Wolf — 9th 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; 2nd 2017 Yakima Skyline 50k behind winner Jeff Browning
Call for Comments
- Who’s going to win Western States this year? Alright, and who is going to take second place?
- Anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance to crack the top 10? Leave a comment to let us know who and why you think this way.