In the men’s race, we have a couple men who’ve been *this close* to the win previously, gentlemen who’ve knocked on the door of the podium at least once and sometimes more than once, a few guys who’ve got outstanding Western States potential but who’ve not yet seen their best race, and some runners who on paper should have stellar days. One thing is certain amongst all this uncertainty, this race—be it the distance, the climate, the course’s downhill nature, the early altitude, or a combination of these factors and more—historically favors something in the realm of equally exerted physical talent and mental smarts.
Ahead of the race, we’ll publish interviews with some of the men’s favorites and, of course, we’ll cover the race live beginning at 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 23. Stay tuned just a little longer!
A special thanks to Drymax for once again making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!
Most Likely Contenders for the Win
France’s François D’haene (pre-race interview) is pretty much the king of 100k-plus-distance trail ultamarathons right now. Le Roi François I. But there’s one crown he doesn’t yet have, and that’s the Western States cougar. François has finished Western States once, taking 14th in 2015 while suffering the heat in the race’s second half. He returned in 2016 and did his due diligence by training in the heat on the Western States Trail. However, he injured himself on a run not long before the race and wasn’t able to start. Now, he’s back again. Like another top male in this field, I think François’s previous non-ideal turnouts at this race are blessings, not curses. He now knows and has said what his weaknesses are, the heat and the overall running speed required for success, and he’s been training them. Do I think he can legit win WS 100? I don’t know. But if he does win, he’ll have shown a new ability in a different-for-him terrain.
Jared Hazen has withdrawn from this year’s Western States 100 due to injury. [Updated June 19]
Jared Hazen could win Western States. And if he does, a lot of people will say, “Whoa, an underdog victory!” They will be wrong. Dear world, please remember that in 2015 and at the age of 20, Jared Hazen took third at WS 100 in 15:37. And before that, he ran Western States at the age of 19 and finished 14th, so there’s this, too. And, anyway, Jared’s just a quiet guy who keeps his head down and does the work. After multiple major injuries in 2017, Jared took second at both the 2018 Way Too Cool 50k and the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. The last time Jared ran WS 100, he went out chill before moving into the middle of the top 10 at about halfway and into third position before the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78. He also had energy to fight off a close, really-late-race chaser. A few more years of training and experience as well as the wisdom accrued via his 2015 podium finish: watch out 2018 Western States.
Tim Freriks (pre-race interview) could also win Western States. Tim’s had a couple of runs where he shook loose of highly competitive fields and won unchallenged, at the 2017 Transvulcania Ultramarathon and the 2017 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Those performances, I think, represent glimpses of the kind of potential Tim has in trail ultras. Tim had an injury which sidelined him for a good spell in March and April, but it appears from social media that he’s been able to put in a good, six-or-so-week training block. While it’s unlikely we’ll see Tim be able to run to his full potential and there is also the fact that he’s not run 100 miles before either, history tells us that there’s something to being a little bit fresh at the starting line of a tough 100 miler.
At the risk of angering his fans, I’m going to call this one as directly as I ever have. Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) has the physical talent to win Western States, but I haven’t seen him exhibit the mental approach that’s also required. At least three times we’ve seen him run too fast too early in a 100 miler and not end up running to his potential. Lest you call me a Jim naysayer, I may be a journalist, but I’m also a fan of this sport and, for the love of all things good, I want to see Jim Walmsley win Western States. Jim: put your head down, run with the lead pack, let any nonsensically fast runners go out and come back to you later, drink your drinks, eat your calories, and pour cold water on yourself as often as you can. If you’ve got loads left, or should I say when you’ve got loads left because you’ve run the first 80 miles so controlled, let it rip from Green Gate on, win this damn race, and maybe set a course record in the process.
Mario Mendoza could also win Western States. This race is familiar territory for Mario, as he started the 2016 event, ran somewhere around the edge of the top 10 for some 40-plus miles, but dropped before the halfway point. I don’t know, but something tells me that run was more of a blessing than the curse that most people associate with DNFing. He came, saw what the race was all about, felt the heat, and ran the hills. Now, two years later, he’s got loads more experience at these long, tough ultras, and he’s perhaps far more capable of reaching his potential at something like WS 100. So far in 2018, Mario won the Bandera 100k, took third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and was sixth at the Trail World Championships. Sheesh, that’s a good year already and we’re not yet six months in.
Men’s Top-10 Material
Let’s open this section with the men who are already proven top-10 material by way of their 2017 Western States efforts. Not only did Mark Hammond (pre-race interview) run into the top 10 last year, he podiumed! In 2017, we were all surprised by his breakout run, but Mark sits in the shadows no more. Dude’ll be running with a target on his back now, perhaps especially because he exacted his podium finish with a well-meted, steady run from start to finish. He was fresh as a daisy at the finish line. Mark has raced a whole lot since last year, and his top performances have been second at the 2017 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, 12th at the 2017 TNF 50 Mile, and eighth at the 2018 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji.
Is it almost mechanical for you at this point, Jeff Browning (pre-race interview)? These reliable, stout 100-mile performances? In 2016 and 2017, Jeff took third and fourth at Western States. Backing up that 2016 finish, Jeff turned it around and took fourth at the 2016 Hardrock 100 a couple weeks later. And since his 2017 WS 100 effort, he also won the 2017 Bear 100 Mile and the 2017 Antelope Island 100 Mile. Almost as mechanical as his reliability is his pacing consistency of starting conservatively but maintaining a steady effort all day. Does anyone want to take bets on his placement at Robinson Flat, Foresthill, and the finish? Here are mine: 19th, 13th, fifth.
Ian Sharman will start Western States hunting for his ninth-straight top-10 finish. And Ian will finish WS 100 with exactly that. I mean, it’s actually humorous for me at this point, why more people who really want to finish top 10 at WS 100 don’t shadow Ian the whole race. Just kidding, running someone else’s race is not the way to run your own best race, but, really, there is a heck ton to learn about 100-mile racing from a guy like Ian. The last three years, Ian has been seventh, sixth, and seventh again. I’m guessing that’s right about where we’ll find him this year, too. After last year’s race, he also put down his fourth win of at the 2017 Leadville Trail 100 Mile, another project of reliability he seems to be working on.
Since 2013, Jesse Haynes has finished Western States inside the top 10 four times (2016 interview). He was eighth last year. Since that performance, Jesse took sixth at the 2017 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and won the 2017 Chimera 100 Mile. Nope, nope, nope, don’t bet against this guy and a top-10 finish, either. He did get lucky in the Hardrock 100 lottery, though, also, so perhaps he’ll take it just a bit easy given he’ll run another 100 miles four weeks later? Then again, maybe not.
What’s this, a Scottish runner who likes repeat trips to the heat of summer in California? Apparently! Paul Giblin is back for his third go at Western States. In 2016, Paul took fifth place and last year saw him cross the line in ninth. Since last year, he’s won the 2018 100 Miles of Istria in Croatia and taken fifth at the 2018 Canyons 100k.
Kyle Pietari was last year’s 10th-place finisher, and he rounds out the six men who are returning from last year’s top 10. He also finished eighth in 2016. Diehard Western States fans might recall his leg bandaged up at last year’s award ceremony. Seven miles into the race, he sprained his ankle hard, ran 93 miles on it, and still finished in the top 10. Since then, he’s had some strong runs at regional races in Utah and Colorado. I’m sure I’m not the only one curious about what Kyle can do this year with some WS 100 experience plus a healthy ankle.
Fun and possibly forgotten trivia fact: Norway’s Didrik Hermansen took second at the 2016 Western States! What’s up with these gentlemen from cooler-weather countries coming back to suffer in the Cali heat?! Didrik’s second place at WS 100 came amidst what was a long run at the near front of the trail-ultra international-running scene in 2015 and 2016. He continues to run strong, but not quite as well—and certainly not as frequently—as he was back then. His top runs in the last year have been a 13th at the 2017 UTMB and a third place at the 2018 EcoTrail de Paris.
When you look at Kris Brown’s (pre-race interview) UltraSignup page, the ultra results start coming hot and heavy in 2015, strong running out of the gate and, then, of late with rapid improvement, namely his win of the 2017 San Diego 100 Mile, which appears to have been his first 100 miler, and his fourth place at the 2017 TNF 50 Mile. [Author’s Note: I stand corrected! Kris also ran the 2016 West Highland Way Race, which is 95 miles long and in Scotland.] I wouldn’t be surprised if Kris is one of the race’s breakout stories. He has loads of talent and trail-ultra experience at a relatively young age, and perhaps most importantly, he has already struggled and succeeded in the heat for 100 miles.
Second chances at a race like Western States are really fortuitous these days, and France’s Erik Clavery is back courtesy of another Ultra-Trail World Tour entry. Erik ran the 2017 WS 100 and finished 15th, and he did it by running fast early—in third to fifth places for much of the race’s first third—exploding somewhere around mid-race, and, then, managing to put himself back together and run it in. I can still remember how cooked he looked arriving into Foresthill last year. Erik’s got a decade of trail-ultra experience, with his greatest success in the realm of the slightly-not-so-mountainous races, so I can’t help but think the WS 100 course could be around his sweet spot. A smart race from his guy and I think he runs high 16 hours or low 17 hours, putting himself well into the top 10.
The last time Zach Bitter ran Western States was the infamous cold year of 2012 where he ran 16:53 and finished 14th. In his now eight-ish-year ultrarunning career, Zach is better known for his performances on flatter and faster terrain, including on the track. His top performances of late have included a second place at both the 2017 American River 50 Mile and the 2017 Javelina Jundred. Zach now lives and has been training in the Arizona summer heat, which should make Western States’s climate feel doable. It’s hard to figure what Zach’s max potential at WS 100 might be on a normal weather year.
This German speedster seems to be directly targeting Western States. Florian Neuschwander came to the U.S. to run the 2018 Sean O’Brien 100k in search of Golden Ticket, which he handily won. Florian has a ton of shorter-ultra-distance leg speed. Do I have it right that his 50k PR is 2:52? In 2015, he was ninth at the IAU 100k World Championships with a 6:52 effort. I think this is also Florian’s first 100-mile attempt? Florian is always one of the happiest guys out there, and attitude carries you a long way in this sport, so hopefully his attitude will carry him into this new distance.
Cody Reed started ultrarunning in 2016, that year beating a bunch of fast, experienced guys at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k and doing the same again at the start of 2017 with the Way Too Cool 50k. In early 2018, he took second at the Bandera 100k to earn a Golden Ticket, and, then, second again at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. Cody has loads of talent, and he’s looking for his first 100-mile finish.
Now here’s an interesting entrant, Eric Senseman. Though he’s been a strong runner over his now lengthy trail running career, he seems to be in ascendant territory with his running at present. Last fall, he won the 2017 JFK 50 Mile and a couple months ago he earned a Golden Ticket with a fourth place at the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. This will be Eric’s first 100-mile effort, but the guy seems to race as much with his mind as his body so this could turn out pretty good.
Sweden’s Johan Steene likes to run the longest, toughest stuff in ultrarunning, both on the roads and trails, and so his resume is diverse. For instance in the last couple years, he was second at the 2015 Vol-State 500k, he was a 2017 Barkley Marathons Fun Run finisher (which means he completed three laps within the time limit), and he was third at the 2017 IAU 24-Hour World Championships with 266.5k/165.6 miles run. Unfortunately, I don’t think Johan will be coming into WS 100 super fresh, as a month before race day he finished eighth at the 2018 IAU 24-Hour European Championships.
More Fast Men to Watch
- Johnny Clemons — 3rd 2017 Pinhoti 100 Mile; 1st 2017 Cruel Jewel 100 Mile
- John Fitzgerald — 5th 2017 Black Canyon 100k; 4th 2016 Quad Rock 50 Mile
- Lon Freeman — 1st 2018 Canyons 100k
- Masazumi Fujioka — 3rd 2018 and 2017 HURT 100 Mile
- Brett Hornig — 5th 2017 Sean O’Brien 100k
- Adam Kimble — 10th 2018 Way Too Cool 50k; 2nd 2017 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile
- Karl Meltzer — 10th 2012 Western States; Winner of 41 career 100-mile races
- Juan Moran — 2nd 2018 Black Canyon 100k; 4th 2017 Leadville Trail 100 Mile
- Devon Olson — 4th 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile; 1st 2017 Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile
- Michael Owen — 2nd and 3rd at 2017 and 2016 JFK 50 Mile
- Kenneth Ringled — 14th 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
- Bob Shebest — 2nd 2018 Georgia Death Race; 1st 2017 Canyons 100k; I think he has the highest upside potential of this group
Paul Terranova — 11th 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; 10th 2015 Western States 100Paul Terranova won’t start the race due to injury. [Updated June 21]
- Charlie Ware — 2nd 2018 Sean O’Brien 100k; 3rd 2017 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile; I think Charlie also has high upside potential
- Coree Woltering — 2nd 2017 American River 50 Mile; 3rd 2017 Dunes 100 Mile
Notable Earlier Entrants not Running
- Chris DeNucci
- Jared Hazen
- Andrew Miller
- Patrick Reagan
- Paul Terranova
- Joe Uhan
Call for Comments
- Who’s going to win Western States this year? And how do you see the race for the rest of the podium ultimately playing out?
- Anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance to crack the top 10?
- Is anyone not running who is in this preview? Leave us comments to let us know. We’ll be updating this preview until the start of the race.