Ahead of the 2018 Western States 100 and as part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, Andy Jones-Wilkins, Dylan Bowman, and Bryon Powell prognosticate on the conditions, how they think the men’s and women’s races might shake out, and what other stories they’ll be watching during the race.
2018 Western States 100 Prognostication Panel Transcript
Dylan Bowman: Just so everyone’s familiar with what we’re trying to accomplish here…
Andy Jones-Wilkins: Hey, Dbo, way to go, man. Welcome. Everyone say “hi” to Dbo. He’s been working his ass off this week.
Bowman: This is not work for me, it’s way too easy. Anyway, we’re just going to B.S. about the race and talk about what we think is going to happen and who we’re looking at. These guys beside me are a wealth of knowledge. We hope it’s entertaining for you guys, and the folks watching live online as well. Let’s jump right into it. I’m Dylan Bowman.
Bryon Powell: I’m Bryon Powell.
Jones-Wilkins: Andy Jones-Wilkins. Good to see everybody.
Bowman: Between the three of us, we have 17 finishes of the Western States Endurance Run. Andy alone has 10 of them. But Bryon and I have seven–I have three, you have four, I think.
Powell: Something like that, I think.
Jones-Wilkins: Theirs are better than mine.
Bowman: You were top 10 seven years in a row.
Powell: Let me tell you about 2005.
Jones-Wilkins: I don’t remember that year.
Bowman: Okay, rein it in, guys. We’re already off track. I want to just go through a couple of subjects to try and give us a little bit of structure. The first subject is the conditions for this year’s event. Andy, you’ve been at this race every year for many years, at least a dozen. Can you tell us what to expect on Saturday and how it might compare to a previous running of the race?
Jones-Wilkins: I think that if the forecast holds true, it will be the third- or fourth-hottest race in the history of Western States. That’s just based on the Auburn temperatures. I think it will be fun to see how that plays out when it’s all said and done. It’s going to be hot here.
Bowman: In terms of historical comparisons, is there another year that would be comparable?
Jones-Wilkins: Yeah, it’s going to be like 1995 and 2006. It’s not going to have the pre-heating, so it’s going to be softer than that. But the current race administration is not going to like wussy-course it and [reroute to] skip Michigan Bluff. It’s going to be a hot year, but it’s going to be a badass year. It’s going to reward someone who’s patient, who’s smart, maybe someone who’s been here before.
Bowman: Anything else about the conditions? There’s no snow this year.
Powell: Yeah, I actually think in some snow years it can actually be a little faster through the high country. The most technical sections of the course are early, so when it’s covered in snow you can just run point-to-point. So, it might slow down in the high country a little bit for some people who aren’t proficient at that technical running. The pre-baking that AJW referred to that some people may not know about is when there’s a heat wave for like five days before the race and the canyons just heat up day after day. It gets a lot hotter and the rocks just glow.
Jones-Wilkins: The runners are not going to have the heat coming up from below.
Powell: It’s not going to be 85 degrees [Fahrenheit] at midnight. Which is nice.
Bowman: I see it similar to 2013, a super-hot year. The second year that Timothy Olson won the race. He ran 15:15, I think, to win. That was a year, too, that was hot but it wasn’t it extremely hot in the few days leading up to the race. The big variable I’ve experienced in the race is how early it gets hot. Do you guys know offhand what they’re expecting for weather early in the morning? Oftentimes the hardest years are the ones where it starts warm and gets hot early.
Jones-Wilkins: It’s definitely tracking like 2013. That would be a really hot day early. You kind of got to have your shit together by Duncan. If you don’t have a second bottle going from Duncan to Robinson, you’re going to get behind. And if you get behind, you’re never going to get ahead.
Powell: Here’s a little tip: people are often trying to go as light as they can when carrying water, and maybe they’re carrying sports drink in one bottle. I say carry water in a second bottle because even if you’re not drinking it, you can use it to cool yourself in the high country. There’s not a lot of places to dip or get snow or things like that.
Bowman: What I’ve said to a lot of people, including the guy I’m going to be pacing is that–especially for people that are wearing a hydration vest–if your vest has two bottles, carry a third one so at least you can fill that up with water just to keep yourself cool or to supplement with hydration.
Powell: Maybe catch up a little bit if you need to.
Bowman: Just to give us some structure, we’re going to talk about the fields now, starting with the women’s race. Who are maybe like the two or three women that you think have a legitimate shot to win the race?
Jones-Wilkins: Courtney Dauwalter is the woman that I think is going to win the race. If she runs her own race and she’s smart–and she is smart–if she pays attention to what she needs to pay attention to… she’s going to win. The challenge for her is there’s a chase pack that has experience, smarts, that ‘it’ factor. If this year turns out to be one of those races that has an ‘it’ factor, like 2006 had and like 1998 had and 1985 had… then she’s going to lose. But if she’s ready to respond to that, she’s going to win.
Bowman: So you think she’s the most talented woman in the field, and so long as she does the right thing, she’s going to pull it off.
Jones-Wilkins: No, I don’t think she’s the most talented women in the field. That was cool for you to put words in my mouth like that, you young kid. I think she’s a smart, hard, fast runner who knows how to run 100-mile races. But after 70 miles, it’s about a whole lot more than just that. I don’t know if she’s got that, only she’s going to know the answer to that. We’ll only get the answer to that question on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
Powell: I’d say we saw a little bit of that last fall when she ran the Moab 240. I don’t think it’s quite as impressive of a performance as some people played it out to be because she won overall and all that. To me, it’s that she was running relatively strong after all those miles, after all that terrain. If she can continue to do that, on a hot, tough day at Western States, then she can run those last 30 to 40 miles very quickly.
Jones-Wilkins: And if she can’t there are some really talented women…
Bowman: So maybe give us one or two more women that you’re looking at.
Jones-Wilkins: I would be really worried about Kaci Lickteig, Aliza Lapierre, Lucy Bartholomew, and Stephanie Violett. I would be really worried about those if I were front-running in this field. It’s going to be so dynamic and so fun and so interesting to see. If Courtney screws it up, they’re going to be ready to unscrew it up for her.
Powell: AJW did a really good job of hitting on those very front runners: Kaci, Stephanie, plus then we have people like Camelia Mayfield, Kaytlyn Gerbin, Amanda Basham, Ailsa MacDonald. Those folks can surprise. On hot days like this, they really shake things up. You can have somebody that you don’t necessarily think will win the race [when you look at their statistics] on paper–you don’t think of them as the favorite, but they totally nail it. How many people would have called Pam Smith before she won?
Jones-Wilkins: I totally wouldn’t have. And she’s still here, and she’s got a cougar in her closet.
Bowman: I don’t have much to add to that. You guys covered most of the important and interesting stuff. So, what’s another thing about the women’s field–a non-elite storyline that you’re interested in following?
Powell: You going to talk about Diana Fitzpatrick?
Jones-Wilkins: Oh, Diana Fitzpatrick! Diana has finished the race four times, all under 24 hours. She’s 60 years old. We love Gunhild Swanson, we all do. Gunhild ran a 25-something, Diana’s going to crush that. Guaranteed. You can mark that down. If she goes over 24 hours, it’s not going to be by much. I mean, man, she knows how to run the race. She’s smart, she’s sophisticated, she’s been in these mountains before. Gunhild did awesome stuff here as a 60-year-old, Diana’s going to crush it.
Powell: I knew he was going to talk about Diana. That’s the other women’s story that’s going to be good one.
Bowman: I actually had Diana’s name written down, too. Diana is a good personal friend of my wife and me. We had dinner with her last week and she seems ready. That’ll be an interesting thing for everybody else to follow as well.
Powell: Oh, and Meghan Laws. I mean, we talk about Diana but Meghan is now 57, correct? She’s going to crush again. She was the top pick for eight place in the iRunFar Prediction Contest and that’s a safe pick to be somewhere in that six-to-10 range, or even better on a ridiculous day.
Jones-Wilkins: The amazing thing about Meghan is that she’s going to be in the running for the 40 and over. She could win the masters category.
Bowman: Great. Let’s transition now to the men’s race. I think it’s a little more predictable in terms the favorites, a little bit more concrete with Jim Walmsley, François D’Haene, Tim Freriks, and others in the field. So, instead of looking at that, who are you looking at to be the dark horse, Seth Swanson-like person who might show up, surprise us, and be on the podium?
Powell: I have to look in the opposite direction–there is just such a solid set of guys showing up this year, in a hot year. There’s so many of them. We always think of Jeff Browning and Ian Sharman,but there’s also Paul Giblin and Jesse Haynes.There’s all these guys where I don’t want to bet against them finishing in the top 10, especially in a rough year like this.
Jones-Wilkins: Kyle Pietari, I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that right, but he is ready to go.
Bowman: He basically finished last year on a broken ankle.
Jones-Wilkins: He’s a badass and he’s smart. You know, I do want to talk about Jim Walmsley for a second, because it’s like third strike and you’re out. I’ve been around long the race for enough to know that you can’t do that for much longer. He’s going to have to run his race. He’s going to have to have his shit together. He’s going to have to really pay attention to how he’s feeling and what he’s doing, what he knows he can do and what he knows he can’t do.
There are guys chasing him that have been chasing him for years. I’ve thought a lot about it. He’s an Air Force guy, right? I mean, there’s Army and Navy guys who just jump right in, and Marine guys who see the big picture. Air Force guys, they don’t really know where they fit. I think that says a lot about what Jim is doing here. He doesn’t really know where he fits. Saturday is a time for him to say, “here’s where I fit.” And if he crashes and burns, and shits the bed again, then we’ll know, that’s where he fits. But if he goes and runs a 15:10 and wins the thing in a hot year, then we also know where he fits.
I think that’s important for the sport. It’s important for all of us who aspire to be something better than ourselves: to actually listen to that. Frankly, I think it’s the same thing for Courtney, Aliza, Kyle, people who’ve been around the sport long enough… Ian and even Jeff–to find themselves in the sport. Because if there’s something that differentiates ultrarunning from sprint running or Olympics or cycling, it’s that you can find yourself in the sport. The sad part about Jim is that he hasn’t done that yet, and we want him to.
Bowman: We tried to press him on that a little bit in our interview with him, to see how he’s going to approach it this year. I think, having employed the strategy he has of “fireworks from the starting gun” and seeing it backfire twice… if he does it a third time, it’s like, “What are you doing?” So, it will be interesting to see how he executes the race, particularly with guys like François and Tim in the field, who also like to put pressure on the rest of the field early on in the race.
Powell: Talking about those frontrunners–Jim, François and Tim–for any of them to win, they each have to do something they’ve never done. Jim has to stick with it, Tim will be running his first 100, François… he’s the best mountain 100-mile runner in the world but he hasn’t nailed a race like this. If any of them do it, it’s kind of a breakout, establishing race.
Bowman: That’s a really interesting point. For François, this would be a different type of course for him compared to what he’s typically won on and been super successful on. He’s obviously one of the best of all time. Freriks has won some of the best races in the world, so he’s got the experience of having done that at Transvulcania and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, but he hasn’t done a 100 miler.
Jones-Wilkins: You know, I’d turn it around, Dylan, and say that I wish you were in this race.
Bowman: [Laughing] I’m glad I’m not.
Jones-Wilkins: I wish you were, because the way you’ve run in the last six years… the way you’ve been smart in your training, sophisticated in your understanding of what this sport is, and what it should and can be… I hope that we’re sitting at this table in two, three, five years and talking about this stuff. Because, god, this is Dylan Bowman everybody, let’s hear it for him! [Audience hoots and applauds] I mean, the guy has picked his spots. He’s incredibly smart. If you were in the field this year, you’d be the smartest guy in the field.
The truth is, Dylan, that I’m so glad you’re here and I can do this. What you’ve done, and made a difference in people’s understanding the sport… you really, Dylan, have sent a message to the rest of us that we can be better. We can be stronger, we can be smarter. Most of all, we can be smarter. You’re a smart guy, you’re a sophisticated guy. When the dust settles on all of this stuff, I hope you’re back here, running this race. I hope you’re running a 14:41:59.
Bowman: Thank you Andy for saying that, and I’ll pay you for saying all of that later. It means a lot coming from you. But before we talk more about the other men of the field, who are you following in particular? For me, the two guys that I’m looking at, and it’s shocking that he’s not being discussed more, is Didrik Hermansen. He came in second in this race two years ago and he’s back again and flying under the radar as a previous podium finisher! We also spoke to Kris Brown yesterday. He has a good head on his shoulders and a great sense of humor. Looking at him, I see a lot of Seth Swanson in 2014, who got in through the lottery. He didn’t have to race a lot in the early season and came in fresh and focused on Western States specifically. Brown is clearly talented–he’s done well at his only 100 miler as well as at the TNF 50 in a world-class field.
Jones-Wilkins: Kris Brown did well on a hot day in San Diego.
Bowman: He lives in Santa Barbara, so I’m sure he’s okay in the heat.
Powell: I’ve got a question for AJW. I’m sure this is a question you thought of for yourself. The men’s 50-59 record is in play this weekend. Or is it? Karl Melzer.
Jones-Wilkins: I have to think it is. I’ve noodled on that a lot. The current record is 18:43. Doug Latimer set it in 1989. Don’t forget Dean Karnazes is here, too, as a 55 year old. That’s a hard run. Trust me, 18:43 is hard on a pure course. I think Karl can do it, but it’s going to take a perfect day. I’m not sure if he’s ready for a perfect day. I think he’ll tell us by Robinson Flat or Dusty Corners if he is. I mean, if someone brings that down, it’s huge.
Bowman: Yeah, that’s an incredible record. I think another record that will be interesting to watch that I hadn’t thought about until yesterday was when Jeff Browning called out the masters record that Mike Morton holds, set in 2013. The time was 15:45 and Jeff’s 46 years old, looking to run sub-16. That’s another pretty incredible storyline there.
Jones-Wilkins: If Jeff can do 15:46, I’d be impressed.
Powell: Especially in these conditions. We’re talking about age-group records, and the men’s 70-and-up is in play, but are any of these really in play with the weather? It’s going to be a hot year. We have to kind of temper our expectations. There’s been years that, you know, you’ll have to break 16 hours to win, but it might not be a low-15- or high-14-[hour finish] year.
Jones-Wilkins: I think one or two guys will be under 15.
Bowman: Under 15 or under 16?
Jones-Wilkins: Under 15. If they’re going to win.
Bowman: [Looks uncertain] I don’t touch your knowledge, but wow. Don’t spoil it, because that’s our finisher.
Jones-Wilkins: I think it’s better for three women to go under 18 hours. That’s what I’d really like to see.
Bowman: Before we move off that topic, I think there’s one more storyline that’s worth mentioning. Ian Sharman has finished in the top 10 for eight years in a row. AJW has done it seven times. Ian Sharman, a true, true, consistent champion in the sport who’s been doing it as well as anyone at the distance for a long time, at least in terms of consistency. That’ll be interesting to see if he can go for number nine. And then next year he can go for number ten.
Jones-Wilkins: At the risk of boring people, this dude passed me in 2009, and my pacer was like, “Oh, that’s the guy who just got 24th at the Comrades Marathon.” He thought Western States was a fun little hobby, and he didn’t even show up for the awards because he didn’t even know that the awards ceremony was a thing. But that’s Ian. He’s going for number nine and he’s going to get number 10. He’s going to crush us all.
Eric, Scott, and I were talking about it. Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Trason and I have talked about it. Ian Sharman has done something at Western States that I think nobody really will understand until it’s all said and done. He’s going to get 10 top-10 finishes. I mean, Doug Latimer did it in a different era, Nikki Kimball did it on the women’s side, as did Ann Trason. It’s amazing. He just has to make a little challenge for himself. He’ll be fine. No one’s worried about Ian Sharman. He’s so automatic.
Powell: He gets it done.
Jones-Wilkins: He gets it done. He rolls in. His heels still touch his ass.
Bowman: Those majestic calves that he has… Great. Well, unless we have anything else to add to the men’s thing, we can transition to who you think is going to win, and in what time.
Jones-Wilkins: I think it’s time for Jim to win.
Jones-Wilkins: I’ve seen him both years. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. I still question a little bit of what overtakes him when he gets to that place between Robinson Flat and Dusty Corners, when he’s feeling so good. But I honestly think he knows that he has to have his shit together this year or he’s done.
Bowman: I think he does, too.
Jones-Wilkins: Frankly, if he doesn’t, I’ll be the first to tell him: “Dude, you screwed this up and you’re screwed for the rest of your life.”
[Bowman and Powell laugh]
Bowman: What time do you think Jim will run? I want you to predict a time. You said at least two men will finish under 15 hours.
Jones-Wilkins: I think he’s going to be crawling after 14:42. I don’t know if anyone was here in 2012, but it was raining. It was practically snowing. It was cold.
Bowman: For perspective, that was the year that Ellie Greenwood broke the unbreakable record set by Ann Trason.
Jones-Wilkins: Yeah, and she’s the only woman to ever finish in under 17. We’re not going to have one of those years. If Jim can creep around 14:50, 14:55.
Bowman: Okay, we’ve got it on record: Jim in 14:50. Your women’s pick?
Jones-Wilkins: Courtney. Courtney’s fast as shit. I don’t think Courtney knows how fast she is, but I don’t think she’s ever had Kaci, Stephanie, Aliza, and Lucy chasing after her. I think she’ll have to finish in under 18. Only three women have ever done it: Ellie, Anne and Kaci. She’s going to have to be the fourth to go under 18 hours.
Powell: I’m going to pick the same two people. I went back and forth about the men’s win, mostly wondering if Jim will blow up or not. Tim Freriks was my pick before finally deciding on Jim. I’m going to say Jim just nails it. It’s going to be a hot year, but he’ll finish in 14:38.
Jones-Wilkins: Woo! So he gets the record, then.
Powell: Why not?
Jones-Wilkins: What’s Courtney going to do?
Powell: It’s her first time here. Jim has pushed to that line twice, and failed. Courtney hasn’t. I hope she runs a little more conservative race, and runs 18:10. Maybe that’s a little too much of a disparity between the two fields, but…
Bowman: We’re just guessing at this point. I’m glad that I’ve got a different answer than you guys. On the men’s side, I can’t look past Tim Freriks. Not only do I think he’s top-five most handsome guys in this sport… He’s got the experience of winning big races. He races aggressively but not recklessly, whereas I think Jim has a propensity to do. Plus I think he’s more fresh coming into this race. Because he was injured earlier in the season and got a really good eight-week training block in, he’s getting fit at just the right time. Usually, for me, that means I’m fit and I have energy. In this race and particularly in 100 milers, that’s so important–to have that desire to go to the well. So, I have Tim winning, but I have him at 15:10. I don’t have anybody going under 15 because of the heat.
Jones-Wilkins: Women’s side?
Bowman: I’ve got a good feeling about this one. I’ve picked Stephanie Violett to win her second cougar for a few similar reasons. First of all, she’s a past champion. She’s done it before, she knows what it takes. She’s also been on the podium an additional time, and she’s had recent disappointment. You can’t discount the motivation that comes from that. I think she’s finally past her Achilles injury that laid her up for a year. I think it’s finally in her rear-view mirror. I think she’s hungry. She’s got good guidance from Jason Koop and has done really good training. Just the experience factor, I don’t think you can discount it. But again, I don’t think it’s going to be a super-fast race. Stephanie has, I think, run 18:01 in the past, I put her at 18:20 this year.
Powell: So if we picked Jim, Jim, and Tim [respectively as our picks for the men’s win], does that mean we all have François for second place?
Bowman: I didn’t go that deep. It’s insane to pick against the guy. He’s potentially the greatest 100-miler ever, at least of our generation. I mean, you look past Kilian Jornet a little bit. But will François have the energy again? He won UTMB in an insane battle. I don’t think you can discount what that takes out of you. And six weeks later he breaks the John Muir Trail Fastest Known Time by 12 hours in an insane three-day excursion. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if François won and broke the record, but it’s hard to pick against the Cowboys.
The other thing that I think is interesting as it pertains to the Cowboys is that Flagstaff is such a uniquely good place to train for this race. You have the altitude, you have the heat, you have the [Grand Canyon] where you can run downhill hard a lot. Plus you’ve got the community, you’ve got people who can push you. I’ve got to think it’s a Coconino Cowboy who will win the race, whether it’s Jim or Tim, who knows. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two or three of those guys–or all four of them–in the top 10.
Jones-Wilkins: What’s the big surprise this year? What’s the big thing we’re not thinking about? What’s this year’s Gunhild, or this year’s person who melts down and then comes back to life?
Powell: One thought I had was that a couple of years ago, was it Annie Trent who was coming in with Gunhild Swanson? And now it’s Austin Twietmeyer who’s running this year? I hope he has a great race, but I also have this picture in my mind of him finishing with one of those 70-plus-year-old dudes.
Jones-Wilkins: Twietmeyer is in the race–Tim Twietmeyer’s offspring.
Bowman: Just to wrap it up, Tim is on the Western States Board of Directors, he’s run the race 25 times, all in less than 24 hours. He’s an absolute legend to all of us who follow the sport. This year his son is running the race this year and Tim is going to be pacing his son. He used to have some responsibility that he’d do at the race every year that he can’t do this year because he is pacing his son through his first-ever Western States.
Jones-Wilkins: Tim’s responsibility is running out and chasing in the horses at the very end of the race [motivating people who are at risk of finishing after the 30-hour cutoff].
Bowman: Well, I think that’s a great place for us to wrap it up. We could go on forever, as you can tell, but we’ve been going on for 30 minutes already. I think we should wrap it up by mentioning the sponsors: Drymax, Buff, and Jaybird Sport who all support iRunFar. The Coffeebar has generously loaned us their space for two days and asked for nothing in return. So please get coffees from them this week.
Powell: And thank you, Dylan Bowman, for pestering us for three or four years to make this happen [audience applauds].
Jones-Wilkins: I think we need to thank Bryon and Meghan [Hicks] for iRunFar. iRunFar is the voice of the sport. There’s no doubt they’re the voice of the sport. They do so much for so little, and they make us feel oh-so-good about it. So to Bryon and Meghan and all that you do, let’s hear it for iRunFar! [Audience applauds off-screen]