2019 Western States 100 Men’s Preview

Drymax - Official Sock WS100The 2019 Western States 100 is almost upon us, and the men’s race looks like it’ll be a show. On the race’s 100.2-mile, point-to-point route tracing from the east side of California’s Sierra Nevada to its western foothills in the city of Auburn, a lot is undoubtedly going to happen.

In the men’s race, eight of last year’s top-10 finishers return, with the group highlighted by course-record-holder Jim Walmsley. Along with them are five more people with recent top finishes at this race, including the likes of 2017 champ Ryan Sandes. Then, let’s throw in some track-and-road runners turned ultrarunners–for example Matt Daniels–testing themselves on one of the great 100-mile proving grounds, some successful shorter-distance ultrarunners moving up to the 100-mile distance like the United Kingdom’s Tom Evans, and a couple dark horses who might just run themselves into the light.

As we all know, nothing is a given at the 100-mile distance and even less than nothing is a given on the Western States 100 course. This year has the potential to become a fire-and-ice year. That is, after a big winter, snow and mud should feature for some high-country miles which will then give way to the omnipresent heat of summer in the lower Sierra Nevada. How much snow will there be? And how hot will it get? Time will soon tell.

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 29. Stay tuned just a little longer!

A special thanks to Drymax for once again making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!

Thanks also to BUFF® and Hoka One One for their support of our Western States coverage.

Be sure to check out our in-depth women’s preview to learn about the women’s race, too.

Returning Top 10

This year, a full eight of last year’s top-10 finishers return:

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) has evolved into our modern-day ultramarathon hero. He dreams big, is showy when he races, and either hits it out of the ballpark or strikes out. And though he hits the homer way more often than not these days, there’s also no in between with him. At the WS 100, after two rough goes, the third time was a charm last year when he ran 14:30, set a course record on a hot day, and finished with no one else in sight for a full 84 minutes. In early May of this year, Jim set a 50-mile world best at the Hoka One One Carbon X Project, and in an interview with us after that, he said he simply wanted to do what he needed to do to win this year’s WS 100. Does that mean sitting on second place for 80 miles? Does that mean running his own pace out front, but keeping it in control? I can’t wait to see.

Mark Hammond (pre-race interview) is a man of consistency at the WS 100, as the last two years he finished in third place, in 16:52 the first time and 16:08 last year. He’s also a man who races frequently, as he already has at least 260 miles of racing in his legs in calendar year 2019. In the first half of May, he won the Riverlands 100 Mile in Maine.

Ian Sharman has been in the top 10 nine times–nine times! And he’s done it every single year in a row starting in 2010. His fastest finish has been a 15:47 in 2014. His highest finish has been twice taking fourth, last year and in 2013. And his slowest finish was a 17:42 in 2017. Over the last year, he suffered a significant back injury that put him out of commission for quite some time. But he has returned to fitness and form and… he’ll finish in the top 10 again. Enough said.

Jeff Browning - 2018 Hardrock 100

Jeff Browning

Jeff Browning took fifth last year, the first in an incredible double where he also won the Hardrock 100 four weekends later. He has a total of four prior WS 100 finishes, and he’s landed in the top five three times. His fastest finish was 16:30 in 2016, when he took third. Among his top results so far this year is his win of the Tarawera Ultramarathon 100 Mile in February.

There seem to be two sure bets with Kyle Pietari at the WS 100: he finishes in the top 10 and he vomits at the finish line. The last three years, he’s finished eighth (2016, 17:05), 10th (2017, 18:11), and sixth (2018, 16:54). While there are lots of male multitaskers in this field–men who have full-time jobs and families, and who run at a high level–I think of Kyle as a champion of them. The guy has a time-consuming job in law, a family with young’uns, and gets the bulk of his miles via run commuting and treadmill-ing at crazy times of day and night.

Charlie Ware was last year’s biggest top-10 surprise for me. He had an incredible race in taking eighth and skirting in just under the 17-hour mark. This was a huge improvement over his 2016 WS 100 finish in over 20 hours. Now, it seems that Charlie’s vaulted himself into a new competitive category. So far in 2019, he’s taken fourth at the Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k and eighth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.

Paul Giblin

For the last two years, the United Kingdom’s Paul Giblin has finished ninth. And before that, Paul took fifth in 2016. His finish times over these three years range from 16:53 to 17:59. Since last year’s WS 100, Paul’s also finished 22nd at the 2018 UTMB.

Kris Brown rounded out the top 10 last year in 17:20, his first time at the WS 100. If that’s how he debuted, what is his top-end potential? Among his running in the last year, he took third at the 2019 Nine Trails 35 Mile.

More Top Men

We begin this section with the men who’ve run in the top 10 at WS 100 between 2014 and 2017, and who we think have the potential to do so again. Then, we move onto other men who we think have the highest chance of making a dent in the men’s competition.

Ryan Sandes - 2017 Western States 100 Champ interview

Ryan Sandes

South Africa’s Ryan Sandes (pre-race interview) has a special relationship with the WS 100. He just can’t get enough of this race! Ryan was the 2017 champion, and he crossed the line that year in 16:19. He has two additional top finishes, fifth place in 15:46 in 2014, and second place in 15:03 in 2012. He additionally has one DNS (2015) and another DNF (2013), from illness and injury, respectively.

If Jared Hazen (pre-race interview) were to win WS 100, some people would call it a surprise. But in doing so they would be forgetting about how he ran himself onto the podium as a 20 year old, taking third in 15:37 in 2015. Prior to that podium finish, he also ran a full two hours slower the year before. Basically, he learned how to race WS 100, and, then, came back and hammered it. Jared was slated to run last year’s edition, but was a DNS with injury. This year, he’s taken second at the Nine Trails 35 Mile and won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.

Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius has had success at what seems like all the major global ultramarathons, including the WS 100. In 2015, he finished fourth and was just three minutes out of podium position. This summer, he’s coming back to America and taking on the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, and first up on his 100-mile tour of the USA ultra scene is the WS 100. His top results in the last year or so have been fifth at the 2018 Marathon des Sables and sixth at the 2019 Hong Kong 100k.

Chris Mocko - Pre-2017 Western States 100

Chris Mocko

Chris Mocko ran the WS 100 in both 2016 and 2017, the first time taking seventh in 17:01 and the second time blowing up and finishing in 23-plus hours. Back in January, he earned his entry via a second place at the Bandera 100k. He turned around the very next month to take another second place at the Black Canyon 100k. Chris has had some ups and downs with his running and racing over the years, but if he’s in form and his head is in the game, he could go top five.

Newer fans of the sport might not associate the WS 100 and David Laney, but he has three prior finishes, in 2014, 2015, and 2016. He’s finished in the top 10 once, in 2015 when he was eighth in 17:01. After taking a WS 100 break for the last two editions, he’s back. In 2019, he’s won the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile and the inaugural Tiger Claw.

Tom Evans

Don’t be surprised if the United Kingdom’s Tom Evans (pre-race interview) podiums at the WS 100. The guy had a stellar 2018 of racing, including a third place at the Trail World Championships and a win of the CCC. He DNFed the Hong Kong 100k earlier this year with an ankle injury, but rehabbed it and seems to be back in form, as evidenced by his third place at Lake Sonoma in April. He did a dedicated training stint at altitude in Ethiopia, and now he’s arrived early to both recce the WS 100 course and acclimate to the heat. If you’re worried about a Brit in the heat, I wouldn’t with Tom. He took third at the 2017 Marathon des Sables, which generally sees more heat than the WS 100 canyons. I think the only ‘if’ with him is that this is his debut 100 miler.

Matt Daniels (pre-race interview) is probably the man with the highest upside ultra potential in this group. His competitive running has, ahem, run the gamut, including USA Division II collegiate running where he earned loads of All American honors in both track and cross country; post-collegiate track and road running where he earned PRs of 3:59 in the mile, 13:50 in the 5k, and 1:03 in the half marathon; mountain running where he’s run for Team USA in several WMRA World Championships; and, now, ultrarunning. Matt earned his WS 100 Golden Ticket entry via a commanding win of the Black Canyon 100k in February where he finished 25 minutes ahead of everyone else.

2018 UTMB - Jordi Gamito

Jordi Gamito

Is this Spaniard Jordi Gamito’s first ultra in the USA? [Update June 18: Nope. He did a 54k training race in the U.S. a couple weeks ago.] I know he’s been in America for a while now, training for a couple weeks out of Flagstaff, Arizona and now on the WS 100 course itself. Jordi has been ultrarunning since around 2013, but he really found his footing at the front of the European scene starting in 2015. His top results in 2018 were a third place at the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and another third at UTMB. A little over a month and a half before the WS 100, he took 11th at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon.

Norway’s Hallvard Schjølberg surprised most of the world–beyond Norway, at least–in taking fourth at the 2018 UTMB and finishing less than 10 minutes back of Jordi Gamito–and the podium. It was a giant leap forward, as just one year before he finished 28th at the same race. To be honest, it’s hard to get a feel of Hallvard’s potential as he’s done the vast majority of his racing in his home country, but he’s an absolutely fascinating entrant. One more fun fact is that his name was pulled in the lottery though he had only two tickets. He should stop in Reno, Nevada to use that luck on his way to the race!

Patrick Reagan is running the WS 100! I normally think of Patrick as more of a road ultrarunner, and excelling when the trails are pretty flat and buff. He’s one of those underappreciated dudes who’s racked up some serious accomplishments over the years, including a third place at the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships and a 12th place at the 2017 Comrades Marathon. Among his races in the last year, he was second at the 2018 Ultravasan 90k and won the 2018 Javelina 100 Mile.

I hope Eric Senseman got his blow-up out of his system last year when he ran hard for a long time, took a nap late race, and, then, ambled to a 23-hour finish. I think the guy can finish in the top 10 at the WS 100… if he runs his own race. Eric ran his way back into the WS 100 with a third place at the 2019 Black Canyon 100k, securing one of the Golden Ticket entries there. He also ran the Nine Trails 35 Mile earlier this year, taking seventh.

Stephen Kersh has also been a fast collegiate and road runner, in doing so earning 14:06 5k and 1:04 half-marathon PRs. The last couple of years he’s been dipping his toes in the trail-ultra world with some 50ks and, in April of this year, his first 50 miler at Lake Sonoma, where he took fourth. In doing so, he procured a WS 100 entry via a Golden Ticket. There’s a lot of potential here.

Still More Fast Men to Watch

Here are still more fast men to keep your eyes on:

  • Brian Condon – 2nd 2019 Canyons 100k (and a Golden Ticket); 25th at the 2014 WS 100, but he’s improved a lot since then
  • Gerad Dean – 1st 2018 Pine to Palm 100 Mile
  • Yassine Diboun – Three previous WS 100 finishes in 2012, 2013, & 2014, with his best performance ninth in 2013
  • Jimmy Elam– 1st 2019 Canyons 100k (and a Golden Ticket); 5th 2019 Nine Trails 35 Mile [Update 6/23: Not on entrants list anymore.]
  • Morgan Elliott – 1st 2019 Georgia Death Race (and a Golden Ticket); 9th 2018 Transvulcania Ultramarathon
  • Tyler Green – 1st 2019 Bandera 100k (and a Golden Ticket); 10th 2018 Lake Sonoma 50
  • Michael Heimes – 4th 2018 JFK 50 Mile; 4th 2018 Vermont 100 Mile [Update 6/23: Not on entrants list anymore.]
  • Steven Moore  – 2nd 2019 Hells Hills 50 Mile; 2nd 2018 Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile
  • Shaun Pope – 2nd 2019 Georgia Death Race (and a Golden Ticket); ran WS 100 back in 2011 finishing in 20-plus hours, but that seems like an off race for him
  • Rudy Rutemiller – 2nd 2018 Quad Dipsea; 9th 2018 Wasatch Front 100 Mile

Call for Comments

  • Who’s going to win Western States? Do you think anyone can challenge Jim Walmsley?
  • And how do you see the race for the rest of the podium playing out?
  • Is anyone fitter than we might think? Anyone we’ve not listed with a chance to crack the top 10? Leave a comment to share who and what results lead you to think so.
  • Is anyone not running who is in this preview? Leave us comments to let us know. We’ll be updating it until the start of the race.
Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.