In late February of 2010, Geoff Roes and his family headed south from their home in Alaska for an eight-week road trip to the West Coast of the United States. Along the way, Geoff planned to race two classic North American ultramarathons, the Way Too Cool 50k in March and the American River 50 Mile in April as part of his preparation for his first attempt at the Western States 100 in June.
Roes was coming off an extraordinary 2009 season during which he notched impressive wins at the HURT 100 Mile, Wasatch Front 100 Mile, and Bear 100 Mile, as well as an incredible course-record performance at the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile, a race about which he says “was the strongest and most in control as I have ever felt in a race. I felt like I could keep pushing harder without it really taking that much out of me.” For all this, he was named UltraRunning magazine’s 2009 (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year.
At the 2010 Way Too Cool, the race was whittled down to a three-man battle between Roes, Max King, and Leor Pantilat. Roes was surprised with his ability to stay with the lead group and at mile 26, on the steep climb up Goat Hill, he surged into the lead. As he pulled away on the gradual descent to Highway 49, Roes felt good until he realized he was off course. Rather than turning left on the Western States Trail at the quarry, he turned right and ran all the way down to the American River. It was at the junction of the Western States Trail and the Quarry Road that Roes realized he was off course, in the very same spot where Jim Walmsley went off course at Western States in 2016.
“Way Too Cool was actually the hardest one for me to move on from. I thought I was going to win that one.” Ultimately, after retracing his steps back up from the river, Roes finished third at Way Too Cool behind Pantilat and King.
A month later at American River, Roes recalls, “I was feeling blah all the way through the marathon point. But then, during the second half, something clicked. It was the first time I realized the difference between speed and endurance. There were a handful of guys there who were faster than me, and I was just able to outlast them. I was beginning to realize that was a strength. It also didn’t hurt that American River ended with a three-mile climb.”
Roes ended up winning American River over a strong group including Andrew Henshaw, King, and Mike Wolfe and his time of 5:49 is, to this day, the 10th fastest in the 40-plus-year history of the race. Following the race, Roes headed back to Alaska to put the finishing touches on his Western States prep. I asked Geoff about his training during those last two months before Western States and he recalled, “I actually didn’t do big miles, probably not even one 100-mile week. But, I did lots of climbing and descending and was probably logging 30 hours a week just running up and down our big mountains around Juneau.”
And heat training? “I didn’t do any. I knew it was going to suck no matter what on race day so I just decided I only wanted to suffer on that one day.”
Roes started Western States conservatively but within the first 20 miles realized he was strong enough to stay with the lead group. By mile 40, that group was whittled down to three runners, Kilian Jornet, Anton Krupicka, and Roes. All of them were running their first Western States and at Last Chance (mile 43) they came in together on course-record pace.
“I really struggled between miles 40 and 70. I tried not be be too concerned but Kilian and Tony started dropping me on every climb and yet I felt like I was doing the climbs as fast as was sustainable.”
Through the canyons, Jornet and Krupicka steadily pulled away from Roes with a two-minute lead at Devil’s Thumb (mile 47), a three-minute lead at El Dorado Creek (mile 52), an eight-minute lead at Michigan Bluff (mile 55), a 12-minute lead at Foresthill (mile 62), and a 15-minute lead at Peachstone (mile 70). By all accounts, it had turned into a two-man race. But Roes was not done yet.
“By Green Gate (mile 80), I felt phenomenal. I was in full-on tracking mode. I felt like I was surging a lot.” Before the next aid station, Roes stormed past Jornet and set his sights on Krupicka. Unbeknownst to Krupicka or his crew, Roes was reeling him in and taking huge chunks of time back, closing to within three minutes at Auburn Lakes Trails (mile 85) and one minute at Brown’s Bar (mile 90). On the climb up to Highway 49 at mile 93.5, Roes passed Krupicka.
“I ran every step from the river except for a small section of the climb up to Robie Point (mile 98.9). On the downhill to No Hands Bridge, I ran as hard as I ever had in a race. It was incredible!”
In the end, Roes won the 2010 Western States 100 in a then-course-record time of 15:07. Krupicka came in six minutes later and Jornet just under an hour later.
The second half of Roes’s 2010 saw wins at the Crow Pass Crossing, Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile, and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile – Atlanta. It could have been even better for Roes had UTMB not been stopped after only a few hours due to weather as he was clearly primed for that and the re-scheduled shorter-distance option the next day was not in the cards. In the end, Roes was named (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year for 2010, for the second year in a row.
Looking back on Geoff’s 2010 season now, as well as the second half of 2009, I am of the belief that it may stand the test of time as one of the greatest 18-month periods for an athlete in ultrarunning.
Geoff Roes’s Beer of the Week
“Freeride American Pale Ale is brewed right here in Juneau, Alaska by the Alaskan Brewing Company. It has a crisp and thirst-quenching taste. At 40 IBUs, it’s an ideal balance of hoppy goodness without any lingering bitterness. Freeride is perfect after a mountain run on a long summer day. Juneau has some of the most pure and tasty glacial-fed water in the world and you can really taste the difference in this exceptional pale ale.”
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What do you remember about Geoff Roes’s 2010 ultrarunning season?
- Do you recall the now-famous three-way race for the win at the 2010 Western States 100?