If there is an ultrarunning equivalent to the Augusta National Golf Club where the Masters is played in Georgia, it is the historic Western States Trail in northern California, on which the Western States 100 takes place each year and on which part of the Canyons 100k ran last weekend. And it was there, last Saturday, that two legendary 58-year-old ultrarunners rekindled past magic in much the same way Nicklaus did 21 years ago at Augusta. If there were fans alongside the trail last Saturday, their cheers echoing through the American River Canyon would be reminiscent of those heard at Augusta 21 years ago.
Luanne Park and Meghan Laws have been running ultramarathons for a combined approximately 50 years, Park running her first in 1993 and Laws her first in 1996. Between the two of them and according to UltraSignup, they have participated in at least 235 trail races and ultramarathons. This includes 22 finishes at Western States, of which a whopping 17 were in the top 10 (10 for Meghan and seven for Luanne). And so, it came as no surprise to any experienced observers at last Saturday’s race, that even though Park and Laws were about 13 years older than their next closest competitor in the women’s top 10, they would be in the mix.
If we look at UltraSignup statistics, Laws and Park came into the race with a combined at least 235 trail-race and ultramarathon participations, while the rest of the women’s top 10 combined had around 247 participations. If you remove 44-year-old Darcy Piceu, who finished in eighth place, and her 98 participations from that list, the experience difference is even more remarkable. Of course, Park and Laws ran every step of the race as the wily veterans that they are with Laws ultimately finishing in fifth place and Park in ninth. Their finishes served notice to the ultra world that these two intrepid competitors still have what it takes to perform on the big stage.
I first met Luanne Park during my first attempt at Western States in 2001 where we ran together through most of the middle part of the race and where she ultimately crossed the line around the same time I did and finished in fourth place. I met Meghan Laws a few years later training with Craig Thornley and his Oregon brethren on the Western States course. Since that time I have been fortunate enough to call each of them friends and what has always inspired me about both of these women is their humility, perseverance, and contagiously positive attitudes. When I am in their presence, I can’t help but smile.
And so it was with a huge grin on my face, much as I had during Jack’s famous charge back in 1998, that I looked on in wonder as Meghan and Luanne cracked the top 10 once again last weekend. Perhaps there is something in that canyon dust, or the manzanita-scented air, or possibly even the eternal pull down to the American River that brings with it a strong whiff of youth? At least from my perspective, it certainly seems that way! Here’s to Luanne and Meghan!
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