Intriguing Stories at the 2019 Western States 100

AJW's TaproomFor the past five years, I have written an article focusing on intriguing stories at the Western States 100. Here are my articles from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. This year, as with every year, there are no shortage of compelling stories that I will be following. Here are my top four most intriguing stories at this year’s race:

The Race at the Front

Last year, both the women’s and men’s winners won in dominating fashion. Jim Walmsley ran off the front for most of the day and broke the previous course record by over 16 minutes and women’s winner Courtney Dauwalter ran the second-fastest Western States of all time en route to her one-hour, 13-minute victory. Both are returning, and so will there be a double repeat? You have to go back to 2012 for the last time there was a repeat female winner and all the way back to 2003 for when there was a repeat winner for both genders. As I look at it, this could be the first time since then that both winners repeat. It’s been an age of parity at the front of the pack for the better part of a decade and this could be the year that changes.

Scott Mills Goes for #20

Back in 1982, at the age of 31, Scott Mills ran his first Western States finishing in 22nd place with a time of 21:29. Twenty years later, at 51, Scotty finished his 10th Western States, remarkably, in a nearly identical time of 21:22. This year, 17 years after capturing his 10th, 68-year-old Mills is seeking his 20th finish. In a truly extraordinary example of longevity, Scotty has inspired a generation of ultrarunners and I suspect that as he enters the track later this month to take his 20th lap around, there will not be a dry eye in the place. When he does cross the line, he’ll become only the seventh person in race history–after Tim Twietmeyer, Gordy Ainsleigh­, Dan Williams, Mike Pelechaty, Charles Savage, and Jim Scott–to earn a 2,000-mile buckle.

Ian Sharman 10 for 10?

I remember it like it was yesterday. In the 2010 Western States, I was running out of the Auburn Lake Trails aid station at mile 85 when this sprightly, young-looking British lad came up behind me, “Mind if I pop on by?” It was Ian Sharman running his first Western States. After he passed, my pacer turned to me and said, “That dude finished in the top 25 at the Comrades Marathon a couple weeks ago. We won’t be catching him.” Later this month, Sharman will try to become only the fifth runner in race history after Bjorg Austrheim-Smith, Doug Latimer, Ann Trason, and Nikki Kimball to finish Western States 10 times and to do so finishing in the top 10 each time.

The Changing Face of Western States

When the gun goes off in Olympic Valley, California on the morning of June 29, the field will be significantly different than it’s been in the past. First, of the 369 starters, 82 of them, or 22% of the field, will hail from countries other than the United States. For those of us who’ve been around a while, this is extraordinary as we have observed Western States explode into a truly international event. Second, among those 369 runners beginning their journey to Auburn, 272 of them, an incredible 74%, will seek their first Western States finish. (Of course, these numbers could shift a bit with last-minute waitlist movement.) As a Western States veteran and a fan of the race and sport, I wish all these international runners and first timers good luck as they begin what will most surely be one of the most extraordinary days of their lives.

Bottom up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Moonraker Brewing Company in Auburn, California. Known for their incredible variety of IPAs, Moonraker also makes an outstanding sour beer that was recently released and which I was lucky enough to get my hands on. Wave Theory is a Leipzig Gose-style sour ale that is strong in alcohol and deeply rich in flavor. One of the lightest sours I have ever tasted, Wave Theory is a fantastic beer even for those who don’t quite have the palate for sours. If you’re gonna’ be in the area for Western States later in the month, be sure to get some.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What storylines, especially lesser known stories, will you be following at this year’s Western States 100? Leave a comment to share so more of us can also follow them.
  • What do you think about the women’s and men’s races for the win? Do you think Jim Walmsley and Courtney Dauwalter could both repeat as champions?
  • Do you think Scott Mills and Ian Sharman will be able to achieve their respective goals?
  • Are you one of the international or first-time Western States runners? Leave a comment to let everyone know where you’re from and what you’re looking forward to most about the race.

Ian Sharman on his way to his ninth top-10 finish at the 2018 Western States. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

There are 31 comments

  1. Atlee Burpee

    Great article. AJW, once upon a time, I think you wrote an article of your favorite things to do, favorite places to eat, etc. in the Auburn area, for ultra runners. Do I remember correctly? Any chance you can post a link to that article?

    1. AJW

      Thanks for the comment @AtleeBurpee and the amazing name. I think that was a Facebook post that I will certainly reprise next week with a couple of updates. That said, anyone who rolls through Auburn and doesn’t stop in at the Taco Tree is a fool, a damned fool. #seeyouinsquaw

  2. Ryan

    So excited to follow along with this race. I’ve also become a huge fan of the Mocko Show and can’t wait to see him take on Western States!

  3. Tropical John

    I would add Kyle Robidoux of Roxbury, Massachusetts to this story. Kyle has retinitis pigmentosa and is legally blind, yet has finished both the Vermont 100 and the Yeti 100. He will be the first blind runner to run at Western States. He will be allowed to run with a guide and several of the best runners in the country (Scott Jurek, Krissy Moehl, Amy Rusiecki) will be taking a stretch at being his guide.

  4. Ian Sharman

    Amazing that so many have already done 20 finishes (I thought Scottie must be the second). But 4 runners already have 10 x top 10 men or women – you missed out Bjorg Austrheim-Smith. Time for a PR this year!

    1. AJW

      @iansharman Can’t believe I missed Bjorg. Thanks for the catch. See you next week and looking forward to you getting that record setting 10-day.

  5. AT

    The Men’s Race is building up to be a serious throw down..seriously this list is crazy!

    Curious to see how Pat Reagan and Morgan Elliott fare..SRU stand up..

  6. Joe G

    Jim is definitely gonna be tested this year, between Tank, Matt Daniels, Tom Evans and I think David Laney is coming in very fit, should be interesting but I still think he pulls away in the 2nd half.

    On the women’s side Kaci Lickteig seems to be back in full form this year and Clare Gallagher is racing great, would love to see them challenge Courtney a little.

    Will be a fun day of pushing refresh on twitter that’s for sure!

  7. Mike

    The amazing thing about Scott Mills is getting an entry 20 times. It will be almost impossible now for anyone to repeat this. Good luck to all of this years runners.

  8. Paul Leonard Charteris

    The internationality of this field is something to be celebrated. It’s confirmation of the high regard that trail runners all over the globe hold this race. Great to see so many first-time WSER entrants lining up too. Good luck to all that make it to Squaw.

  9. Joe Z

    First-timer here, I feel incredibly lucky to get the chance to run Western States! Given the difficult of getting in, it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Interesting tidbit–I tailored my training strategy based on the possibility that I will never get another chance–I trained conservatively and farther in advance than I otherwise would have to reduce the risk of missing the race due to injury. Perhaps the optimal strategy for enjoyment rather than speed.

    It will be crazy to be in the race rather than following along online…is there another sport where the amateurs and professionals can compete together on the biggest stage? Can’t wait to meet everyone and soak it all in :) :) :)

  10. Tony

    Just my feeling this year but lack of excitement in Auburn. I feel it maybe just my focus on other things but no buzz this year.

  11. Patrick

    Western States seems to be doing a nice job of letting lots of new runners in while still getting great talent at the front. Kudos to their board.

  12. Andrew S

    It only somewhat recently became extremely difficult to get into. Basically the only way for 20 now would be an unprecedented run in the Top 10 or Golden Tickets.

  13. darkcloud

    not to take anything away from some 20 timers, but keep in my mind that that things have changed significantly in the last 6 or 7 years concerning the odds of being selected. back in the day there were several “back door ways” and favors that could be made to get in. kind of a”‘who you knew”. there have always been opportunities for individuals that have worked there asses off year after year that have been offered an entry, some accepting, some not, that people would not know, that rightly deserve the opportunity. this does tend to favor more “locals”, but that’s just the way it is, probably like any other race. but that’s the boards right. as the lotteries numbers exploded, large numbers of runners starting asking a lot of questions. this kind of coincided with LB becoming the new RD and, with the board, making a lot of changes. the transparency has evolved a lot since then, to now, when you pretty much know how every entrant earned their way to the starting line. Your right. there isn’t chance in hell now of someone getting in 20 times over a lifetime of being able to run 100 miles.

  14. Matt

    Eyes on Tom Evans…looks to be coming out of a strong training block in Ethiopia. Fully expect him to be right up at the front challenging for the win.

  15. Aaron Davis

    I think Sharman will get his 10th top 10. If I’m betting safe, Jim & Courtney will repeat. I think they both have the chops this year to do so. If I’m taking a risk, albeit a small one, I think Mocko takes a W, and Claire Gallagher sneaks in a win. The person I’m excited to follow is Yassine Diboun. He’s got such a great story.

  16. Aaron Davis

    In addition to my above comment, it wouldn’t surprise me if we had a 2-4 person race on both the male and female sides, at No Hands Bridge.

  17. John Vanderpot

    If you know the guy, if you have any sense of what he’s done, the contributions he’s made over what, the past 4 decades, and what shows on ultrasignup isn’t the half of it, we’ll, my guess is you’d agree with many that the opportunity to earn 20 finishes couldn’t go to a better person…

  18. AJW

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. A couple things with respect to Scotty’s assault on 20 finishes specifically and then the likelihood of any other 20 time finisher ever generally.

    First, it should be noted, that since Scotty first ran the race in 1982 he has attended the race every single year either as a runner in the years he got in or as a volunteer in the years he did not get in. That’s 37 straight years of dropping whatever he was doing in his life on the last weekend in June and coming to the race. Including the several years he lived back here in Virginia. And Scotty didn’t just pace or crew or hang out at the track during his non-running years, he really volunteered. He served shifts at the High Country Aid Stations, did net control in a hot room on the Overlook, shlepped ice and water down to the River, toweled people off at Devil’s Thumb and most recently, in 2016, the last year he didn’t run, he entered bib numbers on his laptop while baking in the sun at Michigan Bluff. In short, Scotty has served this race way more than the race has served him. Additionally, as Scotty was never a top-10 guy, he had to gain entry via the lottery and there were some years in there when he was a multi-time 2 time loser. Literally, a loser’s loser.

    Second, please remember that Scotty was sitting on 17 finishes for quite some time and then was, justifiably so, given an opportunity for his 18th finish when he was awarded the inaugural Silver Legend Award. After that finish, which did not come easily, as is race policy, he had one chance each to get finish #19 and #20. It’s actually quite a bit of pressure when you think about it. But, from where I sit, were Scotty to get Finish #20 on June 30th, it would be a truly deserved finish and not the result of some set of back door deals as is suggested by some above.

    Finally, with respect to future 20 time finishers. I think it could happen.

    Ian Sharman will likely get his 10th top-10 this year at 38. I have no reason to think he is slowing down and he could get to 18 by the age of 36 and then Waltz in to 20

    Meghan Arbogast, while not in the race this year, has 11 finishes and can certainly contend for Golden Tickets in the next few years. She could also get to 18 and then stroll in to be the first ever female 20 time finisher.

    Dan Barger is a local guy who works tirelessly on the course and has 11 finishes. He could pull off 20.

    And then there are the handful of other runners out there with unfinished business at the race that if they practice those time honored ultra runner qualities of patience and discipline could also cross the 20 barrier.

    So to all you naysayers out there all I can say is never say never.

  19. Anita Rawlinson

    How about Dave Mackey, and his attempt to become the first amputee finisher since 2010 (a woman)? That’s an amazing story right there!

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