The day has finally come! One hundred miles, 18,000 feet of climb, 22,000 feet of descent, high-country altitude, canyons heat, approaching a half century of history, the original 100-mile trail foot race, interesting storylines from the front of the race to the back of the pack, and a year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic: this is the 2021 Western States 100.
In the women’s race, eight of 2019’s top-10 women return. In that group is 2019 champ Clare Gallagher, who in winning the last edition did so in the event’s second-fastest time in race history, as well as Brittany Peterson who finished second in 2019 in the race’s fourth-fastest time ever. We also look to Kaci Lickteig and Magda Boulet, who are both previous champions of this race. Beth Pascall is in it to win it after her fourth-place Western States debut in 2019 and her skyrocketing resume since then. And international superstars Ragna Debats and Ruth Croft, both of whom are racing 100 miles for the first time, will add spice to this event.
All of this is a recipe for one very interesting day as these women travel the historic Western States Trail from Olympic Valley, across California’s Sierra Nevada, and to the race’s finish in the city of Auburn.
We’ll be storytelling the race every step of the way starting now and through well after the race. Of course and as part of that, we’ll cover the race in person beginning at 5 a.m. PDT on Saturday, June 26. Stay tuned!
A special thanks to Drymax for once again making our coverage of the Western States 100 possible!
Returning Top 10
The women’s top 10 from the 2019 Western States 100 are invited to return, and eight of the 10 women have chosen to do so:
Let’s begin with a rehash of the 2019 Western States 100. Clare Gallagher assumed the race lead around mile 80, but then Brittany Peterson caught up and the pair passed through the Pointed Rocks aid station at mile 94.5 neck and neck. After that, Clare gassed it to win. Her 17:23 finish was the race’s second-fastest ever, only behind Ellie Greenwood’s 16:47 course record, in what was one of the most excitingly competitive women’s 100-mile races the sport has seen. It’s been two years since that day, and there hasn’t been a lot of racing since then—thanks, pandemic. But Clare just won the Scout Mountain 21 Mile in Idaho three weeks before race day, beating her own course record by a couple minutes and showing that she’s as sharp as ever.
Courtesy of that 2019 race to the finish, Brittany Peterson’s finish time sits as the race’s fourth fastest ever. Earlier this year, Brittany ran away from the rest of the field to win the Black Canyon 100k. Further in the past, Brittany was fourth at the 2018 Transvulcania and first at the 2019 Bandera 100k. I can’t wait for this Clare-Brittany rematch.
Kaci Lickteig, the 2016 champion and three-time podium finisher, knows how to run Western States. Her most recent finish in 2019 was her fastest, bettering the her 2016 winning time by a couple minutes. Since then, Kaci won the 2019 Javelina Jundred Mile and took sixth at the 2020 Transgrancanaria. Kaci was injured earlier this year, but she participated in the Western States Training Camp a month before race day and looks to have been training plenty of the late.
Beth Pascall showed that Brits can tolerate the heat perfectly well by running just over 18 hours for fourth place at the last race edition. Since then, Beth took fifth at the 2019 UTMB, won the 2019 Ultra-Trail Cape Town, set a blazing new fastest known time on the Bob Graham Round in England, and won the 2021 Canyons 100k. Additionally, she’s been roaming the American West the last couple of months, running on hot, desert trails. I think we should all expect her to run quite a bit faster this time.
Camelia Mayfield – 5th, 18:13:31
I remember Camelia Mayfield and Kaytlyn Gerbin’s sprint finish for fifth and sixth places at the 2019 edition like it was yesterday. Such moments just make you love ultrarunning. Since coming out on the top side of that sprint by two seconds, Camelia also took second at the 2019 Javelina Jundred Mile behind champ Kaci Lickteig. See you on the track, Camelia!
Nicole Bitter has four previous Western States 100 finishes, and three of them have been either sixth or seventh place. Shall we plan to see you on the finish line in just about the same spot again? Since her seventh in 2019, Nicole has taken fourth at the 2019 JFK 50 Mile, fourth at the 2020 Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k, and first at the 2020 Javelina Jundred Mile.
Kathryn Drew – 8th, 18:59:08
Kathryn Drew ran over the finish line last edition of this race looking fresh and as part of the steam train of eight ladies finishing in under 19 hours, thereby ushering in a new era of women’s competitive running at Western States. The year 2019 was incredible in Kathryn’s racing, as in addition to Western States, she was third at the Bandera 100k, a winner at the Chuckanut 50k, and a winner again at the Canyons 100k.
Addie Bracy – 9th, 19:53:38
Addie Bracy is back at Western States! Since her ninth here at the last edition, her top results have been third at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile and fifth at the 2021 Black Canyons 100k. Going back a little further, but also in 2019, Addie was third at that year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.
More Top Women
Coming from Spain, Ragna Debats (pre-race interview) is probably the world’s best “middle distance” ultrarunner of our current time. In the year before the start of the pandemic, her wins included the 2019 Marathon des Sables, 2019 Transvulcania, and 2019 CCC. She was also third at both the 2019 Coastal Challenge and the 2020 Hong Kong 100k. I believe this is her first attempt at 100 miles, but she’s run shorter-distance mountain ultramarathons that have required about as much time on feet as winning Western States requires. While I’m more inclined to think of her as a mountain ultrarunner, I saw first hand how fast she ran the hot, flat Marathon des Sables in Morocco so we know she has all the tools to give Western States a real run for its money. Just putting it out there since Ragna is 42 years old: the women’s masters record is 18:16, set by Ann Trason 19 years ago.
Ruth Croft (pre-race interview) of New Zealand is another international superstar moving up to the 100-mile distance for the first time. I believe Ruth has gone as far as about 120 kilometers/15 hours in taking second at the 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, so she, too, knows what this time on feet is going to look and feel like. In recent years, Ruth’s top results have been a second place at the 2019 Trail World Championships (which were 27.5 miles/44k) and a win at the 2021 Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k. Like a few out-of-towners, Ruth has been in Cali a few weeks ahead of the race to acclimate to the heat and trail conditions.
France’s Audrey Tanguy should be in the mix for the women’s podium. She emerged near the top of women’s ultrarunning in 2018 and she’s been nonstop since. In the year before the pandemic, she was third at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, second at the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and champion of the 2019 TDS. During the pandemic, she also won the 2021 Project Carbon X 100k road race, so she’ll also be plenty speedy on the more runnable sections of the Western States course.
With 2015 Western States 100 champion Magdalena Boulet on the entrants list, that makes three previous champs on this year’s starting line. Magda had a three-year run with this race, from 2015 to 2017 during which span she won, dropped early due to stomach issues, and took second, in that order. Since that 2017 race, she’s racked up lots of applicable accolades, including a win of the 2018 Marathon des Sables as well as the 2019 Leadville Trail 100 Mile.
Keely Henninger is also moving up to 100 miles for the first time. But just like several ladies on this list, she’s run 120 kilometers/15.5 hours before, so the step up looks natural on paper at least. Over recent years, Keely’s top results have been a win at the 2018 Chuckanut 50k, a win of the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and ninth place at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile.
Abby Hall has had a number of results over the years to indicate she could finish well inside the women’s top 10 here. In the last couple of years that includes sixth at the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, eighth at the 2019 CCC, and fourth at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile.
This year will be Camille Herron’s third attempt at Western States. Her previous attempts in 2017 and 2019 were derailed early due to challenges she experienced out on the course. In the recent couple years, her top relevant-to-trail-ultrarunning results are a win of the 2019 Tarawera 100 Mile and 2020 Black Canyons 100k. She also won the 2020 JFK 50 Mile, of which about a quarter of the race is on the rocky and hilly Appalachian Trail. It will be interesting to see her give this race another go with some more trail time underfoot.
Emily Hawgood (Zimbabwe, lives in the U.S.) really wanted to run Western States, and gave it three shots to get a Golden Ticket entry into the race. In that process she took third at the 2021 Bandera 100k, seventh at the 2021 Black Canyon 100k, and fourth at the 2021 Canyons 100k. Third time was the charm for the Golden Ticket, and she’s going to Western States!
I could see Katie Asmuth breaking into the top 10. In 2019, she won the Zion 100 Mile and Bear 100 Mile. Earlier this year, she was the winner at the Bandera 100k.
Sarah Keyes has one previous Western States finish, and off-potential completion in 2017. She’s definite top-10 potential, and her recent top results include a third place at the 2021 Black Canyons 100k.
Still More Fast Women to Watch
- Dylan Broderick – 3rd 2019 Vermont 100 Mile
- Erin Clark – 2nd 2021 Bandera 100k
- Shannon Howell – 1st 2020 Georgia Jewel 100 Mile
- Michelle Magagna – 2nd 2020 Bandera 100k
- Kelly Teeselink – 1st 2019 Superior Fall Trail 100 Mile
- Mireya Vargas – 4th and 7th respectively at the 2021 and 2020 Black Canyon 100k
Call for Comments
- Do you think Clare Gallagher will repeat, and do you think the course record is in play?
- Who else could you see winning the women’s race and filling its podium?
- Who do you think has the biggest potential for an upside surprise?
- Let us know if someone we’ve listed isn’t racing or if there’s someone else we should have our eyes on during the race. We’ll be updating this preview until the starting gun fires.