Doug Latimer, Ultrarunning Icon

AJW writes about Doug Latimer’s relationship with the Western States 100.

By on December 13, 2019 | 3 comments

AJW's TaproomLast weekend at the Western States 100 lottery in Auburn, California, the ultrarunning world was reintroduced to one of our sport’s icons, Doug Latimer, now 82 years old. As has become a tradition at the annual lottery, the race administration invited a group of ultrarunning luminaries to be on hand to draw names out of the hat. Among the group were Jim Walmsley, Jim King, Scott Jurek, and Doug Latimer.

When Mr. Latimer, who had been away from the race for a number of years, was quietly introduced by 25-time WS 100 finisher Tim Twietmeyer, the theater at Placer High School burst into spontaneous and extensive applause. It was easily the most powerful moment of the day. Twietmeyer asked Latimer to say a few words and then, before he began drawing names, Latimer was presented with a t-shirt that said, “18:43 is not that hard.” This was a reference to Karl Meltzer’s comment a few years ago after he turned 50 and was attempting and ultimately failed to surpass Latimer’s age-group record of 18:43 which had stood since 1988. The record was broken this year, however, by 51-year-old Steven Moore, who ran 18:14.

The list of Doug Latimer’s WS 100 accomplishments is extraordinary. In addition to setting the 50-and-over age-group record, Latimer was also the first person to complete Western States 10 times, with his first finish in 1978 and his 10th in 1988. Amazingly, in all 10 of those finishes, Latimer placed in the top 10 including a tie for first place with Jim Howard in 1981. He went on to finish the race two more times after 1988 and was under 24 hours in each of those. I first recall learning of Latimer in the classic 1982 documentary Desperate Dreams which chronicled that year’s race. In the film, Latimer explained in stunningly simple terms his meticulous training regimen and incredible capacity for high volume. It is fair to say that Latimer’s dedication and drive inspired a generation of WS 100 runners long before the vast majority of society even knew what ultrarunning was.

Doug Latimer’s accomplishments off the trail are equally, if not more, impressive. Serving as the President of the Western States Board of Trustees during a particularly tumultuous era in race history, Latimer set the event on a course that it continues on to this day. Succeeding Curt Sproul, the founding President, in 1987 had its unique challenges. The race was experiencing ‘growing pains’ during those years and several issues were at play. Most notably, the race was in a multi-year battle with the United States Congress over the Granite Chief Wilderness and the fact that the race traversed that area. While the negotiations were led by board member Tony Rossmann, Latimer’s role as President was crucial in the process. Also during his presidential tenure, he faced the challenge of presiding over the disqualification of three runners from the 1990 race (a decision that was subsequently overturned years later), managing the 1991 race through the coldest and wettest year on record, and then, in 1992, shortly after stepping down as President, the United States Department of the Interior triumphantly placed the Western States Trail between Last Chance and Michigan Bluff on the National Register of Historic Places. Not a bad list of accomplishments for a humble, hard-working, and tremendously passionate servant.

I have always admired how the WS 100 pays homage to the past. For an event with some of the richest history in the sport, it is only fitting that the race administration takes the time and effort to celebrate the past. Reintroducing Doug Latimer to the current ultrarunning community was a wonderful gesture of honor and respect. Having spoken with several people who were at the lottery and heard him speak, there was, by all accounts, not a dry eye in the place. I, for one, hope we get to see a lot more of Mr. Latimer and the other pioneers of the sport in the months and years ahead.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Founders Brewing Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their recently released Civilized Brut IPA is a step in the opposite direction from the haze craze that has been sweeping the industry in recent years. Civilized is a dry, crystal-clear IPA that literally looks like a fine champagne and drinks like a smooth ale. Not knowing how long this stuff will be around, I strongly recommend any classic IPA fan run out and pick some up.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Were you at the lottery last weekend or did you watch its online broadcast to ‘meet’ Doug Latimer?
  • Do you have stories about running or racing with him at the WS 100 or another race?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.