Food for the Soul at the Western States 100

AJW explains what makes the Western States 100 such a special event.

By on June 23, 2022 | Comments

AJW's TaproomA few years ago, a group of my college classmates and I were hemming and hawing about whether or not to go to our 30th class reunion. Citing all the usual obstacles like jobs, families, and more, we were all coming pretty close to bailing on the whole thing when one of the upperclassmen in our group chimed in:

“Hey guys, I think you should all go. I went to my reunion a few years ago and it was food for the soul.”

With those words, somehow we were all persuaded to go, and a week later we had all made plans to attend. And, as one might expect, we had a wonderful weekend, which truly turned out to be food for the soul.

In recent years, I have often been asked why I go back to the Western States 100 year after year, especially since I haven’t run the race in eight years. People wonder why I take a full week out of my life to fly across the country, rent a car, and camp out along the way just to attend a running race in the middle of California. After all, don’t I have anything better to do? Isn’t that a lot of money to spend to just watch a running race?

Tim Tollefson at the finish

Tim Tollefson at the finish of the 2021 Western States 100, having placed fifth. Photo: iRunFar/Alex Potter

And, the simple answer is, no. From my view, there is no better way for me to spend the last weekend in June than volunteering, spectating, and cheerleading at America’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile race. It is, for me, food for the soul.

Each year at Western States, something happens that surprises and inspires me. One would think after 20 years of attending the race that I had seen it all. But, I have not. Western States has a way of bringing out the best in people, individually and collectively, and the lessons I have learned at the event have carried over to the rest of my life for over two decades.

Whether it’s watching an extraordinary elite performance at the front of the pack, providing support to a 24-hour runner who wants to drop but decides to forge on even after the Silver Buckle dream is gone, or standing at the Placer High School track to urge on the last few finishers during the Golden Hour before the race cutoff, Western States provides for me something nothing else does — a big old generous portion of food for my soul.

The silver buckle

Runners who finish under 24 hours are awarded with a custom-made silver belt buckle, while all those who finish under 30 hours receive a bronze buckle. Photo: iRunFar/Alex Potter

And so, as you read this not long before the 2022 race, I am in Olympic Valley at the event’s starting line, busily preparing for one of the best days of the year. A day of triumph over adversity, a day of hope in the midst of despair, and a day which truly, and unapologetically, is a pure celebration of the essence of the human spirit. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Tahoe National Brewing Company logoThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Tahoe National Brewing Company in Tahoe City, California. Tahoe National’s Kaiser Kolsch is a unique take on a classic style. Crisp and slightly fruity, Kaiser Kolsch is less cloying than other beers of this style and quite smooth going down. For anyone in the area and waiting for Western States to begin, this little brewery on the shores of Lake Tahoe is a gem.

Call for Comments

  • What place, race, or experience in trail running and ultrarunning is food for your soul?
  • If you are running, supporting, or otherwise following Western States this week, what part of the event excites and energizes you the most?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.