With Memorial Day weekend behind us, the calendar flips to June. And with that, the eyes of the ultrarunning world — and those of this columnist! — are directed to the Western States 100. Taking place this year on June 25, this year’s Western States 100 is filled with intriguing stories and exciting opportunities. I’d like to highlight a few of the most compelling stories in this year’s race and also present the 12 runners — let’s call them AJW’s Dirty Dozen — that I think are likely to be at the front of the pack come sundown over the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn, California, on race day.
As has been the pattern over the past several years, over 80% of the starters at this year’s Western States 100 are first-timers. That is to say, except for the possibility that some of these folks attended the Memorial Day Training Camp last weekend, over 300 runners out of the 385 slated to start the race will experience the race for the first time — and possibly the only time — on race day. That is a big deal.
Due to the popularity of the event, as well as the egalitarian nature of the organizing culture, these first-timers truly are looking ahead to the experience of a lifetime. And one that they, more likely than not, will only experience once. It’s a one-shot deal at getting it right.
The Western States 100 has, for the last 25 years or so, featured the most international field of any North American ultramarathon. This year, however, the international flavor will be even more pronounced as the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting impact on the race has allowed more international runners to exercise the one-time rollover to participate in this year’s event.
This, combined with the expansion of the field allowed by the U.S. Forest Service as a result of the 2020 race cancellation, means that we will likely hear as many as 25 different languages being spoken at this year’s starting line.
The Queen, as Meghan Canfield is known by her friends, is returning to the Western States 100 this year, attempting to finish the race for the 13th time — this time as a 61-year-old. Meghan’s record at the Western States 100 is astounding. With nine top-10 finishes, 12 silver buckles, and an inspiringly infectious positive attitude, Meghan represents all that is extraordinary about this race.
This year Meghan, the recipient of the Silver Legend Entry, has the opportunity to eclipse the 60-and-over women’s age-group record, held by current Western States 100 Board President, Diana Fitzpatrick, at 23:52. From where I sit, if it’s a benign day, it will be no trouble to her.
In the 1983 feature film “Desperate Dreams,” there is phenomenal footage of the competition at the front of the pack in the 1982 Western States 100 showdown between Jim Howard and Jim King. This year, a full 44 years after he first finished the race in 1978, Jim Howard is once again returning to the Western States 100.
As a 67-year-old with two artificial knees, Jim is attempting to finish the race for the fifth time. To do so, with a 44-year spread between his first finish and his most recent finish — something that would set an incredible standard of longevity —would be truly extraordinary.
This year’s race is wide open. With no defending champions returning on either the men’s or women’s side, an enlarged Golden Ticket process including two 100-mile races, and an expanded field, this year’s race is anyone’s guess. But, here are my picks:
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This year’s Beer of the Week, appropriately, comes from Knee Deep Brewing Company in Auburn, California. Knee Deep’s Deep Haze IPA is a simple, straightforward hazy IPA that pushes up the front of the line in this crowded variety. Balanced, slightly fruity, and not too boozy, Deep Haze is the kind of hazy IPA you pretty much always want.
Call for Comments
- Have you run the Western States 100 before, and how was it?
- Who are your top picks for this year?
- What stories will you be following during the event?