With the U.S.’s 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 24, this year’s Western States 100, like every year, is filled with intriguing stories. I’d like to highlight five of the most compelling stories in this year’s race and also present the 12 runners — let’s call them AJW’s Dirty Dozen — who 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.
Each year the Western States 100 course throws something different at the runners. This year, it is shaping up to be a double whammy as there will likely be ample snow on the course for the first 25 miles or so and then over 18 miles of newly-exposed-by-fire trail in the canyons and on Cal Street.
As a result of the devastating Mosquito Fire that impacted 16 miles of the course in the fall of 2022, key sections of the race which were once shaded are now completely exposed to the blazing late June sunshine. If I were a betting man, I’d say it will be years until course records are broken as a result of these newly harsh conditions.
Sixty-two-year-old ultra veteran Pam Reed is no stranger to the Western States 100, having run the race seven times over the past two decades. However, this year Pam is facing perhaps the biggest challenge of her career as this is the first race in an extraordinary “triple.” She will follow the Western States 100 by running the Badwater 135 Mile and Hardrock 100 all within a 20-day period.
The first time I met Dakota Jones was at the 2009 Western States 100. He wasn’t running the race that year but was there to support other runners and take in the scene. At the time, he was an 18-year-old rookie who had just broken into the ultra world and everybody assumed in a year or two he would be toeing the line at the Western States 100.
Well, we all know Dakota goes to the beat of his own drum and even though he earned the right to run the race a few times over the years by winning Golden Ticket Races, this year will be his first go at the event. After an incredible season in 2022 with a third-place finish at the Hardrock 100 and a course record at the Javelina 100 Mile, as well as a fresh win at the 2023 Transvulcania Ultramarathon by UTMB just last month, it is clear that Dakota is primed for an excellent result.
At 75 years of age, Pennsylvania’s Gene Dykes is attempting to become the oldest Western States 100 finisher of all time, a record currently held by Nick Bassett who finished the race in 2018 at the age of 73. Dykes, who qualified for the Western States 100 at the 2022 Javelina 100 Mile, has had an impressive series of tune-up races including a nine-hour 40 miler at Naked Bavarian 40 Mile in March, a 14:36 50 miler in Texas a week later, and then an impressive 62.4 miles in 12 hours at the Dawn 2 Dusk 2 Dawn Ultra on May 13.
What’s also cool about his story is that the brand Stoked Oats is sponsoring his race, and so the athlete and brand are together leading the way in setting an evolved precedent on sponsored athleticism. A lot can happen out there on the trail, but it’s hard not to pull for a guy like Gene.
In 2017 the Western States 100 organizers began to implement a waitlist for the race, allowing them to register the exact number of starters their permit allows. For the first three years of the waitlist, runners were pulled off the list at space 39, 36, and 31. However, after the 2020 COVID-19 cancellation, the 2021 race exhausted the waitlist as all 50 spaces were taken. So in 2022, the race expanded the waitlist to 75 names and the last person pulled off the waitlist was from the 68th position.
On this year’s waitlist there have already been 39 names selected at the time of this article’s writing, and that number will likely increase as runners can get a partial refund on their entry fees if they withdraw by June 9. So, anyone still on the waitlist, I sure hope you are training!
AJW’s 2023 Western States 100 Predictions
As was the case last year, this year’s race is wide open. With no defending champions returning on either the men’s or women’s side, an expanded Golden Ticket Races process including three 100-mile races, this year’s race is anyone’s guess. But, here are my picks:
1. Arlen Glick
2. Dakota Jones
3. Cole Watson
4. Hayden Hawks
5. Mathieu Blanchard
6. Tom Evans
1. Courtney Dauwalter
2. Katie Schide
3. Devon Yanko
4. Keely Henninger
5. Leah Yingling
6. Katie Asmuth
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Bullmastiff Brewing in Penn Valley, California. Dog House Stout is a robust 9% stout that is savory and slightly sweet. It is incredibly creamy and packed with oats giving it that classic English style oatmeal flavor. If you’re in Northern California for the Western States 100, be sure to try a Dog House Stout.
Call for Comments
- What stories are you following at the 2023 Western States 100?
- Leave a comment to share a story you think a wider audience should be tracking come race weekend!