With Western States just a couple days away, I’ve found it inevitable for thoughts about the race to creep into my consciousness in the past couple weeks. I’ve been tucked away up here in Alaska the past month, and most things competitive ultrarunning have been very far removed from me. I wake each morning and if the clouds are above 4,000 feet, I pack some snacks and head into the mountains for most of the day. If the clouds are low, I find something else to do with my day: visit with friends; eat a bunch of food; or head into the forest with my chainsaw to clear downed trees from favorite trails. I’m living a very simple and satisfying life right now. I have no specific race plans for the near future, and I’ve paid almost no attention to the world of ultra/trail running culture that I know is out there. Western States is almost here though, and I find myself drawn to the culture of the sport more than I have in a couple months.
All spring I have had a hunch that it was going to be a very hot year at Western States, but now it appears that it’s going to be a very mild year. It’s actually supposed to be warmer here in Juneau on Saturday than it is in Auburn. Go figure.
From a competitive standpoint, I think the race is going to be as exciting as ever. With Kilian out, I think the men’s race is really wide open and exciting. Not that Kilian was certain to win, but he was a lot more of a certainty than anyone is in his absence. I can’t begin to imagine what Kilian is going through right now, and can only offer positive and supportive thoughts to him, and to all of Stephane Brosse’s friends and family. It’s always hard to hear about these kinds of tragedies, and each time I do it makes me so much more appreciative of and respectful of the mountain environments that I choose to spend so much of my time. Thoughts of Stephane and Kilian made my 7-hour outing in the mountains on Tuesday a lot more emotional, intimidating, and special.
On the women’s side, I think this is without question the most competitive 100-mile race ever! I know this kind of hyperbole gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t think there has been another 100-mile race that has been even close to this one. Nearly every woman in the world who has shown that they could potentially win Western States is running this weekend. I’m really excited to see how this plays out. Most of Ann Trason’s course records have long been considered untouchable, but I think there is a group of women racing right now who might challenge that notion in the next couple of years. I wouldn’t say that it’s likely for anyone to break her record this weekend, but if the weather is cool, and a few of them have really good days, it could be close!
Back to the men’s race: It probably sounds like I’m writing all of this because I’m bummed to not be racing myself this weekend. That might be a small part of it, but mostly I think that highly competitive races like this are really exciting. The notion of a bunch of strong runners coming together and helping each other run faster than any of them could by themselves is such a powerful thing. It becomes even more powerful when runners from one year are helped along by runners from years or decades earlier. Each time someone runs a course a little faster than anyone has before, they add a bit more energy to the collective energy of the runners to follow. Much of what Tony and I did in 2010 was fueled by what Scott Jurek did several years earlier. Just by knowing what’s possible can make us all run a little faster.
With Kilian out, and with the standard course being run this year, which seems to be a bit slower than the snow routes run each of the past two years, my course record seems quite likely to stand for at least another year. With the cool weather though, who knows? There are a whole bunch of really strong runners who will be pushing each other out there. Ultimately, they are each competing to try to win the race, but if a few of them have great days, and draw a lot from each others’ energy, and from the energy of past racers, then I think a course record is absolutely possible. Not likely, but possible. 15:07 is a really fast time on that course, and there are probably only a few guys running this weekend who could make that happen on a “perfect” day, but, I for one, will be here in the Alaskan tropics (Seriously, it’s supposed to be 84 up here on Saturday.), rooting for someone to do it. I’d be honored to be a small part of their story.
More than anything: good luck to everyone racing Saturday.