This weekend was to be the 47th running of the Western States 100. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race has understandably been canceled. For me, this cancellation is a reminder of how important the event has become for me. In these last few days, I’ve been reflecting on the many lessons I have learned from Western States over the years as a participant, volunteer, and spectator.
Of the many memorable aspects of Western States, perhaps the most special is the final hour of the race, affectionately known as the Golden Hour. This hour, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, has become one of the highlights of race weekend. In a typical year, up to 25% of the race finishers cross the line during this final hour and the emotion and energy that pulses through the Placer High School stadium in Auburn, California where the race finishes is palpable. As someone who has been present at a dozen Golden Hours, I have taken away three lessons that not only symbolize the transformative power of Western States, but also present powerful themes that are poignant in today’s extraordinary societal circumstances.
In one of the most well-known Golden Hour finishes in race history, 2015 final finisher Gunhild Swanson crossed the finish line with a mere six seconds to spare. Swanson was urged around the track by a large group of supporters led by race winner Rob Krar. Ten minutes earlier, Krar was hanging out on the course about a mile away from the finish line when Swanson came down the road running as hard as she could. Krar, with flip flops on his feet, quickly fell into stride with Swanson and accompanied her to the finish line. Having never met before that moment, the first and last finisher established a bond that continues to this day.
The paradox of the Golden Hour, in contrast to just about any sports event I’ve witnessed, is that the cheers from the crowd are the loudest for those who have taken the longest to finish. Perhaps it’s because these folks have toiled so long in the heat or possibly because the drama of finishing so close to the cutoffs adds intensity to the moment. Whatever it is, the rewards for finishing in the Golden Hour will likely last a lifetime.
Each year at the start of the Golden Hour, Tim Twietmeyer, 25-time race finisher and long-time Western States trustee, throws on his 1983 Western States tank top and jogs out to Robie Point, about a mile and a half from the finish, to begin urging runners onward. As the clocks ticks closer to 11 a.m., the crowds along the streets swell as do the number of runners who wander out to watch the final finishers on the track. Twietmeyer, keeping his eye on his watch, accompanies each runner down the road a bit before heading back up to meet the next one. By the time the final finisher is closing in on the track, Twietmeyer has rallied a group of screaming supporters that covers the entire street and the roar from the crowd as that final runner enters the track is deafening.
Then, the clock strikes 30:00:00 and it’s over. And we take the lessons of the Golden Hour with us into life.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Taproom favorite Knee Deep Brewing Company in Auburn, California. Knee Deep’s Man Juice Mandarin IPA is a delightful fruit bomb that is one of the most complex fruity beers I’ve tasted. Hoppy and sweet, if that’s possible, and that makes Man Juice a truly unique beer.
Call for Comments
- What are some of your favorite Western States 100 Golden Hour memories?
- And how about the Golden Hour of other ultramarathons? Can you share a story of a special one?