When the calendar rolls from March to April each year, I become excited about the upcoming drama at the Western States 100. Dating back to the years when I ran the race, this time of year has always filled me with hope and promise for what is to come in northern California on the fourth Saturday in June. This year, the Golden Ticket Races have been wonderfully dramatic and have set the stage for another exciting race from Squaw Valley to Auburn later this summer.
Due to the cancellation of the Gorge Waterfalls 100k as a result of devastating wildfires last summer, this year’s Golden Ticket race series features five races rather than six. With four of those races now in the books and the hyper-competitive Lake Sonoma 50 Mile still left on the calendar, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the first four races in the series and highlight the six runners emerging out of those races that I believe have the best chance to make a splash at the 2018 Western States.
First, on the women’s side, Camille Herron, winner of the Bandera 100k, must feel as though she has something to prove at Western States this year. After being pummeled by the snow and mud in the high country in 2017, she was forced to drop out at mile 17. Given that, one can only imagine that the fire burns hot for her to have a better showing at WS100 in 2018 and her ticket gives her that opportunity.
Next up we have Courtney Dauwalter, winner of the Sean O’Brien 100k and runner up to Herron on the 2017 UltraRunning Magazine (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year voting. Dauwalter’s win at the Sean O’Brien 100k allowed her to set her sights firmly on a strong performance at WS100 and given the fact that she has faced some criticism for not having won against stiff competition in the past, the 2018 WS100 gives her a chance to prove those critics wrong.
Thirdly, we have Georgia Death Race winner Aliza Lapierre. A four-time top-10 finisher at Western States, Aliza is no stranger to the crucible of competition. And, I believe, her year away from the race, combined with a couple of gut-wrenching DNFs at WS100, make her hungrier than ever.
On the men’s side, Bandera 100k winner Mario Mendoza has to be considered a strong contender at WS100 after his commanding win and his steady-as-he-goes approach to training and racing. Especially after going off course and missing a shot at a Golden Ticket at the 2017 Bandera, one can only imagine that Mendoza is running with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Tim Freriks cruised to a businesslike win at the Black Canyon 100k, which paves the way for his 100-mile debut at Western States. The 2017 winner at The North Face 50 Mile and Transvulcania, it would be foolish to overlook Freriks as a Western States favorite, but, he’s never run 100 miles, so there’s that.
And then there is Andrew Miller, winner of the 2018 Georgia Death Race and the 2016 Western States champion. After a year of injury challenges, Miller is back and at the age of 22, it’s hard to think of him as a seasoned veteran, but he is, and he’s clearly ready to make a run at his second cougar come June.
So there you have it, my top-six Golden Ticket runners to watch at the Western States 100. What are your thoughts? What other Golden Ticket winners have a shot at cracking the top 10 at this year’s Big Dance? It’s gonna’ be another fun year for sure.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, New Hampshire. Their Baltic Porter just caught my fancy last month and it is a sweeter, smoother take on this increasingly popular variety. Tasty, not boozy, and velvety soft, the Smuttynose Baltic Porter is well worth your time.