The Lore Of Western States: The Golden Hour

AJW writes about the ‘Golden Hour,’ the last hour before the 30-hour cutoff at Western States.

By on June 19, 2015 | Comments

[Author’s Note: This is the third of my three-part series on ‘The Lore of Western States.’ The first piece, published in April, was about the agony of 11th place, and the second piece in May discussed the silver buckle. I hope you enjoy this third and final piece on the Golden Hour.]

Of all the highlights of Western States weekend, my fondest takes place on Sunday morning at Placer High School. Known as the Golden Hour, the final hour of the race is truly a celebration of persistence, courage, and grit. Between 10 and 11 a.m. each year, a parade of runners, sometimes as many as 50 over the course of those 60 minutes, enter the track to finish the race within an hour of the 30-hour cutoff. Typically rounding the track with crews and pacers alongside, these brave warriors are the ones who, according to the race organizers, “spent the longest time enjoying the Western States Trail.”

Over the years, the Golden Hour has also been a place of high drama and, occasionally, near misses. Going back to the early years of the race, 19-year old Karin Stok recorded a 30:00 hour finish in 1979 as did George Peavy in 1985. Back then, times were not recorded quite as meticulously as they are today as the finish results did not even include seconds. That, however, did not seem to deter Western States pioneer Ken Shirk, AKA Cowman A Moo Hah, from cutting it really close in 1984 finishing with a minute to spare in a time of 29:59.

In the modern era (1986 to the present), the closest call anyone has had was Joann Hull in 1994 rounding the track and crossing the line in 29:59:44. Sixteen seconds to spare!

Twice in the 1990s, the cutoff was extended by two hours due to the snow conditions in the high country. First, in 1995, longtime Western States supporter Kathy Hamilton finished in 31:56:32 and then, in 1998, Dennis Curley nearly equaled Kathy’s time finishing in 31:56:21. According to current race officials, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see an extension of the cutoffs again.

One of the more incredible Golden Hour survivors is 10-time finisher Tom Green. No fewer than three times in his 10 finishes Tom crossed the line within minutes of the cutoff. In 2003 he made it home in 29:53:33. Amazingly, 10 years later, he bettered his 2003 time by seconds to finish in 29:52:45. Then, in an extraordinary finish last year, Tom was the last person around the track when he awed us all with his 29:57:32 finish to notch #10.

Germany’s Helga Backhaus also tested the limits of time when she notched her 10th finish in 29:58:09 back in 2005 and for Jerry Bloom it took him two tries to get #10 as he crossed the line unofficially about a minute late in 2012 only to return in 2013 to get the job done in 29:35:33. One can only imagine the stress involved in that kind of finish.

Going into this year’s race, of course, there is no way to predict who will be chasing the Golden Hour on Sunday morning. While much attention is paid to the front runners at Western States, I believe the brave soldiers coming in at the back of the pack deserve just as much credit. For them, arriving at aid stations as they are being packed up and being chased down by Tim Twietmeyer and the mounted sweeps is a true test of mettle. I am looking forward to many things next weekend but most of all I look forward to another celebration of the Golden Hour.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Maine Beer Company Dinner Double IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Maine Beer Company. Known for their award-winning IPA, Lunch, they recently released their first Double IPA appropriately named Dinner. Weighing in at 8.2% ABV, Dinner is not an overwhelming DIPA but is more subtly balanced than most. After a couple of sips I was reminded a bit of Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper with a bit of Sculpin at the end. All in all, a fine beer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you finished a 100-mile race within an hour of the cutoff? Can you tell us about your experience?
  • Have you or one of your loved ones finished Western States during the Golden Hour? Leave a comment and describe what happened!
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.