The Story of the 2021 Western States 100

AJW's TaproomOver the past several years, the last Friday of June edition of AJW’s Taproom has featured an article about intriguing storylines at the Western States 100. Typically, these columns have provided commentary on interesting match-ups at the front of the pack, engaging discussions from multi-time WS 100 finishers, and age-group runners who are toeing the line to push the envelope and challenge convention. And, indeed, there are intriguing stories in all of those areas this year, as well. However, the story of the year, and the single most intriguing thing about the 2021 race is that the race is happening at all!

As I sit here at a crowded coffee shop in Olympic Valley, California, I see out the window excited runners and crews making their way through the village, I see elite runners chased by camera crews and adoring fans, and just a few minutes ago I even saw WS 100 race director Craig Thornley sneaking in a 3.2-mile run along the bike trail in the midst of a surprise afternoon thundershower. In other words, it seems like every other of the 20 years I’ve been here on this Thursday before race day. And yet, it’s most definitely not like any other race day. This year, it’s different. This year, we are gathering like old times but this time we are all cherishing it a little more, savoring it a little more, reveling in it just a little bit more. This time, it just feels a lot more significant.

I remember the only other time the race was canceled in 2008. Wildfires in several areas very near to the course necessitated a last-minute cancelation three days before race day. It was devastating but completely warranted. Of course, as a result of that, when we all once again arrived here in Olympic Valley the next year, the energy was palpable, the desire to run immense, and the call of the mountains, that had just a year prior been ravaged by nature’s fury, had an inexorable pull on us that few could describe.

This time around, after a cancelation brought on by a global pandemic and months of forced isolation, the coming together of the Western States family is about more than just a race, more than just about an annual gathering of friends, it is, in essence, about the realization of how important it is for us to have these moments. These are the moments that ultimately give us a place to pause, for just a short while, to realize what a remarkable gift this life is and how transcendent something as simple as running can be. These are the moments we live for!

On Saturday, all 320 WS 100 athletes will write their own stories. They will face soul-sucking heat and foot-grinding dust. Along the way they will be supported by literally thousands of volunteers, family members, friends, and fans. Sure, there will be triumphs and tragedies, good days and bad days, just like every other year. But this year, in this extraordinary 2021 Western States, the victory will not only go to those who take home the trophies but the victory will go to all of us. All of us who have struggled and clawed our way through to this hopeful other side, all of us who have found a way to seek light in the midst of darkness, all of us who have continued to put one foot in front of the other. To us, this other side represents all we hold dear in our running and in our lives.

I, for one, can’t wait to see you all out there.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from 5050 Brewing Company in Truckee, California. They have a Hazy IPA done in a West Coast style, which is truly in a class by itself. Their West Coast Haze does a perfect job of blending Vermont and California with a little Oregon thrown in. The result is a wonderfully balanced and crisp IPA.

Call for Comments

  • What gathering of runners are you looking forward to in 2021, after this difficult pandemic year?
  • If you are in person at this year’s Western States 100, share a little story of your group, family, or experience so far.