It has been two long years since Hal Koerner crossed the finish line in first place at the 2007 Western States Endurance Run with a time of 16:12:16. Two long years since Nikki Kimball won her 3rd WSER in 18:12:37. It has been too long.
The 2008 edition of the WSER just didn’t happen. Race officials were forced to cancel the event due to wildfires caused by dry lightning strikes – more than 840 wildfires devastated the State of California, with 312 fires in northern California. Over 3,200 lightning strikes hit in the Tahoe National Forest alone on a single day. A rapid deterioration of the air quality around the finish of the race in Auburn, California, a shroud of smoke that limited visibility and the air quality at the start of the race in Squaw Valley, California, and two wildfires burning in close proximity to the race course; one of which was burning within two miles of one of the race’s critical access roads for aid station and race volunteers, created conditions that were simply too dangerous for runners, turning away a field that included Andy Jones-Wilkins, Anton Krupicka, Beverley Anderson-Abbs, Brian Morrison, Caren Spore, Graham Cooper, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, Mark Godale, Michael Wardian, Nikki Kimball and Kami Semick.
Fast forward to Saturday, June 27, 2009…..it’s back ! 18,000+ feet of climbing. 21,000+ feet of descent. A stellar, star-studded cast of characters ready to take their place at the starting line at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort, with hopes of being the first to cross the finish line at the Placer High School track in Auburn, California.
The WSER is rich in history (a complete history of the Western States Trail, the Trail Ride, and the run, head on over to the History section of the WSER web-site). In 1955, Wendell T. Robie and five horsemen rode the Western States Trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn, proving that horses could cover 100 miles in a single day. Robie later founded the Western States Trail Foundation and organized the annual Western States Trail Ride (a/k/a the Tevis Cup). In 1974, Tevis Cup veteran Gordy Ainsleigh decided to join the horses participating in the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot, and arrived in Auburn 23:42 after the start. The following year Ron Kelley attempted the 100 miles on foot, but dropped two miles of the finish.
The first official WSER took place in 1977 and included 14 runners, only 3 of which (Andy Gonzales in 22:57, and Peter Mattei and Ralph Paffenbarger, both in 28:36) finished the race. It was the 1977 event that gave birth to the 30-hour time award. The Board of Directors for the Western States Endurance Run was formed as part of the Western States Trail Foundation in the fall of 1977. An increase in interest and participation in the WSER quickly followed. Soon, the race grew to include 21 aid stations and 6 medical checks. 63 runner participated in 1978, including the first woman, Pat Smythe, who finished in 29:34. 143 runners participated in 1979, and the event has since reached its full entrance quota.
From 1999 to 2005 the men’s event was dominated by Scott Jurek, including his course record 15:36:27 in 2004. Graham Cooper took the men’s title in 2006, and Hal Koerner in 2007 (he returns this year as the defending champion). On the women’s side, the great Ann Trason was virtually unstoppable from 1989 to 2003, winning 10 straight and 14 out of 15 (her only non-win occurring in 1999), and setting the women’s course record of 17:37:51 in 1994. Since 2003, the women’s event has been won 3 times by Nikki Kimball (2004, 2006 and 2007) and once by Annette Bednosky (2005).
And then there was, of course, the unfortunate 2006 incident involving Graham Cooper (18:17:28) and Brian Morrison (DQ). Coached by Jurek, Morrison would collapse a few times during the final 300 meters on the Placer High School track. Aided by Jurek and another pacer, and despite being comfortably (a few minutes) ahead of Cooper, Morrison was later disqualified for receiving aid during the run from his pacers, and for failing to complete the distance under his own power. Cooper was declared the winner.
There is tremendous excitement surrounding this year’s running of WSER, not just due to its two year hiatus, but more so as a result of perhaps the deepest starting field in the history of the event. What a sick field it is. Let’s name names…..On the men’s side of the coin, there’s Anton Krupicka (out), Dave Mackey, Erik Skaden, Jon Olsen (maybe out), Jorge Pacheco, Dave James, Max King (out), Jasper Halekas, Gary Robbins, Eric Grossman, Hal Koerner, Graham Cooper, Erik Skaden, Scott Wolfe, Mike Wolfe, Dan Olmstead, and many more. Oh, and of course, there is the return of the man who has owned this course, Scott Jurek. On the women’s side of the coin, we have, among others, two-time defending champion Nikki Kimball, Krissy Moehl, Bev Anderson-Abbs, Jenny Capel, Connie Gardner, and Jenn Shelton. You think you know who is going to win this year (because we sure don’t), test your prediction skills in iRunFar.com’s Western States Prediction Contest. [Trail Goat Note: The WS prediction contest – and your chance to win Montrail shoes and Mountain Hardwear clothes – ends at 5 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 25, so get your entry in quick!]
If you’re looking for more iRunFar insight into the Western States 100, check out our previous posts on the subject.