Who Will Be This Year’s Surprise Top-10er At Western States?

AJWs TaproomAs we roll into Statesmas Week, I can’t help but reflect on the last few years and to try to set up a bit of context for this year’s race. Above and beyond the drama that is always so much a part of the Western States experience, one thing I have always enjoyed thinking about are the sub-plots in the race – the “races within the race,” if you will. And, from that perspective, to me nothing is more exciting than a little analysis of the top-10.

Over the past decade or so, the status of being a top-10 finisher at Western States has grown exponentially. As such, many runners have toed the line with that as their specific goal. While it is always fun to prognosticate on who will win, I happen to think it is even more fun to think about who will be the surprises in the top-10. Over the years, the surprises have been quite compelling. A quick look back:

2011Timothy Olson came into the race with a win at the Pine to Palm 100 and a pretty impressive sub-100 mile resume. However, his performance on Race Day took him to another level. From my perspective, his 6th place finish earned him Rookie of the Year, for sure, and his crew produced an awesome video to boot.

2010 – As hard as it is to believe now, in 2010 Nick Clark was a somewhat unproven runner at the 100-mile distance. After his 4th place finish in a blazing fast time, he was no longer under the radar. But, at the time, he was not necessarily on everyone’s list. Not to be outdone, local runner Rory Bosio pulled off a 4th place finish in the women’s race in her first 100 miler. She nearly repeated that in 2011 by finishing 5th!

2009 – The last year (until this year) we ran the Real Course, this year saw a tremendous duel in the front and Kevin Sullivan took the surprise honors with his 5th place finish. While he did have a 2nd place Vermont on his resume from 2008, the competition there had been quite slim. :) So, with this incredible race where, along with Jasper Halekas, Jez Bragg and Tsuyoshi Kaburagi, things were tight and dramatic all day, Sully served notice that he was a force to be reckoned with.

2007 – While she is quite experienced, Suzie Lister came out of nowhere this year to finish 7th. Patiently moving through the field all day. Suzie took advantage of her local’s knowledge to run a great race. While anyone who runs with her knows she is never exactly “under the radar,” this result certainly was the surprise of the year.

2006Graham Cooper had run a relaxed top-20 finish in 2005 and nobody expected that he could do what he did on this day. But his intense heat training and laser beam focus gave him the opportunity to seize the victory when it came his way. To this day, I think this performance represents the most significant year-to-year improvement I have ever seen on the men’s side.

2005Ronda Sundermeier blasted a 3 hour PR to finish 8th this year. While she brought tremendous experience to the race with a resume that included finishes at Wasatch and Angeles Crest, prior to WS 2005 she had not been on anyone’s top-10 list. Hard training and a disciplined race plan paid off with a great finish.

2004 – I have to think that not many people thought I could find my way into the top-10 this year. My only other WS finish had been an unspectacular 35th place in 2001 and conventional wisdom suggested I would fold under pressure. I actually almost did just that as Dave Terry, Craig Thornley, and about half of the state of Oregon were coming after me in those final miles. Fortunately, I was able to hold them off to finish 8th in the first of my top-10 finishes. (Bonus: Here’s an interview I did with Bryon on How to Run a Top 10 at Western States.)

So, that’s quite a group! On the one hand, they are all quite different. However, on the other hand, these surprise top-10’ers all have one thing in common, in their “surprise years” they were patient and they simply took what the race gave them. Rather than force the issue and attempt to over-achieve, these runners all accepted where they were in the grand scheme of things and accepted the outcome. That’s a good lesson for us all!

Who will be this year’s surprise top-10’ers?

Bottoms Up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Bozone Select Amber AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from town dear to at least two Western States favorites. Bozeman, Montana is home to Nikki Kimball and, until recently, Mike Wolfe and also a great little brewery. Bozone Select Amber Ale from Bozeman Brewing in Bozeman, MT is a light amber ale with a creamy head and a wonderfully light mouthfeel. It’s a great summer amber to follow a Sunday long run.

Western States Beer of the Week Nominees
We received eight excellent nominations for Western States Beer of the Week to be featured in next week’s column. Please choose one beer from the list below and vote in the comment section for your choice (all votes must be complete by 9 am MDT on June 20th). One vote per person, please. The person who nominated the beer that wins will receive a nice package of iRunFar swag.

The nominees are:

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
AJW has made my work easy this week.

  • Who do you think will be the biggest surprise in this year’s Top 10 at Western States?
  • What’s your vote for the Western States Beer of the Week?

There are 48 comments

  1. Davide

    Only available beers we do have here in Italy from the list is Sierra Nevada couple, I'll have to cast my vote for the Torpedo.

    Looking forward to have a go at the Auburn Alehouse production on premises on Wednesday evening…

  2. Davide

    Uh, forgot: biggest surprise Ryan Sandes, if you can call a Leadville winner a "surprise". Otherwise David Riddle might cause some havoc if he can manage the distance.

    1. AJW

      Davide, thanks. It's hard to think of Sandes as a surprise given his track record in big races but it should be interesting, especially if the trend toward high temperatures continues.

  3. Alex from New Haven

    I'm curious about top 10 women:

    So who "demands" top 10?

    Ellie, Kami, Hawker, Kimble

    After that maybe…

    Bosio, Arbogast, Sproston (?!), Vaught? Lapierre? [Moehl been injured right?]

    So who's on the bubble / impressive debut

    Tyler Stewart, Liza Howard, Ashly Nordell?, Pam Smith (last year's 10th)

    Personally, I'm excited/curious to see if former pro triathlete Stewart and put it together and get top 10 in her debut while she's still on the learning curve.

    1. AJW

      Alex, women's top-10 is really tough to call. However, your top-4 are solid. After that, I have to think Meghan, Amy and Rory are sure to be in the hunt. I am not sure about Krissy's injury situation but I do know Tyler was battling PF earlier in the spring. Indeed, if she is recovered she'll be tough. And, keep an eye out for darkhorse Denise Bourrasa!

  4. Iain

    Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – has to be….. available in Waitrose, York, UK (as well as other quality stockists). PS looking forward to this years race, as for Top-10ers – no idea!

  5. Glenn

    Watch out for Ricky Denesik. He is 50+ but a great competitor and a top 3 finisher at Hardrock in the past. I just hope the course is technical enough for him!

  6. Mike Bailey

    I think fellow Virginian Neal Gorman has an excellent shot at top 10. The guy's been crushing all the VA 100's, has the Grand Slam record, and is rested for Western States. He's got the ability to run 16:30. If Amy Sproston is healthy, she could be under 19 hours, and top 5 for the women.

  7. Mike Hinterberg


    Some good beers ruled out from being too far east (Yuengling and Founder's), and others ruled out for being terrible (Shock Top). I look forward to trying the Auburn Export as a rare maltier drink on these hop-biased lists, but have to give the nod to the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: classic race on the classic (non-snow) course deserves the classic brew.

  8. OOJ

    Runner pics:

    Men: Jorge Maravilla

    Women: Denise Bourassa

    Both very fit, flying beneath the radar, but having big years. Perhaps more importantly, both love the sport and run with tremendous joy. This could be the "AJW Factor" – and crucial in maximizing potential on "Statesmas Day"!

    Beer: Auburn Ale House PU 240 Imperial (write-in)

    This is a crazy beer: 100 IBUs, >8%ABV, and I've seen what it does to several "WS Statesmen" who drink it. A crazy beer commensurate for what'll be a crazy day on 6/23.

  9. Heather

    Double Fistin'

    Standing behind native Vermonters Josh Katzman (now MA) and Aliza Lapierre for top 10. The only question will be where. If it's their day, they'll be high on the list.

    1. Ben Nephew

      I'll fourth the Katzman and Lapierre nominations, and add Wardian. For the sake of accuracy, Wardian was 2nd at Caumsett, only running 3:02-03, but he ran a 2:22 marathon the day before.

  10. marco

    I think the surprise will be who of the top runners doesn't finish because of the heat. Stone Ruination IPA is one of my favorites. That's my pick.

  11. DGrossman

    Ruination in this field is like Kilian at UTMB, no contest

    D-Bo on the podium will be the suprise, he's coming in strong like Wolfepaw last year.

  12. Rob R.

    Stone Ruination 10th anniversary IPA … A fitting west coast IPA for what would have been AJW's 10th finish at states if it wasn't for that scar tissue! Rest up, Andy!

  13. Bryon Powell

    I still vote for Yuengling, but an honorable mention write-in goes to Bear Republic's Racer 10, my favorite year-round IPA. A limited edition surprise to anyone who brings me a 12-pack this week in California. ;-)

  14. ultraRNner

    Auburn Export & Jorge Maravilla.

    Both are top-notch, easy-going, crowd favorites.

    Best wishes to all contestants!

    Big thanks to all volunteers!

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