UD ambassador Ethan Veneklasen sheds light on the upcoming Western States 100 Race.
It is just 3 days until the big dance. This annual pilgrimage to Squaw Valley brings together the top trail runners from around the globe. WS100 has been called the “Tour de France of ultrarunning”. For most, the goal is simply to finish within the 30 hour time limit. For others, the coveted silver buckle (given to those who complete the course in under 24 hours) beckons like the siren’s call. But what happens when the world’s best ultra runners go for it on one big stage? Carnage…pure carnage … every year!
The Western States 100 is the oldest and (though some might disagree with this) most prestigious 100 mile race in the world. At 5:00 AM on Saturday June 28, roughly 399 runners from more than 25 countries will begin their 100.2 mile journey across the Sierra Nevada. Whether running to win or simply to finish, each athlete will climb 18,000 feet of vertical and pound their quads as they descent a total of 23,000 feet on the route from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California.
They will come out the other side forever changed. I ran Western States in 2003 and it remains one of the defining moments of my life to date.
This year I have a job to do. I will wake up early and spend the morning shooting photos and cheering on my friends. Then I will hunker down, rest my legs and wait. Sometime in the afternoon, my fellow Ultimate Direction athlete, Vajin Armstrong will roll into Foresthill and I’ll go to work. My job is to get him to the Placer High School track in one piece and as quickly as possible.
Vajin is from New Zealand. I’ve never paced him before and, frankly, I don’t know him very well. But he says he likes to chat when he runs and for those who know me…well, I can talk. This might just work…if I can keep up.
Vajin has the credentials to be a credible threat, especially if he has a perfect day. He has notched a win at the American River 50 (in a smoking 5:53, no less) and a 2nd at a stacked White River 50. He is consistently a top-three finisher at the Tarawera 100K in New Zealand, which draws a deep international field.
I mentioned that carnage that will inevitably ensue this weekend. Every year, the deep field at Western States means that the pace will be fast from the gun. However, those who make the mistake of leading early in the day are unlikely to escape the canyons in one piece. If they do, the grueling descent to the river crossing is likely to shred their already tired quads. The race is known for being hot and, while not expected to be as bad as last year, the dry heat will shatter the hopes of front-runners and recreational runners who don’t stay hydrated and manage their systems effectively.
So, Vajin and I are going to go for a little run and we’re going get to know one another.
On the women’s side, Ultimate Direction athlete Pam Smith will attempt to repeat her 2013 Western States win. She is a smart runner and clearly has to be considered among the favorites. However, Western States is a fickle race and Pam cannot ignore up-and-comers Emily Harrison and Kaci Lickteig who have been on fire this year. Additionally, at 53 years of age, Meghan Arbogast cannot be counted out. I recently ran with Meghan for about 20 miles at the Bishop High Sierra 50 Miler in May and she put me in the ground!
Every year the Western States serves up a handful of surprises with newcomers who emerge seemingly out of nowhere. It’s going to be a hell of a battle and, as usual, carnage is guaranteed to ensue.
I look forward to being there with a front seat to the action.
Follow Ultimate Direction athletes Vajin Armstrong and Pam Smith at http://www.ultralive.net/ws100/webcast.php
What are YOUR thoughts? Have you done States? Would you like to? How do you see this years race going?