So this weekend sees the annual running of the Grand Daddy of Ultra’s – “The big dance” the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
“States” as it is called is on the bucket list for all ultra runners – the vagaries of the lottery and the timing in the calender makes it harder to actually achieve this goal.
And once you get a coveted place, unless you land in the top 10 or win a Montrail Cup race place, you are not guaranteed to ever make it back. Whilst this causes frustration for the real competitors out there who want to see the best go head to head, the purists kind of like it.
Last year Andrew and I had the privilege to be there and it was great to see him snare the Aussie record. This year we have one entrant in naturalised South African – Mike Le Roux who is also on a crusade to lower the Grand Slam of Ultras record in the process.
Conditions look great for a fast race this year and with the heavy snows of the last few years creating different courses, this year we return to the original course. In addtion, the furnace like temperatures in the canyons that make this “downhill” race so famous look set not to appear.
It is sad to report that defending champion and the peoples favourite Kilian Jornet will not be returning this year due to the terrible tragedy of losing a team mate and friend Stephane Brosse in a skiing accident in the Alps last week.
This really blows the field right open. The usual suspects are all here but a couple of noticeable exclusions in Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka dont make this the best field ever.
For me the race will come down to two key facts – firstly, the most obvious one is that the race will be won from Foresthill by the athlete with plenty left in his legs to dominate the latter sections and secondly that athlete who wants it the most, the one willing to race the course and his fellow competitors and not just eke out a podium finish.
Ultras have changed a lot since that famous 2010 race between Kilian, Anton and ultimate victor, Geoof Roes, where people dont go out to conquer the course, but each other. And as fields like we saw assembled at Transvulcania and Zegama, these races are becoming that – races!
So my pick is for Tim Olsen to nudge out Mike Wolfe again with the well prepared and new kid on the block Ryan Sandes to make up 3rd spot.
Why do I say that, I think Olsen has the speed, race prep and that fly under the radar appeal that this race so often serves up (he has to some extent dominated in the US this year to very little fanfare).
Mike Wolfe has buckets of talent and knows on his day he can beat anyone (TNF San Fran 50) so he has to be in the mix. Whether he is 100% in the best shape possible since his recent transition to full time athlete, only time will tell but he told me that “He is as prepared as possible”.
And finally, as is the Salomon tradition, Ryan Sandes from South Africa will be the best prepared athlete on the day. He has been in California for several weeks and will have his race plan sorted to the nth degree with the large support from the mighty Salomon Team.
Last year, when Andrew and I were finishing a recce run from No Hands Bridge back to Robie Point and on to the finish, we literally bumped into another runner out on the trail. A double take as he resembled Anton, right down to the sans shirt attire and after a couple minutes of chatting found out he was local boy Jacob Rydman.
Jake knows this course like the back of his hand and has been up the front of the field in the last few years, albeit as a pacer for the likes of Nick Clark etc.
We have kept in touch with Jacob and he shared his insights with us as to how he sees the race unfolding and who he thinks will win.
” Technically, the winner would have to run under Geoff Roes’s CR of 15:07:04, although, a time under Mike Morton’s winning time of 15:40 in ’97 would be super impressive. (a more “stout” CR than Geoff’s according to some because it was a hotter day than 2010, he essentially did it solo, and it was on a tougher course).
— The winner would have to get to Robinson in ~4hrs 30min still feeling fresh (this feat would only be doable by a Miguel Heras, Kilian or Sandes, I think). And continue to run aggressive but not reckless and survive the canyons. Above all, a record-breaking performance would come from an uncanny last 20mi’s (like Geoff did in 2010) where the terrain is the fastest. Therefore, they’d have to still have “fast legs”. Remember, Geoff was dropping 7-8min miles from Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (mi’s 80-85). That takes a perfect blend of speed and strength and the winner would have to have that “extra gear” to pull off a sub-15:07 effort.
On the original course it will be harder because of the tough terrain of the ridges (Red Star and Lyon Ridges), but given the right weather and field (like there will be this Saturday), I don’t think it’s impossible. But honestly, I think only Kilian could do it right now. He will be missed this weekend.
Top 5 who can win: Nick Clark, Ryan Sandes, Mike Wolfe, Jez Bragg, and Tim Olson
— I think the eventual winner will pull away on Cal St. and have the legs to hold on during the last 20mi’s from Green Gate to the finish (pretty much like Kilian did last year)
— I’m pacing “Olive Oil” Joe Uhan from Eugene, Oregon (Joe gained a Montrail Ultra Cup entry into WS by finishing 3rd at the Bandera 100k back in January). Joe’s goal is to crack the top 10 (which I’m confident he can do based on the impressive training on and off the course he has put in). I’ll be taking him home the last 38mi’s from Foresthill to the finish.
— A few interesting facts:
56yr old local runner Bruce Labelle is going for his 10day/1,000mi buckle (achieved by 10 finishes sub-24). Interestingly enough, his first finish dates back to 1981! Quite the longevity!
2-time WS champ Jim Howard, at the age of 57, is still competing (from time-to-time) in ultra’s.
Local legend and 2001 Ultra Runner of the Year, Rich Hanna, actually attempted the WS100 once (his one and only 100mi attempt) back in 2002. He wanted to take a crack at Scott Jurek and actually competed well, being as high as 2nd place by the Rucky Chucky river crossing, but Rich’s quads were severely undertrained and he had to drop at Hwy 49 (and was later taken to the hospital due to kidney problems).
So tune in to Ultra168 and follow us on FaceBook and Twitter during the weekend as we follow the iconic WS100.