The oldest miler in the book, Western States is upon us again, and from an Aussie and Kiwi perspective there’s more interest than perhaps ever before with 14 runners from our shores making the trip over to the West Coast of the good old US of A. While we’ll be calling out some of the front-runners to watch, our obvious interest is in the Aussies and Kiwis taking part and it’s safe to say that there’s significant interest from our two nations, particularly in the ladies race, which is where our efforts are focused today.
The ladies race, if I’m honest looks far more interesting than the mens. From Australia and New Zealand, there’s a genuine sense that we could see three runners from our two nations battling it out for the top placings. There’s already been a few significant dropouts from the start list already with last year’s champ, Cat Bradley succumbing to health issues, while gun runner and beer-drinker-on-the-run-athlete, Camille Herron is also a no go due to a leg injury.
Another thing to consider is that of the apparent top 20-25 ladies in contention, based on previous race history, you can guarantee half will blow up or have issues of some kind – Let’s hope our ANZ ladies are not in that ‘half’. As we saw with Fiona Hayvice last year, patience is a highly valuable commodity rewarded well at Western States. And speaking of which, as a top ten finisher, Fiona is rewarded with another start at WSER100. Since placing fifth last year, Fiona has maintained a strong presence with wins at the Feral Pig ultra over in Western Australia, along with another win at the Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan (YTF) 50 Km. By her own high standards, the Tarawera 100miler probably didn’t go quite the way she intended, but she held on for a gutsy fourth place. More recently at the UTA 50km, an illness before the race held her back significantly, so here’s hoping that’s out the system and she’s ready to roll.
Two other ladies gunning for a great performance are two that I genuinely believe can podium. Italian turned Kiwi, Cecilia Flori is on fire. Since she started running ultras back in 2015, she’s finished on the podium of every single one, which is why I think she has a great chance here. Yes it’s her first miler, but so what. She has the pace, endurance and talent to do very well here. For the record, she’s unbeaten in 2018, winning most recently the UTA50km in a highly competitive ladies field, as well as the Old Ghost ultra too. Incidentally after her win at UTA, she knocked out two 30km+ runs the two days immediately after that win, that tells you what kind of shape she’s in right now. If she can keep her head and run sensibly to Foresthill, come that 100km point, a lot of Americans asking who this lady is.
The next biggie on our list is our own Lucy Bartholomew. Young, carefree and full of excitement, Lucy is a ball of energy waiting to be released onto the Wester States course. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember this girl has just turned 22. I remember being a beer-drinking, rugby-playing 22-year-old thinking I knew everything, whereas I knew nothing. At such a young age, Lucy has head and shoulders that are way above mine at the same age. For the record, Lucy is unbeaten in her last six races: UTA 22km, Buffalo Stampede (75km), Mount Buller Sky run, Tarawera 60km, Two Bays (56km) and the Ultra Trail Cape Town, smashing quite a few course records along the way. Last year she also grabbed second place at the Mont Blanc 80km and who can forget that great win at the UTA 100km too. Since that win, she’s arguably fitter, stronger and faster. Perhaps for me, the biggest indication of her pace was the time she recorded at the UTA 22km – 1:49. I think the WSER100 course will suit Lucy down to the ground and as per above, she just needs to sit and wait til Foresthill and then let it rip big time. Again, it’s her first miler, but so what. All the focus over there will be on the US big guns, Lucy has the perfect chance to shine with no expectations.
And before we get onto the big US contenders, a shout out also for Kathy Macmillan. Low key, quiet achiever Kathy again has nothing to lose. Perhaps more at home on the more mountainous trails Kathy is a real chance of a top ten place if everything goes to plan. This year she’s already grabbed two wins as well as a fourth place finish at the UTA 100km and third at Bogong to Hotham. Her patience will be rewarded.
Now onto some of the US names to keep an eye on. As mentioned two big guns in Cat Bradley and Camille Herron are out. A lot of the talk is on Courtney Dauwalter, who this year has won the Sean O’Brien 100k as well as the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji 100 miler too. Stephanie Violet is a former WSER100 champ, who after a period of significant injury really appears to be back racing to her best. She has a good record here, as over and above her win in 2014, she took third in 2015 and 12th last year. Also last year she claimed a win a the Bandera 100km and this year claimed another very speedy win at the FOURmidable 50K.
Kiwis trail lovers will perhaps recognise the name of Amanda Basham, who earlier this year claimed second at the Tarawera 100km as well as first at the UROC100km. One final name to watch will be Aliza Lapierre, who has four WSER100 finishes already to her name, with third being her highest placing to date in 2012. On form, Aliza is a genuine contender for the win.
Predictions? Let’s just say I think there will be two international runners on the ladies podium this year.
For a full list of the entrants, click here. Men’s preview, coming tomorrow (hopefully!).