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WESTERN STATES 100 STORYLINES: CAN JIM WALMSLEY SET THE MEN’S RECORD; PAST THREE WOMEN’S CHAMPS HEADLINE A STELLAR WOMEN’S FIELD
Jim Walmsley looks to atone for 2016’s wrong turn; previous three women’s champions Violett, Boulet, Lickteig head women’s field
In 2016 at the Western States Endurance Run, Jim Walmsley of Flagstaff, Ariz., was looking to make history, setting out on a scorching course-record pace. Near mile 92 and still on record pace, however, Walmsley took a wrong turn. He kept going for at least two miles before correcting his error. By then, it was too late to set the record, or to win. Andrew Miller became Western States’ youngest men’s champion. Walmsley, to his credit, walked to the finish line and finished in 18:45.
On Saturday, June 24, Walmsley, 27, makes his return to Western States. He’s again stated he hopes to break the course record of the world’s oldest 100-miler. Walmsley will headline a talented men’s field. The women’s field will feature the three different champions from the three years previous in what promises to be the most competitive women’s race in the Run’s 44-year history – Stephanie Howe Violett (2014), Magdalena Boulet (2015) and Kaci Lickteig (2016).
“For different reasons, both our men’s and women’s races this year promise to be among our most interesting ever,” Race Director Craig Thornley said. “Jim Walmsley captured the imagination of the ultra world last year with a run that was absolutely incredible for more than 90 miles. People have been waiting with a lot of anticipation to see how he does on Saturday.
“With Kaci, Magda and Stephanie racing this year, we’re in the unique position of seeing our past three women’s champions, all who are running great this year, matching up against each other. We have several newcomers and high-placing finishers from last year who are also definitely in the mix as well. One publication has called our women’s field ‘ridiculous.’ I can’t disagree with that assessment.”
A field of 369 entrants from more than 30 countries, and more than 40 states will make the 44th annual, 100.2-mile trek on Saturday morning from Squaw Valley, Calif., the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, before finishing at Placer High School in Auburn, Calif.
Following an endless winter, this year’s course will feature several miles of snow in the early going, which will require volunteers at two aid stations – Lyon Ridge at mile 10 and Red Star Ridge at mile 16 – to hike in, over snow, with supplies on Friday.
Walmsley has had a stellar spring, including a scintillating 8:20 finish at the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in April. Top returners from 2016 include third-place finisher Jeff Browning, of Bend, Ore., as well as three-time Leadville 100 champion Ian Sharman, who finished sixth. Ryan Sandes of South Africa, a former Western States runner-up and Thomas Lorblanchet of France, fifth the past two years, head a strong international contingent.
Lickteig, 30, of Omaha, Neb., put forth one of the great performances in Western States a year ago. Her time of 17:57 was second-fastest in race history when temperatures had reached more than 90 degrees. She has shown great consistency at Western States, having finished second in 2015 and sixth in 2014. Boulet, 43, of Oakland, Calif., made her Western States debut in 2015, winning in 19:05. The former 2008 U.S. Olympic marathoner has had a strong spring of training and racing, highlighted by her tie for second place with Lickteig at the Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April. Howe Violett, 33, of Bend, Ore., is continuing a strong comeback from foot surgery a little more than a year ago. The 2014 Western States women’s champion beat all men and women at the Bandera 100K in Texas in January. These WS champions will be pressed by several notable women, including 2016 WS runner-up Amy Sproston, of Bend, Ore.; first-time entrants Camille Herron (who won the prestigious Comrades Marathon in South Africa earlier this month) and Clare Gallagher, the 2016 Leadville champion; and ageless Meghan (Arbogast) Laws, 56, of Cool, Calif., a perennial top-10 finisher.
Two top senior competitors are expected to make a run at history. Gunhild Swanson, 72, is vying to become the oldest women’s finisher yet again, having already done this once already with her 2015 finish at age 70. Wally Hesseltine, 73, who missed officially finishing in 2016 by about one minute, will attempt to become the oldest finisher in race history.
WHAT: 44th running of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run
WHEN: Saturday, June 24, 5 a.m. start at Squaw Valley, Calif., finish at Placer High School, Auburn, Calif. More than 360 trail runners from more than 30 countries and more than 40 states to compete.