2015 Runner Survey Results

Here are the results of the independent WSER Runner Survey from the June 27-28, 2015 race, conducted by ultralive.net.

All runners have to go through check-in the day before the race in Squaw Valley and the survey team was positioned at the entrance of the check-in. Participation was completely voluntary and 94% of starters took some extra time to answer the 10 questions. We were able to correlate the data to finish times to make the analysis even more interesting.

Survey Questions

The runners were asked the following questions:

  • Number of 100’s completed
  • Number of years running ultras
  • Will they use a crew?
  • Will they use a pacer?
  • Did they attend the Memorial weekend training camp
  • Shoe brand
  • Sock brand
  • Pack Type
  • Lighting system
  • Did they pay for coaching services?

For 2015 edition of the WSER, there were 371 official starters, 254 finishers (68.5%) in under 30 hours, and 96 finishing (25.9%) under 24 hours for the coveted Silver Buckle.

The survey had 349 participants (94% of the entrants) including nearly all of the elite runners. Of the survey participants 238 finished (68.2%) and 90 finished in under 24 hours (25.8%).

Note: All graphs show numbers related to runners who participated in the survey and finished the race in under 30 hours.

Finish Hour

For sub 24 hour finishers, 28 out of 90 (31.1%) finished in the 23rd hour of the race to get a silver buckle. In the last two hours of the race, there were 81 (34%) finishers. The busiest times on the track are between 4-5 AM and 9-11 AM on Sunday morning. The graphs show the distribution of finishers by hour (14 hours to 29 hours). The first graph shows the average number of years running ultras compared to finishing time. The data implies that the number of years of experience does not correlate to a faster or slower finish time. The second graph shows the number of runners utilizing a crew or pacer compared to finishing time. Of the survey participants, 21 finished without a crew (8.8%) and 29 finished without a pacer (12.2%). And 10 (4.2%) hardcore participants finished without a crew and pacer. And finally, 3 of the 10 “screwed” runners earned a Silver Buckle.




For the second year in a row Hoka was the dominant shoe for all finishers regardless of the group. For the sub 24 hour finishers, Altra took over second place after not even being on the radar in last year’s survey. Again, Brooks was a strong second when you look at the overall finishers.





Injinji was the clear choice for both the overall and sub 24 groups. Drymax was again second in both groups as well. The “others” category is quite large and might mean people need to pay attention to what they wear on their feet.




Paid Coaching Services

It seems there are a lot of ultrarunning coaching services out there yet very few WSER finishers use them. Maybe because a lot of the coaches actually ran the race this year. Or ultrarunners are an independent bunch and don’t like a training schedule. The percentage was even lower than last year (2014 – 20.3% had a coach)





For the second year in a row, Petzl was the favorite light brand for runners finishing the race.

This year only the first 5 finishers (sub 16 hours) ran without the assistance of lights as compared to 9 in 2014.

And we are pretty sure Rob Krar didn’t even pack a headlamp again.




Ultimate Direction dominated as the choice of pack for both sub 24 hour and overall finishers. For the faster runners (sub 24), the Salomon pack was second favorite and Nathan was third. This order flip-flopped for the overall finishers.



Data Accuracy

  • 371 runners started the 2015 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
  • Ultralive.net team surveyed a majority of those runners through the registration process at Squaw
  • Final survey reflects N = 349 athletes though individual questions may vary if athlete did not answer or know answer
  • Most graphs reflect data from the group of athletes who completed the race (238 in the survey finished)



Many thanks to the ultralive.net survey team: Kara Teklinski, Monique Winkler and Emily Yu.

Graphs and comments by Ted Knudsen.

Granite Chief Land Purchase Completed

With escrow closed, 10,000-acre purchase area near Granite Chief Wilderness opens to public, preserving Tevis and Western States events on historic Western States Trail

 AUBURN, Calif. – A year-long fundraising and negotiating effort to help the American River Conservancy purchase a strategically vital 10,000-acre parcel for public use has been completed, the Western States Trail Foundation and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation announced on Tuesday. Escrow for the $11 million purchase of old-growth forest and mountain meadows near Granite Chief Wilderness and the Western States Trail closed late last week.

“Both of our boards are extremely pleased that this acquisition has been finalized,” Western States Trail Foundation president Tony Benedetti and Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation president John Trent said in a joint statement. “Opening the entire 100 miles of the Western States Trail to hikers, runners and equestrians has been one of the overriding goals of this effort. Now that this 10,000-acre area has been acquired by the ARC and is no longer a private holding, the public is the clear winner. Both the Tevis Cup 100-Mile Ride and the Western States 100-Mile Run will now have perpetual guaranteed access to the last privately-held section of the Western States Trail, ensuring no disruption for the future of either event. In addition, the acquisition now enables the United States Forest Service to complete its National Trail designation for the Western States Trail.”

The ARC, of Coloma, Calif., having partnered with Northern Sierra Partnership of Palo Alto, Calif., and the Nature Conservancy earlier this year, was able to reach its fundraising goal of $11 million in late July. Through fundraising and matching efforts of their own, the Western States Trail Foundation ($250,000) and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation ($100,000) contributed to the ARC’s total.

“We are so appreciative for the generosity the Ride and Run communities have shown over the past year,” Benedetti and Trent said jointly. “Our stakeholders have recognized the importance of this project. They’ve stepped up to the plate with donations, and with their overwhelming support in making sure we were able to cross the finish line for this project. It’s been quite an effort over the past year to organize, to raise money, and to make sure that the interests of our stakeholders were well-represented throughout the entire process.”

The 10,000 acres, located immediately west of Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley, Calif., had been previously owned by a timber investment firm. It includes 1,200 acres of mountain meadow and is considered a vital part of the State and Federal water delivery system to 23 million Californians. The area includes four “blue-ribbon” trout streams and three popular trails, including the hiking/running and equestrian trail used by the Tevis Cup and Western States 100 events, as well as the Picayune Valley Trail.

Western States Trail Foundation

Western States Endurance Run




In Memoriam: Ruth Anne Bortz

Ruth Anne Bortz was more than just a runner, though her age-group accomplishments made her one of the country’s finest competitors throughout the final three decades of her life. She was a mother of four, grandmother of nine, and wife to Dr. Walter “Wally” Bortz for 62 years.

And, as was evident for more than 30 years, she and Walter were the drivers – the graceful symbols of aging gracefully – behind the oldest female and male finisher awards presented each year following completion of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

Ruth Anne, 84, with Wally presented the oldest finishers’ awards three weeks ago at Western States’ annual ceremony. She passed away on July 14 at her Portola Valley, Calif., home.

Ruth Anne, Wally, and Gunhild Swanson at the finish of WS.

Ruth Anne, Wally, and Gunhild Swanson at the finish of WS.

She was remembered by longtime Western States board members Mo Livermore and Tony Rossmann as a kind and gentle woman who, despite her 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame, was also a strong, determined runner.

Her Western States legacy, both Rossmann and Livermore agreed, was the pioneering path Ruth Anne blazed, both as a competitor and as inspiration for runners of all ages who run Western States.

“Ruth Anne was an extraordinary presence throughout her life,” Livermore said, noting that Bortz’s 1986 finish at age 56 in the time of 24:34 was one of the Run’s age group highlights. At the time, Bortz became only one of a handful of women over the age of 50 to ever finish the Run. “Ruth Anne’s buckle at Western States meant a great deal to her; the awards, which she and Wally have provided to the oldest finishers over three decades and have served as inspiration to the larger running community, seemed to mean even more. The Bortzes’ loyalty to the WSER has been constant, and the event has been enriched by their enthusiasm.”

Added Rossmann: “Ruth Anne embodies the Western States spirit to us all, and especially to me, who was privileged to train with her in that magical spring and summer of 1986, camping out in Foresthill before the first official Western States official training camps and runs. Although she ended her 1986 campaign as one of the then-oldest women to finish our race, and darned close to the sub-24-hour mark, she was still a young college kid at heart. Her vibrant spirit enriched her marriage to Wally, and enriched us all. We are grateful that Wally will continue to present their awards in the years ahead.”

Ruth Anne excelled at an early age. She grew up in Boston and was a star athlete and president of student government at the Brimmer and May Schools. She was a 1952 graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, marrying Walter Borz in 1953.

The two had met at summer school at Harvard.

Walter Bortz, a world-renowned physician whose research and writing has appeared in all of the major health and medical journals as well as the mainstream media and whose professional mantra has been to dare all to live past 100, wrote in a Huffington Post essay published on July 18 of the couple’s meeting: “We met during college days, summer 1949. I after my second year at Williams, and she after her first year at Mt. Holyoke. We met at Harvard Summer School, romanced, and were affiliated for the next 65 years. Such an experience is for few to experience.”

Added Livermore: “Theirs was a great, lifelong love affair.”

Bortz recalled that his wife, after raising the couple’s children, became enamored with running during the first significant boom of popularity for the sport in the late 1970s. Ruth Anne was 48 years old, and running, her husband recalled warmly, “became the bastion of her life.”

Ruth Anne and Wally ran races all across the globe over the next 30-plus years. Ruth Anne was a first-place age-group finisher at age 60 at the Boston Marathon, and again at age 70, and was the second at age 80.

She was a two-time finisher of Western States; her first finish came in 1984 when she ran 28:11.

In his Huffington Post essay, Wally wrote candidly about Ruth Anne’s ascendancy in the world of running.

“I had begun running as a grief reaction to dad’s death several years before,” he wrote. “She did not really accept my running, and figured that at my age it was not decent to be running around the neighborhood in my underpants. She felt it was inappropriate for a distinguished gray-haired physician to be so much on display. But she became infected with the running bug, and my little, sweet, retiring wife became committed. ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘WATCH!’”

After the couple’s son, Walter III, had finished Western States, it was only a matter of time, the elder Bortz said, before his wife found her way to the starting line at Squaw Valley as well.

“In a flash, it seems, Ruth Anne and we were gathered at the starting line, under the chairlift at Squaw Valley ready to run to Auburn, 100 miles over the mountains,” Wally Bortz wrote. “‘You can’t do that.’ ‘Watch.’ In 1986, at the age of 56 she completed the 100 miles in 24 hours and 34 minutes – truly unreal for my tiny Boston-born bride. Her feats were widely celebrated in the major women’s magazines and every local news outlet – Ruth Anne Bortz, famous long distance runner. MY WIFE.”

In a recent conversation, Wally recalled to friends how much he enjoyed watching his wife run. He said she had the most “lovely” stride – a little knock-kneed, “almost like a fawn” but also determined and efficient.

“Watching her run was one of the great pleasures of my life,” he said. “She was so damn good at it. And she made it look so easy. It was truly lovely to watch her run, to listen to her talk about her training, to help her prepare for her next race. Finishing Western States was one of those milestones that was remarkable – remarkable for Ruth Anne, remarkable for our family, and remarkable for me, too, to see my wife do something that few people in the world can do. From age 48 on, she was the star athlete in our family – and she deserved every accolade she got.”

Bortz added in his essay: “She made her mark, and in so doing gave vivid evidence of the human potential, my mantra.”

Ruth Anne is survived by her husband, Walter; by her daughters Danna Breen of Portola Valley and Gretchen Lieff of Montecito, California; sons Edward Bortz of Portland, Oregon, and Walter Bortz of Ukiah, California; her sister Joan Bryson of Weston, Massachusetts; and nine grandchildren. In lieu of a memorial, Wally Bortz plans to assemble Ruth Anne’s friends and admirers for a group run near their Portola Valley home.

2015 Race Recap

2015 Western States 100, June 27-28, 2015

Krar repeats, Boulet makes smashing debut … but Swanson steals the show 371 starters and 254 finishers – 68.5%

Rob Krar defended the men’s title with one of the most memorable runs on record, finishing in 14:48:59 after breaking the race open with a dramatic move from Michigan Bluff. Krar was only two minutes behind Timothy Olson’s course record on a day when temperatures were warm from the start and reached well into the 90s at the river crossing. Magdalena Boulet, 41, of Oakland, Calif., and a 2008 U.S. Olympic marathoner, rebounded from a wrong turn not long after the Robinson Flat aid station to win the women’s race in her WS 100 debut in 19:05. And yet, it was the Run’s final moments that captured the attention of all. First, with a little less than four minutes to spare before the 30-hour cutoff, the Run’s youngest female finisher, Katie Trent, 22, of Reno, Nev., finished. Youth had been served, but age had yet to be fully recognized. Gunhild Swanson, 70, of Spokane Valley, Wash., was vying to become the first over-70 female to ever finish the race. Swanson, who was joined over the final mile by several friends and supporters, including Krar, who had run stride-for-stride with Swanson in his flip-flops once Swanson had cleared the final Robie Point aid station, entered the track with a little less than two minutes to spare. The sun-baked Placer High crowd then rose to its feet as Swanson had less than 50 meters to go. With the fevered cheering of the crowd reaching an absolute, chaotic and magical crescendo, Swanson determinedly rushed across the finish line in the history-making, age-defying time of 29:59:54, which then sent the crowd into utter pandemonium. The race’s 254th and final finisher had not only made race history, she had stolen the show in what observer called, “our finest hour … ever.”

Full Results

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WSER Sponsor Profile: Julbo Eyewear

A favorite of the running community, Julbo Eyewear is synonymous with mountain running. We caught up with runner, climber and CEO of Julbo USA, Nick Yardley in the days leading up to this year’s race.

Julbo has been a sponsor of the WSER for years. Why keep coming back? What about the race compels the brand to be involved?

2015 will be our 3rd year sponsoring the WSER and it started for us after I ran the race in 2012 (finished in 22:56), When I crossed that finish line I just knew that Julbo needed to be part of this wonderful event moving forward; it was one of the most profound and rewarding days of my life. As the granddaddy of all Ultras in the US, the WSER draws an incredibly talented field of top athletes and has a bigger atmosphere than other races. It remains THE race that those new or old to the sport aspire to completing.

The event itself has a wonderful feel, mixing history, welcoming volunteers, great organization, positive energy and terrific scenery. Even the toughest soul will feel the emotion welling up some time over the weekend and the need to shed a tear.


Nick Yardley at WSER in 2012

You went from mountaineer to ultra runner, talk about the similarities in mountain culture that push each scene and how that culture is present at WSER.

While it may be hard for many who have never climbed to believe, at the core of both sports there is an incredible connection and similarity. The type of climbing I love most is alpine climbing, moving fast and light over mountainous terrain, often for many hours or even days at a time, seeking the zone where mind and body work as one and all else has no meaning.

Ultra running is really the same thing, it’s a beautifully simple sport and the goal is to move light and efficiently through wild terrain in search of that zen spot. As I had less and less time to climb, I needed another outlet. I knew I could suffer for a long time if needed so ultra running seemed like a great opportunity to explore and I’m still at a loss for words at all the wonderful experience and incredible folks the sport has brought me into contact with.

Who are the heavy hitting Julbo athletes taking on WSER? Any race favorites?

Well all the Julbo athletes are my favorites! We are extremely lucky to have some of the very finest athletes in the sport wearing our glasses, I’m going to be rooting hard and loud for every single one and see them all as real contenders.

The well-known names to look out for though are Rob Krar, Stephanie Howe, Ian Sharman, Gina Lucrezi, Dylan Bowman, Denise Bourassa, and Mike Wardian.

Julbo pushes the technical aspect of product. Anything this year that’s tailor made for the WSER?

It looks like it’s going to be a mother of a hot race this year, sun protection is going to be really key to success. Runners are going to be wanting well vented glasses with lenses that they can wear slogging up the escarpment at the start of the race and down the through the heat of the canyons where you’re constantly popping in and out of the shade I think the Zebra lens is likely to be the model most popular in the Venturi frame – but I do know some folks will be cruising in their vintage Megeve’s and getting style points.

Anything to add?

As a running community we’re lucky to have such a great event to aspire to. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Craig Thornley (RD) the board and all the volunteers that make it possible.