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50th WESTERN STATES ENDURANCE RUN PRESENTED BY HOKA READIES FOLLOWING ‘EPIC’ CHALLENGES
Following the devastating Mosquito Fire in the fall and a heavy winter snow, WSER is ready for one of its most memorable starts
The challenges facing this year’s 50th Western States Endurance Run presented by HOKA have certainly been formidable. But, according to Race Director Craig Thornley, who has helped lead a herculean effort over the past several months to bring the Western States Trail back from California’s largest wildfire as well as massive amounts of winter snow, the challenges were never insurmountable.
It all began during September-October’s 76,788-acre Mosquito Fire, which burned in California’s Placer and El Dorado Counties. The Mosquito Fire had a devastating impact on the communities in and around the Western States Trail, destroying 78 structures in Michigan Bluff, Foresthill and Volcanoville. The fire also charred about 16 miles of the Western States Trail. Then, just as trail restoration efforts were underway in the Middle Fork of the American River drainage in the late fall, winter snowfall left much of the “high country” of the WSER inaccessible until only the last few weeks.
“It’s been a challenging time for the race, that’s for certain,” Thornley said. “But Western States always finds a way. This year was no different. The trail volunteers who helped bring the trail back this spring were amazing in their belief and their commitment to our race. The snow has been melting, and again, thanks to our trail team and a number of key volunteers, we’ve been able to gain access to our key early aid stations at Lyon Ridge (mile 10) and Red Star Ridge (mile 16).
“An epic year requires an epic effort. It’s what Western States has always been about. It’s been extremely humbling to see the extreme lengths our people have put in to make sure Western States will be held on our normal course. Our volunteers, who are always at the heart of everything that we do, have been incredible this year.”
Saturday’s Western States will have its traditional start in Olympic Valley, California promptly at 5 a.m. The 100.2-mile event through the picturesque “high country” of the Granite Chief Wilderness and the historic canyons in and out of the Middle Fork of the American River then finishes at Placer High School in Auburn, California. 369 entrants from more than 30 countries will attempt to finish the course in under 30 hours – the run’s absolute time limit. A live broadcast will carry the action of this year’s run for the entire 30 hours. A link for the broadcast will be available on Saturday morning at www.wser.org
This year’s fields, on both the men’s and women’s sides, are among the most competitive WSER has ever assembled.
“It says something when we don’t have either our men’s champion (Adam Peterman, out with injury) or women’s champion (Ruth Croft, who had other racing commitments) back and the general consensus is that this could be the deepest race we’ve ever had,” Thornley said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how all of these really accomplished athletes are going to race not just against themselves, but on a course where in the high country, though it’s been melting, will still be highly disruptive and challenging.”
On the women’s side, five of last year’s top 10 are entered, including fifth-place finisher Emily Hawgood of Zimbabwe, who finished in 18:16. Other top 10’s who are returning include Leah Yingling (sixth in 18:32); Taylor Nowlin (seventh in 18:46); Camille Herron, who is fresh off a world 48-hour record of more than 270 miles, (eighth in 18:51); Katie Asmuth (ninth in 19:30).
2018 women’s champion Courtney Dauwalter of Leadville, Colorado, returns to Western States following a four-year absence. Her 2018 winning time of 17:27 was at the time the second-fastest women’s run ever at Western States. Western States will be the first leg of a challenging three-week double where Dauwalter will also attempt to win the Hardrock 100 in Colorado in mid-July.
Other notable entrants include 2022 UTMB champion Katie Schide, top Swedish runner Ida Nilsson who has excelled on the world stage at shorter distances and will be making her debut 100-mile effort at Western States, 2021 ninth-place finisher Keely Henninger, Heather Jackson, who is one of the world’s finest multi-discipline athletes, as well as 2016 women’s champion Kaci Lickteig.
The men’s race is highlighted by 2022 second-place finisher Hayden Hawks, who battled with Peterman through 70 miles of last year’s run before finishing in 15:47, as well as third-place finisher Arlen Glick, who ran 15:56, fourth-place finisher Tyler Green, who ran 15:57, France’s Ludovic Pommeret, who finished sixth in 16:20, Alex Nichols, who was eighth in 16:28, Cody Lind, who was ninth in 16:29, and Scott Traer, 10th in 16:35.
In addition, France’s Mathieu Blanchard is coming off a stirring duel with the legendary Kilian Jornet at the 2022 UTMB, where Blanchard finished second. The United Kingdom’s Tom Evans returns to Western States following a four-year hiatus – he finished third in 2019 in 14:59. Dakota Jones, a Salt Lake City resident whose ultra running career dates back to his days as a teenage phenom, will be making his Western States debut at age 32. Jones is coming off impressive victories at the Transvulcania ultra in the Canary Islands earlier this year, as well as at the Javelina 100 in October in the Arizona desert.
This year’s event will also feature a top age group entrant in Gene Dykes, who at age 75 will attempt to become WSER’s oldest finisher. Nicholas Bassett of Wyoming made history at age 73 with his finish in 2018, becoming the oldest runner to ever finish. The 2023 WSER is also part of the UTMB World Series, which is considered the world’s ultimate trail running circuit, uniting the sport’s biggest stars and runners of all abilities in more than three dozen events held worldwide.
Saturday’s start will also commemorate the 50th Western States. In August 1974, Meadow Vista, California woodcutter Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Tevis Cup and covered the distance from Olympic Valley, California to Auburn, California entirely on foot in 23 hours and 42 minutes. Since then, more than 6,000 individuals have finished Western States.
The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run has a 369-runner field from throughout the United States and more than 30 countries. Runners start at 5 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, 2023, in Olympic Valley, Calif., and travel 100.2 miles, through the Sierra high country and the canyons of the American River, before finishing at Placer High School in Auburn, Calif.