Western States 100 Miler 2018 - Preview

It's June 2018. And while my social media feed is strewn with "football fever", I'm here to tell you this: I don't give a flying wallenda about football. I am more attracted to sports where people fight the odds, dig deep into their inner self, conquer their inner demons and overcome challenges that don't even pop up in 90 minutes.

One sport where people do this is Ultrarunning, and that sport owes a lot to a man named Gordy Ansleigh. In 1974, Gordy decided to the Western States Trail Ride(100 mile Horse race) in under 24 hours. And while others took to horses, Gordy decided to run the entire distance. It was an incredibly hot year, and with the temperatures in the 40s(100+F), even the horses began to collapse. But Ansleigh was tougher than the horses, tougher than the trails and tougher than the conditions. He crossed the finish line at Auburn, in 23 hours and 42 minutes, giving birth to modern day trail ultrarunning.

If you're interested, there is an amazing movie on this called "Unbreakable: The Western States 100", which I often watch before my races.

The Western State 100 mile endurance Run (WSER100), is one of the toughest and most prestigious ultramarathons in the world. First official race was held in 1977 and it covers *surprise surprise*, 100.2 miles(161 kms) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, starting at the base of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort and finishing on the Placer High School track at Auburn.

It has a total elevation gain(which Kilian Jornet called "flat") of 5500 meters(18090 feet) and total descent of 7000 meters (22900 feet). It is often cold at the start line, with snow sometimes making its appearance in the higher passes, especially early on and as the runners approach the canyons, the temperatures go extremely high, resulting in a high dropout rate each year. All ready much more challenging than 90 minutes of people kicking a ball and faking injuries, isn't it?

The total cut-off for this brutal event is 30 hours, with the finishers getting a bronze belt buckle for finishing under 30 hours and a silver belt buckle for finishing under 24 hours.

The course record for men is held by Timothy Olson(14:46:44; 5:30/km or 8:51/mile for 100.2 miles with that much elevation change) and for women is held by Ellie Greenwood(16:47:19; 6:15/km or 10:04/mile).

Even the entry to this race, even though it's not as screwed up as the Barkley, is very tough. With a large number of applicants each year, the organisers have a lottery system and their acceptance rate is lower than Harvard University(except they don't put you through physical torture once they accept you to Harvard).

Why, you may ask people flock to do it? Or any 100 miler. Or run, for that matter.
When I started running, people used to ask me this and as the years went by, last year one particular smartass said to me "Oh I know why you do it. It is because you want to show you're stronger than others."

I respectfully disagree. Okay, there might be some(or many) who run so that they can show their medals to the rest of the world. Especially, the Indian Ironman finisher culture in particular is a testament to it. People doing 13 hour Ironmans, doing it for years and not even improving by 30 minutes and then calling themselves elite.

But there are many(or some), who run not because of external motivation at all. Just like football, I don't give a flying wallenda about social media. Who cares if I ran X amount of kilometers in Y amount of minutes. Sometimes I do care about it, when pushes my mind to the possibility that a distance can be run that fast, but I believe putting in the hardwork would reap more benefits instead of pressing the "like" button for the hardwork others are doing. And frankly, I don't run because I am chasing a goal time or that I want to prove that I am "stronger than others". I run because I love running, I feel free I have time to contemplate, it is like a therapy to me and it is a testament of my strength to me, everyday. I push myself, find my limits and then go forward and that has made me a far better person that I was before I was running. It has taught me about patience, gratitude, love & commitment, it has taught me to dig deep and above all it has taught me that there is so much more to me than I ever thought.

I just finished reading Scott Jurek's North(who won a remarkable 7 times at WSER) and a quote stood out which I would like to share. "This is what I am, This is what I do" said Jurek about suffering through the miles on the Appalachian Trail. For a large part of this year, and years before, I have wondered why am I even continuing with life. Pain is fun for a while but then it turns numb, the reality of it changes and everything has a question mark hovering over it. I lost everything I had in the last few years, my health, my wealth. I became very insecure of everytime I made forward progress and I cling on to the smallest amount of hope as tightly as I can. And on bad days(of which there are many), I find myself wondering, "Why me?.
And that's when this quote struck home. This is what I am. This is what I do. I am not a sadist. Contrary to what my fate believes, I do enjoy being happy. But, I guess life has been stripping away my comforts and steamrolling everything because it knows, I am a glutton for punishment. I can shake down any amount of pain and then rise from it. And until I get a kicks in the rear, I would continue to be in a state of perpetual rest as per Newton's 1st law.

Anyways coming back to the WSER 100, it is a very competitive race now. And I would like to wind down the blog by mentioning some of the people to look out for:

Men's Race
My pick for this year's win is Francois D'Heane, the French Ultrarunner who beat Kilian Jornet at the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in 2017. Another guy D'Heane beat was American Jim Walmsley. Jim led the men's race for the first 93 miles he ran in Western States 100 in 2016(while being 30 minutes ahead of the course record and 1 hour ahead of 2nd place) and then got lost, which completely broke him down. Walmsely DNFed last year, but has had a solid preparation and ran a 10k, 2 days back in 31:08, which might not be relevant for a 100 miler, but still shows great form.
Another great runner in the men's field is the World Record holder for 12 hours running, Zach Bitter.
Bitter set the record in 2014, when he ran an astonishing 101 miles(7 min mile pace; 4:20/km, for 101 miles) on a 400 meter track. He is known more for his flat racing skills, but he moved to Phoenix, Arizona to train for hilly races and he made his intentions clear on a recent podcast.
There are many other favourites, but 2 more men I would looking out for are Dean Karnazes, my favourite Ultrarunning writer and the great Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer, who has won 38, 100 mile races in his career(more than anyone in the world!).
Just for the record, I'm not saying Dean is going to be a competitive choice, but it'll be fun to follow him.

Women's Race:
Equally as competitive as the men's field, my pick for the women's race is Courtney Dauwalter, the winner of the Moab 240, where she beat everyone, including the men by over 22 miles. It is hard to count out last year's champion Cat Bradley and the legendary Kaci Lickteig, who is making a strong return from injury. Also a contender in the women's field is 2017 Comrades Champion and 12 hour women's track world record holder, Camille Herron.(Camille Herron pulled out because of a leg injury; update thanks to Aravind Kumar)

But then all predictions can be thrust aside. 100 miles is a long distance, and anything can change anytime.

Only 1 thing is for sure, every single participant out there would be running their hearts out, experiencing the highs and lows of the Sierra Nevada mountains and their emotions. There would be melange of indomitable spirits, covering 100 miles through the mountains and the canyons, each of them inspiring generations of athletes to cast aside their fear and take a plunge into the soul-searching world of ultrarunning.

"I was tired but I decided to take another step forward. We always tell ourselves to stop, that there's another day. But I kept going because there isn't always another day."
Gordy Ainsleigh


  1. "People doing 13 hour Ironmans, doing it for years and not even improving by 30 minutes and then calling themselves elite." 😉that's a good one!!!

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