The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is considered by many to be the ultimate ultra marathon. Their website proclaims the race to be the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile race in the world. The race starts at Squaw Valley near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ends at Placer High School in Auburn, California.
The race began as a race for horses in 1955. That race was known as the Western States Trail Ride or the Tevis Cup “100 Miles One Day” Ride. In 1974 the first two-legged creature, known as an ultra runner ran, the route with the horses. His name was Gordy Ainsleigh and he finished in 23 hours, 42 minutes. In 1977, fourteen men ran the first official Western States Endurance Run, which was held in conjunction with the horse race. Due to an increase in interest, the race for runners separated from the horse race and became its own entity in 1978.
Today the race accepts about 400 runners each year. To gain entry into the race, one must complete, 1) a 50 mile race in under 11 hours, 2) a 100K race in under 15 hours, or 3) a 100 mile trail race. More people qualify and want to run the race than there are spots, so a lottery based system is used to gain entry into the race. Runners receive extra entries into the lottery for each consecutive previous year of not getting into the race. There is also a special bonus drawing on the day of the lottery open only to those who attend the lottery at Placer High School.
The race is not for the faint of heart or the un-trained. The course follows the same trail that gold and silver miners followed in the 1850’s. It’s the middle part of the Western States Trail, a nationally dedicated recreation trail that stretches from Salt Lake City, Utah to Sacramento, California. There is 18,000 feet of elevation gain and nearly 23,000 feet of elevation loss. Temperatures can vary from 20 degrees at night to 110 degrees in the middle of the day. Recently the range has been more like a low in the 50-60’s and a high in the 80-90’s. Runners summit passes and dropdown into canyons. At mile 78 runners, using a guide rope for assistance, must cross the middle fork of the American River. If conditions are particularly harsh and portions of the normal course are not accessible due to snow, race officials may use one of two snow routes. Also, if the river crossing is deemed to be too dangerous, boats are used to transport the runners across the river.
A total of 1,500 volunteers make sure that the race runs smoothly. The river crossing station alone has 125 volunteers. There are twenty five aid stations with names such as Dusty Corners, Devils Thumb, and Rucky Chucky spread throughout the course. Runners must weigh-in at the ten medical checkpoints. If they have lost more than 5% of their starting weight, they must remain at the aid station and re-fuel and re-hydrate until their weight returns to within 5% of their starting weight.
Runners are allowed a pacer who can accompany them (for safety reasons) from the Foresthill station (mile 62) until the finish. There are very specific rules about what a pacer may and may not do and violating the rules will lead to runner disqualification.
Since 1998, runners must fulfill a service requirement of eight hours. This service can be trail maintenance or any other volunteer service for a running event. Pacing, crewing, and coaching other runners does not count towards this service requirement.
The Western States awards are among the most prized in the ultra running community – a silver belt buckle for finishing in under 24 hours and a bronze buckle for finishing before the 30 hour cut-off.
The 2013 Western States 100 holds particular interest for me because three Pamakid Runners, a former SHC assistant coach, and a former Pamakid who helped start our current ultra running team will all be running Western States. The three Pamakids are Colin Alley, John Gieng, and Janeth Silva. Mary (Fagan) Churchill is the former SHC coach. And Eduardo Vazquez, who became a father for the first time earlier this month, is the former Pamakid (now Tamalpan).
Good luck to all the runners in this year’s Western States Endurance Run!