It’s the oldest 100-miler in the USA and always a hugely-competitive race. The Western States 100 M Endurance Run starts in Squaw Valley, California near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ends 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California. The first race was held in 1974. Following the historic Western States Trail, runners climb nearly 5500m and descend over 7000m.
Once again, all pre-race eyes were on Jim Walmsley. Would he do it this year? Would he take the course record? Last year was a legendary heartbreaker. He was 40 minutes up at mile 93 when he took a wrong turn and ended up a couple of miles off the course. Everything gave up but his spirit and he walked back to the course and then on to finish the last seven miles, even though he had lost all hope of the record and, indeed, a good finish.
So, back to the 2017 race. The leaders got off to a blistering start and Jim Walmsley looked strong early on. He went through the 38-mile aid station ahead of course record pace. At that stage, Ryan Sandes was in second 37 minutes behind, with Jonas Buud in third. But stomach problems set in and by mile 78, Ryan Sandes, Alex Nichols, Mark Hammond and several others had all overtaken Walmsley. He dropped at this point.
At the start of the race there was snow, but as the day wore on the thermometer was nudging 40 degrees, and it was taking its toll as runners dropped.
Through it all, Ryan Sandes held on to his lead and won the race with a time of 16:19:38. Alex Nichols came in 2nd at 16:48:23 and Mark Hammond was third with 16:52:57.
After the race, a delighted Sandes said, “For me, Western States is my dream race to win so for me, this is one of the greatest days of my life.”
The line up for the women’s race this year was very impressive with three former champions in there – Kaci Lickteig, Magdalena Boulet and Stephanie Howe Violett – as well as many other strong contenders including Yiou Wang.
At the 38-mile point, Yiou Wang went through first but all the 2nd-5th placed women were hot on her heels, speeding through the aid station within four minutes of her.
By mile 70.7, all had changed and Cat Bradley, who was a surprise break out, had taken the lead which was eventually to give her the race in 19:31:31. Magdalena Boulet came in second with 19:49:15 and Yiou Wang had to DNF. Sabrina Stanley took third with 20:11:41.
After the race, when she was asked about the moment when she took the lead, Cat said, “I was really scared (when I took the lead) I didn’t know how I felt about being chased but I ran harder after that. It was kind of unbelievable and I was trying to hang back for as long as possible and I wanted to start racing hard at the river. I was going to try and hang back till then but it just kind of happened and then I was running scared I guess!”