The Western States Endurance Run
The Western States Endurance Run, known commonly as the Western States 100, is a 100-mile (161 km) ultramarathon that takes place on trails in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains annually on the last full weekend of June. The race starts at the base of the Squaw Valley, California (Ski Area Valley) ski resort and finishes at the Placer High School track in Auburn, California. Runners climb a cumulative total of 18,090 feet (5500 m) and descend a total of 22,970 feet (7000 m) on mountain trails before reaching the finish. Because of the length of the race, the race begins at 5 a.m. and continues through the day and into the night. Runners finishing before the 30-hour overall time limit for the race receive a bronze belt buckle, while runners finishing in under 24 hours receive a silver belt buckle.
The Western States 100 is sponsored by Montrail Corporation, a California athletic footwear company, and is one of the four 100-mile races that comprise the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which also includes the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in Utah, and the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado.
The Western States Endurance Run was first completed in 1974 by Gordy Ainsleigh. Ainsleigh had finished the Tevis Cup in 1971 and 1972 on horseback, but in 1973 his new horse was pulled with lameness at the 29-mile checkpoint. In 1974, with the inspiration and encouragement of Drucilla Barner, first woman to win the Tevis Cup and Secretary of the Western States Trail Foundation, Gordy joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, proving that a runner could, indeed, travel the 100 miles in one day.
In 1975, Ron Kelley ran the Tevis Cup course along with the horses, and completed 97 miles (157 km) of the course before dropping out. In 1976, Ken "Cowman" Shirk became the second runner to complete the course along with the horses, with Ainsleigh pacing him the last 25 miles.
Sixteen runners signed up for the first official Western States Endurance Run in 1977, and started along with the horses in the Tevis Cup. Thirteen of the 16 had dropped out or were pulled by the midpoint that year. Of the three remaining runners, only Andy Gonzales finished in the 24 hour time limit set for the horses. The other two, Peter Mattei and Ralph Paffenbarger, finished in 28 hours and 36 minutes (unofficially), leading to the establishment of the 30-hour bronze buckle time limit for runners. The Run organization later became its own entity: The Western States Endurance Run Foundation.
The following year, 1978, 63 runners competed and 30 runners finished the first Western States Endurance Run. The race was held on a separate date, independent of the Tevis Cup Trail Ride.
In 1984, the Granite Chief Wilderness was created under the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and about four miles (6 km) of the trail were within the new boundaries. The wilderness designation would normally mean that the United States Forest Service would not be able to allow organized events in the area. In 1988, however, the Endurance Run (and the original Trail Ride) was finally given Congressional permission to continue, but with the number of runners limited to 369, the size of the 1984 field. As the event grew in notoriety, a lottery system was created to allocate the available positions. Each year since, a limited number of entries have been awarded to selected winners of Montrail Ultra Cup Series and to top-ten finishers of the preceding Western States race. After the few select entries are awarded, a lottery is then held to fill the field from a pool of qualified applicants. The Forest Service allows race management to use a five-year running average of 369 actual starters, and historically some fifteen percent of lottery winners do not report to the starting line, so some 425 runners are typically notified as being eligible.
In 2008 the run was canceled due to bad air quality and smoke from an unprecedented number of wildfires.
The 2009 winners of the race were Hal Koerner and Anita Ortiz. In 2010, Geoff Roes overtook Anton Krupicka at the Brown's Bar checkpoint with 10.1 miles to go to win the race and set a new course record with 15:07:04. Tracy Garneau won the women's race in 19:01:55. Amy Palmiero-Winters, a transtibial amputee, became the first amputee in history to complete the race, in 27:43:10.
In 2012, Ellie Greenwood bested the seemingly unbreakable course record set by Ann Trason in 1994 by nearly an hour with a new record time of 16:47:19. The same year, Timothy Olson ran a sub 15 hour race (14:46:44) and in the process, broke the previous course record that was set by Geoff Roes in 2010.
Former Race Director
- OnTheRunEvents.com - 'The History of the Western States'
- CoolRunning.com - 'Western States 100's Gordon Ainsleigh: The mountain man of them all'
- The History of Western States - Journey Through the 24-Year History Leading to the Silver Anniversary of the Ultimate Ultra Trail Race. By Norman Klein