Feets of Endurance: Runners In 2018 Western States 100 Grind It Out (Photo Essay)

By kncitom on June 24, 2018

By Tom Mailey

Gutting it out on high mountain ridges, inside lush, quiet forests and through meadows of alpine wildflowers, there are worse places to suffer.

(all photos by Tom Mailey)

But make no mistake, as beautiful as the terrain is, the 100 mile Squaw Valley-to-Auburn Western States ultra-marathon is no little jog through nature.

For the past several years I’ve been lucky enough to be part of an aid station at mile 30, Robinson Flat. And despite the fact that by the time they reach us they’ve already run a marathon plus 4 miles, I am always astounded by how good some of the lead runners looked. Like these runners from last year…

This guy is smiling and he still has 70 miles to go 

I don’t know this guy’s name but when this pic was taken, he was in 2nd place and his pace was faster than I can sprint.

And this young lady, who doesn’t face heat like this in her home country of Norway but also, she obviously didn’t a single solitary rip.

Despite high temperatures, Jim Walmsley set a new course record in 2018 with a time of 14:30:04 (16 minutes faster than the previous record) and Courtney Dauwalter had the 2nd fastest women’s time ever at 17:27:00. And that’s great for them. They’re elite athletes and deserve to reap the reward of their hard work, as do all the top finishers. 

But it’s other folks I love–the “regular” people who turn their lives over to this event despite holding down jobs, having families or supposedly being past their prime, like this guy, who ran by us and hollered out “Old guys rule!” His name is Nicholas Bassett. He’s from Wyoming. And he’s 73. He finished, too.

Or this guy, whose little girl helped him find the finish line.

There were breast cancer survivors, a survivor of thyroid cancer, and this poor guy, who came limping in nearly doubled-over in pain. Fun fact about the Western States: a runner cannot be assisted in any way. So this fella was on his own, despite his friends being right there. He did it though–with over an hour to spare, too. I hope he got some Advil, and five or six beers.

There were runners from not only Norway but Argentina, Australia, Great Britain, France and a dozen other countries and nearly every state in the union.  There were large runners and small ones, some who looked like they’d been coughed up by whales and others who looked like they were wrapping up a brisk walk. Some didn’t have the strength to even raise their arms at the finish line. Others did.

There were some who finished all alone and many, like this guy, whose family support for their crazy dream included team t-shirts and having his back on that final lap in Placer stadium.

This year could be a little more interesting. Much of the trail in the high country is still in or goes through snow. In some areas, trails have been carved out for the runners to follow. So times could be slower. But does it really matter? Anyone who finishes, whether it’s a new course record or :30 before cut-off, is amazing. In fact, even those who don’t make it the whole 100 miles, are still plenty heroic for trying. 

There are lots of places to watch the runners–one of the best is downtown Foresthill starting Saturday, early afternoon. But my favorite is always Placer High School’s football stadium for the Sunday morning finishers. Those are the “normal” people–the ones finishing in 28 and 29 and even 30 hours who are not elite but still somehow found the time, the will and the determination to show the rest of us what the mind and body are truly capable of. I recommend checking it out some year. It probably won’t inspire you to run 100 miles yourself. But it could fire you up to do a few things in your life you’ve been putting off because if these folks can do this, the rest of us can do just about anything.


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