It’s that time of the year when the ultra and trail running aficionados go crazy at the prospect of another Western States Endurance Run (WSER) – the oldest 100-mile race in the USA and the one with the legendary story of Gordy Ainsleigh and a lame horse.
With 18.000ft of climb and 22.000ft of downhill, the race has in the past been full of incredible stories – Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball, Ellie Greenwood and Timothy Olson to name just a few names from an incredible 40+ years of history.
Over the years, the course is often discussed around the heat that the canyons bring and if it will be a snow or no snow year.
Let’s be clear, the 2017 WSER is going to be a snow year but it is melting.
Before I get into the names that will contend the top-3, let’s just first mention who will not be running. Last year’s winner Andrew Miller (yes, Andrew Miller won WSER, remember him?) and 2nd place Didrik Hermansen will not race – that is two notable no shows! But where is Francois d’Haene, Luis Alberto Hernando, Kilian Jornet, Rob Krar, Max King, Zach Miller and so many other names? Is it a sign that the calendar is just getting way too big and priorities are shifting…? Or are many injured? For the ladies’, no Ellie Greenwood, Rory Bosio and Caroline Chaverot to name just three.
Well Jim Walmsley is (no he didn’t win in 2017) and he is not only looking for redemption, but maybe looking for sub-14! I personally think Jim should try and win the race and forget CR’s, especially with the snow. If he does that, I think he will win. However, the only person that is going to beat Jim in my opinion is Jim himself by racing too hard and too fast looking for that time.
With 8 of last year’s top-10 returning, there is no shortage of runners to step into Walmsley’s shoes. A surprise may well come from the UK’s Paul Giblin who placed 5th last year. Of course, youcannot rule out Jeff Browning (3rd in 17) and Thomas Lorblanchet who placed 4th. The remaining runners – Ian Sharman, Kyle Pietari, Chris DeNucci, Chris Mocko and Jesse Haynes are all going to be in the ball-park but I don’t see any of them winning.
The surprises, although not surprises to trail running fans may well come from outside last year’s top-10. Ryan Sandes is back and he’s addicted after placing 2nd in 2012. I don’t think he can beat Walmsley in a toe-for-toe run but if his form and fitness is good, the podium is a possibility.
For me though, Alex Nichols and Jonas Buud are the ones to potentially upset the apple cart in what is essentiallya runner’s race. Both guys excel at running fast and Nichols gets the nod for handling the vert and snow. Let’s not forget Buud was 2nd behind an on-fire Walmsley in New Zealand earlier this year.
Elov Olsson is going to be pretty much unknown in the USA but after this year’s race I think many will know his name and then my final tip for the podium is Tofol Castanyer – yep, if he can just sting it all together, the Spaniard has the potential to rock the Canyons.
My dark horse prediction is with Alex Nichols and Mark Hammond, the duo battled out Run Rabbit Run and placed 1st and 2nd.
The ladies race for me is all about four runners – Kaci Lickteig who won the race last year, Camille Herron who was the first American in 20-years to win the iconic Comrades in South Africa just a few weeks ago. Magdalena Boulet who won WSER in 2015 and Stephanie Howe (now Violett) who won the race three years ago and then was unfortunately hit by injury. The winner will come from these four, but who?
Well, I am going to stick my neck out and go with Stephanie Howe, however, don’t get me wrong, it could be Kaci, Magda or Camille…
Emily Harrison (now Torrence) may well stir up the apple cart and if one of the ladies above falter, and one will, Harrison will be there to step in and take over. She has speed, she is an IAU and USATF champ, however, the 100-mile distance may well be her biggest test.
Beyond this I am at a loss, for sure Amy Sproston will be in the mix, she has been 3rd and 2nd and has a list of great finishes but I see her fighting for top-5 and maybe 3rd, it all depends what happens to the four above? Meghan Arbogast (no Laws) can’t be ruled out in any race, she is a true inspiration and her WSER list of results speak volumes.
Andrea Huser is unbelievably doing this race as well as pretty much every other race in the racing calendar, she is relentless! She will finish, she’s as tough as nails but she doesn’t have the speed to contend with the fast ladies who will fight for the top-5.
Amanda Basham finished 4th at WSER last year and I must be honest, she is not a runner I know a great deal about – 4th is 4th though so one can expect her to be around the front runners.
5th in 2016 was Alissa St Laurent and she followed that up with 2nd at Run Rabbit Run but since then it’s difficult to gauge her form. Being quiet is a good thing though, it very often can mean careful and meticulous preparation.
My dark horse prediction will go to Fiona Hayvice from New Zealand and I believe we can expect a strong performance from Ildiko Wermescher who recently was 4th at Penyagolosa in Spain and 5th earlier in the year at Transgrancanaria.
I’ve missed plenty of names, so, who do you think will upset the race, who will be the next star and surprise of the ultra-running world?
Action starts on Saturday June 24th at 0500 PDT and one thing is for sure, we are in for an exciting race.