This year's Western was interesting to say the least. 2015's Western was the first Western I vividly watched and truly cared about, because I had started running that past year. So this year is special again, because in the time since last year I have had many more adventures and greatly increase my ability. Which greatly increases my ability to connect with the race, thus enjoying it even more.
Leading up to the race I was excitedly anticipating it by reading and watching the great pre-race interviews on iRunFar and discussing how the race might go down with my dad. It was really fun, but as per usual the predictions for the race did something that seems to be very common recently. The predictions all seemed to predict the very fast guys such as Jim Walmsley, David Laney, and Sage Canaday as shoe-ins for high placement. But, one thing that I have learned and noticed with races, especially Western, is that great performance at other races does not mean success at Western.
But, I digress. I really did enjoy this year's race, even though to be honest it wasn't necessarily as brutally inspiring as last year's. Except for one clear exception...Jeff Browning. No one thought much of him, he wasn't placed high in any predictions. But, my dad and I hoped otherwise. We have really been inspired by Jeff recently and love that he is an older runner, but can still put in the grit and tactics needed to succeed.
A few hours after the start of the race I went for my own run. A hard 10 miler, my small tribute to the legend that is Western States. My mom and I then took some pictures up at the trails for some fun. We got some really great shots I think. The minute I got back home I checked Twitter and the iRunFar chat. And also made sure to update my dad of all the news, because he was at work. Which I did all day on our own "Super Bowl." But, as I checked the feeds I was saddened to see that Magdalena Boulet, last year's champion, had dropped at mile 16 due to stomach issues and it must have been some very bad stomach issues to drop that early. But, I also was heartened in the fact that Jeff Browning was looking strong in 16th place at mile 30ish and I knew he would work his way up.
Jim Walmsley kept a furious pace that was inspiring to see, but I knew was not a pace that could be safely kept for the entire time. And lo and behold that prediction would come true. As the race continued on one woman shown above the rest. Kaci Lickteig was an almost unchallenged race leader the whole time and at each aid station was full of energy and power. It almost seemed like she was running on clouds, right to the finish line at Auburn, where she crossed in a smiling first place.
Through the canyons and towards the second half of the race people really began to feel the heat. But, somehow Jim Walmsley stayed cool and fast in his crop top homage to Scott Jurek. One hopeful who really felt the heat was Sage Canaday, by the river at mile 78 his stomach had stopped working and his previous under course record pace trying to keep up with Walmsley, vanished earning him an 11th place finish.
Throughout this time Jeff had worked his way up from 16th to 5th. But, a shocking event occurred at mile 78, the river. Walmsley was briefly swept down the river and into light rapids. Nothing life-threatening, but surely an event that sapped energy and time.
But, this wasn't the most shocking in the saga that was Jim Walmsley's Western States debut. Right before mile 93.5 Jim took a wrong turn that cost him several miles, the rest of his energy, and his first place (let alone top ten) finish. It was a sad sight to see such a strong runner crash and burn, but I knew it was coming. Fatigue sets in and after dropping his pacer it's an easy line to draw that missing the necessary turn to another trail was an easy to make mistake. Travis Trappe, the photographer, found Walmsley along his accidental and detrimental detour and in the picture that was Tweeted it looked quite a lot the Walmsley had taken off his shoes and put his water bottles down. In that one, blurry picture you can see the defeat and exhaustion that eventually caused Jim to sit down at the aid station at highway 49 that he was supposed to reach a long time ago and virtually walk in the rest of the race. It is sad, but I do have to point out that everyone seems to believe that the river crossing incident and off course escapade led to Walmsley's demise. But, in those last ten miles in 2012 Timothy Olson was still moving quite fast, however in those last ten Jim was slowing down. So if we're playing a game of what ifs and shoulda, coulda, woulda it is not a certainty that Jim would have broken the record or won. Because what ifs is not ultrarunning. Ultrarunning is about it all, it's about dealing with it all. With the sweeping down the rivers or going off courses. It's about adaptation and perseverance. It's an analogy of life and life is never perfect. Nor should ultrarunning be. We deal with it and therefore love it, but can never control it. Let the beast and god that it is roam free, all we can do is follow along with purpose.
Those who do follow with purpose succeed. Like the amazing first place finish of 20 year old Andrew Miller and of course the wonderfully executed 3rd place finish of the ever amazing Jeff Browning. Go Bronco!
Thanks again to iRunFar.com for the beautiful coverage of the race that kept me up with all the drama and suffering of that brutally hot and powerful June 25th day.
To Western States 100!