The winners of this year’s Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run are going to have to earn it.
The 42nd edition of the historic trail run from Squaw Valley to Auburn features perhaps the most stacked field to date, with dozens of elite ultrarunners from across the world gunning for victory. In all, more than 360 runners from 30 countries and 40 states will toe the line.
“I think from a competitive standpoint, on the men’s side and especially on the women’s side, this is the best field we’ve ever had,” said Western States President John Trent, adding that nine of the top 10 men from last year’s race are back, and all 10 of the top women from a year ago.
“And then there are also some interesting x-factors who are running the race for the first time. The competition is going to be pretty spectacular.”
The top men’s and women’s finishers from 2014 — 38-year-old Rob Krar of Flagstaff, Ariz., and 31-year-old Stephanie Howe of Bend, Ore. — will look to defend their titles, both of which were earned in impressive fashion.
Krar posted the second fastest time in event history last year, covering the 100.2-mile course in a time of 14 hours, 53 minutes, 22 seconds. That time was only about seven minutes off of Timothy Olsen’s record (14:46), which he set on an unseasonably cool day in 2012.
Howe recorded the fourth fastest women’s time ever, in 18:01:42.
“Word is that Rob and Stephanie are running strong and healthy and seem to be in as good of shape or better than last year,” Trent said.
The champs have their work cut out.
Last year’s runner-up finisher, Seth Swanson of Missoula, Mont., and third-place finisher Dylan Bowman of Mill Valley, Calif., are back and are serious threats to win, Trent said.
On the women’s side, last year’s second- through fifth-place finishers are all back and well capable of victory. They include Larisa Dannis of Strafford, N.H., Mauclair Nathalie of France, 2013 champ Pam Smith of Salem, Ore., and Western States veteran Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, Mont.
First-time Western States participants Michelle Yates, a 33-year-old from Littleton, Colo., and Magdalena Boulet, 41, of Oakland are the x-factors, Trent said. Yates was the 2013 Ultrarunner of the Year. Boulet was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon team.
“Michelle is very strong and talented and is not afraid to go out hard at the beginning,” Trent said, “and I think Magdalena will be right in there contending for one of the top spots as well.”
Among the local contingent, Paul Sweeney, 49, of Truckee and Jackie Clark, 57, of Tahoma received coveted spots in the run, as did Ryan Weibel and Alan Barichievich of South Lake Tahoe.
“Paul is looking good. He’s a veteran and he definitely knows the drill,” Trent said about Sweeney, who will race the Hardrock 100 in Colorado just two weeks after Western States. Trent also expects Clark to hold her own in what will be her first 100-mile race.
“I think Jackie is ready to give it a go. If she handles the heat and eats well and keeps her nutrition going, I think she’ll do quite well.”
While triple-digit heat in the lower-elevation canyons and snow in the high country create challenges some years, neither factor should play much of a role in 2015, Trent said. Even at the highest elevations, the Western States Trail is completely dry and in good condition, and temperatures are forecast to top out in the 90s.
“The 90s are typical for us. We consider it scorching when it gets into the 100s. But it will definitely be hot enough for folks,” Trent said.
The race begins Saturday at 5 a.m. at the 6,200-foot base of Squaw Valley. It climbs more than 18,000 feet and descends nearly 23,000 feet before reaching the finish line on the Placer High School track. The final cutoff is 30 hours.