I’m going to preface this with the fact that I am going to talk a LOT about different runners- especially one man very dear to my heart- but I promise you that this involves women (freaking scary amazing ones I might add) too!
Just WOW. This was epic to be a part of. The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (aka – WSER) is an epic ultra distance trail run from Squaw Valley, CA to Auburn, CA that was started officially as a running race in 1977 following the horse race of the Trevis Cup Ride that began in 1955 – 100 Miles in 1 Day. The first woman, Pat Smythe ran in 1978 and finished in 29:34!! (more on history can be found at https://www.wser.org/how-it-all-began/)
This trail race is mostly single track with 18,000 feet of vertical gain and 23,000 feet of vertical decent. The weather varies year to year but often includes lows in the 30 (F) and highs in the 100 (F) with the lovely California humidity to add. Not to mention the forests are home to lovely plants like poison oak, muddy cold creeks, and often large patches of snow (this year included so much snow there were slight reroutes around it!). Oh and poles are NOT ALLOWED and the cut off for finishing is 30 hours!
To truly run 100 Miles in 1 day means in under 24 hours. And “No Sleep ‘till Auburn” applies to not only racers, but also to volunteers, family, crew, pacers (second half of race, racers may have 1 person at a time run with them and trade off at different aid stations) – and my wee man tried to apply this rule to himself too….
Needless to say it’s a long epic day for tons of people. Top runners in the WORLD toe the start line with everyone else. This year the Women’s Elite lineup was bigger than the men, including ladies like Clare Gallagher, Courtney Dauwalter, Camille Harron, Francesca Canepa, Kim Magnus, Camelia Mayfield, and many more. The race had 24% female starters making it the largest female ratio to date! (They have a goal of 50/50 ratio). So YAY ladies for getting out there.
369 racers are allowed to start. 319 finished in the 30 hour cutoff this year.
I got to be a part of this! It was amazing. If you’re a road runner think Boston Marathon but on trails and multiplied by 4. Everyone is out there! This year my man ran. I got to be a part of what we call crew or the people who meet the racers at different aid stations to help refill water, change so many and shoes, get food, give pep talks, deal with blisters and puke, etc. I also got to pace my man to the finish! This was amazing.
He left it all out there on the trails, finding many breaking points towards the end. He was in epic amazingly high spirits while the sun was up, even being a goof running like an airplane trying to cheer up our wee man at one aid station. Goal: just to finish. Estimated reality time: 27ish hours. Actual finish time: 23:24:09!!!!!!! He finished in 102nd place for 100.2 miles, earning some epic bling of a silver (yes real silver) handcrafted belt buckle and I got the privilege of taking him to the finish line!!
In the process I also got the opportunity to watch the winner run through (Jim Walmsley finishing in 14:08:29 breaking his OWN course record by over 21 min!), I also saw Camille (pulled out just after the halfway point due to injuries acting up), Clare (1st female – will share more), Courtney (was epic to watch her run and was in first until something happened with her hip and had to pull out), and (for my CO folks) Dave Makey!
Dave has been an ultra runner for years. A few years back he was in an incident on the trails that left him trapped under a boulder for several hours, eventually leading to the amputation of 1 leg. While he didn’t make it to the finish line this year, he continues to be an inspiration to keep preserving for many of us out their on the trails.
Now let’s talk about Clare Gallagher AND Heather McGrath; the first and last female finishers.
Clare is another CO gal. She caught the ultra running world by surprise a few years back winning the Leadville 100 Mile Race Across the Sky (with frosting in hand lol). This year she finished WSER in 17:23:25 as 1st female and 17th overall. She used her winning speech as a time to bring awareness to many things including climate changes and how it affects both the local area, our trails across the country, and places she recently endeavored like the Arctic. I’m still waiting to see the full interview from her win and I haven’t heard back yet if she brought any frosting.
Heather McGrath – a name I’d never heard before. The last official female finisher with a time of 29:59:01. While I don’t know much about her I do know this: she is a badass. She finished WSER! 100 miles on foot. She advocates for our land and trails.
If you’ve ever considered ultra racing or even trail running, I promise you ladies will find an amazing tribe of strong encouraging women who will never cease to amaze you. It also opens up many opportunities to raise awareness for causes and run land you’d otherwise be prohibited from crossing. And only in ultra and trail racing do you get to participate with the best in the world!!
PS: More on WSER can be found on my IG and Facebook as well as WSER.org