Today we are in Horseheads, NY to celebrate my cousin’s high school graduation. Lil sis’ June Running Goal was to run a new 10k but her grad school schedule got in the way of finding a sanctioned race, so we will be running the inaugural “Serena’s HS Graduation 10k”! No entrance fee, no shirts and no course (TBD). The hotel has free breakfast, however, so the post-race provisions should be a step above orange slices.
While we toil in what feels like mountains to our flatlander sensibilities, 369 men and women will be gearing up for one of ultra marathons’ premier events, the Western States.
The run originated in the 1970s during what was then a horse race, the Western States Trail Ride, where competitors would race their horses 100 miles in 24 hours or less. In 1974, a runner named Gordy Ainsleigh decided to see if it was possible for a human to complete the distance – 23 hours and 42 minutes later, he found out the answer was yes! Since then, the race has grown into one of the most “popular” ultras in the US and has a lottery system to regulate entrants. With growth, of course, comes criticism of the way the race is directed, but in general this is a highly regarded, well- respected ultra. It attracts a deep field and the race times have gotten downright unbelievable – the current men’s record is 15 hrs 7 mins 4 secs (9:04/mi average pace) while the women’s is 17 hrs 37 mins 51 secs (10:31/mi average pace) (sidebar: I love, love, love how the gulf between men’s and women’s times shrink the further you run). Remember, this is 100 miles and here is the (brutal) course description:
“Beginning in Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, the trail ascends from the valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in the first 4½ miles. From the pass, following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850’s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn, a small town in the heart of California’s historic gold country. Most of the trail passes through remote and rugged territory. People who are unfamiliar with the area should use caution when planning training runs, especially in the high country. Before leaving, let someone know where you will be running and when you will return. REMEMBER THAT MUCH OF THIS TERRITORY IS ACCESSIBLE ONLY BY FOOT, HORSE OR HELICOPTER.”
A fantastic documentary was released awhile back called “Unbreakable” which followed the nail-biting 2010 race (I know, hard to imagine that a 15 hr race could be described as nail-biting, but it was!!). This is the type of doc where you don’t even need an interest in the topic to be sucked into the story and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an “I need a story to give me a kickstart and motivate me to take on the world!” kind of movie.
The race starts at 5am PST today, June 23rd. The men’s race will be missing one of it’s principal players as of late, Kilian Jornet (this guy is seriously poetry in motion. GD is sick of me mooning over him, but his glutes, oh his glutes! To die for! See for yourself how beautiful the trail running human form can be) since his friend’s life was tragically lost on a quest they were both on so that race is up for grabs. The women’s race promises to be as action packed as 100 milers can get! I’m hoping Ellie Greenwood takes the day.
So whatever you may do today or wherever you may roam, keep a thought for the 369 runners who are out there, all day and all night. They’ll need every positive vibe they can get!
Update: The race was one for the books! Timothy Olsen and Ellie Greenwood both smashed the men’s and women’s record!! An unbelievable race and triumph for them both! Congrats to all the finishers!!
Do you have a “bucket list” race that you would one day love to do?
Why do you think people run these seemingly impossible distances?
Is the junk in Kilian’s trunk not the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?