"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, March 7, 2014

Western States 100 - Old School Race With New School Flair

“Ask not for victory, ask only for courage. In your pursuit, you bring honor to yourself. But more important, you bring honor to us all.” – Ancient Greek saying, quoted in 32nd Place: a Triumph of the Olympic Spirit, Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1984. Recited at Annual Runners’ Briefing, Western States Endurance Run

The original. The one that started it all. The one that brought trail scene in the US to what it is today. There is only handful of races that are synonymous with ultra running. None of them come even close to the original trail ultra, the Western States Endurance Run. It was way back in 1974 that Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses on the Western States Trail. Less than 24 hours later, Gordy arrived in Auburn and the Western States Endurance Run was born.

WS Trail. Photo credit: trailsofglory.blogspot.com
As soon as one learns about ultrarunning and 100 mile races, that person wants to do the Western States.  Each year, Western States draws runners from across the world to come to the Squaw Valley and begin an epic 100 mile journey. Since its inception, number of runners has gone up and up, and now it is controlled by carefully implemented lottery process, recently modified by the new race director Craig Thornley.  While not the steepest or most technical race out there, Western States throws in its own challenges every year from heat to cold, from snow to wildfires, and let’s not forget those relentless downhills. One truly cannot prepare for just one climate or terrain. Runners climb a cumulative total of 18,090 feet (5500 m) and descend a total of 22,970 feet (7000 m).

Race Profile. Photo credit: http://www.wser.org
It is the beauty of the California trails and it is that unpredictability that draws people to come and race every year. It is the lure of the 24 hour buckle and 30 hour cutoff time. It is the excitement to run with the legends of the sport, new and old. It is the knowledge that you are running in a race that has not changed much since the beginning.  It is the course that has seen many running legends build and end their running careers there. There is no prize money for winning Western States. There is just pride, and knowledge that you have achieved something great. 

The original. Gordy Ainsleigh. Photo credit: http://ultra168.com
While staying true to its history and roots, Western States is adding some new school flair to its repertoire. There are numerous training runs in the spring that prepare runners for the race and the relentless downhills of the trail. There are changes being made to the lottery system to make it more fair for people that have not gotten in for years. There are changes being made to the list of qualifying races to make it more challenging and to cut down the number of applicants in order to offer a shot to those that truly deserve it. Sometimes change is tough, but everything that Craig has done so far promises to make Western States desirable for many years to come.

WS100 Finish Line. Photo credit: http://www.runnersworld.com/
I am writing this post without ever been in Auburn or Squaw Valley or on the Western States trail. While I have not seen or run Western States 100, it is certainly on my bucket list. There is just something within me that draws me to this race. The call of the wild lives within us, and when you hear that call you have to reach out and get it. 

“Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don’t forget when you leave why you came.” – Adlai Stevenson, What I Think (1954), delivered at Princeton University Commencement, 1953. Read at the conclusion of the annual Western States Endurance Run awards ceremony.

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