A smack down was predicted and a smack down happened.
The 2012 Western States will go down in history as a most remarkable race.
Firstly, we had the initial disappointment of a no show by Kilian Jornet. Please don’t get me wrong; his decision to pull out after the sudden death of his friend and ski mountain partner, Stephane Brosse was completely understandable considering the proximity to the race. However, not to have Kilian toe the line did mean that the main contender for the title would not be mixing it up at the front.
This though did not dent what was a class male field. In many respects it was a who’s who of current ultra running…. Having said that it did also miss two other key protagonists, current Western States record holder, Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka. Roes has had a recent spell of poor performances and was lined up to run Hardrock but has decoded to go back to the drawing board and re build over the coming months. Krupicka has been out of racing for over a year after a series of problems, he too had targeted Hardrock but has now delayed his comeback saying that he hopes to be on the Leadville start line.
So, pre race who was in with a shout at taking the win. From a Talk Ultra poll the outright public favorite was Ryan Sandes, closely followed by last years second place, Mike Wolfe. I could completely understand tipping Wolfeman, a great competitor, plenty of speed, good in the mountains and I guess with no Kilian he was potentially lined up to move one place forward and take the win. Ryan Sandes ‘Sandman’ as he affectionately is known of course is super talented… just a few weeks earlier he had won The North Face 100 in Australia, He had won Leadville in 2011 and of course his record in multistage races was without question. However, despite that win at Leadville, this was his first race against a stacked field. How would he fair?
Timothy Olson was my pre race favorite. This is a super talented runner who has found a new lease of life. He has a great story… almost a film script. An ex drug addict turned ultra runner. You couldn’t make the story up! My other tip was ‘warrior’ Nick Clark. Nick did a great double last year placing 3rd at Western States and then two weeks later getting 3rd place at Hardrock. Other contenders included Jez Bragg, 3rd and 4th previously, could he move up. Dave Mackey, 2011 ultra runner of the year, super quick and last years 8th place Ian Sharman, Dave Riddle, Mike Wardian and I could go on…
The ladies race was equally stacked but contenders seemed to be much tighter. Last years winner, Ellie Greenwood was coming from a 2nd place at Comrades just three week earlier. Nobody doubted Ellie’s ability, the question was the damage that a super hard Comrades may have had on her body and what effects this would have over 100 miles. Lizzy Hawker was returning from injury but over this distance and terrain she is unstoppable. Kami Semick was also returning from injury, she had purposely missed Comrades to prepare for Western States. The ever present Nikki Kimball was firing on all cylinders again in 2012 and after a couple of great runs at Transvulcania and Zegama, she too could put pressure on at the front. Meghan Arbogast, Krissy Moehl, Rory Bosio, Aliza Lapierre and a whole host of others would be in contention.
Key elements for 2012 would be a lack of snow and a return to the ‘proper’ course. In addition to this, it turned out that temperatures on race day would be uncharacteristically chilly. Many of the runners complained about the cold over the first 30-40 miles. But of course these cooler temperatures are really advantageous over the 100-mile distance when trying to manage hydration, food and pacing. Not necessarily good weather but fast weather…
As expected, the men’s race was quick with Wolfe and Olson dictating the early pace with Clark, Bowman, Sandes, Mackey and Sharman all in contention. Sandes in particular seemed to be running a smart ace holding back in about 6th place and controlling his effort.
In the ladies race, Hawker ran hard and put 14 minutes into Greenwood who was chasing. Greenwood didn’t seem too worried though, she had commented at around the 30-mile mark that she was happy with her pace and this was a 100-mile race… wise words!
What happened over the 100 miles of Western States will go down in history. Olson pushed at the front as Sandes moved up through the field. Clark went through a bad patch but rallied to move up into 3rd place while Wolfe who had either been in 1st or 2nd place for much of the race faded and moved back… Mackey moved to 4th closely followed by Sharman and this made the top 5 men. But what was key was how Olson and Sandes pushed each other… Olson finally moving away and boy how did he move away. He crossed the finish line in 14:46 knocking nearly 20 mins of Roes previous course record! As a testament to both Sandes and Olson, the pace that they had made during the event also gave Sandes the second fastest time ever with a 15:03 just dipping under Roes CR time. Mackey who placed 4th also broke Kaburaki’s masters course record with a time of 15:53:36.
In the ladies race, just after Devils Thumb Greenwood had suddenly pulled back 12 mins on Hawker and was just 2 mins behind. Then she was 14 mins ahead. Not only did she completely annihilate the women’s field she started to wipe out the men’s field ‘chicking’ some top quality runners. The question marks on if Greenwood would be recovered from Comrades now seemed crazy. She became the Terminator, focused on one goal, the finish line. When she entered the stadium at the finish she had blown Ann Trason’s long-standing Western States record out of the atmosphere by some 50 minutes setting a time of 16:47:19. Arguably creating one of the most outstanding ultra running performances ever. It’s too early to call her the ‘new’ Ann Trason and to be honest it would be unfair to do so. Ultra Running now is a much bigger sport than when Ann ran, the fields are more competitive, the competition is greater and to dominate as Greenwood did at Comrades and then Western States for me puts her on a pedestal so high that it is going to take someone remarkable to come and knock her off it. In addition to this, Greenwood is the most smiley, happy and generous of runners. She has it all.
Greenwoods performance was also followed by some other wonderful female performances from Rory Bosio proving that she is no ‘fluke’ at Western States. She has placed 4th and 5th in the past and now placing 2nd with 18:08:06 (1h 20m behind Greenwood), Aliza Lapiere who placed 6th last year now placed 3rd with 18:18:29, Krissy Moehl ran a smart race and moved through the field to 4th in 18:29:15 and Nikki Kimball proving that her form is good 5th with 18:3:39. Lizzy Hawker fought hard after a fast start and one can only assume that her injury meant thet she wasn’t quite in fighting form for Western states but one can’t help but think that this will just be the start for her, she came in 6th with 18:31:39.
When all is said and done, 2012 was the year that records tumbled. Olson set a new benchmark for the men’s race and Greenwood set a record that will stand the test of time. So much so, I think only she could beat it!
One key feature of the race was the weather. No snow, great trail conditions and cool temperatures all came together to make 2012 a fast year. This doesn’t happen often. So, these records may very well be around for some time and if they do I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. In Olson and Greenwood we have two worthy winners who have illuminated the ultra world with two remarkable performances.
Talk Ultra will be interviewing Ellie Greenwood on Tuesday 26th June and Nick Clark 27th/28th June for the next edition of the show. Of course, Ian Sharman will also be discussing the ‘news’ and giving us an insight into his 5th place. The next episode will be released on Friday 29th June so please tune in