In a recent interview with Rob Krar about his incredible ‘FKT’ (fastest known time) on the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim we discussed the up and coming Western States. Humble and respectful he called it the Super Bowl of ultra running. You have to agree, Western States is the Super Bowl of 100-mile events.
June 29th in Squaw Valley, once again an incredibly talented male field will toe the line to do battle over probably the most iconic 100-mile race on the calendar. It may not be the hardest but it has history. Way back in ‘73’ when Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse went lame, he had two choices; not to take part in the iconic 100-mile horse race called the Tevis Cup or run it… now of course, way back then running the course was the most ridiculous idea ever. But Gordy, ever the maverick, brushed caution aside and tackled the heat to arrive in Auburn. The stage was set and the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run was created.
The race – Male
So, Ryan Sandes wont join the party due to injury, shame! However, the men’s field has enough quality names to make the 2013 edition of the race an exciting one. We have a champ and previous course record holder returning after a 16 year gap, we have last years champ and course record holder, we have the new and the old. This year could be an exciting race because of the variables and unpredictability of those involved.
Timothy Olson as the remaining champion and course record holder, of course gets top billing. His recent 4th place at Transvulcania La Palma was a real indicator that his form was coming. I went out for a run with him just days after the race and he was moving fast and effortless, no sign of a tough 80km race in his legs. He said, “I could have done with the finish line being a little farther away, I was just getting warmed up”. Early 2013 season form wasn’t too shabby either with win at Bandera 50k, 2nd Ray Miller, and 2nd at Tarawera behind Sage Canaday in New Zealand. His relative silence post Transvulcania should worry the competition; he has been training and training hard. Can he go faster than his incredible 14:46:44 set in 2013?
Brit, Nick Clark in a recent interview with me ahead of this year’s race said, “I am running to win, I feel good this year. I have started my three week taper and I don’t know, maybe this could be my year!” Nick is super consistent over the 100-mile distance and demands respect from his peers. He ran 15:44 last year for 3rd place and almost certainly he is going to need to run that quick, if not quicker if he wants to be in contention for a podium place. Even more impressive is that Nick is taking on the Grand Slam. However, it’s one race at a time and he plans to run all of them as hard as he can. A win at Fuego Y Agua he says was so long ago that it has no real meaning for Western States but his 10th at Lake Sonoma recently was a little disappointing by his standards. However, as we keep saying, 100 miles is a different race altogether.
Sixteen years ago, Mike Morton set a course record at Western States and then disappeared into running wilderness. A combination of injury and work commitments took him away from the sport. However, just a couple of years ago he came back on the scene with a comeback not dissimilar to that of Robert Redford playing Roy Hobbs in the film, ‘The Natural’. Mike seems to be able to churn out 100-mile races in 13:11 and win them. He had an incredible 2012 with multiple 100-mile wins, a win and missing the CR at Badwater 135 and then setting an American 24-hour record of 172+ miles. He has been relatively quiet lately which can only mean one thing, he is preparing! You would say that age may well be against him, but this is Mike Morton… will 2013 have one of the greatest comebacks in sport ever, a win for Mike Morton? It is a distinct possibility!
Hal Koerner has been quiet recently and it is impossible to gauge what his form is like. Having said that, his reputation precedes him and his list of palmares confirms that he will always be in the mix. His win at the 2012 Hardrock 100 confirms that he can always pull something special out of the bag when required.
Ian Sharman has consistently improved at WSER and last year placed 5th with a great run. However, by Ian’s standards he has been very quiet lately. He pushed himself a little too hard in the latter stages of 2012, basically, one race too many and he has had some niggling knee issues. He went to Fuego Y Agua but didn’t run. He has had a couple of top 5 placing’s in recent months and most recently he raced a multi-stage race in the rainforests of Peru. Although lying in 2nd place overall he didn’t finish the last stage as he felt niggling pain in his troublesome knee. So, the jury is out. In addition, like Nick Clark, Ian will run the Grand Slam. His original intention was to run each race to the best of his ability and see what happens. He prepares well and understands the demands of each race so you can’t rule him out of the top 10.
Dave Mackey 4th in 2012 and in doing so broke Tsuyoshi Kaburaki’s ‘Masters’ time with 15:53:36. He has always raced consistently over the 100km distance but has never had quite the luck over the 100-mile distance. In early 2012 he was second at Bandera 100k behind a storming Sage Canaday but a great indicator of form is the recent San Diego 100. Dave was blazing a trail at the front of the race until he went of course at around the 60-mile mark. Although initially disappointing, this may actually be a blessing in disguise for WSER. He definitely has podium potential if his day goes well.
Cameron Clayton young, brash and bold has laid it all on the line and said he plans to just run! No caution for the demands of 100 miles, he will go for glory. Cameron, like Sage Canaday is new to ultra running, he has enthusiasm to take on the best and see what happens. I have to say I like his approach. In an interview with him post Transvulcania (he placed 7th) he said then that his intentions for Western States would be to go for glory, “I may not get the chance to run at Western States again so I need to run for the win. If I don’t top the podium, that is fine, at least I will have tried”. So there you have it, WSER will be Cameron’s first 100 outing, it’s a fair prediction to say that we will see him at the head of the race in the early stages, question is, will he pull along some others or will they allow him to head on up the trail on his own?
Rob Krar like Cameron is new to the 100-mile distance but he is giving it 100% respect. He is a little daunted by the distance and as he said in my interview with him, “I just don’t know what to expect, my rim-t0-rim-to-rim is my longest ever run at just over 40 miles, Western States is a completely different experience”. Rob, like Mike Morton is also a come back story, originally a track and field athlete he ran 1500m and holds an impressive 1:06 for a half marathon. He has only ever run one road marathon and that was around 2:30, so, he has speed. His win and CR at Leona Divide 50 turned heads but his Grand Canyon double crossing time took breaths away… if he brings that speed to WSER anything is possible. He is a real unknown but I can’t help but think we will see a surprise!
Karl Meltzer needs no introduction! He has wanted to run at WSER for years and now he finally he has the chance, however, his build up has not been ideal with a problematic calf. Last week he told me that he is pretty sure it is all cleared up now and that he had just had 10 days of consecutive running. Karl said, “I finally feel that a top 10 place is now possible, we will have to see”. With over 30 wins at the 100-mile distance, Karl brings experience to the race. Just like Run Rabbit Run last year, he will allow the main contenders to head off up the trail and as he gets warm (around 60 miles) he will then slowly but surely start to pick them off. A podium place is unlikely but a top 10 is a distinct possibility. I certainly hope so! Top 10 will give him a guaranteed slot for 2014 and then he can run the Grand Slam.
Dylan Bowman placed 7th at 2012 WSER and has had a couple of great performances at Ray Miller 50 and Miwok 60k. Considering the depth of the 2013 field a top 10 placing is highly likely, the question is, can he embrace early season form and move into the top 5.
Jorge Maravilla and Joe Uhan placed 8th and 9th respectively at the 2012 race but both runners have had relatively quiet times lately. Jorge placed 3rd at UROC in late 2012 and recently was joint winner at the Great Wall Marathon in China with his Salomon teammates, but it’s difficult to predict what form Jorge and Joe will bring to this years race. It is fair to assume that no news is good news and that they will arrive on the start line ready to push hard.
The list could go on but here is a selection of other notable names that will almost certainly drift into the top 20 and of course, on a good day, they may even make top 10.
Yassine Diboun, Trent Briney, Andy Jones Wilkins, Gustavo Reyes, Nick Pedatella (also going for Gran Slam), Paul Terranova (ran the Grand Slam last year) and finally, Jacob Rydman.
Notable non-starters for the 2013 are as follows:
Ryan Sandes who pushed the pace at the front last year, placed 2nd overall and in doing so, also broke Geoff Roes old course record. Needless to say, we are all disappointed that Ryan can’t make it. He unfortunately twisted his ankle on a training run and needs to allow for recovery. Fellow South Africa, the Comrades King, Bruce Fordyce is also a no show due to injury. Bruce would not have contested the overall placing but to have 9x Comrades Marathon winner on the WSER course would have been special. He told me via email that he has carried over his place for 2014.
The 2013 race has a quality field, however, we have notable omissions: Kilian Jornet, Anton Krupicka, Dakota Jones, Geoff Roes, Sage Canaday, Julien Chorier, Max King, Mike Wolfe, Mike Foote, Joe Grant and so on.
The race – Female
With no Ellie Greenwood, no Lizzy Hawker, no Kami Semick, and no Krissy Moehl I have to say I can’t help but feel a little cheated with the ladies field. Don’t get me wrong, we have some great talent ready to toe the line but I do feel as though it’s about who is not here than who is…
Having said that, Rory Bosio was 2nd in 2012 and she returns this year as odds on favorite. At 28 years old she manages to go about her run life with very little fuss or exposure. She keeps herself to herself but she has some impressive results that we should all be shouting about. She has run WSER three times; 4th in 2010, 5th in 2011 and of course, 2nd in 2012. Do you see the progression! 2013 may very well be the year the she has a 1st next to her name. She placed 4th at Lake Sonoma recently and was 2nd at Way to cool earlier in 2013, not results that you would predict a WSER win on, but she knows how to run this race!
I am going to stick my neck out here and say that Cassie Scallon has every possibility of not only making the podium or winning the race! The only question mark comes from a fall she took at Cayuga Trails a couple of weeks ago. Had she not pulled out of that race and been in tip top form she would have been my prediction for the win. She earned her WSER slot at Lake Sonoma and after missing the race last year; I can’t help but feel that she will be fired up for this edition. Of course, she hasn’t run this race before and experience counts for a great deal!
Talking of experience, Nikki Kimball has plenty. Nikki placed 5th in 2012 but look at her history; she won the race in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and she was 4th in 2009, 3rd in 2010 and 2011. That his some history! Now in her early 40’s you may well say that age is against her but you just can’t rule her out. She has been troubled with injuries but without doubt the 2012 Transvulcania La Palma was a turning point for her, she finished that race in tears. Not because of pain but joy that things had gone well. Her recent form is difficult to predict as she too pulled out of Cayuga Trails.
Another newbie, Emily Harrison brings speed to the WSER arena. She has a marathon PB of 2:32 and although that may not be a prediction of a good Western States performance, it does show that the speed is available if needed. She earned her place at JFK50 when she placed 2nd behind Ellie Greenwood and recently she has had a win at Moab Red Hot 55k. Emily has the potential to pull something out of the back and may very well make the podium.
Aliza Lapierre was 3rd last year and it almost feels disrespectful to wait this long before mentioning her but she has had surgery and only returned to running in late April, early March of this year. Her form for WSER is an unknown but if one thing in her favor is that she will be fresh and keen to perform. That counts for a great deal when it gets hard.
Tina Lewis, Amy Sproston, Ashley Nordell and Meghan Arbogast all return after placing 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th respectively in 2012.
Certainly I see Ashley Nordell moving to a higher place for 2013 and she has the potential to make top 5 should all go well.
Tina Lewis placed best of the bunch in 2012 and although injury has caused serious issues in the build up to this years race, her win at Leadville in the latter half of last year has to mean that, if fit, she will improve on her 7th.
Amy Sproston won Ray Miller 50, Iznik Ultra 80k and was 3rd at Lake Sonoma all in the first half of 2013. A 100km champion she has speed and although 100 miles may not be her distance you have to say that in this ladies field, should things go right, a placing higher than 8th awaits.
Meghan Arbogast may well be a dark horse of the race… you just can’t rule her out! She proved this by beating Rory Bosio to the top slot at Way to Cool 50k. Last year she ran just under 20 hours (19:54) and I think she will need an ‘18’ time to contest the front of the race but she can do it, don’t rule her out.
Joelle Vaught has been top 10 at WSER before in 2010 when she ran 20:19. Certainly if she wants to place top 10 in 2013 she needs to be looking at sub 20. Her win at Pocatello 50 (to put things in perspective, she beat her own course record by just over 20 minutes) recently would suggest that a surprise may well come from Joelle.
Jennifer Benna recently turned up at Transvulcania La Palma and dropped early on saying that it just didn’t feel right. To travel that far and drop so early shows some real commitment to the bigger picture, that being WSER. She has already won a 100 this year at Zion 100 way back in April (probably why she didn’t feel great in May) I think Jennifer has the potential to make the top 10 but she will need a good day.
My final tip is Pam Smith, she has run WSER before and has placed 10th in 2010 and 2011. She hasn’t run under 20 hours but if she managed to match her previous best of 20:40, another top 10 may well just be hers, just!
Ones to watch:
Kerrie Bruxvoort, Denise Bourassa and Rhonda Claridge.
Provide us with your feedback:
- What are your predictions for the men’s and ladies races?
- Who will surprise us this year?
- Will the course record go in either race?
- Who isn’t racing that you had hoped would be?
WSER website HERE
Love them or hate them, road ultra marathons come no bigger or better than the ‘Ultimate Human Race’, Comrades. This year is an ‘up’ run. Starting on the coast in Durban, the course stretches 86.96km to Pietermaritzburg at 670m above sea level. Over 19,000 runners will test themselves over the ‘Big Five’; Cowies Hill, Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga and Polly Shorts. From the base of the first hill, Cowies, to the top of Botha’s Hill you climb 502 meters in the space of only 22 kilometers. Any seasoned ‘Comrade’ will tell you this translates into a lot of climbing. The first half of the ‘up’ is challenging, it needs to be respected and paced, any early exuberance will be paid for dearly later on in the day.
But before the release of the gun, the atmosphere at the start is to be savored. It will burn and impression onto your heart that you will never forget. As darkness encompasses every runner the sounds of ‘Shosholoza’ a Ndebele folk song that originated in Zimbabwe fills the air. Although not the national anthem, the song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa’s second national anthem. As the final words are sung (translated):
You are running away
You are running away on those mountains
train from South Africa
‘Chariots of Fire’ theme starts and with it the nerves and goose bumps increase. It is an incredible moment. The recorded ‘cockcrow’ of Max Trimborn adds to the sense of occasion and history and then with the sound of a horn you re released. Magical.
Episode 8 – Comrades Special – A show decicated to the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. We have interviews with Bruce Fordyce, Ellie Greenwood, Steve Williams, Caspar Greeff, Nicolaas Claassen and Zola Budd. In addition we bring you news and results from around the world, our current favourite blogs, Talk Training with the Ten Commandments of Ultra Running a Meltzer Moment with Speedgoat Karl and of course up and coming races.
The 2013 race
Ludwick Mamabolo won the 87th Comrades Marathon and as such is the favorite for this years race… however, the defending champion is not without controversy, he tested positive for a banned substance at last year’s race, after almost a year of legal wrangling, was recently found not guilty because of ‘technical irregularities’ in the testing procedure and has therefore been awarded his prize money and his title.
Eight of last year’s ten male gold medalists will toe the starting line again. However, Leonid Shvetsov, who won in 07 and 08 setting course record times is injured, and Lephetesang Adoro tested positive for a banned substance, so they will not join the 2013 race. Triple champion Stephen Muzhingi raced in the last ‘up’ run and without doubt will be one-to-watch this year.
Mamabolo won the race last year in 5:31:03 but his participation this year is clouded in controversy. In 2010 Mambolo participated in his first Comrades and then finished second behind Stephen Muzhingi. Will this be the result for the 2013 edition?
My hot tip for the race and a relative dark horse is Jonas Buud from Sweden. Jonas is a fast man over the 100km distance and as he proved at the 2012 TNFUTMB he can run hills too. Jonas ran 6:28:57 at the IAU World 100km Championships in Seregano last year and previously he has finished second on three occasions; 2009, 2010 and 2012. He is not new to Comrades; in 2011 he had an excellent run and finished fourth in an incredible time of 5:42. He has openly said that Comrades in 2013 is his primary focus. Watch this space!
Of course Bongmusa Mthembu and Leboko Noto are also toeing the line, they placed second and third respectively in 2012 and of course they bring speed and experience to the race. In addition, Mambo, Kelehe, Moshiywa and Sosibo also obtained ‘Gold’ in last years race… it is a stacked and experienced field.
David Gatebe, won the Two Oceans at his first attempt in 3:08:54 and without doubt will come to Comrades with high hopes and aspirations. Mthandazo Qhina, second at Two Oceans in 3:10:02 also joins Gatebe to add some spice to the Comrades mix.
As per usual, Comrades will be a highly competitive race and a surprise may very well come at any time. The depth of the field goes way back. However, Comrades is not just about the front of the race… it is the ‘Ultimate Human Race’ for a reason and as such, the vast majority of the 19000+ participants are just ‘ordinary joes’ like you and I. It is what makes this race so special. The support, the roadside parties, the crowds and the everyday runners testing themselves.
One of those ‘joes’ is nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, who will not be running his 31st Comrades. He posted on backabuddy last year that his 30th, would be his last.
Four-time champion Alan Robb will return. Robb is one of three men who will attempt their 40th completion of this iconic race.
It is impossible to talk about Comrades and the ladies race without mentioning Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva. Affectionately known as the ‘The Twins’ or ‘The Russian Twins’ they have dominated the race in the last 10 years. Elena has won the race seven times and her sister, Oleysa two times. The only break in this tradition came in 2005 when Tatyana Zhirkova won the race. Comrades is the home of the twins but Two Oceans did not go well for them and one has to question if they are arriving for the ‘up’ run in the best form.
Unfortunately, the anticipated battle and potential ‘break’ of the Russian stranglehold on the race coming from Ellie Greenwood is not going to happen. Ellie is out of the race with injury. Certainly from a British perspective I was really hoping that Ellie would return this year and move up from second to top the podium.
Another notable ‘Brit’ not at the race is Lizzy Hawker. Lizzy had injury over the Christmas period and has recently done a personal adventure in Nepal; she then followed this with a multistage race in the same area but just a couple of weekends ago she pulled out of a 24h race. She is now focusing on the 100m Ronda del Cims in Andorra, late June.
Americans Devon Yanko (previously Crosby-Helms) who has placed fifth in 2012 and Kami Semick, who was third in 2011 are not running. This in my opinion leaves the door open for Brit, Joasia Zakrzewski.
Jo had an incredible 2011 race. I remember it well, I was stood next to her on the start line. By the time we both reached the finish, she was showered, changed, fed and relaxing. Not only did she surprise herself but the whole of the female field at Comrades. She followed this incredible performance in 2012 with fourth place overall in a time of 6:33:41. My hot tip for the podium and without doubt a potential winner of the race. C’mon Jo! (Excuse the British bias)
Marina Zhalybina has a remarkable record at Comrades. She was third in her first attempt in 1999. She has finished the race twelve times and has always placed in the top ten.
Charne Bosman had a great run at Two Oceans. She is new to ultra but she has won the South African marathon and I guess she is the SA hope!
Without doubt, the ladies race this year is less stacked. Melanie Van Rooyen, Kerry Koen and Julanie Basson all return from 2012 and all three obtained gold medals.
Ultimately I see the ladies race as a battle between ‘The Twins’, Zhalybina and Zakrzewski with Bosman as an outsider.
Last but not least, we had all hoped to see Zola Budd (Pieterse) toe the line. She ran her first Comrades in 2012 and finished in 8:06. This year she was returning with a year of knowledge and without doubt she was going for ‘Silver’ and a sub 7:30 run, however, just yesterday she withdrew from the race on doctors orders. Unfortunately she has the flu.
First to last, the Comrades Ultra Marathon is an incredible race. It stirs the emotions and it mobilises a population. Come Sunday morning as Chariots of Fire fade and the sound of the cockerel crows I will be glued to my laptop screen with a tear in my eye… I have only run this iconic race once. It left a lasting impression and one that I would love to repeat.
I will be back one day.