The iconic 100-miler Western States Endurance Run, which starts in Squaw Valley, California and ends in Auburn, Ca., takes place on June 23 and 24, and there are currently 12 Canadians registered. Competition to get in is huge, and entrants must qualify by running either a 100-miler or an approved 100K race before entering the lottery. Aspiring entrants accumulate tickets for each year that they don’t get in.
We checked in with Devin Featherstone, Ailsa Macdonald and Stan Wiens to find out just how excited they are for this year’s race.
Devin Featherstone, 33, of Calgary, started running seven years ago after playing professional hockey and having a family. His love of the mountains led naturally to trail and mountain running. “It’s faster than hiking, so you can spend more time at the beautiful waterfall,” says Featherstone. “And it’s a great way to see the world and meet people.”
Featherstone qualified for Western States six years ago, but had no luck in the lottery. So he re-qualled and tried again. And again. Finally, after winning the Lost Soul 100K in Lethbridge, Alberta (and placing third in a subsequent year), his name was drawn for this year’s race.
His buddy Andy Reed has done the race and will crew for him at Western States. “Anything can happen in a 100-miler,” says Featherstone, noting the biggest challenge is likely to be the heat that Western States is notorious for. “The last 20 miles are downhill, so the plan is just to keep juice in the legs and take the pain of the downhill. I’d love to finish in under 24 hours, but I’ll be happy just to finish,” i.e. within the 30-hour cutoff.
When asked how long she’s been trying to get into Western States, Ailsa Macdonald, 37, of St. Albert, Alberta, sheepishly admits that she hadn’t. Her impressive win at Arizona’s Black Canyon 100K in February gave her a “golden ticket,” i.e. guaranteed entry into Western States. But she’s looking forward to the experience and the excitement of being at the oldest 100-miler in the world.
Macdonald is one of the top Canadian ultramarathoners, having also won last year’s Sinister 7 100-miler in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, where only about 20 per cent of entrants finish within the 30-hour cutoff.
Like many other ultramarathoners, Macdonald is a former triathlete. She speculates that triathletes do well at endurance running because the variety of training required helps them avoid injury. Her 10-days-on, 10-days-off schedule as a power engineer in the Alberta oil sands gives her concentrated time to train.
Like Featherstone, Macdonald doesn’t like to state her race goal publicly. “There are so many variables,” she says.
At 53, Stan Wiens, a pastor at Southview Alliance Church in Calgary, is not the oldest Canadian going to Western States this year, but he is the only one who has already completed the race. It was in 2015, after trying to get in for four years, and he has tried every year since then.
Wiens has been nursing a torn meniscus, and has lost a lot of training time as a result, so he is the most conservative of the three Canadians we spoke to about his chances at this year’s race. “My injury happened in November, and the draw was in December,” Wiens reports. “So here I am, I can’t train, and I just got into the best race on the planet.”
When asked to elaborate, Wiens refers to the nostalgia around the event, as the first 100 miler out there. “There are harder races, and longer races, depending on how you want to choose your pain,” he says, comparing it to Boston in the road-running world. “It’s the big show. All the elites are there, and the vibe is amazing. Everybody knows what Western means.”
He also describes it as “brutally challenging.”
“I was 100K in, and I heard that the winner had finished,” he says. “And I still had 60K to go.”
He has been able to train well for the last five weeks, however, and he hopes the fitness base he started with will help him finish, if all goes well. “It’s all part of ultra racing,” says Wiens.
Wiens picks Americans Jim Walmsley and Camille Herron to win this year’s race.
UPDATE: We learned after this story was published that Camille Herron has dropped out of the race due to injury–ed.