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Western States 100 preview: pre-race favourites and Canadian runners to watch

The run along California's Western States Trail kicks off on June 26, and the start list features some of the biggest names in ultrarunning

Photo by: Dave Stevens

The 2021 Western States 100 (WSER) is set for June 26, and the start list features a number of the world’s top ultrarunners, and for the first time the race will be broadcast live on YouTube. Defending champions Jim Walmsley and Clare Gallagher will both be on the start line in Olympic Valley, Calif., along with other big names like 2019 fourth-place finisher Beth Pascall, first-time WSER runner Tim Tollefson and more. There are also four Canadians in the field, including 2019 eighth-place finisher Kathryn Drew of Vancouver. 

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Women’s field 

There are three former WSER champions entered in this year’s race: Gallagher, who won in 2019, 2016 winner (and 2019 third-place finisher) Kaci Lickteig and 2015 champ Magdalena Boulet. All three women are American, and they’ll be joined on the WSER start line by several of their high-profile compatriots. Brittany Peterson, the second-place finisher from 2019, will be in the race for just the second time in her career, along with Nicole Bitter, the seventh-place woman in 2019, which was also her WSER debut. 

RELATED: Jim Walmsley opens up about injury ahead of Western States 100

Pascall and Drew headline the international entries in the women’s field. Pascall, who hails from Great Britain, finished fourth in 2019, and she is a serious threat to take the win this year. Earlier in 2021, she won the Canyons 100K in California, and in 2020, she broke the Bob Graham Round FKT in her home country. She has also recorded two top-five finishes at the past two editions of the famed Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Pascall is in incredible form, and she’s a threat to run away with this year’s race, which would make her the first non-American woman to win the WSER title since Ellie Greenwood (who is British but lives in Canada) in 2012. 

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This will be Drew’s second WSER appearance, and she, too, has what it takes to improve on her result from 2019. She has several big wins to her name, including top finishes at the Chuckanut 50K and Canyons 100K in 2019. She has also represented Canada at the IAU Trail World Championships. B.C.’s Sarah Seads will also race in California, making her first WSER appearance. 

RELATED: Western States site name to be changed

When it comes to debut WSER runs, there are several big names to watch. New Zealand’s Ruth Croft is having a tremendous season, with a pair of big wins. Her first came at the Tarawera Ultra in Rotorua, New Zealand, where she won the overall title in the 102K race. A few months later, she was in action in Australia, where she won a 50K race in Katoomba, a town west of Sydney, at Ultra-Trail Australia. 

France’s Audrey Tanguy is also running WSER for the first time. Tanguy has had a great year so far, first winning the Hoka One One Project Carbon X 2 100K event in Arizona in January and then following it up with a third-place finish at the Canyons 100K in April. She is also a two-time UTMB TDS winner (2018 and 2019).

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Finally, there’s American ultrarunning star Camille Herron. The owner of multiple American and world records, Herron is another threat for the win at WSER. She has won the Comrades Marathon, multiple world championships and many other races around the world, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if she adds a top WSER finish to her resume. 

Men’s field 

The only WSER champion in the 2021 field is Walmsley, who has won the past two editions of the race. In 2018, he won in 14:30:04, and a year later, he set the course record with an incredible 14:09:28 run. This year, he has raced one ultramarathon, Hoka’s Project Carbon X 2, which he won in 6:09:26, coming extremely close to breaking the 100K world record of 6:09:14. That was several months ago, but if his fitness is anywhere close to where it was at that race, he should be able to lay down another historic WSER run. 

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Walmsley’s fellow American Jared Hazen, the 2019 runner-up, is also set to race this year. In 2019, Hazen ran a remarkable time of 14:26:46, which would have easily won him the WSER title if Walmsley hadn’t been in the race. He’ll be looking to take that final step onto the top of the podium this year. 

RELATED: Jim Walmsley runs 6:09:26 for 100K, misses world record by just 12 seconds

A pair of Americans making their WSER debuts are Tollefson and Hayden Hawks. Tollefson has several big wins to his name in the past year alone, including titles at the 2020 Javelina Jundred 100 Miler and USATF 50-Mile Trail Championships. He has also recorded victories at the 120K Lavaredo Ultra-Trail race in Italy in 2019 and the 100K Ultra-Trail Australia in 2017, along with a pair of third-place finishes at UTMB in 2016 and 2017. 

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Hawks has won many races throughout his career, including the JFK 50-Miler in 2020. He set the course record of 5:18:40 at that race, beating Walmsley’s mark of 5:21:28 from 2016. The WSER course is twice as long as the JFK 50, but Hawks has proven he can match or better Walmsley’s efforts, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in California. 

Also set to run in the men’s race are Elliot Cardin of Quebec and Marty Reed of B.C. To see the full start lists, click here. To watch the race live, click here