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Western States: Canadians crack shortlist of runners to watch

With last year's winners not returning to a highly competitive field, the 50th running of the storied ultra could be anyone's race

ailsa macdonald Photo by: Barry Green

The Western States 100-mile Endurance Run launches into its 50th year Saturday, and the summer’s most hotly anticipated ultra event is shaping up to be its most unpredictable. With last year’s champions not returning to defend their titles against a field packed with strong contenders—including proven Canadian talent poised for a spot on the podium—organizers expect this weekend’s race to be one of the most competitive in the event’s history.

Marianne Hogan WSER 2022
Marianne Hogan with crew and pacers at WSER 2022. Photo: Western States

“It says something when we don’t have either our men’s champion (Adam Peterman, out with injury) or women’s champion (Ruth Croft, who had other racing commitments) back, and the general consensus is that this could be the deepest race we’ve ever had,” race director Craig Thornley said this week. “It’s going to be exciting to see how all of these really accomplished athletes are going to race not just against themselves, but on a course where in the high country, though it’s been melting, will still be highly disruptive and challenging.”

Adding to the drama for those following the race in this country is a group of notable Canadian athletes, fresh off impressive performances from races around the world, who could stretch last year’s podium finishes by Alberta’s Ailsa MacDonald (who was second in the women’s race) and Marianne Hogan of Montreal (who placed third, and who is currently recovering from injury and will be crewing for Blanchard this weekend) into a real Canadian renaissance at Western States.

The men’s race

The men’s race is highlighted by 2022 second-place finisher Hayden Hawks, who battled with Peterman through 70 miles of last year’s run before finishing in 15:47:27. Hawks leads a slate of returning American runners who dominated last year’s Western States top 10, including third-place finisher Arlen Glick, fourth-place finisher Tyler Green, Alex Nichols, who was eighth, Cody Lind, who was ninth and Scott Traer, who placed 10th. Also returning is France’s Ludovic Pommeret, who finished sixth.

RELATED: Mathieu Blanchard finishes third at Marathon Des Sables

Looking to break the U.S. stranglehold on the top 10 this year is Montreal’s Mathieu Blanchard. Making his Western States debut, Blanchard is coming off a stirring duel with Spain’s Kilian Jornet at the 2022 UTMB, as well as a third-place finish at this year’s Marathon des Sables. A win for Blanchard would make him the first Canadian to top the men’s podium at Western States since Rob Krar pulled off back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.

Mathieu Blanchard
Mathieu Blanchard/Photo: Jonathon Bromley (@jonbromleyphotography)

“I feel good,” Blanchard told Canadian Running on Thursday. “I have worked very hard for this WS100 since the beginning of the year. From the training track in the middle of winter in Quebec, then with a 250-km stages race in Costa Rica, a training camp in Kenya, the Paris marathon, and the Marathon Des Sables … Now all I have to do is  concentrate and give the best of myself.”

RELATED: Canadian Rob Krar finishes second at Leadville Trail Marathon

The U.K.’s Tom Evans, who ran 14:59:44 to finish third at Western States in 2019, returns after a four-year hiatus. U.S. runner Dakota Jones will be making his Western States debut after victories at the Transvulcania ultra in the Canary Islands earlier this year, as well as at the Javelina 100 in October in the Arizona desert.

Gene Dykes
Gene Dykes

Accomplished U.S. ultra runner Gene Dykes, 75, whose Western States effort is being sponsored by Calgary-based Stoked Oats, will attempt to become the oldest finisher in the event’s history, breaking the record set by Nicholas Bassett in 2018 at age 73.

“It’s definitely a different kind of pressure for this race,” Dykes said Thursday of his Western States debut. “The Stoked Oats folks are spending a lot of time and money sponsoring me, and I definitely feel like I need to succeed for them, rather than for myself.”

Dykes said that while he’s done all he can to prepare mentally and physically for the Western States course, he’ll have to do much of the learning as he goes along.

“I’ve had to deal with injuries, COVID, and cancer, but I’ve managed to arrive at the start line in pretty good shape,” Dykes said.

Priscilla Forgie training 2022
Photo courtesy of Priscilla Forgie

The women’s race

The 2022 Western States marked an inspiring return to form for Canada, with MacDonald and Hogan  finishing right behind New Zealand’s Croft (17:21:30), becoming the first Canadians to reach the women’s podium since Vancouver’s Ellie Greenwood set the course record (16:47:19) in 2012.

Priscilla Forgie of Edmonton looks poised to build on Canada’s recent success. She has already had a standout performance on California trails this year, placing second in the women’s 100K at the 2023 Canyons by UTMB in April, a finish that secured her golden ticket for Western States.

“I am heading into the race with the usual pre-race jitters but they’re definitely being overshadowed by pure excitement to get to be a part of this whole experience,” Forgie told Canadian Running Thursday. “I believe a strength I have going into the race is my mindset—I’d be doing the race a disservice to not go into it with so much happiness and gratitude. No matter how the day goes, I believe in my ability to give it my all and embrace every bit of it.”

Jenny Quilty winning Doi Inthanon
Jenny Quilty/Photo:@DI_TH_byUTMB

Another strong Canadian contender is Jenny Quilty of Abbotsford, B.C., who last year won the Doi Inthanon by UTMB race in Thailand—her 100-mile debut. Last year she placed second in an all-women podium at the Near Death Marathon in Grande Cache, Alta. She also won the 50K distance at Squamish 50/50 and was the previous 50/50 record holder (until Forgie bested her time in 2022).

“Leading up to Western States, I’m beyond excited to take on this 100-mile journey and travel along such a historic event in our sport,” Quilty told Canadian Running on Friday. “I look forward to the later miles on this course where I get to run with my pacers and friends, and where I get to hone in on my strength of racing well later on in longer events. It’s a true honour to get to take on this course and compete in this field of athletes.”

Five of last year’s top 10 are returning to Western States, including fifth-place finisher Emily Hawgood of Zimbabwe and American runners Leah Yingling (sixth), Taylor Nowlin (seventh), Camille Herron—fresh off a world 48-hour record of more than 435 km (eighth) and Katie Asmuth (ninth).

 

Courtney Dauwalter
Courtney Dauwalter/Photo: Moab 240 mile Endurance Run

Courtney Dauwalter of Leadville, Colo., returns to Western States following a four-year absence. Her 2018 winning time of 17:27:00 was at the time the second-fastest women’s run at Western States. This weekend’s race will be the first leg of a challenging three-week double where Dauwalter will also attempt to win the Hardrock 100 in Colorado in mid-July.

Other notable entrants include 2022 UTMB champion Katie Schide, top Swedish runner Ida Nilsson—who has excelled on the world stage at shorter distances and will be making her debut 100-mile effort at Western States, 2021 ninth-place finisher Keely Henninger, Heather Jackson—one of the world’s top multi-discipline athletes—and 2016 champion Kaci Lickteig.

How to follow the action

This is the third year that Western States will be streamed live on YouTube. The race begins at 5 a.m. PDT.

First run in 1974, Western States is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race and one of the most prestigious. Each June, 369 runners from across the United States and around the world embark from the start line in Olympic Valley, Calif., to tackle a challenging course to the coveted finish line at Placer High School in Auburn.

With reporting by Keeley Milne

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