One of the things I love about running Western States is the depth of the competition. There isn’t a comparable 100 miler in this country in terms of quality of field and the fact that so many runners peak for this race. As the race is very difficult to get into, my goal each year has been to finish in the top ten so I can get an automatic spot to come back the following year and do it again. Each year I hope to be in position at the river crossing so I can compete for the coveted automatic entry. This year is no exception. I want to finish 10th man. Chicks in front of me don’t matter.
You’ve probably heard either me or AJW refer to Tommy Nielsen’s advice to run the end of 100 milers like there is somebody 3-4 minutes ahead that you’re trying to catch and somebody else 3-4 minutes behind trying to catch you. That is so true at Western States (unless you’re Hal or Jurek or Morton and you’ve run away from the field) and it can be a real source of motivation when you’ve gone 90 miles, pretty much everything hurts, and all you want to do is stop. I’ve had some great races in my five Western States finishes. In 2004 and 2005, the two years I was 10th man, I didn’t get into the 10th position for good until Brown’s Bar and No Hands Bridge, respectively. Let me tell you, it is a lot of fun fighting for that tenth spot. It can be a bit stressful, and in the heat of the moment I’ve told my pacer that it would be much easier if I was in 6th place, but I do love the added element of competition at the end of Western States.
I’ve referenced Jeff Johnson’s speech to the 2001 Borderclash runners before in this blog. I really like his speech to these high school cross-country runners. I like it so much that I even had the great Ed Willson from Eugene read it the night before the 2005 WS race to all the Eugene runners in Alpine Meadows. His perspective on competition is spot on. He quotes Al Oerter, the 4-time Olympic gold medalist in the discus:
“I’ve never competed against anyone in my life. I’ve always competed with people. To compete against people is a negative thing. To compete with people is a celebration, a celebration of human capability.”
He continues with his own words, “the worthy competitor is essential to the race, not as an enemy, but as a co-conspirator. The race, you see, is a secret form of cooperation. The race is simply each of you seeking your absolute best with the help of each other.” No matter whether you’re fighting for the win, the 10th spot, to break 24-hours, or simply to beat the cutoffs, I think we can all thank each other for conspiring to get the best out of each other. If I’m near you in the race, whether I’m in 10th or 50th, you can rest assured I will be giving it my all to help the both of us get the most out of ourselves.
In conclusion, I compiled the names and times of the 10th man in all of the Western States races since 1978. I’ve heard many people surmise that this year will be the most competitive of all WS races and I’ve been asked what I think it will take to get into the top ten. This field is very deep, thanks in part to the fires of 2008, but also to the Montrail Ultra Cup which allows elite runners to earn a spot to the big dance, but I still think 18:30 will get in the top ten men. Hope everybody racing has a memorable and enjoyable day.