Organizers of the Western States Endurance Run (better known as the Western States 100) touted that 35 people ran the course in under 19 hours Saturday.
Brian Peterson, of Minneapolis, was the 35th. He covered the storied 100.2-mile course from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, in 18 hours, 50 minutes, and 51 seconds, making him the fastest Minnesotan ever on the course after Proctor native Scott Jurek (who, according to his recently-published memoir, lived in Minnesota while training for his first WS100 in 1999).
“I hoped I could be capable of breaking 19 hours out there on a real steady day, and with the help of the cool weather and two great friends to crew and pace and keep me moving, I just made it,” Peterson said.
Saturday’s unusually cool weather – the on-course temperature typically breaches 100 degrees in the canyons – propelled many runners to fast times. Timothy Olson, of Ashland, Oregon, became the first runner ever to break 15 hours on the current course, clocking a 14:46:44, and runner-up Ryan Sandes, of South Africa, also went under Geoff Roes’ 2010 course record in 15:03:56. Ellie Greenwood, of Banff, Alberta, became the first woman to break 17 hours with a 16:47:19, and Dave Mackey, of Boulder, Colorado, broke the master’s record with a 15:53:36 (good for fourth). For context, Jurek only broke 16 hours once, clocking a then-course record of 15:36:27 in 2004; his first two victories were slower than Greenwood’s time this year.
“A lot of people complained about the cold early on, but the weather couldn't have been much more perfect for me,” said Peterson, who ran over 100 miles per week in preparation for the race. “Maybe it was the Minnesotan in me and the fact that I have been paranoid about the usual Western States heat for over 6 months. Yeah, it was windy and sleeting on top of the first climb, and it was cold and raining for most of the first 35 miles, but I was just so thankful to be kept cool that I was loving every minute of it.”
Peterson’s training also included a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, running Wisconsin’s Ice Age 50 Mile in May, and doing hill repeats up the ski slopes at Hyland Hills in Bloomington. This was his third 100-mile race; Peterson won the Sawtooth 100 on the Superior Hiking Trail in 2010 and was fourth at the Cascade Crest 100 in Washington last August.
“Most of the race I really did enjoy, and tried to even out the highs and lows,” he said. “I really liked the first half with the cool weather early and especially coming down out of the high country into the base of Devil's Thumb. The steep downhills started taking a toll by then, but the climbs out of the canyons were actually welcome breaks and a chance to hike a little without feeling too guilty.
“I loved the section coming through Foresthill at mile 62,” he continued. “I had just picked up my first pacer, Brian Soller, which I was looking forward to all day. There were so many people cheering at Foresthill, and I felt really strong going into the nice gradual downhill once we hit the trail.” Peterson was also paced by fellow Minnesotan and Western States veteran Tony Kocanda in the final 20 miles.
Still, Peterson says, low points are all but unavoidable in a race that long.
“My lowest point was probably between about mile 70 and 80 or so, when I got a little pessimistic about how I was doing and the rest of the race,” he said. “I just got caught up in trying to think about the finish, when in reality there were just too many miles to go, and I forgot the important rule of just taking it one section at a time. I knew there were a lot of other people out there suffering way more than I was, but that doesn't mean it isn't hard.”
In the end, Peterson said, he was thrilled to take part in the storied event, which was the first ever 100-mile ultramarathon.
“Western States is the Big Show,” he said. “It's a great event with so much history, the volunteers take care of you like you wouldn't believe, and the course is a great combination of challenging and runnable…I feel like Western States is one of those events that if you enjoy the 100 mile distance and are lucky enough to get in, it's a great life experience.”
“There's something about running in the same race in the footsteps of some of the best ultrarunners in the world that makes for a really cool experience,” he said.
Other Minnesotans in the race included Ely’s Dale Humphrey, who finished under the vaunted 24-hour mark in 23:50:57, and Ethan Richards, of St. Paul, who finished in 27:27:51.
Complete results of the 2012 Western States 100 can be found HERE.
Photo of Brian Peterson(right)and pacer courtesy of Ultra Runner Podcast