A tried-and-true trail runner tells what makes this classic race the “Superbowl of our sport”.
Written by: Bryon Powell
The Western States Endurance Run was my first 100-mile race. More notably, it was the original 100-mile footrace, the first of what are now more than one hundred 100-mile races run around the world each year. As such, it’s the grandaddy of 100 milers. It’s the Superbowl of our sport. Some of us have come to calling it Statesmas. Whatever you call it, it’s something special.
It all started a year after Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse came up lame during the 1973 Tevis Cup 100 mile endurance ride across California’s Sierra Nevada. A year later, Gordy returned to start the Tevis Cup – on foot – alongside 198 horses. When he arrived at the finish in Auburn 23 hours and 42 minutes later, he showed that a man could cover 100 miles over mountain trails in 24 hours. A new sport was born.
It took three years before the event that I love, the Western States Endurance Run, was founded, so that runners would no longer have to run with the horses. (Two runners attempted to repeat Gordy’s Tevis Cup feat in the interim, with Cowman A-Moo-Ha succeeding in 1976.)
As is often the case, the pioneer remains the leader. No other American 100 miler comes close in terms of either prestige or competition… and that’s without a dollar in prize money. The winner’s receive nothing more than a cougar trophy, a jacket, and a silver belt buckle. Owing to the race’s roots as an endurance ride, all finishers receive a belt buckle, with those completing the course in under 24 hours receiving a silver one.
So what makes this race so special that it’s been the premier event of its kind throughout its nearly 40 years existence? Rather than speculate, I’ll share what’s drawn me to the race’s start for all but one WS100 since 2004.