Top men take a wrong turn, adding more than a mile to the course.
AUBURN, Calif. — A Scottish resident of Canada and a Catalonian put down solid efforts in the 2011 edition of Western States Endurance Run, both winning exciting and highly-contested races here on Saturday night. On a day that remained mostly in the relatively “cool” with temps topping out in the 80s, the biggest challenge of the altered snow course was the frustration of post-holing through the warming fields of accumulated snow.
Ellie Greenwood, a 32-year-old Scot who resides in Banff, British Alberta, turned on the afterburners to power by last year’s winner, Tracy Garneau, Joelle Vaught, three-time winner Nikki Kimball, and Kami Semick, blazing the final 15 miles as fast or faster than anyone in the field. After her finish in 17 hours and 55 minutes, Greenwood was her usual vivacious self, albeit with less color in her cheeks. She joked, “don’t start worrying about me until you can’t see any freckles.” None were too worried, having seen her round the Placer High track with the speed of the track star she had never been in her school days, favoring more adventurous outdoor pursuits instead.
The race for second in the women’s field was about as down-to-the-wire as you can get in a 100-mile race, with Semick from Oregon hitting the track just ahead of Kimball, from Montana. They were separated by about 100 meters at the finish, with Semick taking second, Kimball third. The two had been held up for as much as seven minutes due to safety concerns over a bear that runners had spotted on the course about two miles from the finish. Soon after they completed their 100 miles, Canadian Garneau finished fourth, 45-minutes faster than her winning time in 2010.
Kilian Jornet, a 23-year-old sporting the maroon colors of the famed Barcelona football team of his homeland, made a spectacular return to Western States, winning it in 15:34, the third-fastest time ever run at this historic race. After struggling with the heat and dehydration to finish third here last year, he had no such issues this time around. Defending champion Geoff Roes, who set a course record of 15:07 last year in his come-from-behind win, was unable to summon that kind of effort again this weekend and ultimately dropped out at Michigan Bluff a little over halfway into the race. It was Roes’ first loss at the 100-mile distance. He later explained that his legs were just too beat up from the mountainous and snowy terrain over the first 30 miles of the course. He made the difficult decision to save himself for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France, the arduous 105-mile circumnavigation of Mont Blanc that begins in Chamonix on the final weekend of August. He’ll face Jornet, the record holder, at that event.
Jornet led or shared the lead for most of the race, except when he and others in the front pack – Roes, Nick Clark, from Colorado, and Mike Wolfe from Montana, among them – got lost in the first third of the re-routed snow course, adding on what is reported to be more than a mile to their ultra journey. A Brit, Jez Bragg, was one of the runners who did not lose his way and he was able to lead or share the lead with Jornet for some of the miles before the runners met their pacers at Foresthill, 62 miles into the race.
Jornet’s first pacer, Coloradan Rickey Gates, who won the Mount Washington Hill Climb in New Hampshire the week before, said that the World Champion ski mountaineer “ran from Foresthill to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky quite comfortably. He was just passing the time and sometimes he’d hum or even sing to himself as he listened to his iPod.” Jornet’s pacer from mile 78, Simon Mtuy, the Tanzanian guide who had helped Jornet last fall when Jornet set a new record for running up and down Mount Kilimanjaro – a record that Mtuy had held until then – escorted Jornet until a fast-charging Wolfe had cut the lead down to a little more than two minutes with three miles to go. Recounted Mtuy, “I looked behind me on that final steep final climb and couldn’t tell which way was up and which was down. So I just pointed to the finish and said ‘Go!’ and Kilian did.”