The June 28-29 Western States 100 will once again have a star-studded field.
The Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trail race between Squaw Valley ski resort and Auburn, Calif., is one of the world’s most daunting running races. Although ultra-distances races existed before it got its official start in 1977, it’s always been considered one of the sport’s original events and often called “the Boston Marathon of ultrarunning.”
Permit limitations mean less than 400 runners can run the race each year, but it always attracts high-profile runners and produces a compelling race. The problem is that only those who travel to Northern California and are willing to hoof it up on the trails themselves have actually seen the race. (Filmmaker JB Benna put together an outstanding film called “Unbreakable” based on the 2010 race.)
But this year, UltraSportsLive.TV will be broadcasting the June 28-29 race via a livestream feed on the Internet. The upstart company founded by ultrarunners Mike Cloward and Andy Sulak has livestreamed more than a dozen races in the past year, including some of the biggest in the sport such as The North Face Endurance Challenge on Dec. 7 and the Lake Sonoma 50 on April 12.
Cloward and Sulak received approval from the Western States Endurance Run board of directors on April 7 and have been developing their race-day production plans ever since.
“We have great respect for the Western States 100. It’s like our Super Bowl,” Cloward says. “I think it was our love for the race and our passion for wanting to livestream that helped us get this opportunity. Our director of photography lives just off the course at Michigan Bluff. We know the course very, very well.”
Cloward, who has a history in publishing and music promotion, had livestreamed bands in the past. Sulak, a part-time ultrarunning coach, has worked in IT for 20 years. They met a few years ago and the idea came up from their mutual interest in running.
“I’m really looking forward to a great race, not only being able to watch it but also being able to share it in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Sulak says. “On the tech and toys and logistics, it’s a lot of fun for me. But on the endurance side, I’m excited to be a part of the side from this point of view.”
There are numerous challenges involved with livestreaming any kind of event, but especially so with trail running, Sulak says. The course, weather and connectivity in remote locations are among the biggest ones—they experienced high humidity while livestreaming the H.U.R.T. 100 in Hawaii and rainstorms at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas—but Cloward and Sulak have worked through a lot of technical kinks and are confident the Western States will provide a great viewing experience.
“The challenge is that every race is different,” Cloward says. “Every course poses its own challenges. We’ve been taking over-the-counter equipment and modifying it and making it perform well above what it was intended to. We have special equipment built for us.”
Cloward, Sulak and the rest of their team have scouted the course several times and have numerous camera locations picked out. They’ll be back on the course several times before the race to nail down the final locations. In addition to having multiple livestream feeds on the ultrasportslive.tv site, Cloward says occasional race updates will be interspersed into the coverage.
The broadcast will begin at 5:00 a.m. PST on June 28 and will continue until the last competitor crosses the finish line at the race’s 30-hour time cut-off.
“We’re making some significant investment in our website. We’re expecting 2 million hits during the race,” Sulak says. “If my experience in IT has taught me anything, it’s to always plan for the worst-case scenario. If stuff can go wrong, it will, but we’ll be ready.”