Despite triple-digit temperatures on the course, Ashland runner Timothy Olson successfully defended his title Saturday night at the 40th annual Western States Endurance Run, the country's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile foot race.
"This year was the second hottest race on record: 102 degrees at the (Auburn, Calif.) airport, probably much hotter in the canyons," race director Craig Thornley said.
Of the 383 runners who toed the line in Squaw Valley, Calif., only 277 crossed the finish line in Auburn before the 30-hour cutoff.
Olson's winning time of 15 hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds was only 4 minutes, 38 seconds ahead of Rob Krar, a former NCAA track standout who had been slowly chipping away at the lead during the final 20 miles of the race.
It was near the 80-mile mark that Olson knew the race was his to lose.
"After the (American) River crossing I heard people cheering behind me," Olson said. "At that point I was hot and dizzy, so knowing that there were people so close behind me gave me a push and I tried to give it everything and tried to hold on."
It was near the same point in the race last year when Olson passed Ryan Sandes to take the lead en route to breaking the course record.
This year, battling sore knees and quads, fighting off dizziness, Olson knew he had to push.
"I gave it everything I had, trying not to let the people behind me catch me," Olson explained. "Definitely one of the hardest races I've won."
This year, the race began in tactical fashion, as the lead pack eyed each other through the first third of the pack, never letting the leader, Cameron Clayton, get too far ahead. In that pack with Olson was Hal Koerner, a fellow Ashland runner and two-time Western States winner.
As the trail headed into the first of several steep and hot canyons, the race began in earnest.
"I don't like to have others dictate my race, so I pushed hard toward the river," Koerner said. "Then on the uphill to Devil's Thumb, Timothy made his move."
Though both Ashland runners were struggling — Olson with the heat and Koerner with tired quadriceps muscles — they led the field through the next 30 miles.
"Timothy made a good push on a downhill," Koerner said. "We were running a sub-seven minute pace at mile 65. It blew me and I was reduced to a shuffle."
Koerner dropped from the race soon after, and that was the last time Olson saw any of his competitors.
"You don't have people telling you how many minutes you are behind the leader, so I didn't know how much of a lead I had until a few miles before the finish when I crossed No Hands Bridge," Olson said.
"It comes down to how much you want it at the end," Olson added. "I didn't want to let anybody catch me. I'm a stubborn person sometimes and today I just wanted to finish strong, and I'm happy the way things turned out."
Oregon runners fared well in this year's race, as Bend's Ian Sharmin placed fourth and Portland's Yassine Diboun finished 10th.
The women's race was won by Salem's Pam Smith in 18:37:21, who led for much of the race. Smith's commanding margin of victory of 44:42 over runner-up Nikki Kimball was also good enough for an overall finish of ninth place.
Fellow Oregonians Amy Sproston of Portland and Meghan Arbogast of Corvallis finished third and fourth, respectively. Smith, Sproston and Arbogast were all members of the United States team that won the world road 100-kilometer championship race last year.
Mike Morton, a 41-year-old former Western States record holder, set a new master's record en route to a third-place finish this year.
As Olson recovers from his 100-mile race, he has a new training aide at his disposal: a 25-pound bronze cougar trophy, his second.
"I figured I needed to keep up with Hal," Olson joked. "He has two of them, so now we can do bicep curls together."
Western States Endurance Run Top 10
Place Name Age Time
1. Timothy Olson 29 15:17:27
2. Rob Krar 36 15:22:05
3. Mike Morton 41 15:45:21
4. Ian Sharman 32 16:20:25
5. Dylan Bowman 27 16:32:18
6. Nick Clark 39 16:56:23
7. Jesse Haynes 40 17:44:36
8. Paul Terranova 39 17:56:29
9. Yassine Diboun 34 18:44:02
10. Karl Meltzer 45 18:51:55
Other Local Finishers
84 John Price 55 23:38.13
Place Name Age Time
1. Pam Smith 38 18:37:21
2. Nikki Kimball 42 19:21:43
3. Amy Sproston 39 19:25:11
4. Meghan Arbogast 52 19:30:50
5. Rory Bosio 28 19:52:09
6. Aliza Lapierre 33 20:04:46
7. Emily Harrison 27 20:28:40
8. Denise Bourassa 43 21:44:37
9. Leila Degrave 35 21:59:26
10. Abby McQueeney Penamonte 30 22:36:29
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.