27 June 2010

The Contrast of Watching and Doing - Western States

[caption id="attachment_365" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Photo by Luis Escobar "][/caption]

Sports spectating is a big activity (yes, there's irony in that word under this context) in America.  I've never been much of a spectator.  Yesterday, I'm a little ashamed to admit, I spent over 14 hours solid following the updates, tweets, photos, and video of the Western States 100 mile run.  As I sat, bed left unmade, barefoot, shirtless, and hair mussed like a sweaty hillbilly, I was captivated by one of the best performances, check that, several of the best performances I've ever witnessed in sports.

You need to understand that there is no tangible prize for these people to push themselves to the point of utter depletion.  Yes, for those lucky ones who run under 24 and 30 hours, respectively, there is the coveted belt buckle.  It's a buckle, no money, not even a belt to go with it.  The majority of the runners usually don't even get a buckle.  Though I'm impressed by all 400+ runners who stepped to the start in Squaw Valley early yesterday morning, I'll point out a small selection of runners that have left me more hopeful, motivated, and inspired that I might someday do something equally as impressive.

Andy Jones Wilkins.  The man lives for Western States.  It seems to be the one selfish, guilty pleasure in an otherwise selfless, outgoing life.  I met and ran with AJW at one race last year and have been a fan (even more so) since.  If you don't like Andy, then there's something wrong with you as a person.  I also, quietly, felt that there was absolutely no chance of him repeating his impressive string of top 10 finishes this year at Western.  There were simply too many runners this year who are more talented, younger, and faster.  Andy finished 9th overall with a group of guys breathing down his neck for the chance at top 10 and a return ticket to next year's race.  I consider him one of the most consistent and focused runners in the sport.

Nick Clark.  I've watched Nick for the last couple years move from a runner in the lead pack to a race leader.  To show up at Western with the level of competition and face them with the courage and guts to finish 4th (1 min behind 3rd), left me in awe.

Rory Bosio.  This young lady runs like a veteran.  She won the women's race at Firetrail 50 mile last October.  We ran near enough to one another that I could witness how she handled the inevitable low spots of these long events and how she pulled herself up to run one of the fastest women's times at that race.  I assumed she would do well at Western but felt that would mean running any time under 24 hours and maybe getting into the top 10.  She fought and clawed her way up through the standings consistently throughout the day and finished 4th overall woman in 19:32.  At 25 she is going to be a force for a long time.

Anton Krupicka.  Talk about pressure.  This guy has as many critics as he does fans.  He needed to come to Western and race the best in the sport to solidify his standing atop the ultra field.  Running with a mixture from the heart and strategy, Anton dueled it out courageously from the start with the amazing force of Kilian Journet, finally breaking the younger runner late in the race and finishing with what would have been a new course record.  I knew he'd run fast at Western two years ago when I predicted a new record by Anton (the race was cancelled due to fires).  He came away this year with the performance he should be most proud of, even over his wins at Leadville.

Geoff Roes.  I've admired Geoff since I noticed his run in 2008 at the North Face Championship 50 miler.  He obviously wasn't intimidated by the big guns of the sport then and is showing them how it's done now.  His refreshing style of workhorse, speed, and strategy combine to make him, in this fan's mind, the best ultra runner in the world.  The man faded back over 16 minutes behind Anton and Kilian, both of whom kept up the torrid pace.  I doubt there was anyone who thought Geoff had a chance at that point to even maintain 3rd.  His run over the last 20 miles is something that must be considered one of the best finishes in any race.  15:07:04 in 100.2 miles at Western States.

Congratulations to all the runners at Western this year.  Watching you inspires me to get out there and DO.