Western States Endurance Run returning to Sierra backcountry

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Sun File photo/Michael KirbyTim Twietmeyer of Auburn cools off at the Michigan Bluff checkpoint during the 2006 Western States Endurance Run, which was among of the hottest in the 35-year history of the race. Twietmeyer, who has completed the 100-mile ultramarathon 25 times, now serves as Western States president.

With the return of the Western States Endurance Run comes its most prolific champ.

A year after wildfires caused the first cancellation of the 35-year-old ultramarathon, seven-time consecutive winner and course record-holder Scott Jurek highlights a competitive field set to compete in the annual 100-mile run Saturday.

and#8220;We’re really excited to have him back,and#8221; said John Trent, media relations director with Western States, and#8220;but we expect a number of athletes to chase him. This is one of the deepest fields we’ve ever had.and#8221;

Among the nearly 450 ultrarunners on the entrant list include the defending men’s and women’s champs, Hal Koerner of Ashland, Ore., and Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, Mont, and three-time women’s runner-up finisher Beverley Anderson-Abbs of Red Bluff.

Erik Skaden of Folsom and Graham Cooper of Oakland return after finishing second and third, respectively, in 2007, as well as Dave Mackey of Boulder, Colo., who finished runner-up to Jurek when Jurek set the course record in 2004.

If there’s a dark horse woman in the event, Trent said it could be Kristin Moehl of Seattle.

Most of those ultrarunners were slated to compete last summer, but race officials canceled the event. In addition to unhealthy air quality from wildfires throughout Northern California, two separate fires in the rugged country between Squaw Valley and Auburn caused concern about access to the Western States Trail.

All athletes registered for the 2008 race received automatic berths this year, Trent said.

Locally, only Kathy D’Onofrio and Stan Wingate, both of Truckee, are listed on the 2009 roster. D’Onofrio won the women’s race in 1986 and and#8216;88 and was awarded a commemorative belt in 2006 for reaching 1,000 miles in Western States competition.

Jurek, who won every Western States Endurance Run from 1999 to 2005 and#8212; the last year he competed and#8212; will try to top his 2004 course record of 15 hours, 36, minutes, 27 seconds.

Koerner won in 2007 with a time of 16:12:16, and Cooper took the win in 2006 with a time of 18:17:28. The disparity in winning times has everything to do with the weather, Trent said, singling out 2006 as one of the hottest events in the race’s history.

and#8220;It was the most miserable 100-miler I’ve done in my life,and#8221; Trent said, recalling a high of 105 degrees at the Auburn finish line and#8212; and perhaps 10 to 12 degrees warmer in the canyons between miles 40 and 62.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 98 degrees Saturday and Sunday in Auburn.

And while snow fields at the higher elevations can pose another challenge and#8212; the course tops out at 8,750 feet and#8212; Trent said the Western States Trail was virtually snow-free when he ventured onto it two weeks ago. He said it was in and#8220;really good shapeand#8221; after volunteers cleared debris and recent rainstorms settled the dust, with only a few drifts around mile 4.

Regardless of conditions, 100 miles in length, 18,090 vertical feet of ascent and 22,970 vertical feet of descent remain imposing numbers. The kind that draw such a hardy breed of endurance athletes.

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