Western States Stories with 2009 Champion Anita Ortiz

This weekend, June 27-28, 2020, would have marked the 47th edition of one of the world’s most prestigious trail ultramarathons, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race organizers had to make the difficult decision to postpone the race until 2021.

The Western States trail is recognized as one of the most historic and challenging courses in trail running. It follows a 100.2-mile point-to-point path from Squaw Valley Resort to Auburn, California, that traverses the Sierra Nevada Mountains through snow fields, hot rugged canyons, a swift river crossing and other difficult terrain.

Tayte Pollmann at the 2019 Western States 100

The author at the 2019 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run vendor expo.

Last summer, I had the pleasure of attending the event as a first-time spectator, experiencing the pre race excitement, and being at the finish line to watch several amazing record-breaking performances. This year, to pay homage to this historic trail running race, I’ve written a four-part article series covering each quarter of the Western States course from the starting line to the track at Auburn High School.

In this article, I speak with 2009 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run champion, Anita Ortiz, about her experience during the first 25 miles of the Western States course. Stay tuned for articles in the coming days featuring Kaci Lickteig (miles 26 to 50), Matt Daniels (miles 51 to 75), and Brittany Peterson (miles 76 to 100.2). Right now, let’s get started from mile zero!

Here’s my conversation with Anita Ortiz:

[TAYTE] What did you like about this section of the course and what were the challenges?
[ANITA] The first section of the course was beautiful, especially the first 10 miles which were green and fresh. The day was new and I was happy to have started. Runners were still mostly clustered together, so you could talk and socialize before everyone spreads out later into the race.

The big challenge in this section came around mile 20. I felt like I was running at a pace beyond my abilities. I’d never run 100 miles, so I had no clue what I was in for. I made a decision to slow down and let some of my competitors get ahead. This turned out to be a good move. In the long run, running slower at the start gave me the strength I needed to finish fast.

[TAYTE] Do you have any memories from the remote aid stations early on in the race?
[ANITA] The volunteers at each aid station put their heart and souls into your care. I had enough pre-filled packs to trade my pack at the aid stations or run on through. I was always in and out in about a minute. The volunteers kept me rolling. They’d have my new pack ready and grab the old pack off my back and out I’d go. The process was very efficient.

My Western States crew was awesome as well, but I didn’t see them in the first 25 miles because crew access isn’t allowed at Lyon Ridge or Red Star Ridge aid stations. I remember that when I finally saw my crew at Robinson Flat (mile 30.3) I was extremely happy.

[TAYTE] Overall, how did you feel during the first 25 miles and is this how you thought you’d feel beforehand?
[ANITA] Other than the first 10 miles, I felt this section was very hard. My competitors were running fast! I thought I’d enjoy the first 25 miles more than I did. From Lyon Ridge (10.3 miles) to Duncan Canyon (24.4 miles) I really wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into (Google Street-view image above).

[TAYTE] Did you do anything special to prepare for this section of the course? If so, what did you do and did you feel like it helped?
[ANITA] I’d received advice from several “ultra running stars” to go easy at the start. I had my splits and general pace planned out before the run. I also planned to take a shot of gel (gel mixed with water in a flask) alternating with a sip of water every 5 minutes. I wanted a constant flow of calories. This was a saving grace because when it got hot I wasn’t behind in nutrition or water.

Anita Ortiz at a Western States aid station

Anita Ortiz being serviced by her crew in 2009.

[TAYTE] What place were you in during the first 25 miles and was this where you thought you’d be? What was your experience of the competition? 
[ANITA] I was either 1st or 2nd early on in Western States and considered Bev Anderson to be my main competitor. She had serious speed, was tough as nails and was experienced on the course. We’d leap-frog each other depending on if it was uphill (my favorite) or downhill (where she rocked and rolled!). I didn’t expect to be in the front and was surprised when I was told my position.

[TAYTE] How did racing head to head with Bev affect your race strategy and did you have to make adjustments?
Once I knew I was in either 1st or 2nd place I was sucked into the competition. I had started the race with a goal to finish in the top 20. Around mile 18, I told myself, “slow down and let Bev go. You can’t hold this pace.” I put my head down to mentally regroup, dropped my pace to a comfortable level and just ran. A few miles later I lifted my head and was ready to go harder again.

[TAYTE] What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone racing the first 25 miles of Western States?
[ANITA] Start slower than you think you need to. It’s a long race. Fuel early and often.

Western States champion Anita Ortiz

2009 Western States champions Hal Koerner and Anita Ortiz.

Shortcuts to course information on the Western States 100 mile website:

Our Western States Trekker page with Google Street-view shortcuts of the course like Watson Monument shown below.

Read iRunFar’s interview with Western States Trekker expedition leader Richard Bolt and the Trekker team’s Day 1 recap of their journey along the first 25 miles of the course.

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.

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