What I learned as a first time spectator at Western States

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. Western States is an American Trail Running Association corporate member.

I was very grateful to have had the opportunity this past week, June 29-30, 2019, to be present at the 46th annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. The race is one of the most historic and competitive ultra-trail races in the world. In addition to my pre-race article, and post-race summary, I’d like to share my experiences as a first-timer at Western States. Listed below are some of the things I learned at this historic event.

The Importance of the “Pit-Crew”
A runner should have a good crew to maximize their chances of finishing or performing well at Western States. Crews at Western States can be compared to “pit-crews” at NASCAR or Formula-1 races, helping athletes save time and prepare for challenges along the course. Western States crews help pace runners, speed up the process of changing shoes and other gear, provide necessary nutrition, cool-off runners with ice and water, keep runners positive in low-points and help with racing strategies. The top Western States finishers all had extensive crews and expressed their gratitude post-race for having them. Never before have I witnessed such a team atmosphere at a trail race!

It’s Spectator Friendly!
The race offers many places for spectators to see runners along the course. The small town of Foresthill at mile 62, population 1,483, is completely taken-over by thousands of spectators. Expect local cafes to run out of food and arrive early for parking. Robinson Flat aid station, mile 30.3, and Rucky Chucky River Crossing, mile 78, are also great places to see runners if you are up for more of a drive or hike. Look to obtain a race guide so you can see when to expect top, 24-hour and 30-hour finishers through each aid station. The race offers live online tracking beginning at the first aid station, Lyon Ridge, mile 10.3.

Embrace the Western States Hype
You will feel the energy and excitement surrounding Western States from the Thursday pre-race activities to the awards Sunday afternoon. The pre-race chatter around predicted favorites, such as Jim Walmsley and Courtney Dauwalter, props these runners up to seemingly mythic status. The race is covered by national and international media. It’s an incredible feeling to be at Western States and to know that trail and ultrarunning communities around the world are tuning in to know what happens.

Study the Course
Knowing the Western States course will greatly increase your chances of success. Runners and their crews should prepare accordingly for the course’s many changes in temperature and terrain. Gear changes and runner-cooling supplies, such as ice, water buckets and sponges are a must as the race enters hot canyons in mid to later stages of the race. The race website has extensive information about the course including a detailed description, USGS topo maps, a virtual flyover, aid station information, snow routes, downloadable GPS files and more. For runners, crew and spectators who want to see what every inch of the trail looks like, you can check out our Western States Trekker page. Here you will find all 100 miles of the course covered by Google Streetview 360 degree panoramic images with bookmarks of notable locations.

Expect Anything Can Happen in the Race
Runners should mentally prepare for the unexpected. Over the course of the race, runners will encounter many highs and lows. The race isn’t over until mile 100.2 at the finish line. Defending women’s champion, Courtney Dauwalter, led this year’s race for over 70 miles with a lead over second place of almost 40 minutes. To everyone’s surprise, Dauwalter suddenly experienced hip pain and withdrew at mile 79. This year’s women’s champion, Clare Gallagher also shared her story in a pre-race talk of how she was in podium position in the 2017 Western States and unexpectedly dropped out at mile 93.