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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Western States 100 mile Endurance Run 2008: the race that never was

For the first time in the thirty-five year history of the race, this year’s Western States Endurance run was cancelled due to widespread forest fires in Northern California. The fires were caused by a storm of dry lightning strikes which passed over the Sierra Nevada mountains during the weekend of 21/ 22 June. Western States is widely regarded as the premier 100 mile trail race in the US, if not the world. It’s the race that the best trail runners want to run. For me it was a dream opportunity to compete against the world's best, but a dream that was broken by an act of god.

The decision to cancel the race was made by the board of directors on Wednesday (25 June). In my mind there was no doubting it was the right one. Squaw Valley, the starting point for the race and the host venue for the 1960 winter Olympics, was engulfed in smoke and further down the course within a mile of the trail, the fires raged and potentially posed a major safety issue to runners and firefighters alike. The concept of running 100 miles across mountain wilderness, at altitude, in high temperatures and within the 30 hour cut-off is hard enough on it’s own, the runners didn’t need pollution levels recorded to be ten times above safe levels to add to the challenge.

It is only now, having left Squaw Valley to return to the UK, that the impact of the race cancellation has really hit me. For the last six months, since my name was confirmed on the start list – a significant challenge in itself – the race has been at the forefront of my daily thoughts and dreams. Before I had even experienced the atmosphere the race generates in California, I knew from research that this is the one to run, the one to peak for, the one to try and win. And that was my mission for the year, one that was aborted right at the last minute.

So from Wednesday 25 June, after the decision had been made, it was plan B. From the organisers that meant a series of activities to keep those already in Squaw Valley occupied. For me that meant making the best of the remaining time left by running and exploring spectacular trails in and around Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I have run plenty of trails in various parts of the world but to me, these are simply the best. The diversity of terrain is incredible; lush woodland, desert-like stretches of sand, rocky outcrops, patches of snow, scree slopes, creeks, 10,000ft peaks, spectacular vistas, solitude, silence, altitude, everything a trail runner could want and more. There were also some the world’s best trail runners hanging out in the area, all booked into accommodation for the race, so it was also a golden opportunity to meet other runners, run together and share some adventure, stories, advice and beers! I met some great folk, Paul Charteris the massively committed and enthusiastic Kiwi, Simon Mtuy the Mount Kilimanjaro running guide from Tanzania who also happens to hold the ascent/ descent world record for the mountain, plus a host of others all of whom it was a pleasure to meet and share stories with.

There are certainly many memories to take away from the trip, but it is still hugely disappointing that the 2008 Western States will be remembered for all the wrong reasons; the race that never was. I am taking away with me a better knowledge of the terrain, course and likely race conditions and hope to return in 2009 with a better chance of a top performance. Until then, it will be another 12 months of Western States dreams……


Thomas said...

Jez, I am really sorry for what happened. This was really bad luck. You must be gutted. All that anticipation and preparation. I am sure you would have done well.

Thomas said...

Sorry, I want to clarify this. You are a rare talent. Doing well means in those terms that I hope to see you quite high up in the field. Top 5. Maybe top 3.
No pressure but your west highland way record is just off the charts

A big fan

John Kynaston said...

Hi Jez

We've not met but I've ran in the same race (The Highland Fling). I'm so glad you've started a blog. I look forward to following your progress more closely.

When I heard the Western States was cancelled I thought of you as I knew you were running and was really looking forward to seeing how you got on.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?


Brian Mc said...

Serious bummer about the race - will you get automatic entry for next year?

Look forward to reading more on your blog as it develops.

Jez Bragg said...

WS was a big disappointment, but nothing anyone could have done about it. Perhaps a blessing - I have now had a chance to check out bits of the course, conditions etc so will be in better position next year? Remaining positive! They have confirmed all 2008 entrants will have a place for 2009, so all I need to do now is the training all over again!

drink benefit said...

Thank you for sharing some of your experience and wisdom.by Andy and FSN

drink benefit said...

Thank you for sharing some of your experience and wisdom.by Andy and FSN