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The Magic of Western States

97

This year’s Western States could be considered one of the fastest races in the 51-year history of the event. With the return of a three-time champion and a course-record-breaking second-place finisher from 2023, both the men’s and women’s fields were stacked.

Olympic Valley was already buzzing with activities that filled the week prior to Western States, but the pre-race electricity on Friday at Palisades Tahoe was unparalleled. With Jim Walmsley returning to the start line in search of a fourth cougar trophy, along with last year’s second-place female, Katie Schide, who also broke the women’s 12-year course record alongside champion Courtney Dauwalter, the 2024 race was loaded with potential.

As expected, Walmsley took the lead early, but was closely followed by Daniel Jones, Hayden Hawks, Rod Farvard, Guomin Deng, Dakota Jones and Jupiter Carera Casas, who were all within 3 minutes of each other at Robinson Flat (mile 30.3).

Rod Farvard makes his way up to the escarpment at mile 4 of Western States. Photo Paul Nelson

In the women’s race, Kaite Schide was in 19th overall, entering Robinson at 4:44:59, with Emily Hawgood following in second at 5:05:28, along with Eszter Csillag, Heather Jackson, Lin Chen, Fuzhao Xiang and Ida Nilsson, who were all within 4 minutes of one another. These tight groups remained close together throughout the day and into the second third of the race at Foresthill (mile 62).

The quaint little town of Foresthill continues to be a beacon for those eager to see the leaders fly through before they head down to the river crossing at mile 78. This year, the small town was packed with numerous running brands offering up swag and more while volunteers for the race’s live stream sped across the pavement, getting as close as possible to film each runner.

Live stream volunteer and UltraRunning Magazine intern, Max Hines, was filming throughout the afternoon and had this to say about his second year as part of the live stream crew, “On paper, this looked like a very average year—temperatures in the low 90s in Auburn and a finisher rate in the mid-70s. That fails to capture the fact that it’s impossible for any edition of Western States to be average, generic or forgettable when you have 375 amazing stories line up in Olympic Valley. It was amazing watching the elite race progress along the course this year with almost no attrition. It was quite an exhilarating race to follow and see so many top 10 records being set. We really saw what could happen this year when almost everyone had a good day — and it led to a bunch of new masters’ records and the most exciting men’s podium race in quite a while.”

In the women’s race, Katie Schide arrived in Foresthill first, in 17th overall,  at 2:30 p.m., ahead of the other elite female runners who were 38 minutes back. Fuzhao Xiang, Lin Chen and Emily Hawgood were all running within 5 minutes of each other as they took off down Cal Street on their way to the river.

At the Rucky Chucky river crossing, Farvard pulled ahead of Walmsley, gaining 2 minutes on him and taking the lead for a short time. Katie Schide moved into 15th place overall, while the packs of lead men and women began to slowly spread out.

A 15-acre wildfire, the Creek Fire, also started on Saturday near the Green Gate aid station at mile 80, and while crews were evacuated for a period of time, no runners were ever in danger.

At the finish line on the Placer High track in Auburn, Walmsley took the win for the fourth time in his career in 14:13:45. Farvard came in second, sprinting to a finish in 14:24:15, with Hayden Hawks on his heels just 16 seconds back, who placed third with a time of 14:24:31.

Katie Schide maintained her lead and became the first female to cross the finish in 15:46:57 and placed 13thoverall. This was the second-fastest time by a female in the 51-year history of the race and was almost an hour faster than her second-place time in 2023. In second place, Fuzhao Xiang of China finished in 16:20:92 and 14th overall, which was the third-fastest time ever by a woman. Eszter Csillag of both Hong Kong and Hungary was the third female, finishing in 16:42:17, the fourth-fastest time ever.

Indeed, “fast” seemed to be the theme of Western States this year, and it made for incredible spectating, whether in person or via the live stream footage.

Notable finishes this year included 67-year-old Ken Ward of Oregon and 37-year-old Kaci Lickteig of Nebraska who both finished their 10th Western States and received their 1,000-mile buckles. Iris Cooper was the final finisher of the race, crossing the line in 29:56:10.

UltraRunning writer Drew Dinan is surrounded by his crew as he makes his way to the finish at Placer High. Photo courtesy author

Emotions at the track were high as William Barkin entered the stadium just seconds before the cutoff and missed an official finish by less than a minute. He would have been the first blind runner in the history of the race to finish under the 30-hour cutoff. Runners continued to enter the track as race organizers began to disassemble the finish line well after the cutoff, and while they didn’t get buckles for running 100 miles, their finishes were celebrated by those in the stands.

Sponsors and race organizers pulled out all the stops for the 2024 Western States Endurance Run, offering over 30 hours of dedicated live stream coverage, along with hundreds of volunteers who continue to elevate this event to a world-class level.

And from the race organizers to the runners, crews and pacers, the community continues to bring the magic back to the race year after year.