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Last weekend was the granddaddy of ultramarathons and the ultramarathon equivalent of the Boston Marathon – the Western States 100. With a starting line in Squaw Valley, California (home of the 1960 Winter Olympics) and charting through the forest until reaching the track at the high school in Auburn, California.
It is certainly one of the most recognized 100 milers in the US and one that many ultra runners aspire to starting at one day. It operates on a qualification system but that just gets you in the lottery. If you get picked, then you have to have volunteer service (8 hours) on trails or at any running event. So, you have to want to do this!
The Amazing Finish
The cut-off time for this vaunted race is 30 hours. Finishers under 24 hours get a handmade silver belt buckle with finishers coming it between 24 hours and 30 hours getting a handmade bronze belt buckle. To finish the race, you have to come in before 30 hours. While 30 hours may sound like a long time to run 100 miles, you have to remember the intense strain that it puts on your body and faculties as well as the difficulty of climbing the ascents in the woods (a lot of elevation change!) and dealing with the heat and cold. It is not an easy course and it takes a good percentage of runners at least 24 hours to do it.
The first 70+ woman to complete this race was 1.3 miles from the finish with 16 minutes left on the clock. The winner (who won in a time of 14 hours and 48 minutes), Rob Krar, actually headed back out to run the last mile with this woman. The woman, Gunhild Swanson, needed all the support she could get as she headed into the track for the last 1/4 mile.
The crowd was shouting more for her than for the other racers that had come in before her and she crossed the finish line with a short 6 seconds to spare! Unbelievable! To do something like that when the 6 seconds could easily have been gone anywhere along the course (at one point, she had gone off course by a mistake and it added 3 miles to her race) and finish so strong is just unbelievable. Watch this video and be prepared to feel inspired as you watch this 70 year old female runner come in under the wire to finish her 100 mile race!
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