The hunt for a berth into the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (WSER) continued this past Saturday, as trail runners from across the globe migrated to the Black Canyon Ultras in Mayer, Arizona, now in its 10th running of the 100-kilometer race. Starting on the Mayer High School track, runners traveled southbound on the Black Canyon Trail on the point-to-point course towards the city of Anthem. This notoriously fast (the race features a net elevation loss) and highly competitive race serves as the third stop in North America for runners looking to gain automatic entry into the 2023 WSER with Golden Tickets, on the line for the top two finishers of the men’s and women’s fields. So far, Golden Tickets have already been distributed Stateside at the Javelina Jundred in October, and at the Bandera Endurance Trail 100-kilometer earlier this year in January. Additional tickets have been handed out for 2023 at international races including the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in Chamonix in August, the Doi Inthanon Thailand 100 Mile race in December and at the Tarawera by UTMB 100-kilometer race a week ago in New Zealand.
Fortunate for the runners, the course experienced some precipitation earlier this week, leading to a less dusty course with slightly tacky trails, providing a venue for some potentially speedy times. Coupled with some slightly cooler temperatures relative to previous years, race day highs were around 70F, fans and runners alike were treated to historic performances in both the men’s and women’s races.
Heather Jackson (Hoka) led the women’s race from the gun, employing a strategy similar to her first trail ultramarathon this past fall at the Javelina Jundred. Pushing the pace early, Heather split the second quickest opening 20-miles in race history, but was kept in relatively close contact by Ida Nilsson (Craft) and Keely Henninger (Altra). This lead female pack remained in tight proximity to one another, while collectively splitting times faster than course record pace through the Black Canyon City aid station (mile 37) and Table Mesa (mile 51). Fading in the last twelve miles, Nilsson perhaps began to succumb to the race distance and increasing heat of the day, allowing Meghan Morgan (La Sportiva) to make a move into third place in the last 4 miles of the race. In a tightly contested race Keely Henninger made a pass on Heather Jackson to jump into first place in the last four miles of the race, and increased her lead through to the finish for a new course record in 8:45:30, improving on Brittany Peterson’s previous time of 8:48:32 set in 2021. Heather Jackson charged into the finish less than 3-minutes later also under the previous course record at 8:47:59, with Meghan Morgan rounding out the podium at 8:53:52. Hot on Ida’s heels through the latter aid stations were Anna Kacius (Impala Racing Team) and Shea Aquilano (Unsponsored) who pushed alongside Ida to the finish. Kacius came out on top of the chasing trio finishing fourth in 9:05:44, Nilsson fifth in 9:07:22 and Aquilano in sixth in 9:08:27. The rest of the top ten were rounded out by Yngvild Kaspersen (Adidas Terrex), Georgia Porter (Salomon), Jade Belzberg (Injinji) and Brianna Grigsby (Aravaipa Racing Team). In addition to record setting times and the smallest margin of victory to-date in the women’s field (only a 2 minute and 29 second gap separated first and second place), the women’s podium was also the tightest in race history, reinforcing the high level of competition that showed up to this race.
The opening miles of the men’s race featured a large lead group of runners packed together through the first crewed aid station at Bumble Bee Ranch (appx. mile 19), with the top ten runners separated by less than three minutes, all running well under course record splits. Tom Evans (Adidas Terrex), Cole Watson (Hoka) and Anthony Costales (Unsponsored) emerged from the pack and led the race through the 50-kilometer mark, with all three men hitting the Soap Creek aid station (mile 31) in record challenging speed, just a hair over 3:30 elapsed. For reference, in 2016 when Sage Canaday set the previous course record he came through the Soap Creek aid station in 3:41 elapsed. This year featured well over a dozen runners running faster than this split. The middle miles of the race featured jockeying for top ten positions, while some men began to fade, others including Janosch Kowalczyk (Adidas Terrex) pushed through the field into podium position. Through the Table Mesa aid station (mile 51), the trio of Costales, Evans and Kowalczyk sped through all still substantially under course record pace, with the group separated by less than 10 minutes. Anthony Costales crossed the finished line in 7:32:50, establishing a new course record bettering Sage Canaday’s 2016 mark of 7:52:26. In close pursuit, Adidas Terrex teammates Evans and Kowalczyk also slipped in under the previous course record in 7:37:40 and 7:40:00 respectively. Cole Watson snuck in under the 8-hour mark at 7:59:15 and Noah Dusseau (Cowgill Trail Collective) finished close behind in fifth in 8:02:29. Rounding out the top ten were Erik Sorenson (Unsponsored) in 8:03:48, David Laney (Craft) in 8:04:02, Elliot Cardin (Norda/Satisfy) in 8:10:22, Stephen Kersh (Adidas Terrex) in 8:15:47 and Matthew Seidel (Unsponsored) in 8:22:35. Highlighting the competitiveness of this race, of the top ten fastest times on record for this course, six of them were run in this race. Further, this edition of the race featured the tightest podium in course history, and for the third year straight, had the top three runners all within ten minutes of each other.
In terms of Golden Tickets for the WSER in late June, both Anthony Costales and Janosch Kowalczyk have accepted the tickets, with the automatic entry bypassing Tom Evans, who is already in the race through his podium placement at UTMB. Keely Henninger eagerly accepted her Golden Ticket as well, and will seek redemption at WSER following a DNF due to injury sustained during the 2022 race. Heather Jackson already has an entry into WSER through a Hoka sponsor spot, so the second Golden Ticket was offered to Meghan Morgan, who also accepted the entry into this year’s race.
Pre-race podium contenders in the women’s field who did not finish the race included Sarah Biehl (Unsponsored), Ailsa MacDonald (Saucony), Hannah Osowski (Dynafit) and Lotti Brinks (Salomon). In the men’s elite field, Tim Freriks (Craft), Canyon Woodward (Green Racing Project), Corey Keehn (inov8), Eric Senseman (Rabbit Elite), in addition to crowd favourite Michael Versteeg (Satisfy), also dropped from the race.
In Sunday’s 60k race, former Ohio Bobcat cross-country runner Josh Park (Unsponsored) edged out Cordis Hall (Adidas Terrex) and Benjamin Cook (Unsponsored) for the win in the men’s race, finishing in 4:37:10. In the women’s race, Sweden’s Mimmi Kotka (Craft) took the win and 6thoverall in 4:55:36, with Martha Clemmer (Unsponsored) and Kassandra Spitler (Unsponsored) rounding out the podium.
Full race results and splits available here.