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Tenth Time’s The Charm

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Ruby Wyles

By: Ruby Wyles

Runner, triathlete, and passionate coach, Ruby is most fulfilled by helping athletes overcome limiting beliefs with joy. She is also a proud science nerd, and advocate for athletes' mental and physical health.

Meet The Three Runners Pursuing Their Tenth Western States’ Finish

The Western States 100-mile is a pipe dream for many ultrarunners, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a few, and even fewer have the privilege of lining up in Olympic Valley more than once. Yet despite the odds stacked against them, a heralded handful set an arbitrary goal of completing the race 10 times!

How many races have you repeated 10 times? Maybe a local 3-mile Turkey Trot. What about running 100 miles through California’s most rugged and remote terrain, traversing the high country’s altitude and possible snow, baking in the heat of the canyons, navigating river crossings, and more? The repeat nine more times.

Western States’ race director Craig Thornley “kindly” rewards athletes who have completed the race nine times with an entry for their next go-around. To date, only 83 runners have ever finished ten or more Western States. This year, three runners are attempting to complete their tenth: Kaci Lickteig, Ken Ward, and Philip Sanderson.

While finishing any 100 miler is a significant achievement, a sub 24-hour finish is a goal for many, and runners completing Western States under that time earn themselves a coveted silver belt buckle. Those finishing over 24 hours but under Western States’ 30-hour cut off are rewarded with a bronze buckle. 

For ten time finishers, their prize is even greater: runners who have competed Western States ten times under 24 hours earn a 1000 mile/ten days buckle; those with ten finishes under the 30-hour cut off but not all under 24 hours, receive a 1000-mile buckle. This year, Kaci, Ken, and Philip will all be pursuing their 1000-mile buckle. It’s worth mentioning that Kaci narrowly missed out on being eligible for a 1000 mile/ten days buckle, running 8 of her 9 Western States well under 24 hours. A difficult day in 2017 saw her cross the line in 24:02:18, meaning she’s a mere 2 minutes and 19 seconds away from 9 sub 24-hour finishes!

Kaci Lickteig

Get to Know the Three Runners Chasing the 1000-mile buckle

Kaci Lickteig

None of these runners are strangers to the 100-mile distance, but Kaci Lickteig has tasted something the other two ten-timers have not – victory at WSER and taking home the cougar! Kaci broke the tape in 2016, storming to the line in 17:57:59, almost 1 hour ahead of both the women’s second-place finisher. Add to that a collection of podiums and top 10 finishes, and Kaci Lickteig herself belongs among Western States and ultrarunning, royalty. 

Even more remarkable, since her Western States debut in 2014, Kaci has not missed a race since – save for the canceled 2020 race due to the pandemic – and will take to this year’s startline hoping for her tenth finish in a row. The trail and ultrarunning icon is only 37 years old and is currently unsponsored. Since finishing in 12th place at last year’s Western States, Kaci has maintained an unbeaten streak winning her last nine races. We won’t be surprised to see her mixing it up near the front of this year’s race!

Ken Ward 

Ken Ward has been racing ultras for longer than I’ve been alive and his UltraSignup results going back as far as April 1999. Impressively, a little over a year later he took to the start line in Olympic Valley for his first Western States in June of 2000. His Western States performances appear remarkably consistent, but having completed last year’s race in 29:30:34, he’ll be racing the clock to earn his tenth finish. And at 67 years old, Ken will be the second oldest athlete in the race, eclipsed only by 77-year-old Eric Spector.

Hailing from Corvallis, Oregon, it’s clear that Ken’s love of ultrarunning goes far beyond the WSER course. Looking through his results his home state pride shines – nine finishes at his hometown race the McDonald Forest 50 km, 11 finishes at the Hagg Mud 50km in Gaston, Oregon, and 12 finishes at the Peterson Ridge Rumble races in Sister, Oregon. All in all, UltraSignup lists 127 results for Ken, which we are sure only represents a fraction of his trail and ultra racing. He’ll be putting this wealth of experience to good use as he chases down a shot at a 1,000-mile belt buckle.

Philip Sanderson

As impressive as Ken Ward’s 20+ year ultrarunning career is, Philip has been at it even longer – with UltraSignup results dating back to 1993! Having run his first Western States in 1995 at the age of 27, Philip returns for his tenth finish 29 years later at 56 years young. Hailing from just down the road in Mill Valley, California we have to imagine Philip has logged a few miles on the historic Western States’ course in the lead-up to this year’s race.

In the last decade, Philip has tackled multiple 100 milers a year consistently including stepping up in distance and clocking in several Moab 240 finishes. Notably, just a few weeks ago on June 1st, Philip finished 5th in the Old Dominion 100 Miler setting his course for his attempt at tackling the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning where athletes most complete four of five of the oldest 100-mile races in the US in one season. We believe this will be Phil’s Fifth summer of Grand Slamming if he can complete the remaining two races after WSER!

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