70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100

70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100

 

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is the most famous, most competitive and most prestigious ultra distance race in the world. It’s kind of like the Boston Marathon of ultras. It starts at Squaw Valley and then goes up and over the Sierra Nevada mountains, through canyons and across rivers before finishing on Placer High School track in Auburn, CA.

To show you how difficult the course is, here’s the elevation profile of Western States as it compares to Boston:

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Western States has a strict 30 hour cutoff time and it is only those finishers who receive one of the coveted hand-made belt buckles to commemorate the achievement. The buckles are a throwback to the 100 mile horse ride that inspired the event.

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To get into Western States you must first run a qualifying race of 60 to 100 miles. All qualifiers are then put into a lottery and only 369 winners are chosen to run each year (as opposed to Boston which allowed 32,000 runners last year).

It can take years of qualifying before finally having your name picked in the lottery. And once you do get in, you definitely want to make sure you get that buckle because it could very well be your one and only chance.

The race was run last weekend on a day when temperatures were brutally hot. The heat really took its toll and only 68% of the runners were able finish in under 30 hours.

Men's Winner Rob Krar

Men’s Winner Rob Krar

 

There were many dramatic narratives that played out over the course of this year’s race. However, the loudest cheers were not for the winners, but for the person who finished dead last.

At 70 years old, Gunhild Swanson was attempting to become the oldest women to ever finish the race. And at mile 88 she was on pace to do just that, until she took a wrong turn.

Extra miles are the last thing you want at this point in the race. However, she didn’t let it get her down and instead focused on getting back on track.

When word began to spread that she had a chance of finishing before the cutoff, several runners including Rob Krar met her at the last aid station. Rob ran the last mile with her (in flip flops!) to help push the pace.

When she entered the track at Placer High School, there was still no guarantee that she’d be able to finish before the 30 hour cutoff. The crowd rallied behind her and several folks joined her for the final sprint. It was one of the most thrilling finishes in the 42 year history of Western States.

Here’s a VIDEO CLIP of her finishing with just six seconds to spare. I get choked up every time I see it.

Remember Gunhild next time you don’t want to go to the gym or when you don’t feel like running after work. She’s an inspiration to us all and proof that we’re capable of doing more than we think.

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