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2016 Western States 100 women’s preview: Made for Magdalena

By: Todd Mordhorst for the Auburn Journal
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43rd Western States 100-miler

The course: The Western States Endurance Run, the oldest 100-mile race in the world, is conducted along the Western States Trail, from Squaw Valley to Placer High School in Auburn.

The start: The run begins at 5 a.m. on Saturday at the west end of Squaw Valley.

The finish: Runners must reach the finish line at Placer’s LeFebvre Stadium by 10:59 a.m. to complete the race.

River crossing: At 78 miles, runners must ford the American River near the Rucky Chucky crossing.

Volunteers: Approximately 1,500 volunteers dedicate their time to conducting the endurance run.

Last year: Rob Krar was the first man to finish and 2016 returner, Olympian Magdalena Boulet, was tops among women. In all, 252 runners finished the race in 30 hours.

Magdalena Boulet says she learned plenty in her Western States Endurance Run debut last year. That could be a scary prospect for the rest of the women’s field.

Boulet, a former Olympic marathoner, won the 100-mile race in 2015. While she will be a favorite on Saturday at the Squaw Valley start line, she should have plenty of company near the front.

“This year the field is extremely deep,” Boulet said. “There are a lot of new faces, a lot of returning runners who had incredible races leading up. As a whole, it’s going to be a great race to follow.”

Boulet was Ultra Running Magazine’s Ultra Runner of the Year in 2015. She followed up her Western States win with a second-place finish at the CCC in France and a win at the local Ultra Race of Champions. She returned to Auburn to win the Canyons 100K last month, shaving more than 33 minutes off of her course record.

Returning to Western States was an easy decision for Boulet.

“It’s a journey worth experiencing, and I want to go through it all over again,” Boulet said. “Western States is a unique race. There is a lot of history. It’s going to be really hot and it’s a challenge that is incredible to overcome. You walk away a lot stronger as a person.”

Last year’s runner-up Kaci Licktieg leads the list of Western States contenders. The Nebraska native has a tough time finding hills to simulate the 15,500 feet of ascent and 22,000 feet of descent on the Western States Trail. But she religiously runs repeats on a 150-foot hill outside of town, and she’s proven her strength at races throughout the west.

Licktieg says she’s excited to test herself against many of the sport’s top talents.

“I am going to race my race, and try and improve my time,” Licktieg said. “I think I can improve on the sections I struggled with last year. It’s exciting. A field of women like this will push everybody to do their best.”

Two of Boulet’s Bay Area friends may provide some of the stiffest competition. Devon Yanko won the Sean O’Brien 50-miler earlier this year to earn a golden ticket entry to Western States. She also dominated the American River 50 in April.

Yanko ran Western States in 2010, but did not finish. Since then, she’s ramped up her mileage and gained valuable experience, including a confidence-boosting win and course record at the Javelina Jundred late last year.

“After a successful run at Javelina I was excited to try Western States again,” said Yanko, who owns a bakery in San Anselmo. “I feel like the time is right and I have the perspective to do what needs to be done to get to the finish line.”

Fellow Marin County resident Yiou Wang held off Licktieg to win the Lake Sonoma 50 earlier this year, and could be a major factor as she makes her 100-mile debut.

Stephanie Howe, the 2014 women’s champion, may not run as she is still recovering from Achilles’ surgery. 

Other ladies to watch include: last year’s fourth place finisher Aliza Lapierre, Nicole Kalogeropoulos, who was sixth last year, Sally McRae, who was seventh last year, and Amy Sproston, who has three top-10 finishes in her career.

“I think it’s so awesome to see so many amazing and talented women lining up together,” Yanko said. “It makes for a great race.”