20-year-old Andrew Miller wins the 2016 Western States 100 Endurance Run

Miller is the youngest champion in race history
By: Todd Mordhorst for the Auburn Journal
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A successful run at the Western States Endurance Run requires patience and wisdom—qualities that are usually tough to grasp for 20-year-old runners.

Andrew Miller displayed them in spades Saturday to become the youngest Western States champion in the 42-year history of the race. Miller finished the 100-mile trail race from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 15 hours, 39 minutes.

Miller’s brother Jacob and mother Anne, who introduced him to ultrarunning, were the first to offer him hugs at the Placer High finish line. The sophomore-to-be at Northern Arizona University said after working his way up through the field and chasing leader Jim Warmsley, he was shocked to find himself in the lead at the Highway 49 Crossing aid station.

“I had a chase mindset all day,” said Miller, who won the Pine to Palm 100 at age 17 and set a course record at the Bighorn 100 last year at 19. “When I found out I was in the lead, it was definitely a big boost of energy. I was just hoping to hold onto second and then to find out I was in first at Western States, that was pretty exciting.”

Miller, who won the Georgia Death Race in March to earn a Golden Ticket entry into Western States, was chasing Warmsley, who had also earned a Golden Ticket earlier this year. But a potentially record- setting day turned miserable a few miles before the Highway 49 Crossing.

With 20 miles to go, Walmsley, a 26-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz. was on pace to shatter Timothy Olson’s record of 14:46, set in 2012. But Walmsley missed a turn off of the Quarry Trail, and continued for more than two miles to Highway 49, where he was forced to backtrack. The off-course jaunt cost him at least an hour. Walmsley courageously continued on and finished some three hours after many expected course record to fall.

“I knew I was at least 45 minutes behind with less than 20 miles to go,” Miller said. “I knew something would have to happen. Unfortunately he went off course. I feel pretty lucky to be here right now.”

Norway’s Didrik Hermansen was all smiles at the finish line after taking second in 16:16. Like Miller, Hermansen was steady throughout the day. His long sauna sessions and summer runs with scarves and jackets on—designed to simulate the canyon heat—paid off.

“I always try to run my own race, that’s my brand,” said Hermansen, who had never raced in the U.S. before. “I’m a slow starter. I loved this race, there were so many people out on the course, out at the finish. I’m definitely coming back!”

Veteran Jeff Browning, from Bend, Ore. climbed his way through the field to finish third in 16:30. Browning, 44, was all the way back in 15th place shortly after Robinson Flat at the 31-mile mark.

Frenchman Thomas Lorblanchet bettered his 2015 place by one spot, taking fourth and Great Britain’s Paul Giblin took fifth in his Western States debut.

Veteran runners and observers said Walmsley was going too fast early in the race, and would have a tough time maintaining his pace in the afternoon heat. He looked perfectly capable until his mishaps late in the race.

Comfortably in the lead, Walmsley took a most uncomfortable dip in the middle fork of the American River. At the Rucky Chucky River Crossing, runners are supposed to walk across the river while holding onto a rope. Walmsley let go of the rope and tried to swim, but began floating downstream toward whitewater. Fighting the current, Walmsley was able to reach a rock on the far side of the river, barely avoiding a trip down a dangerous set of rapids.

The nearly disastrous swim cost him only a few moments, but his second blunder cost him the record, the win and even a spot in the top 10.

Sage Canaday, a popular choice to win in his first Western States race, was impressive early, but struggled with stomach issues in the second half and fell outside the top 10.

Catch the Tuesday print edition of the Auburn Journal for women's results and additional photos. Kaci Lickteig was the top female finisher after Western States 100 returning champ and 2016 favorite Magdalena Boulet dropped from the race..