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Auburn runners hunting for Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run finishes

Dan Barger, Elke Truscott and Matt Keyes ready to hit the trail
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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Dan Barger, Elke Truscott and Matt Keyes are representing the Endurance Capital of the World in Saturday’s Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

The trio are the only runners from Auburn in this year’s field of about 359 for the footrace that starts in Squaw Valley at 5 a.m. and ends at Placer High.

All three ultrarunners are familiar with each other, as they run in Tuesday night “Hunts” together along the Western States Trail.

The “Hunts” feature a group of about 10 or 15 runners. Each week, a different person leads the pack for a two-hour run.

“The leader gets to go whatever route they want and nobody can pass them,” Barger said. “That person also provides the adult beverages for the entire group after the run. It’s not hard training or anything but it’s nice to get to know people around the area.”

Added Truscott: “It’s local runners on the local trails. It’s really good for developing friendships.”

The “Hunts” started in Eugene, Ore., where second-year Western States 100 race director Craig Thornley lived before moving to Auburn.

“We used to be in a phase running with orange safety vests,” Thornley said. “I don’t know why. But while we were running, somebody asked us if we were hunting.”

And from then on, the runs became known as “Hunts.”

“It kept developing a life of its own and then beer became involved,” Thornley added. “I moved to Auburn and then started up the Auburn Chapter of the Hunt. It’s fun. It’s a good way to run different trails and share local knowledge.

“Afterward, you have to look everybody in the eye when you toast. It brings some people together every week and builds good camaraderie.”

Tru’ story

Elke Truscott, one of 10 core Western States Trail crew members, and about 50 volunteers spent 6,000 hours of their time fixing the trail after the American Fire.

Thanks to the volunteers, the 10-mile stretch of trail that was affected by last year’s blaze in August will be open for Saturday’s 41st annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

A collective group of volunteers from the Western States Trail Foundation and Tevis Cup put in a ton of hours of work through the winter and fall, bringing back burned areas of the trail.

“We might have 2,000 volunteer hours on an average trail year,” said Truscott, who is running the Western States 100 for the third time Saturday and has been on the trail team since 2006. “This year we had 6,000. It was a big concentration from Last Chance to Devil’s Thumb. We replaced the Pacific Slab Mine Bridge, which was built by Bill Rose at his home. It was disassembled, brought to Last Chance, hand carried down to the site and rebuilt. It was kind of the highlight of our efforts.”

Truscott, 50, has had a busy year, as she also works full time as a project coordinator in the wireless industry — and trains on the trail.

“Everybody wants to give back to the trail,” she said. “It’s a requirement for 100s and Western States. … They want to give back to the trail they love so much. I just do so more often and more intensively.”

Truscott, who had to drop the race in 2007 because of kidney issues and finished in 2012 in a time of 28:56, will be paced by her daughter, Chloe Romero, from Foresthill to the finish line.

She said this year’s run will have “extra meaning” after putting in so much work on the trail and she isn’t sure if she’ll be competing in the Western States 100 again in the future.

Said Truscott: “I don’t know if I’ll always be running, but I’ll always be working on the trail.”

Eight is great

Matt Keyes, a Placer High alumnus who also helped with rebuilding the Pacific Slab Mine Bridge and said it’s something he’s always going to remember, is going for his eighth buckle Saturday.

“He’s a 20-hour guy the last few years,” Thornley said of Keyes, who finished 40th overall in last year’s Western States 100 in a time of 21 minutes, 43 hours. “He’ll be up there. He’s in really good shape this year.”

Keyes, a 40-year-old information technology engineer, first got into ultrarunning after his second child was born.

“I started pushing a jog stroller with two kids in it,” he said. “My wife, Kim, and I were out on the trail almost every day but she had no desire to run ultramarathons. I figured, any idiot can run a marathon but it takes a special idiot to run an ultramarathon.”

In the past, Keyes, whose best finish time-wise was in 2012 with a 20:18 clocking, has hosted a few out-of-town runners during the Western States 100.

“Anybody who comes into Auburn for the race ends up in Matt’s house,” Thornley said. “He shows them the trail. He’s very hospital.”

“Not everybody,” Keyes countered, laughing. “We’ve hosted a few people. We live close by the finish line. We let a few crews use our house as a home base during the weekend. Our parents take the kids.”

Keyes’ kids will also be out on the trail Saturday.

“I’ve got the best crew in the race,” he said. “Wife and kids will be out there at various times. My wife crews me every day. She’s the most patient woman in the world. (My children) Aidee, Aidan and Alex will all be out there.”

Dan the Man

Dan Barger holds the rare distinction of posting a top-10 finish in both the Western States 100 and Tevis Cup, the 100-mile horse-and-human endurance test along the Western States Trail.

“Not too many people can say that,” Barger said. “There are not a lot of people that have that broad experience level. It’s good fun. It keeps you out of trouble and gives you something to focus on.”

This year marks the ninth time the 48-year-old contractor will be contesting the Western States 100. He’s eyeing a 1,000-Mile, 10-Day Buckle, awarded to those who have completed the run 10 times and each in fewer than 24 hours.

“I’m going to keep going and try to do 10 of them,” said Barger, who hopes to earn a top-20 finish this year. “I’ll run the 10th at the age of 50.”

Last year Barger completed the footrace in 19:43, good for 20th place. His all-time best clocking was 17:36 in 2010.

Barger’s looking ahead to turning 50, hoping he can best Doug Latimer’s 50- to 59-year-old male course record time of 18:43 in 1988.

“No one’s cracked it,” he said. “I’ll try and go for that record.”

Reach Matthew Kimel at matthewk@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel