Humidity, heat to challenge Western States 100 runners

Triple-digit temperatures forecast in Auburn for weekend
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Heat and humidity will be a major challenge for the field of runners vying for a silver buckle in this weekend’s Western States 100 Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

The National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures to reach triple digits in Auburn on Saturday and Sunday. The humidity is expected to make it feel even hotter.

Jeremy Meyers of Cool is entering his first Western States 100. Meyers, who assumes the office of El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools July 1, is running the arduous mountain trek as a fundraiser for post-secondary scholarships.

“I’ve done the Angeles Crest 100 but conditions were much cooler and less humid,” Meyers said. “Runners will certainly need to be mindful of salt intake and hydration. You have to be so much more attentive, with the heat and humidity.”

Meyers said he’ll be bringing along gelatin capsules containing supplies of sodium, potassium and magnesium to take with water along the run.

In past years, Mother Nature has packed down glacial amounts of snow on the Western States Trail’s highlands before sapping runners’ strength in the canyons with plus-100-degree heat. Race records show the 1995 race was the hottest, with temperatures topping out at 104 degrees.

“It’s a race of extremes,” Meyers said. “And snow is not the extreme problem this year.”  

Craig Thornley, Western States 100 race director, said that the recent three days of rainy weather that rolled through the foothills and the Sierra could actually provide some relief for runners, despite the humidity.

“It is going to be heating up rapidly,” Thornley said. “One good thing is that the canyons get the hottest when they’re baking for several days so the cool rain is not going to allow them to super bake. And it will cut down on the dust that gets into your shoes and lungs.”

The heat will still be a big challenge, he said.

“It could be the third or fourth hottest we’ve seen in 40 years for the race,” Thornley said.

Meadow Vista’s Gordy Ainsleigh, a chiropractor and Western States 100 runner, said this year’s race could be the toughest ever.

“The air will be above body temperature and humidity will be close to 100 percent,” Ainsleigh said. “It’s going to be quite a day.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting 100 or more degrees over the weekend for high temperatures in Auburn and in the 90s higher in the Sierra.

“The humidity will have a little more of an impact than it usually does,” weather bureau meteorologist Eric Kurth said. “In this area, people say, ‘It’s hot but it’s a dry heat.’ This one is a little more moist than usual and it can make it feel warmer. In the Gulf Coast and Deep South, where humidity is a factor, they say, ‘It's not the heat, it’s the humidity.’”

Auburn’s Dr. Dan Sewell, who has served as a pacer during several races and completed a 50-mile race, said he expects that as the heat goes up, there will be fewer finishers. Last year, 146 silver buckles were earned for 100.2-mile runs less than 24 hours. The high temperature in Auburn was an uncommonly moderate 76 degrees on June 23, and 24 for last year’s run.

Sewell said runners will be given detailed instructions from medical experts before the race and their weights will be monitored to ensure they’re drinking enough fluids as the Western States 100 progresses.

“They’ll certainly have an increased water loss as far as sweat goes because of the humidity,” Sewell said. “From there it’s about balancing electrolytes. The key is to get the right balance so they don’t cramp up. “