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Western States 100 women’s preview: Pam Smith ready to defend her throne

First lady expected to reach Placer High late Saturday night
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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Pam Smith is looking forward to defending her Cougar Trophy Saturday.

The 39-year-old pathologist from Salem, Ore., was the top women’s finisher in last year’s Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, clocking in at 18 hours and 37 minutes and earning a ninth-place finish overall.

“It was nice to win,” said Smith, adding she had the perfect day en route to victory, including no stomach problems. “It’s a tough, stacked race. In 100 miles, a lot of things can happen and I’m not taking anything for granted.”

Smith knows from her own experience that anything can happen on race day.

Smith’s 2013 feat came a year after she came in 272nd place in a pedestrian 28:58. During the 2012 run, which featured a snowy course, Smith dealt with hypothermia, asthma and weight gain.

“I was stubborn enough to finish,” she said.

Smith is stoked that once again this year there’s no snow on the Western States Trail.

“That’s good,” said Smith, who has been waking up at 4:15 a.m. to start training by 5 and still finds time to go to work and spend time with her family. “It did me in. I’m happy to see hot temperatures on the forecast.”

Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 89 degrees with a low of 61, according to weather.com.

Smith, however, knows repeating won’t be an easy task.

She’s facing a talented field of about 84 women in the footrace that starts in Squaw Valley at 5 a.m. and ends at Placer High School in Auburn.

“There’s half a dozen runners that are major threats,” she said.

Out of the local runners, Meghan Arbogast of Cool figures to be one of the top finishers. Arbogast, 53, finished fourth last year on the women’s side and 18th overall in 19:30.

Emily Harrison of Arizona, a 28-year-old who finished seventh in the women’s race and 26th overall in 20:28, is one of the fastest females in this year’s field. Harrison’s résumé includes a personal record 2:32 marathon.

“She’ll go out to the lead,” said Craig Thornley, race director of the Western States 100.

Nikki Kimball, a 43-year-old out of Montana who finished second last year on the women’s side and 14th overall in 19:21, always poses a threat. She’s won the women’s race three times and never finished lower than fifth.

Oregon’s Denise Bourassa, 44, finished in eighth last year on the women’s side and returns after a strong 21:44 outing.

Colorado’s Leila Degrave, 36, came in ninth in 2013 after clocking in at 21:59 and also returns.

Nebraska’s Kaci Lickteig, 27, who finished second in the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler, could give the field a run for its money.

Some of the top international ladies include 43-year-old Nathalie Mauclair of France and 34-year-old Beth Cardelli of Australia. Mauclair is the 2013 IAU world trail champion. Cardelli is a four-time winner of The North Face 100K and one of the top runners Down Under.

Texas’ Nicole Studer, a 32-year-old and winner of the Rocky Raccoon 100, is a dark horse.

Amy Sproston (third last year), Aliza Lapierre (sixth) and Abby McQueeney Penamonte (10th) were entered to the race but will not be running because of various injuries.

The first lady is expected to cross the finish line at Placer High around 10-11 p.m.

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