The Western States weekend is a lot of fun - it's amazingly inspiring watching a huge variety of runners navigate a tough, 100.2 mile course under challenging conditions, all while battling their own personal battles with cramping muscles, ruined stomachs, and heat exhaustion.
And then the coolest thing I've ever seen at a trail race happened.
No woman aged 70 or over has ever finished the race. (And more than you would think possible have tried.) This year, 70-year-old Gunhild decided to take on the challenge. All through the night, we were given updates as to her progress. The race was having an abnormally high rate of DNFs, so it seemed likely that soon she would be added to the list.
But she wasn't.
She kept going.
She made it to Robie Point, 1.3 miles from the finish, with 17 minutes to go before the hard 30-hour cutoff. The spectators, mostly comprised of runners, their crew and pacers, and volunteers/groupies like me, all got nervous. 1.3 miles of mostly downhill pavement should be no problem in 17 minutes, but this was after going 98.9 miles in a bit over twenty-nine and a half hours. And the sun had returned to being ruthless.
Every time we saw some movement outside the gate we hoped it was her. A runner showed up and the place erupted, but it wasn't her. (For the record, a not-nearly 70-year-old John finished with 33 seconds to spare.)
The clock kept ticking down - now there was just a bit over a minute left.
And then she arrived, and the place REALLY erupted! She was moving well, but she still had to go about three-fourths the way around the high school track, and the clock was refusing to pause.
A large group of people ran across the football field to follow her progress. She hit the home stretch, where the clock was clearly visible, and picked up the pace a tiny bit - just enough to cross the finish with six seconds to spare.
There were many amazing stories this weekend - there always are at an event like this - but Gunhild's finish is what will stick in my mind for a long time.
That's it - move along.
PS: I got so caught up in what was going on that I forgot to take any useful pictures. If you look under that finish arch, you'll see a couple of bright green specs. The one on the left is her. And you are right - she looks amazing!
PPS: This link should show you a short video of her finish.
PPPS: This is a link to an iRunFar interview of her after the race. A couple of wild bits:
- She got off course at around mile 88 by following runners ahead of her, who turned out to not be in the race. This added distance and climbing and nearly derailed her race completely.
- Rob Krar (among others), who won the race over 15 hours earlier, ran up to meet her and get that last bit done.