After a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Western States 100-mile signaled a return to racing for the trail and ultra-community this past weekend. Western States is often touted as the “Super Bowl of Ultrarunning” in the US. Between its storied history as the oldest 100-mile race in the world, the exceptionally deep elite field it draws, and the fact that people try for 7, 8, even 9 years to get in through the lottery, it lives up to that moniker. The 2021 race set up to be no exception, with the women’s field made up of eight of the top ten from 2019 returning (including three previous champions), 7 golden ticket winners who had successfully raced their way into a start spot, 5 women who were granted entry through a global athlete initiative designed to bring in international competitors, and finally many other talented women who got exceptionally lucky through the annual lottery.
The field included women with ample experience on the Western States course, women who understood the distance but racing States for the first time, and those who would be debuting at the 100-mile distance as they raced their way towards Auburn. This increasing depth in the women’s field over the past two decades is exciting because it leads to close finishes and athletes battling 70, 80, even 90 miles into the race which makes for pretty good spectating. Put all these women on the start line together, add in pent-up expectations after a year without racing, and sprinkle in near-record heat and suddenly you have the recipe for fireworks!