The North Face athletes Rob Krar, 37 of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Stephanie Howe, 30 of Bend, Ore., outpaced a field of the most elite ultrarunners in the world to earn first place at the renowned Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Saturday. Krar, who placed a close second at Western States last year, won in a smoking time of 14:53:24—the second-fastest run in the race's 40-year history. The course record belongs to The North Face athlete Timothy Olson, who ran a 14:46:44 in 2012. Howe, edged into the top 20 overall, placing first in the women’s division in 18:01:42.
As the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, the Western States 100 has reached iconic status as one of the most challenging, competitive and prestigious 100-mile races in the country. Nearly 400 runners began the run at 5 a.m. Saturday in Squaw Valley, Calif., ascending more than 18,000 feet and descending nearly 23,000 feet through high country wilderness and steamy canyons, before reaching the finish line in Auburn, Calif.
A competitive runner in high school and college, Krar started running ultra distances on a whim in 2012 “just to see what it would be like.” Aside from his top finishes at Western States, Krar is best known for holding the fastest known time for both the single and double crossing of the Grand Canyon. Additionally, he earned the top spots at the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k and The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships 50-mile in 2013.
“Last year I was sitting at the finish line next to Tim [Olson], and maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, but I knew in my heart that the goal for 2014 was to come back to Western States and run the best race that I could,” Krar said shortly after crossing the finish line. “The training I put myself through preparing for a race like this isn’t just hard on me, it is hard on the people around me. I am so grateful to have the love and support that I do.”
Krar trailed Max King, 34 of Bend, Ore., by mere minutes most of Saturday, but passed him around the Peachstone aid station, 71 miles into the race. Seth Swanson, 35 of Missoula, Mont. took second-place finish in 15:19, and Dylan Bowman, 28 of Mill Valley, Calif., rounded out the podium with a third place finish in 15:36:41. King ultimately placed fourth. The North Face teammate Jez Bragg, 33 of the U.K., placed an impressive 11th in 16:45:36.
Despite never running more than 65 miles before Saturday, Howe rounded the historic Placer High School Track with a 28-minute lead on her closest competition around 11 p.m. on Saturday. Starting out slow and steady, Howe came into the Dusty Corners aid station around mile 38 in the lead. In her first 100-mile race, Howe earned the fourth fastest time for a woman in Western States history.
“I was nervous to see how my body was going to react,” Howe said of her longest race ever. “I just fueled well and kept pushing myself. I had great mentors who gave me tips on how to run a 100-mile race.”
Howe, an exercise physiologist who earned her spot in the race the traditional way through the lottery pick in December, said her knowledge of maintaining a proper diet and fueling was a huge advantage for her. Running with her pacer and fiance, Zach Violet, Howe said they were just “savoring the moment” as she closed in on victory.
Howe edged out Larisa Dannis, 26 of Stafford, N.H., who finished as the second woman in 18:29:18, and Nathalie Mauclair, 43 of France, who came in third in 18:43:57.
Just a day earlier, halfway across the world, Krar and Howe’s teammates also had a banner day at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119k in Cortina Italy. Rory Bosio, 30 of Soda Springs, Calif., and previous top-finisher at Western States 100, placed first in the women’s race with a record-setting time of 14:29:54. Mike Foote, 30 of Missoula, Mont., placed second behind fellow American Anton Krupicka with a time of 12:57:38. Both runners will go on to toe the line at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, Fra. in August.