ZIMBABWE’S trail running phenom Emily Hawgood finished fifth at the Western States 100 mile (160km) Endurance Run in Auburn, California, United States, at the weekend to enhance her status as one of the world’s leading ultrarunners.
The women’s race was won by New Zealander Ruth Croft, who crossed the finish line in an astonishing 17 hours 21 minutes and 30 seconds, the third-fastest time by a lady in the endurance race’s 49-year history.
The Zimbabwean ultra-distance runner, who is also an accomplished triathlete, crossed the finish line in 18 hours 16 minutes and 02 seconds, almost an hour better than her previous time.
The men’s race was won by American Adam Peterman, who finished in 15 hours 13 minutes and 48 seconds.
The Western States Endurance Run is the oldest — and arguably essentially the most prestigious — 100-mile foot race in the world.
The route goes from Olympic Valley to Auburn in California, in the United States. Over the course of 100 miles, runners climb about 5485m (18 000 toes) in scorching heat.
Hawgood was making her second successive appearance in the prestigious race after securing a seventh-place finish at the 2021 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
The Zimbabwean trail runner has had a unique upbringing on a small farm in Beatrice, Zimbabwe where she ran mostly barefoot and competed in a variety of sports until she discovered trail running in college in the United States.
She began her journey, in ultra-events, in 2017.
And, she has proven her pedigree, in the past six years. Three years ago, Hawgood came second, at the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100 miler, in South Africa.
Last year was a breakthrough year for Hawgood, who not only placed seventh at the Western States 100, third at the Bandera 100K, fourth at the Canyons Endurance Runs, and tenth at UTMB, but also secured a professional running contract with Adidas TERREX.
Meanwhile, after the Covid-19-pandemic-year cancellation of 2020, followed by a year of travel restrictions, which reduced the numbers of overseas runners, the 2022 Western States 100 was back to being a truly international celebration of ultrarunning.
Roughly 380 runners from 32 countries, including Zimbabwe, began their journey from Olympic Valley to Auburn, California, at 5am on Saturday.
After unusually chilly and wet weather in the days beforehand, normal service resumed on race day with another scorcher of a day for this year’s race.
The heat wasn’t enough to slow down Peterman, who decisively won his first 100 miler in a superb 15:13:48, or Croft, who returned following a second-place finish last year to take the win in 17:21:30, shaving 12 minutes off her previous time.
In doing so, she ran the third-best time in the race’s 49-year history.
Last year’s winner Beth Pascall was absent from the start list for 2022, but there was still plenty of talent toeing the line. Six of last year’s top 10 made the final starting list, including hot favourite and previous second-place finisher, New Zealand’s Ruth Croft and last year’s seventh-place woman Hawgood, a Zimbabwean living in the United States, who was believed to be capable of ruffling some feathers on her second attempt.
Outside of the returning top runners, this year’s start list also featured 100-mile world record holder Camille Herron, former podium finisher Lucy Bartholomew of Australia, and second-place woman at last year’s UTMB, France’s Camille Bruyas.
Herron was first to the top of the Escarpment, the race’s high point at mile 3.5, with Ellie Pell hot on her heels.
They were followed by Keely Henninger, Poland’s Dominika Stelmach, Katie Asmuth (pre-race interview), Canada’s Marianne Hogan, Lindsey Hagen, and Bruyas, all within a couple of seconds of each other. Hawgood followed along in ninth position, followed by Switzerland’s Luzia Buehler in 10th.
The race had yet to space out at Lyon Ridge at mile 10, with Stelmach, Herron, and Hogan coming in together, closely followed by Henninger, Hawgood, Asmuth, and Pell.
By Red Star Ridge at mile 15, Croft had begun to make her presence felt and climbed up the field to fourth position. Hogan led the field into Duncan Canyon, mile 24, just 20 seconds clear of Stelmach in second, then Hawgood, Henninger, and Croft.
By Robinson Flat, mile 30, Hawgood and Croft had moved up to share the lead, and they continued to run together through mile 38, which they passed just under course record pace.
At the finish line, Hawgood remarked that she and Croft ran together for so long that they felt like it was a weekend long run and not a race, a great experience for her.
Stelmach followed about 90 seconds back in third, a minute clear of Henninger in fourth. Herron had moved back to seventh position but still looked good.
The two leaders were still together at Devil’s Thumb, mile 47, but shortly after Croft managed to break away and ran through Deadwood Cemetery, mile 49.5, seven minutes back of course record pace. Hawgood came through just 30 seconds later, still looking happy and fresh and Henninger looked strong in third, 1:15 back from Croft.
The top two remained the same through mile 62, Foresthill, but Herron had begun to fight back and moved up to third position, about 18 minutes back from the leader and four minutes clear of Canada’s Ailsa MacDonald who had moved into fourth after running the first half of the race right outside the top five looking steady.
Women’s Top 10
1. Ruth Croft (NZ) 17:21:30
2. Ailsa MacDonald (Canada) 17:46:46
3. Marianne Hogan (Canada) 18:05:48
4. Luzia Buehler (Switzerland) 18:08:32
5. Emily Hawgood (Zimbabwe) 18:16:02
6. Leah Yingling (USA) 18:32:31
7. Taylor Nowlin (USA) 18:46:42
8. Camille Herron (USA) 18:51:54
9. Katie Asmuth (USA) 19:30:26
10. Camille Bruyas (France) 19:34:24 – Trail Running/irunfar.com