5 things we learned at 2021 Western States


By Henry Howard


The two-year wait from the most recent Western States was worth it. While I would have preferred to be there in person, I was able to keep close tabs on the race from my stand-up desk and couch. (Thanks iRunFar!)


Before the race, I did a preview that focused on 10 questions that will be answered at the race. Before we get to the race analysis and key takeaways, here are some notable questions I had in my preview:


Can Jim Walmsley make it a three-peat? He most assuredly did, with a convincing victory.


How will the international women fare? I zeroed in on Beth Pascall (winner), Ruth Croft (second), Audrey Tanguy (sixth) and Ragna Debats (third). Four international women in the top 16 overall. I’d say they did really well.


Who are some of the underdogs who could finish top 10, or even podium? I wrote, “For the men, Cody Lind, Drew Holmen and Tyler Green come to mind. On the women’s side, I’m looking at Keely Henninger, Mireya Vargas and Katie Asmuth, as well as the international women mentioned above.” Green took second, Holmen third and Lind fourth. While Henninger took ninth and Asmuth fifth. I missed on Vargas, who finished a respectable 34th.


Here are five things we learned from the 2021 race:


1. Walmsley is still the one to beat. Not only did he win the race by about 95 minutes, Walmsley now has three of the four fastest times at Western States. His 14:46:01 this year is less than a minute ahead of Timothy Olson’s finishing time from 2012, which is now the fifth fastest of all time. Jared Hazen’s blistering 14:26:46 is second best ever.

2. A historic showing for women. Even though just 72 of the 320 entrants were women, they landed three in the top 10 for the first time in race history and 10 were among the top 21 overall.

3. Heat is the great equalizer. The pre-race predictions were correct and there was plenty of carnage to prove it. There were many elite runners who were in the top 10 for the first half of the race but either dropped out or slipped back due to heat-related issues.


4. The live coverage was amazing. Bravo to iRunFar for providing constant updates via Twitter and the livestream from the finish line. As someone who checked in throughout the day, I was always able to quickly get an update of how Walmsley, Pascall and other runners were faring. 5. The Golden Hour is the best hour. I was captivated by the runners who finished in the final hour, including the agonizingly close finish by Sean Mullett. He entered the track at Placer High School noticeably leaning to his right with a few minutes to go, then proceeded slowly but surely to cross the line with 15 seconds before the cutoff. Paul Bonnett cut it even closer with just eight ticks left.


Congratulations to all the participants, volunteers, race staff, iRunFar team, fans and everyone else involved in the race. Next year, I hope to see you in person at States.