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International runners both green and experiencedby Andy Wilcox - Originally written for the Auburn Journal, 24th June 2003
Runners come from near and far every year to compete in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. In fact, this weekend’s 30th annual WS100 will feature two dozen runners from outside the United States — about as many as are entered from the greater Auburn area.
American runners enjoy meeting these international runners and learning not only about the exotic races they’ve entered around the world, but also their unique customs — especially when it comes to the supposedly regimented way of finishing ultramarathons. Take the runner who had one of the longest trips to Auburn this week — 24-year-old Sean Greenhill of Sydney, Australia, the third youngest entrant in this year’s field behind 19-year-old Del Oro High graduates Victor Oseto and Tyler Daly.
Greenhill said drinking five bottles of beer helped him finally finish the only 100-miler he’s attempted, the Glasshouse Trail Run, which he said is Australia’s only 100-mile footrace. He was quick to point out that he didn’t drink the beer to get drunk. Ultramarathoners purge calories so quickly during a race, they often must eat junk food to keep their systems from shutting down. “It’s the fastest way to put on calories,” Greenhill said of drinking beer. “Glasshouse is six laps around the same course with one aid station. I brought a six-pack, drank one beer before the race and left the rest at the aid station and had a bottle with each lap.”
Greenhill finished sixth out of only 18 runners in the race, so he’s in for a culture shock at the WS100 with its 450-plus runners. He looked a little tired last Thursday evening after arriving Monday with his mother, but not from a hangover. It was only 4 a.m. Australian time. “Other than the time zone, the exchange rate, and people driving on the wrong side of the road, it’s been quite fun,” said the easygoing Greenhill, who works at a desk job. After stepping on American soil for the first time ever last week, Greenhill won’t be able to leave beers at aid stations during the WS100 due to its non-looping course from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
“I’ll be happy just to finish it,” he said. “We met a woman here who’s run in the Western States and Glasshouse, Carol LaPlante, and she’s going to pace me from Foresthill.”
One of Greenhill’s fellow members in the Sydney Striders running club, David John Sill, will also be in this year’s WS100. The 56-year-old Sill — who placed 81st in the brutal 156-mile Spartathlon in Greece last September, will be representing England, along with Chris Fanning, 49.
Also making long trips were Japan’s Hiroki Ishikawa, 28, and Kanpei Hazama, 53, who along with being a well-known actor in his country placed 35th in the 1999 Spartathlon. Ishikawa was living in the state of Washington last year when he placed 83rd overall in the WS100. In 2001, he was fourth in the Chuckanut Mountain 50K in Washington, in 2002 won the 71.5K Japan Mountaineering Race, and this year was eighth in the 50-mile Zane Grey Highline Mountain Run in Arizona. Having also taken part in adventure races in Europe and Asia, Ishikawa said his WS100 goal is to run his best race and have fun.
“I want to enjoy and feel the wild nature of the U.S. and have no regrets with good cheer,” he said. “My leg was hurting last year and I took 23 hours. I will be running with a pacer this time.”
Another runner from Asia making his second straight appearance will be Yagya Lal Shrestha of Nepal, a 23-year-old mountain guide who placed 51st overall in 2002.
Representing Italy will be Topher Gaylord, 33, an American who has lived in the country three years working as general manager of the Europe division of running sponsor The North Face. He was 23rd in last year’s WS100 in 20 hours, 21 minutes. He also finished in 2001 in 21:52, and in 1998 in 23:42 — all amazing considering how little time he has to settle in before the race.
“I have a very intense job in Europe and usually cannot arrive too much earlier to get adjusted to the drier West Coast climate, heat, and time zone. But I travel to the U.S. about 10 times a year, so I have lots of little tricks to help me acclimate fast and adapt to my new environment,” Gaylord said. “Last year was the craziest for me. I finished at 1:30 in the morning, slept for a few hours, drove to the airport, and was on a plane to Europe before the awards ceremony was starting at 2 p.m. I flew straight to the UK for work, and had a business dinner that night with our largest European customer. It was like running a second ultra on the heels of Western States. It was tough to keep my eyes open.”
While Greenhill consumed beer, Gaylord could sip wine or espresso at the 100K del Passatore through the hills of Tuscany. Last year, he cut an hour and three minutes off his 2001 time of 9:18 there. Just two weeks ago, he finished the 78K Swiss Alpine Marathon, which features a 7,000-foot climb to the 15,900-foot summit of Mount Blanc. Gaylord has also climbed the “nose route” of El Capitan in Yosemite in 19 hours, and finished the Leadville 100 in 23:52.
Even with his experience, he doesn’t take a WS100 finish for granted. “There are no guaranteed outcomes,” he said. “Even if you are feeling the best ever, there are so many variables that can affect having a good day or a hellish day. I approach this course with humility and respect — the heat and canyons are tough and never to be underestimated.”
Gaylord learned of the WS100 from good friend Dean Karnazes, who is looking for his eighth silver buckle — awarded to those who finish in under 24 hours — this weekend.
Jean-Francois Geiss, 50, calls France his home, while Christa Rebstock, 60, and Hans Dieter Rebstock, 63, who finished 168th and 100th in the WS100 in 2000, and Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, 63, and Thorsten Treptow, 37, have come from Germany.
The remaining 12 international entrants are from Canada.
From British Columbia are Ron Adams, 54, Ken Greenaway, 43, Ean H. Jackson, 45, Chris Mager, 35, Andy Nicol, 43, Scott Riddell, 40, Bruce Grant, 37, Ted Russo, 41, Robert Smith, 45, and Imre Sorban, 52. Saskatchewan claims Jamie Wilson, 47, and Ontario sends Monica Scholz, 36.
Jackson, who organizes two 50Ks, is among a proud, six-man Vancouver contingent. “There are some tough customers in our little group, so keep your eyes on the Canucks this year,” he said. Jackson is hoping for his second silver buckle at the WS100, having placed 25th in 1992 — two years after learning about the race at the Honolulu Marathon from 1981 WS100 winner Doug Latimer. “He was selling two-bottle water carriers at the runners expo and and a cool silver belt buckle was holding up his jeans,” Jackson recalled. “He offered to sell it to me for $50. I almost choked. Turns out, he had like eight of them. But I figured I was going to earn my own buckle for it to be worth anything to me.”
Being from the same time zone makes all the difference in the world for Jackson when it comes to racing in the WS100. “I’ve run in Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and in every European country except Andorra and San Marino,” he said. “It felt odd being the first white guy, let alone runner, they’d ever seen in this little village in northern Burma. I didn’t do much trail running in Cambodia for fear of stepping on a mine or getting my head shot off by the Khmer Rouge. All things considered, I’ve never been in a race or even run anywhere were folks weren’t friendly with me if I didn’t offend their customs.”
Wilson, who resides in Regina, has completed only one ultra — the Le Griz 50-miler in Montana last October — but finished Ironman Canada in ’92, ’94 and ’96. “Our daughter was born in 1993 and she thought I should stop doing Ironman so I could devote myself to playing with her. All in all, not a bad trade,” said Wilson, who ran the Boston Marathon while on honeymoon with his wife.
He has run standard marathons in Australia, Finland and Ireland. Like Greenhill, Wilson is a WS100 rookie this year. “I remember seeing it on TV 25 or so years ago, on ABC Wide World of Sports, and I always thought that it and Ironman would be two challenging events to do,” he said.
“I look on racing in another country as an opportunity to travel, meet other people and see other areas,” he said. “My goals are to finish, talk my wife into letting me do another one, take some pictures while running, enjoy the day and be as nice as possible to the volunteers along the way.”