Thursday, June 26, 2008

Western States Has Been Cancelled

Needless to say, I'm bummed, but the race directors have made the right choice. Getting off the plane in Reno, the smell of smoke was strong and the haze was thick. I'll write more later, as I'm tired, but below is a copy of the email sent to the runners:

Dear Western States Runners,

It is with deep regret that we announce today that the 35th running of the Western
States 100-mile Endurance Run has been cancelled, due to the unprecedented amount
of wildfires that have struck northern California in recent days and the health
risks that have been associated with these wildfires. The Board of Trustees of the
Western States Endurance Run has consulted with many of our local and state race
partners, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Placer County Air Pollution
Control District, in coming to this decision. We apologize to our runners for any
inconvenience this decision has created.

The race’s organizers are currently working on a revised schedule of runner
activities for Thursday and Friday in Squaw Valley, and these details will be made
available soon. Although there will be no race for the first time in our 35-year
history, we still wish to make this experience as meaningful as possible for our
runners. Activities will include annual events such as runner check-in for goodie
bag pickup on Friday morning, the pre-race briefing and raffle on Friday
afternoon, the showing of Western States documentaries on Friday night, and a
special gathering of runners commemorating the race’s start on Saturday.

Since the beginning of more than 840 wildfires statewide, 312 wildfires in
northern California and more than 3,200 lightning strikes in the Tahoe National
Forest alone on June 21, the race’s organizers have worked closely with a variety
local, county and state agencies in determining the best course of action for our
race. It has become apparent that given our race’s paramount concern – the safety
or our runners – holding this year’s race would pose too great a risk to our
runners, to our aid station personnel and to our volunteers. Given the close
proximity of at least two fires that are within two miles of our race course and a
critical access road, as well as the deteriorating air quality stretching from our
start in Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif., the board has determined that
cancellation, rather than postponement or the use of an alternative course,
represents the safest and most prudent decision for our 2008 event.

Our decision was based on three factors:

1) Proximity of the fire to the race course, which has the potential to impact the
safety of runners, aid station personnel and volunteers at any point during the

Fire projections indicate that the Westville Fire has the potential to reach the
Foresthill Divide Road by the weekend; in addition, the Peavine Fire could reach
Last Chance and Mosquito Ridge Road, possibly compromising access in and out of
these areas. In a statement, Jan Cutts, District Ranger for the American River
Ranger District, said, “In addition to the potential direct impact by the fires,
(the race’s cancellation) is based on safety concerns surrounding the increased
number of vehicles on the road and congestion associated with the Run. We see
hundreds of vehicles on the Foresthill Divide Road and Mosquito Ridge Road for
this event each year. That’s just too many additional vehicles when we’ve got
fire-fighting equipment and personnel using the same roads for fire suppression
operations. … Safety is our overriding concern and we felt we could not provide a
safe environment for this year’s Run because of the unprecedented fire activity in
the area.”

2. Air quality deterioration.

Placer County Air Pollution Control District officials have issued an air-quality
advisory. Air quality specialists with Placer County are advising individuals to
reduce their exposure to the unhealthy air, and that includes vigorous outdoor
activities. Medical representatives from the Western States Board have consulted
with several physicians regarding their expert opinion on running a 100-mile trail
race through rugged country through such unhealthy air; the consensus has been
that such an activity would not be recommended, with the potential for serious
health risks – even for the most highly trained of athletes. As a point of
reference, a high level of pollution is 35 micrograms of material; in Auburn on
Wednesday the level was 10 times that amount, according to figures from Placer
County. In addition, Placer County Air Pollution Control District officials have
characterized the air conditions as extremely hazardous and the worst recordings
the area has had in more
than 10 years.

In a statement, the Placer County Public Health Officer, Air Pollution Control
Officer and Director of the Office of Emergency Services, all concurred with the
decision to cancel this year’s run:

“The current situation in Northern California with respect to poor air quality and
active fire danger is unprecedented. Within Placer County there are three active
fires burning in the American River watershed, two of which have potential to
impact the Western States Trail directly. These fires, as well as ones burning
outside of the American River watershed to the west and north are creating
unhealthy smoke concentrations throughout the foothills. This has necessitated
county public health officials to issue advisories recommending a curtailment of
voluntary outdoor activities that include strenuous physical exertion. These
recommendations include reducing exposure to smoke.” Added Tom Christofk, Placer
County Air Pollution Officer: “The widespread smoke throughout Northern California
is forecasted to remain as long as the wildfires continue to burn and the weather
conditions do not substantially change. The poor air quality conditions being
experienced in Placer County
are expected to persist through the weekend and impact elevations from the valley
to Tahoe. High particulate matter concentrations affect respiratory and
cardiovascular systems negatively, and I concur with the decision to cancel the Run
from a public health perspective as we have been issuing health advisories
recommending the limiting of outdoor physical exercise until conditions improve.”

3. Safety of our runners.

For 35 years, the Western States 100 has been predicated on our runner’s safety.
As stewards of the race, the Western States Board has always recognized that
running 100 miles over snow, through high elevations, into infernal canyons and
through the dark of night can pose great challenges for even the most skilled of
runners. Couple the challenging nature of our run with the existing combination of
close proximity of wildfire, potential volatile fire activity that could cut off
key access points to the course as well as some of the most unhealthy air the
region has seen this decade, and the decision was made in recognition of our
preeminent goal – the safety of our runners.

For all of you, today’s news is disappointing. Since the lottery was held in
December, you have trained with remarkable diligence and focus to get to this day.
You have dreamed big and made countless personal sacrifices to prepare for one of
the greatest days any trail runner can ever have. As a group, the Western States
Board would like to commend you for your dedication and devotion not only to the
preparation that is required for our race, but to the community of trail runners
of which we are all a part. You are members of a special group, one that relishes
challenge, constantly strives to improve the limits of what is believed possible,
and seeks the special kindred spirits of others who revel in the beauty of our
sport. We have been honored to have your name as part of our race’s start list
this year.

We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank the men and women of the American
River Ranger District, particularly Jan Cutts and Ed Moore, for their consultation
and constant flow of updated information regarding this very challenging fire
situation. The City of Auburn, City Manager Bob Richardson, and officials from
Placer County, in particular Tom Christofk, Placer County Air Pollution Control
Officer, and Dr. Richard Burton, Placer County Public Health Officer, have also
been invaluable sources of information and advisement. Thanks to all of these
trail partners.

In the coming days, we will announce details regarding entries for next year’s
race, which will be determined in a fair and equitable manner. It should be noted
that per our race rules, all race entries are non-refundable.

Thank you again for your participation and interest in the Western States 100. We
hope that we will see you in 2009.


Tim Twietmeyer
Western States Board President
Greg Soderlund
Race Director


Trail Monster Running said...


Want to run 100 miles at Bradbury next Saturday?

mindy said...

Un-freakin'-believable!!!! I can't help but notice that runner safety was #3 on the list... I just can't believe it. I had heard about wildfires, but didn't know they were that close. I'm so sorry Jamie, this is so devastating to you and all the other runners. I like Ian's idea...

Blaine Moore said...

Man, I'm sorry to hear that. I agree, they made the right choice, but I hope they make it right and give you a lottery bypass for next year.

I guess this means that you'll rock at Vermont, right?

Sparkplug said...


That sucks! I'm so sorry to hear they canceled the race. What a bummer... can't even imagine how you and all the runners are feeling...

Guess you just have to find another ultra to do awesome in, or as Ian says, run 100 at Bradbury!

sn0m8n said...

In short: That sucks. I understand their reasoning, but I still feel like I got punched in the stomach. Hard. I can only imagine it's about 8,000 times worse for you. So sorry.

J. Garry Power said...

I can't imagine how you must feel right now. But obviously the safety of the runners comes first and it appears that is what it came down to. Tough break, just need to find another race to use up all that great training.

Trail Monster Running said...

If you want to run 100 miles next weekend I'm sure we can round up enough Trail Monsters to crew for you all day. Bradbury? Pineland?

Or just get ready for VT, and start growing that mustache!

Thomas said...

I'm so sorry about that, Jamie. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrating that must be for you.

The WS committee were right to cancel the race when they cannot guarantee the safety of runners and crews, but it's still an unbelievable bummer!

Bob Gentile said...

Hey Bro, yup "Bummed" is the word...

I did send you an email from another WS runner...had some good words and perspective but nonetheless still sucks big time!!

Safe travels back & ya VT100 watch out, some WS peeps will be there to tear up the course!

Sue said...

Yo Jamie,

Remember the saying "When life hands you lemons..."

You're gonna KA at Vermont!!

GREAT talking w/you today. :p


Jamie said...

Thanks guys! Ummm, I'll pass on the 100 miles at Bradbury... hee hee. I'll save my legs for a good run at Vermont instead. See you guys then!