By: Jeffrey Stern
Arguably the most competitive ultra held in California since March 2020, the Canyons 100K marked a triumphant return to trail competition in the Golden State. Fittingly, it was for the final four Golden Tickets to the Western States Endurance Run. As the final race of the rather truncated spring season, both the men’s and women’s fields undoubtedly featured stout, international competition.
On the women’s side, the UK’s Beth Pascall, who is already in Western States, won in a landslide, claiming victory in a new course-record time and defeating the runner-up Abby Hall by more than 30 minutes. Hall and fourth place finisher, Emily Hawgood, would claim the final two spots on the start line in Olympic Valley on June 26.
The men’s race remained much more hotly contested, with a tight group separated by a matter of minutes, rolling through the half-way point at Foresthill. Bounding up Cal Street with his signature grin, Anthony Costales would take the win and Golden Ticket in his first 100k race.
Originally slated to run Lake Sonoma, Costales shifted smoothly into Canyons. “I thought the course was fitting to the training I was doing.” He said his workouts and long runs around his home of Salt Lake City were ideal for the alternate Canyons course this year. “It was probably actually a better fit than Lake Sonoma,” Costales admitted.
Heading into the race, he was focused on runs with vertical gain and loss but on more technical and rocky Wasatch Mountain terrain. “Then I get to run on California trails that are nice and smooth. It was a very good transition and I had confidence in my approach.”
As his summer race plans changed, Costales started thinking differently about the Canyons opportunity. “It gave me the idea to maybe take the ticket if I got it,” he continued. “Take it no matter what because you don’t know what is going to get canceled.”
Despite the resolute intentions, race morning wasn’t super smooth for him as he started with stomach issues, but after the sun started to rise it turned into one of those days where everything was clicking. Costales said the last time he felt that good was at his first ultra, Red Hot, in 2017. “Just focused and in the zone,” he recalled. At Canyons, “It was more relaxed in the first half and then it got serious. I felt very in control and I haven’t felt like that in a long time, so that was pretty cool.”
Costales credits a lot of his success at Canyons to his experience at Speedgoat last year. “It prepared me in the way that I wasn’t scared of what was coming up at Canyons except the distance. A lot of people were talking about how the course was going to be really challenging because of vert. Between how much vert it has compared to Speedgoat, and then just knowing the difference of what kind of vert it is in terms of terrain, I figured it was going to be a lot more relaxed.” He said racing Speedgoat helped to change his perspective on what’s runnable and what’s not, and he found it hard to imagine finding something less runnable than Meltzer’s notoriously brutal 50k.
At Canyons, Costales recalled some of his competitors hiking sections of the climbs where, in his mind, the grade wasn’t too difficult. “We were walking up things that I was redlining a few months ago, and it was steeper and more challenging,” referring to Speedgoat. “I felt like we were taking a break just because it was a slight incline. If we’re doing this the rest of the day, I feel like I’m ready to grind this out,” he started thinking roughly half way through his course record run.
Still, he needed to be somewhat cautious as he’d never run more than 50 miles at once. “My thought was, I’ll do this (hiking climbs) until after Michigan Bluff, after that really long descent. That’s where I was planning to make my move, but it happened a little earlier.” Max King, one of a few runners in the tight front group, got lost briefly during the descent from Foresthill and that ended up sealing the deal for Costales.
Once the daylight between them opened up, Costales was gone, holding on to win in an astonishing 9 hours, 11 minutes and 40 seconds for a course that purportedly had 15,000 feet of climbing. King took second and secured the final ticket, just under 15 minutes back.
While technically an alternate course, most would agree that running the Western States course backward and essentially uphill for the entire day was as challenging, if not more so than the typical Canyons double out-and-back from Foresthill route. Costales really enjoyed it too, “If the schedule lined up, I’d love to do that course again.”
He might just have to if he wants to run in the fabled Western States, as just weeks after taking the Ticket and registering for the June 100-miler, he came down with a crippling knee injury.
“It’s taken so long for me to finally want to do a hundred, but being pretty much on the same course, it was kind of finally opening up my eyes to the race.”