This is a preview article from the August 2021 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Not a subscriber? Please consider becoming one

Lessons from Lifers

By: Amy Clark

This year’s return of Western States brought familiar faces, both young and old, to the iconic course on the last weekend in June. A few were running, some were volunteering, and many came to spectate at a race that holds a special place in so many hearts – no matter what their age.

Mark Reese stopped by the UltraRunning Magazine booth in Foresthill before the elites arrived at the asphalt. Not only did Reese finish Western States in 1980 at age 30, but his father, Paul, also finished and received his buckle just one year later at age 64. After retiring from the Sacramento City school system in 1982, Paul went on to become a pioneer in the ultrarunning community. Mark proudly wore his buckle from 1980, but it was obvious much of the pride he felt was for a father who accomplished so much in the sport.

Roger Daniels traveled from Bend, Oregon, to watch Western States and be one of the few Western States legends photographed by Larry Gassan during race weekend. Daniels ran his first Western States in 1983 at age 47 and finished in 20:58. He went on to complete four more sub-24-hour finishes, with a personal best of 19:25 at age 52.
I first met Roger in 2004 as part of a running club in Central Oregon, and spent time with him at group runs, board meetings and races. When I saw him standing at the track waiting for Jim Walmsley to finish, I was pleasantly surprised. We talked about his own history with the race and our mutual friends in Bend, many whom have run Western States and were part of the local running club –a group of ultrarunners that had a collective dedication to the sport.

This year saw the oldest individual to ever toe the line at Western States: Denis Trafecanty. Trafecanty is 78 years old and qualified by finishing the Javelina Jundred 100-miler in October. Trafecanty began running ultras in his 40s and has had a consistent history running ultra distances every year since age 49, with numerous 100-mile finishes after turning 70. Denis didn’t make it to the finish in Auburn this year, but he wasn’t alone. Of the 315 starters at this year’s race, only 66% finished.

I was one of a few to witness Denis’s determination while climbing the last steep pitch before the escarpment at mile 3 – a sandy climb that’s void of rocks or roots for added stability. He didn’t stop as he continued to slide backward while trying to get a foothold and push himself upward. It was a battle familiar to those of us who’ve traversed sandy, muddy and silty trails. He finally found firm footing on a nearby rock and continued to move up the trail.

As ultrarunners, we tend to dream big with both short and long-term goals, whether it’s running 100 miles or just running for as long as our bodies will allow. However, legends in the sport like Mark and his father, Paul, along with Roger and Denis, are proof that pride, dedication and determination can keep the fire burning. As Paul put it, before his death in 2004, “Reflecting on 40 years of running and racing, I've come to the realization that the most important consideration about running is not how fast you can run, not how far you can run, but rather, the degree and manner in which running and racing enhance your life.”

In this special Western States issue, John Trent writes about what it took for both Jim Walmsley and Beth Pascall to achieve their respective wins at Western States on page 26. John Medinger recaps the weekend at Western States on page 38. Gear editor Donald Buraglio reviews the latest trail apps on page 41, and Sean Meissner talks about celebrating his 200th ultra on page 15.

Western States was not only an epic race this year, it was a celebration of the sport and a reunion among ultrarunners. And for many, it was a reminder of why we continue to strive for the next big goal.