The center of the ultrarunning universe was in Squaw Valley and Auburn, Calif., on June 25-26 as 353 runners tested their luck and endurance on the historic trails of the Western States 100.
That included a trio from Massachusetts: Kyle Pietari of Brighton; Amy Rusiecki of South Deerfield; and Peter Plourde of Westfield.
By the time the 30-hour time limit expired, 280 starters had reached the finish line at Auburn’s Placer High School – including all three Bay Staters. One of them was among the first to finish.
Pietari, 29, finished eighth overall in 17:05:01. The recent Harvard Law grad learned a month before the race that he had secured a spot in the field through UltraRunning Magazine’s UltraRunning Race Series points competition. He had already been training for a mountain race in Colorado, the Leadville 100, and he believed he’d been doing enough to take on a Western States course with more than 18,000 feet of vertical gain and nearly 23,000 feet of loss.
“I just trusted that everything had gone well with my training,” Pietari said. “I knew I was substantially fitter than I’d ever been before, so I just trusted that.”
After starting off strong, Pietari went off-course during the first 20 miles of the race and slipped back in the pack. He moved into the top 20 by mile 38 and steadily worked his way toward the top 10.
Pietari was in 11th place at the Brown’s Bar aid station at mile 89.9, and his goal of placing in the top 10 was within reach. As additional incentive, the top 10 finishers receive an automatic berth to the next year’s race.
“It was tough. At every aid station my pacer and I were trying to verify what position we were in. We were getting pretty good information, but it was always questionable where we were,” Pietari said. “I knew I was right around that 10th-place spot, more or less, and 11th-place is where you don’t want to finish at Western States.”
He moved into 10th by mile 93.5, and worked his way up to eighth by mile 98.9 before using a strong kick to the finish line.
Andrew Miller, 20, of Corvallis, Ore., was the overall winner in 15:29:36; Didrik Hermansen, 36, of Oslo, Norway, finished second in 16:16:08; and Jeff Browning, 44, of Bend, Ore., claimed third in 16:30:40.
Kaci Lickteig, 29, of Omaha, Neb., finished 14th overall and was the women’s champion in 17:57:59. Her winning time was the fourth-fastest by a female in the history of the race.
Pietari wasn’t the lone Bay Stater to circle the Placer High School track and cross the finish line. Rusiecki and Plourde did, too.
Rusiecki, 36, was the 22nd female finisher and 118th overall finisher, completing the course in 25:56:01. She earned that finish with a strong push through the overnight hours. Rusiecki slipped from 117th to 165th during the course’s notorious Canyons section from mile 43.3 (Last Chance) to mile 55.7 (Michigan Bluff) before ultimately slipping to 172nd at mile 62 (Foresthill School) where she used an eight-minute aid station break to refuel. At that point, night began to fall, and Rusiecki spent the overnight hours in attack mode, steadily picking off runners the rest of the way. By sunrise, she had passed more than 45 runners, and she added another dozen or so by daylight before circling the track and crossing the finish line.
One of the runners Rusiecki passed during the overnight hours was Plourde, one of her fellow Bay State residents. Plourde, 50, finished 129th overall in 26:54:27.
Plourde – who finished the Pinhoti 100-miler in Alabama in November 2015 – earned his second 100-mile belt buckle with a gritty final 22 miles. Plourde completed the first 78 miles in less than 20 hours, but he was forced to dig deep from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. as he covered the next 15 miles. The sun rose for Plourde’s final seven miles, at which point his pace quickened and he pushed ahead, crossing the finish line in just under 27 hours.