Oliver Apel

Few events in the sport of ultrarunning are as iconic as Western States. Two of our 665 athletes—Priscilla Forgie & Jenny Quilty—earned ever-elusive Golden Tickets, which gained them entry to the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. 

Jenny gained entry in December after winning UTMB Thailand. She finished 11th at WSER, running the course in 18h49m. Priscilla gained entry less than 8 weeks out after getting 2nd place at Canyons 100k. Western States was her first 100-miler. She finished 8th, running it in 17h46m.

We sat down and talked to them about their experiences.

How did the actual experience of running Western States (WSER) compare to one that you had constructed in your mind? I feel like WSER is such a monumental event that everyone has an idea about.

Priscilla: It’s funny because, although I had this glamorized picture of WSER prior to attending, it still managed to be even better than I imagined. One word I keep using to describe it is electric—something you have to witness to truly feel. I turn into a bit of a recluse a couple of days before races so I went from an extremely mellow state to the best kind of slap in the face energy Saturday morning! 

Jenny: WSER is such a marquee event in the ultrarunning world and draws such a competitive field that I anticipated the start line to feel tense with the anticipation of both the distance and battle ahead, but it was the exact opposite of that. Up at the very front of the line all of us were laughing, joking about the pre-race morning rituals, and congratulating each other on making it to the start line. This was the big dance, we had made it here and the rest would unfold as any ultra does, for better or worse, after the gun goes off.

A lot of the race was what I expected, big amounts of media at the aid stations, huge crowds, and incredible volunteers along the way. From the start, the biggest thing that stands out to me is that so much of the race felt like I was out for a long run with friends. The women's field really worked together to start smart, work the climbs of the canyons, and push and pull each other through the miles after the river crossing. I have always been intimidated by the challenges that come from racing such a large field of strong females, but WSER showed me how incredibly powerful that can actually be. Not a single interaction was "competitive" or cold, but instead encouraging and invitational, being passed by Leah Yingling before Michigan Bluffs drew me into push the climbs more and go with her towards Foresthill, then running up alongside Megan Morgan on Bath Road, we were a collective force taking on the climbs. I got to run so much of the race with Priscilla and Megan Morgan nearby, often entering and exiting aid stations in a different order than the last, it felt like we were out there doing this big journey together, and helping each other to find the best of ourselves on that day.

What is it like running more grassroots ultras versus coming to one of the biggest ultra events in the world? How would you compare the atmospheres/energies?

Priscilla: WSER for me was like a combined unicorn version of all the best grassroots races we know and love. The people from Auburn and surrounding areas are absolutely wonderful… like welcome-you-into-their-home-after-chatting-with-you-for-10 seconds type of wonderful. No matter if you’re first or last, you’re getting lifted up by everyone around you and I think that’s something that every runner deserves, no matter where they rank in the day and I hope all race directors can try to accomplish. WSER exemplifies exactly what the running community is about - love, encouragement, and support.

What differed the most for me at WSER compared to other races was the insane amount of pure talent that I was surrounded by. Women in ultrarunning haven’t even scratched the surface and I think we are going to continually see boundaries being broken - and that gives me chills. I hope that everyone watching WSER this year got a glimpse of that - and for those feeling unsure of entering the ultra running world, maybe they will give it a chance. We need more women and non-binary individuals in the sport to challenge, encourage, and grow from each other.

Jenny: WSER has a special energy, it's like the trail holds the history of this race in its soil. The work that goes into making this event happen despite the challenges of extreme snow in the high country, fires, and areas that could not be accessed for clearing until days before the race, is more than I imagine most races are able to offer. There is a group of people who have been invested in the event for truly 50 years and I think that is a key reason that it still exists and has been able to remain one of the most sought after races in North America for all levels of ultrarunners.

After 50 years in operation, it just felt like a well-oiled machine—the volunteers know what they are doing and approach you as you enter an aid station like your crew, grabbing your bottles for you while you dig out empty gel wrappers, taking your garbage instead of you having to take any extra time to find the bin, they direct you to ice and send you on your way, palpably respecting the time goals runners come in with. It is just incredibly efficient and well-managed for an event with so many volunteers being the backbone of its success.

The energy of the aid stations is incredible, each one almost bringing tears of joy to my eyes. As a racer at WSER you just feel so special regardless of what is happening around you, it's so clear that every volunteer is going to give you their absolute all to assist you in having your best day possible.

What was the highest moment of the race for you? The lowest?

Priscilla: I’d say the highest moment was being at the top of the escarpment—it was a take-your-breath-away kind of moment with the crowds and the sunrise—you felt on top of the world, metaphorically and literally.

My lowest point was likely in the high country with the altitude. I pushed through some discomfort there as my body was probably in the worst hours of acclimatization on race day. I chose to just ease into the day and trust my fitness rather than fixating on the fact that it felt like I was carrying someone on my back for 20 miles.

Jenny: The highest moment of the race for me is hard to pinpoint. It was a magical and amazing day. Reaching the top of the escarpment at sunrise is pretty hard to beat, it just felt like this magical send off into the high country. Another high spot would have to be getting to run with each of my pacers, friends from home who I train with all of the time, and getting to share this special day with them.

The lowest point was managing the start of the pain cave, which for me was coming on pretty strong after Foresthill through to the river crossing. I think this caught me a bit off guard as I was so excited to get to run with my pacer, but couldn't quite tackle the smooth downhills as strongly as I wanted to. I think during this section I anticipated feeling so good so I didn't quite realize I was diving into the pain cave and instead was just a bit frustrated before the acceptance clicked in and I shifted perspective. We still had fun, I held great joy for running and sharing this section with my pacer, but upon reflection I was certainly trying to avoid the pain cave here instead of diving in and more or less, celebrating having reached that point in the journey.

What footwear choices did you make?

Priscilla: I ran in my 002s until I knew my sweet little feet needed some extra support. The 002s helped me feel nimble and light but when I put the 001s on at mile 78, I sure did feel like I was running on clouds.

Jenny: I ran in the 001s from start to finish, swapping out my wet shoes at the Foresthill aid station and then running in that new pair through to the end of the day. I thought I would wear the 002s after Green Gate around 78 mi for the flowy finish but the 001s were providing the perfect cushioning underfoot and keeping my feet locked in place, so I chose not to change a thing!

Priscilla, I believe finishing top 10 allows you to come back to WSER next year. Do you intend to? If so, how would you prepare for it now, knowing what you do?

Priscilla: You are correct! I have every intention of coming back to WSER for 2024 if my body allows and the stars align. To prepare, I would acclimatize and ensure that I don’t do a 100km race 8 weeks prior!

Jenny, will you be looking to come back to WSER?

Jenny: I can see how this race draws people back again and again. I woke up Monday thinking, I know I can run faster on that course. I initially thought that even if I came top 10, if I had a great day maybe I wouldn't come back, but coming 11th, not having that choice in front of me, something tells me I will be back chasing a ticket and seeking out that WSER startline again. I don't know for sure if it will be for 2024, but WSER showed me that I actually do love running in big competitive fields and taking on fast and runnable courses, and golden ticket races are a sure way to get to do a lot more of those things!


Pre-Race: Moe Lauchert
Race day: Mike Mcmonagle