The 100-mile Western States Endurance Run is to ultrarunning what the Boston Marathon is to marathoning—rich with history and prestige, with strict qualification standards and a slim chance of gaining entry. After four years of qualifying and trying to gain a spot through the event’s lottery, Sarah Lavender Smith CdeP 1986 finally got the chance on June 25 to fulfill her dream of racing the event, which runs through steep wilderness canyons between Squaw Valley and Auburn, California. She had run 100-mile races before, but none as special as this one.
“In many ways, this was a Thacher-inspired goal for me,” she says. “First, I was helped by Adam Ray CdeP 1985, who introduced me to long-distance trail running and who has run the Western States 100. Then I was greatly inspired by Mo Livermore (former Thacher trustee and wife of Norman Livermore CdeP 1966 and mother of Whitney Livermore 2004). Mo was a founder of the Western States 100 in the 1970s; the event spun off from the Tevis Cup 100-mile horse ride on the same trail, and Mo—both a horsewoman and endurance runner, who rode the Tevis and then ran Western States—was instrumental in building the run into the event it is today and continues to serve on its board. She gave me a great deal of advice and encouragement. Finally, I gained insight and good coaching tips from faculty member Fred Coleman, who finished the race with a very strong time in 1979. Then, come race day, my family of Toads supported me; my husband Morgan CdeP 1985 and our kids Colly CdeP 2016 and Kyle ’19 met me along the course to serve as my crew.”
Treating it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Sarah—herself a running coach and writer for Trail Runner magazine—trained as best she could, focusing on finishing under 24 hours (a goal that, in most years, fewer than one-third of the participants attain). On race day, Sarah and the other runners suffered in furnace-like heat in the forest canyons, which slowed runners down, and by nighttime, she was about 30 minutes behind pace. After midnight, through the dark final miles of the race, Sarah pushed to make up time and reached the finish line in Auburn with 15 minutes to spare, finishing in 23:44 and earning a coveted silver belt buckle that goes to sub-24-hour finishers. “The best part was having my kids join me on the sprint to the finish.”