Pic: Beth Pascall (credit Bob Atkins)
Britain's Beth Pascall will be in contention for the top honours as the Western States Endurance Run returns this weekend.
Following the pandemic-enforced hiatus last year, one of the world's most prestigious trail events will feature both defending champions, Jim Walmsley and Clare Gallagher.
The field is dominated by the Americans this year due to Covid-linked travel obstacles, but Pascall , who was fourth in this 100-miler two years ago, is one of the few overseas runners who will toe the line in California tomorrow.
The runner who has finished fourth and fifth at the UTMB will be well acclimatised this year, having spent the last couple of months training on the west coast of the United States.
Pascall wrote this week on Instagram: "In many ways so much seems the same as @wser 2 years ago, but in other ways the situation is completely different. There has been a lot to overcome just to make it this far, and perhaps, contrary to how it looks, it has been very stressful at times. 2 years ago I was terrified. I wanted to make top-10 and I didn’t know if I could survive the conditions. This year I’m equally scared, but because I’m more invested now and I’ve made more sacrifices to be here. That razor sharp edge between success and failure, satisfaction and disappointment is intimidating.
"I’m a different athlete now. Stronger (I hope), more experienced but also willing to take more risks. As with most things in sport and life, I have no idea how this will play out. But I chose to put myself in this situation because I know that, whatever the outcome, I’ll learn something and I’ll grow as an athlete."
She will have tough opposition as she covers the route from Olympic Valley to Auburn in California.
Gallagher, who became the second fastest woman in Western States history when she ran 17 hours 23 minutes 25 seconds two years ago, will be tough to beat. She also won the UTMB CC in 2017.
Camille Herron, a multiple ultra world record-setter, is hoping to make up for her 2019 DNF in this event. She has already endured something of an endurance test to reach the start line, having had her journey delayed due to a derailed truck blocking the road.
Brittany Peterson, who was second two years ago, and Kaci Lickteig, the 2016 winner, have good experience in the race, which is less technical than the UTMB.
Spain's Ragna Debats, a former UTMB CCC winner, will make her debut in the event, while twice UTMB TDS champion Audrey Tanguy has made her way from France. New Zealand's Ruth Croft should also be strong.
Walmsley will be favourite on the men's side as he returns to the trails following his road exploits. The American missed the world 100km record by just two seconds in January, while he also ran 2:15:05 for 22nd at the US Olympic marathon trials last year.
However, it is on the trails where he arguably excels even more - as shown by his race record of 14:09:28 in defending his title in 2019.
Jared Hazen, who was runner-up on that occasion in the second quickest time in the race's history, could be his main challenger.
Others who could be in the mix are Tim Tollefson, Hayden Hawks and Matt Daniels.