The 2021 Western States Endurance Run was one for the books, particularly on the women’s side, in the race’s return after its 2020 cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the day started off on the mild side with clear skies and 53 degrees at the starting line in California’s Olympic Valley, temps quickly soared as the day went on, peaking over 100 degrees in some of the most challenging parts of the 100-mile course through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Winner Beth Pascall, 33, proved to handle the heat the best, claiming at one point that it didn’t even feel too hot. She grabbed onto the lead by mile 15 at Red Star Ridge, and by mile 30 at Robinson Flat, she’d pulled well ahead of her competitors and kept it that way for the remaining 70 miles. At the mile 38 Dusty Corners aid station, she was still three minutes ahead of course record pace, though she couldn’t quite hang on to it.
Still, she kept her strong lead; by mile 71, Pascall moved up into ninth place overall, breezing in and out of aid stations, clearly not wanting to lose time. She continued to move up and made it to the finish line on the Placer High School Track in Auburn as the seventh overall finisher in 17:10:41, the second-fastest women’s time in the race’s history.
“I was getting a few updates about the pack of women behind me and I did not relax at any point until we got to the No Hands Bridge [at about mile 96] and I learned the group was about 19 minutes back,” Pascall said in her post-race interview. “That was the first time I thought [a win] might actually happen.”
Behind Pascall, the race for second and third played out more dramatically, with 2019 Western States 100 champion Clare Gallagher fading significantly early on due to the heat. In second in 17:33:48 was Ruth Croft, 32, who hails from New Zealand and was covering the 100-mile distance for the first time.
Ragna Debats, 42, who is from The Netherlands and lives in Spain, took third in 17:41:13, making it the first time in the race’s history that three women were in the top 10 overall. Debats’ finish time was also a new Western States 100 women’s masters’ record, breaking the 18:16:26 set by Ann Trason in 2002. Other top finishers included the U.S.’s Camille Herron, Brittany Peterson, and Addie Bracy.
Pascall, who works as a pediatrician in Belper, Great Britain, spent the last 10 weeks in the U.S. training in Flagstaff, Arizona, after running the Canyons 100K in Foresthill, California. Her Western States win proved to be redemption for her both after missing the podium and coming in fourth in 2019, and for the challenges that the past year had brought with the COVID-19 pandemic. In her post-race interview, she struggled to find words to describe the emotions she was feeling about her historic finish, saying it would take a while for it to sink in.
“This year has been challenging for everybody for obvious reasons and I put so much into this to build up to this race,” Pascall said. “I felt like doubted myself and if it was the right thing to do, and I’m just so happy that it all came together.”