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2015 Western States 100: Moments that Build a Life

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

15 TALON (TX, AR, LA, OK, NM) athletes made the trip West for a trail running adventure of traveling 100.2 miles by foot along the mountain trails at the historic Western States 100. A race you need to have spicy tread or leprechaun luck (lottery) to be a part of. Nearly 400 athletes were just that.

A race that highlights the beauty of our world, of a community, of this life.

A race that has 1500 volunteers selflessly supporting a run in the woods.

A race that celebrates the first to the final finisher (watch 70 year old Gunhild Swanson’s finish – awesome!).

A community that celebrates those that had the courage to start.

Our tribe covered from 29.7 up to 100.2 miles.

Paul Terranova of Texas led our athletes across the finish, hanging in the top 15 of the race from the earlier miles, took three dust cloud creating diggers, and methodically moved himself up through the field to get himself into 10th position with less than 10 miles to the finish. Paul held strong to the Auburn track to cross the line and knock out a few push-ups in 17:43:17 and earned that spot back to Western States in 2016.

In her Western States 100 debut, Nicole Studer of Texas added a bit of bonus mileage but remained determined and consistent throughout the day to finished 6th female in 20:19:56 and receive a ticket to next year’s dance.

Our final TALON athlete to reach the track in Auburn was Darren Christiansen of Texas in 28:27:10.

Western States 100 Moments

A race like this has much more depth than finish times, aid station splits, and calories per hour. So I asked (or challenged 🙂 ) many of our athletes to reflect on Western States and share the detailed story of one moment that made an imprint on them, that touched their soul in some way.


Paul Terranova (TX)

Credit: Gary Wang

Credit: Gary Wang

My Western States 100 “moment” came not on race day, but during a pretty epic (by my standards) Memorial Day training camp: 6 days, 9 runs, 146 miles, 22:27 running time. The last couple of years we’ve been fortunate enough to have a “home-stay” at our friends Lee and Sara McKinley in Granite Bay, complete with swimming pool, chickens, all the “local” eggs you can eat, and of course their small fleet of Jack Russell Terriers “Mad” Max, Batman, and now Kona. What could possibly be better?!

Very near Lee and Sara’s home is the relatively new Saint Joseph Marello Catholic Church, which Meredith and I have probably driven by 50 times over the past four years coming and going to training camp runs and post-race. I’ve always wanted to attend Mass there, and this year I finally did! But first I logged a cool 43 miler on Saturday May 23 from Robinson Flat to Cal-2, most of which was with Bob Shebest, Topher Gaylord, Norwegian Sondre Amdahl, and Nicole Studer. Afterwards, Meredith treated us post-run to an In-N-Out burger feast delivered trail-side. Then a shower, nap, and off to church at 5:00pm, which I affectionately refer to as the “flip-flop” Mass because it’s normally quite a bit more casual than an early Sunday morning service, just my style! 🙂

After a few minutes of peaceful reflection, thanks, and gratitude in the tasteful, Mediterranean-designed sanctuary, I’m first struck by the impressive SIZE of the crucifix hanging front and center directly above the altar (see middle photo in link above), WOW that is the biggest cross I have seen displayed indoors.

Next, I’m thoroughly taken aback by the STOUT physique of Christ in the midst of indescribable agony after having been tortured and nailed to the timber cross (see bottom photo in link above). Whoa, He’s not messing around now is He!!!

Finally, the exiting hymn from the service was one of my absolute ALL-time favorites, “Be Not Afraid”, and forged the tone for the remaining two days of training camp, the five weeks before race-day, and the almost 18 hours of sweet aching out on the Western States trail on Saturday June 27th!

You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I WILL give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
In the sea, you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames
You shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow’r of hell
And death is at your side
Know that I am with you, through it all.

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I will give you rest.

Blessed are your poor
For the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you that weep and mourn
for one day you shall laugh.

And if wicked men insult and hate you
All because of Me
Blessed, blessed are you!

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
and I WILL GIVE you rest…

Katrin Silva (NM)


If I want that silver buckle — and I really, really want it — I can’t afford to waste minutes, not even during the first climb. But at the top of Emigrant Pass, I do take a moment and look back the way we came. The rising sun bathes the mountain panorama in shades of pink, orange, and gold. A long line of runners still makes their way up to the Escarpment, moving dots in neon colors. Whatever else happens today, this moment alone is worth all the effort it took to get here.

David Newman (AR)


I have to say the most memorable part of race week was spending time with my crew. The road trip to Squaw Valley was filled with laughs while visiting some of the country’s great national parks.

Nicole Studer (TX)

Credit: Libby Jones

Credit: Libby Jones

I will never forget arriving at the Rucky Chucky river crossing just before sunset. My pacer, Nathan Leehman and I were racing the setting sun in an effort to arrive at the river before dark, and I am so thankful that we were able to do so. The sight of all volunteers lined up to assist the runners and pacers with the crossing was incredible. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude with the realization that these volunteers would remain in the cold water all night to allow each last racer to cross safely. The moment tore on my heartstrings, as not many other athletic platforms allow for such a strong demonstration of kindness as can be found during a trail race. While strong races always leave fond memories, it is the camaraderie of the runners and volunteers that makes it truly special.

Clifford Matthews (NM)

Credit: Dave Hays / Deadmans Peak Trail Run

Credit: Dave Hays / Deadmans Peak Trail Run

My Western States moment is simple but embarrassing: I was elated and relieved to read that Gunhild Swanson had finished.

Everyone who witnessed or heard her story has vicariously shared her joy. However, there were few people sharing her tension in realtime of going a mile uphill out of her way and one person feeling horrible knowing that he was responsible for inadvertantly misleading her.

Yes, I have a story I can bore you with, but Mark Twain (allegedly) summed it up: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Ford Smith (TX)

Ford with Ann Trason over Western States training weekend.

Ford with Ann Trason over Western States training weekend.

Walking into the Rucky Chucky river crossing, which signifies the gateway to the last 20 miles of Western States, my morale was down. The coughing from the previous 15+ hours of running had left me empty, both physically and emotionally. Worries shot through my head 100 miles an hour.

Will continuing put me in harms way?

Is there any remedy for my situation?

Can I even break 24 hours?

My “race” had long ago vanished and at this particular moment my “run” was leaving me as well. Upon entering the aid station being greeted by my parents, crew, and coach, I promptly sat down in a chair, convinced my day was over. “Can I have a medic?” I inquired. A doctor rushed over, in a hurried manner that is the signature of an aid station volunteer, and started his examination. “Take a big breath in, and slowly let it out” he said. I followed instructions while he assessed my situation. At the end of the examination, a verdict was reached. As I prepared for my wristband to be cut, signifying the end of my day, the doctor simply said, “You are fine to continue”.

A shock, almost a blow.

My mind was so wrapped around the relief that stopping would provide, that I had a hard time registering these simple words. So I sat, for what felt like an eternity, contemplating my options with my crew. My pacer had his own reservations, “I don’t want to get in a situation where you are in danger, I’ll only let you continue if you KNOW that you can pull through this”. But the problem was I didn’t know. I was scared, worried, afraid, embarrassed, tired. My body hurt, my mind hurt, my ego hurt. All I wanted was for it to be done. So I did the only thing that I knew would make it be over.

“Screw it, let’s go”.

It was the fear. It was the pain. It was the 20 miles ahead. And I had realized that it couldn’t stop me. With that I grabbed my bottles, got up, and expressed my intention to continue to my loved ones. I finished the race five and a half hours later with an infectious smile on my face. I’ve run faster, I’ve run smarter, and I’ve run stronger without that smile that accompanied my face at the finish.

What I was ultimately proud of was the perseverance and courage that it took to get up from the chair and run into the night with the determination only a soul stripped to its most basic being knows, and to ultimately accomplish what I set out for so many hours before. Fear is only a state of mind, especially when running ultras, and when you transcend that fear is when you find out what you’re really made of, and I found that I’m unstoppable.

Mark Yeaman (TX)


It was a family and friend affair. I think what makes it most magical is the enthusiasm they felt. I was just so happy that everyone loved being there.

David Sooter (OK)

Credit: Katie Bryant

Credit: Katie Bryant

Running along a shaded portion of the Western States 100 trail, five miles from the Duncan Canyon aid station, myself and three other runners made a slow, steady descent down the canyon to the waiting river at the bottom. The temperature was in the triple digits, we were hot, sweaty, and sore as we finally reached the water crossing.

We immediately stopped at the river’s edge before crossing, collectively dipping our hats and soaking our feet in the cold mountain water, looking at one another like we found a vein of gold in the mountainside. Before long all three of us were prone in a nearby shallow pool, letting the gentle, cold current wash away the lingering dust and heat from our bodies.

We stopped maybe five minutes to enjoy the beautiful stream, feeling like hours, we emerged from the stream and made the climb to mile 30 and Robinson Flats.

These moments like footprints highlight the journey that is our life.

I hope you enjoyed our tribe’s willingness to share.

Complete TALON Results

  • Paul Terranova (TX) – 17:43:17 (*10th male) – race report, post-race iRunFar interview
  • Nicole Studer (TX) – 20:19:56 (*6th female) – race report
  • Ford Smith (TX) – 22:19:18 (*19 year’s old) – race report
  • Katrin Silva (NM) – 23:29:07 – race report
  • John Hill (TX) – 23:55:14
  • Mark Yeaman (TX) – 28:06:56
  • Darren Christiansen (TX) – 28:27:10
  • Clifford Matthews (NM) – mile 86.2
  • Shaheen Sattar (TX) – mile 55.7
  • David Sooter (OK) – mile 55.7 – race report, processing Western States and moving on
  • Timothy Allen (TX) – mile 34.4
  • Jason Crockett (TX) – mile 34.4
  • David Newman (AR) – mile 29.7
  • Melissa Martin (AR) – mile 29.7
  • Davide Keaton (NM) – mile 29.7

Congratulations to all our TALON athletes that took on the adventure that is Western States.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –


About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “2015 Western States 100: Moments that Build a Life”

  1. on 16 Jul 2015 at 8:35 am Olga King

    Great stories, and thanks to Paul for citing the prayer, a great one to remember indeed.

  2. on 19 Aug 2015 at 7:59 pm David Hanenburg

    Thanks Olga! It was a lot of fun to put together and share our tribes special Western States moments.