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Fast times win Western States 100

Rob Krar nearly broke the course record while winning the 2014 Western States 100. PRNewsFoto/The North Face

A starting gun fired at 5:00 a.m. on June 28, sending 376 runners off in the Western States 100 ultra-marathon, from Squaw Valley Ski resort through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the general direction of Placer High School in Auburn, Calif.

Only 296 of those runners would finish the 100.2-mile journey, one of the most prestigious and daunting ultra races in the world, one athletes train for years to earn a chance to compete in.

For 2014 champion Rob Krar, though, toeing the line was the culmination of a journey that began one year before.

"It's been a year-long journey," Krar told John Trent, President of the Western States Endurance Run, in his finish-line interview.

Krar was the second man across the finish line at the 2013 Western States, coming in behind two-time defending champion Timothy Olson.

This year, though, Krar traversed 18,000 feet of mountainous and backcountry terrain, descended almost 23,000 feet of rocky single-track trails and was the first to the line at the Placer High track. He finished with a time of 14:53:22, the second-best ever behind Olson's course-record 14:46:44, set it 2012.

Often called "The Boston Marathon of ultra-running", the Western States is generally considered the original and one of the most prestigious ultra-marathons. While ultras have been around since before Western States was founded in 1977, its famous silver belt buckle is a prize coveted by ultra-runners worldwide.

It's history in the sport and its challenging course has earned Western States a spot of the first-annual Ultra Trail World Tour, a points-based series of ultra-marathons (50K or longer) designed to crown a yearly men's and women's ultra-running champion.

The 2013 Western States was Krar's first-ever attempt at the 100-mile distance. He is an accomplished runner who has been one of the most dominant on the ultra-marathon scene over the last year and a half.

Last year alone he won four different ultra-distance races: the Red Hot Moab 55K, Leona Divide 50 Mile, The NorthFace Endurance Challenge 50 and the Ultra Race of Champions 100K. All were notable races with competitive fields.

"The race today, it was important for me to run my race. It really was. The other athletes were almost a tool for me to help push me along." Krar told Trent.

Nick Clark and Max King had been jockeying for the lead in the early stages of the race, with King distancing himself in the front beyond the halfway-mark.

Krar, who had been sitting back and letting others set the pace, waiting for his time to attack, made his move on the approach to the Foresthill aid station around mile 62.

Sometime between there and the mile 72 mark, Krar's aggressive move claimed a lead he would hold until the end.

His run from Foresthill to the River Crossing at mile 78 took him about two hours and three minutes, which Trent said was probably 10 minutes faster than any other split seen on that section of the course.

Krar flirted with Olson's course record and was told over the last few sections it was not out of reach, but Krar was pleased with what he saw on the clock at the finish line.

"Without even thinking about it when I was sitting in this chair last year beside Tim Olson, I knew that even if I didn't consciously think it, my year-long goal was to be sitting here right now talking to you," Krar said.

2014 Western States 100 men's results

Rob Krar (The North Face) - 14:53:22 (2nd fastest in Western States history)

Seth Swanson (Pearl Izumi) - 15:19:39

Dylan Bowman (Pearl Izumi) - 15:36:41

Max King (Montrail) - 15:44:45

Ryan Sandes (Salomon) - 15:46:59

Ian Sharman (SCOTT) - 15:47:50

Alex Varner (Nike) - 15:53:42

Brendan Davies (Inov-8) - 15:56:49

Brett Rivers (San Francisco Running Company) - 16:20:06

Jesse Haynes - 16:36:42

WOMEN'S RACE

Stephanie Howe made her 100-mile debut at this year's Western States. Howe entered the race as an accomplished ultra-runner, most recently finishing as runner-up in the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April, but had never run more than 65 miles before last weekend. However, she dominated the race with a time of 18:01:42, the fourth-fastest time for a woman in the race's history.

Some of the participants earned entry into Western States through previous performances at the race or races on the Ultra-Trail World Tour or Montrail Cup, but Howe got there the old fashioned way: through the lottery.

"I was nervous to see how my body would respond, but I just kept taking good care of myself. I fueled well. I hydrated well," she said.

Emily Harrison, who would eventually succumb to physical issues and drop out of the race around the halfway point, was the early pace-setter among the women. As Krar did, Howe patiently waited for her opportunity to pounce, taking over the lead several miles before the Dusty Corners aid station at the 38-mile mark.

"I took over at about 33 miles and then just didn't look back. I'm pretty good at downhills, so that favored me. I just kind of cruised down and just tried to keep picking up the pace."

From there, she quickly put a 20-minute gap between herself and the field, eventually crossing the finish line almost 30 minutes before second-place Larisa Dannis would.

While she was unable to bring Ellie Greenwod's 2012 course-record time of 16:47:19 into her sights, Howe smashed what she said was her humble goal all along.

"I just wanted to finish" she told iRunFar.com's Bryon Powell in a post-race interview. "I think I could have run faster. I was pretty conservative at places. There were definitely sections that I could have run, that I walked because I just wanted to finish."

When asked what her feelings were of the 100-miler, Howe -- who has won 50-mile and 50K races but never competed in a race longer than 100K -- said "I think I'll do another one".

2014 Western States 100 Women's Results

Stephanie Howe (The North Face) - 18:01:42

Larisa Dannis (Altra/INKnBURN) - 18:29:18

Nathalie Mauclair (La Fuma) - 18:43:57

Pam Smith (La Sportiva) - 19:10:42

Nikki Kimball (Hoka One One) - 19:51:31

Kaci Lickteig (Pearl Izumi) - 20:07:10

Denise Bourassa (Patagonia) - 20:19:30

Meghan Arbogast (Scott) - 21:14:48

Shaheen Sattar - 21:20:49

Sally McRae (Nike) - 21:24:43