G unhild Swanson made history Sunday by running 100 miles in 29 hours, 59 minutes and 54 seconds. She’s 70 years old.
Swanson’s wasn’t the fastest time in this year’s Western States Endurance Race — that distinction belongs to Rob Krar, a man 32 years her junior — but according to NPR, she definitely stole the show.
With 1.3 miles left, Swanson had 16 minutes to reach the finish line before the 30-hour cutoff. Bear in mind that this was after already running 98.7 miles of brutal climbs and descents:
A little perspective on this from Runner’s World:
While 16 minutes might sound like a generous amount of time to cover 1.3 miles, it usually takes longer for most middle- and back-of-the-pack runners finishing Western States. In fact, women’s champion Magdalena Boulet ran the same stretch in about 16 minutes to end in 19:05:21.
“The terrain is so difficult that ordinary mortals like me, you can’t run, you have to power walk it,” Swanson told IRunFar.
Swanson knew she was fighting the clock early in the race: “I made a pace chart for my pacers, and cutoff times, I hand wrote them as an afterthought. … At one point early in the race, I was within 10 minutes of cutoff time.”
Once she got past a particularly grueling stretch, though, she was able to run and make up for lost time: “We just started chipping away at it.”
But then, “disaster happened,” according to Swanson. “At about mile 88, my pacer and I made a terrible rookie mistake.” Rather than looking for the trail markers, they followed a few other runners ahead of them and turned left when they should have turned right. That mistake took them up a steep hill and back down again for a total of what Swanson wryly refers to as 3 “bonus miles.”
Just before the 30-hour cutoff, Swanson dug deep into her physical and emotional reserves, and received lots of moral support from the crowd and other racers, including Krar, who ran the last mile with her in flip-flops.
Finally she made it to the track, with the crowd cheering her to the end with just 6 seconds to spare. “I must have had the biggest smile on my face,” Swanson said. “I swear to God.”
Watch all of IRunFar’s interview with Swanson here:
So what’s next for Swanson after making history as the face’s first female 70-and-up finisher? Oh, just a few “low-key” 50-milers here and there with friends. No biggie.