On the surface the race in Marin this weekend looks a lot like Western States. When you look at most of the pre-race chatter about the men's race the talk is dominated by a "Big 4." The strange thing is how similar the "Big 4" are to what they were at Western States. In each case you have a 2 time former race champion (Koerner and Steidl), a foreign phenom (Jornet and Wyatt), and then Tony and I playing the part of Tony and I.
This is all on the surface though. Below the surface there are 2 major differences between this one and Western States. The largest of these being that it still remains to be seen how many of these "Big 4" actually toe the line on race day. Rumors are flying and it's seeming more and more likely that it will be fewer than 4. The other major difference is the strength of the runners behind these four. To take nothing away from any of the top level runners that ran Western States this year, it was much more clear at Western States that one of "the 4" was almost certain to win the race.
This weekend is much different than that though. Even if these four that are being talked about the most all show up it's not a given that one of us will walk away with the $10k. Mackey, Skaggs, Lundstrom, Heras, Mallarde, Bragg (to name just a few) could all contend for the win.
In my mind Dave should be included with Tony, Uli, Jonathan, and I as part of a big 5. He has probably won more 50 mile trail races than the rest of us combined and has more experience/knowledge on the trails in Marin than any of us. I think some people are uncertain as to what kind of shape he is in right now since he hasn't raced much in the past 18 months. I've run with Dave enough in the past two months to know that his current fitness is not at all in question.
Beyond these guys I've named there are at least a dozen other runners who could have a good day and claw their way onto a podium spot (especially if some of the front guys don't start or don't finish).
Western States was a very competitive race for sure but the depth of the elite runner's in this race is (in my mind) at least double what it was at WS. Many of the top runners will not finish, but there are so many strong runners toeing the line that there are likely to be guys finishing out of the top 10 who are used to battling for the win in most every race they run. It doesn't get any more exciting than that. I just hope that none of the rumors I'm hearing are true and everyone is there and ready to race Saturday.