Hoff completes Western States -- the 'Super Bowl' of endurance runnning
Who knows what runs through the bodies of athletes who achieve incredible accomplishments.
You can include Stephanie Hoff of Somerset among those who have completed one of the most torturous, physically demanding athletic events that can be found in the United States. Hoff ran the Western States Endurance Run on June 28-29, completing the demanding 100-mile course through mountains and desert in California in 26 hours, 42 minutes and 3 seconds.
Western States is considered the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. Hoff said that to trail runners, this race equates to the Boston Marathon or Super Bowl of the sport.
Hoff’s story is remarkable. She began running in 2009 after having her children. When she joined the New Richmond Running Club, she could barely run a block. She quickly climbed the ladder of running achievements, losing 100 pounds in the process. She went from completing 5K and 10K races, to completing marathons and qualifying for the Boston Marathon, to completing the Boston Marathon. She then met Kate Leis, a trail runner, and Hoff found another avenue for her running interests. Last September, she did the Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile Trail Race, where her time qualified her for the Western States race. Her name was put into a lottery, because only 377 runners were allowed to compete this year, and her name was selected. Hoff was one of 296 runners who completed the 100-mile adventure.
The race stretches from Squaw Valley to Auburn in California. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The start of the race is straight up for four miles, following the ski hills that were used for the Olympics. That was just of the start of the different terrain the runners faced. They went through desert areas, along the edges of steep cliffs as they wound through the mountains and they twice had to cross rivers.
The race began at 5 a.m. Hoff finished just before 8 a.m. the following morning.
Hoff said one of the things that benefitted her greatly was making a trip to California in May where she got to cover the final 70 miles of the course. She said having some idea of what terrain lay ahead of her removed most of her reasons to be nervous.
There was one reason she watched her footing every step of the way.
“In May, I saw a big rattlesnake,” she said, explaining that the snakes like to lay on the trails at night when it is cooler. Hoff said her feet stayed strong throughout the race, but her neck got sore from looking down at the trail every step of the way.
Blisters were a major problem for Hoff when she did the Superior Sawtooth race, but she said she only had three blisters on her feet at Western States. She only changed shoes once during the race. Members of her crew popped the blisters while Hoff was at one of the rest stops and she was quickly back on the course.
Hoff gave each of the members of her crew a bright orange shirt adorned with the saying “Keep calm and don’t hassel the Hoff.” The shirts served an extra purpose, because Hoff could spot her team easily when she met them at rest areas along the course. Her team included Leis, Joe Kelzer, Jerry Rogers, Sara Peterson and Colleen Prudhomme. Starting at the 62nd mile, runners can have members of their team serve as a pacer to run with them. For the final mile of the race, all the pacers could run with their runner.
Hoff was incredibly pleased with her time in the Western States race. It was an improvement by more than 10 hours over her time in the Superior Sawtooth race.
Hoff said the scenery in the California mountains was breath taking. She said one of the most memorable moments was seeing the 99th mile sign in Auburn.
“I saw it and knew I would finish. I almost hyperventilated,” she said.
The final stretch of the race is a lap around the Placerville High School track in Auburn. As runners make their way around the track, a bio they submitted is read to the crowd as the runners are cascaded with applause.
Once the runners reach the finish line, the demands aren’t over. They are hustled to a medical area where their blood is drawn as quickly as possible after completing the race. Hoff said there is medical testing being done on endurance runners to discover what makes their bodies able to stand up to such intense demands for more than 24 hours straight. The runners’ weights were also closely monitored as they ran so they didn’t lose too much body weight or begin retaining fluids.
Hoff said she’s going to back off her running schedule slightly after finishing Western States, though she did submit her name again for next year’s lottery for the race. She plans to be part of the pacer crew in September when Leis attempts to complete the Superior Sawtooth race. And Hoff does plan to compete in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 5.
Hoff will also continue to serve as the instructor for the First Steps class, which gave her the direction she needed when she was a beginning runner.
“I didn’t start as a twig who could always run. It’s nice to be able to relate that,” Hoff said.