Another Year, Another Chance
For nearly 99 miles of last year’s Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, Wally Hesseltine—who was 72 at the time—thought he was going to become the oldest person in the race’s history to finish the storied course. The record he was after is held by Ray Piva, who completed the race at age 71 in 28 hours, 09 minutes back in 1998.
“All I had to do was get to that finish line in under 30 hours and it was a done deal,” Wally said. “But I cut it too close.”
As he approached the Placer High School Track in Auburn, California, someone told him he had five minutes left. “That was the first time I realized I’m not going to make this,” Wally recalled. “I had started leaning a bit on the way, then on the track I ran into some garbage bags. That wasn’t a good development.”
Those in attendance attempted to will him through the last stretch with the power of their cheers. In a heartbreaking display of guts and determination, Wally stumbled and fell, then rose to his feet aided by his crew. He crossed the line 1 minute, 56 seconds too late.
“The thought never crossed my mind to bag it,” Wally said. “But I was disappointed to not finish in time.”
In the medical tent after the race, the first thing he said was that he’d be back.
And he will. During the awards ceremony the following day, it was announced that someone had donated an entry for him so he could compete in the 2017 race. “I was thrilled about that chance, and I still am,” Wally said.
His history with the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run reaches back to 1995, when he completed the race in 27 hours, 11 minutes. It was his first 100-mile finish. Wally has now completed 26 100-mile races and finished Western States six times, with three of those times being fast enough to earn the challenging and coveted sub-24-hour finisher's silver belt buckle.
He is nothing if not consistent. Wally has worked at the same law firm since 1973, and he’s on a streak of running at least one race every month for the last 36 years.
“The two things that have helped me are keeping good records and the running streak,” Wally said. Since Western States last year, he has added nine more ultra-marathon finishes to his streak for a grand total of 183 races completed.
For this year’s attempt, Wally doesn’t plan to change too much about his race strategy, though he wants to run a little bit tighter splits and focus more on his nutrition. “I didn’t eat very well from the river crossing on last year,” he said.
He’ll also have to contend with record snowfall in the Sierra, which will undoubtedly add difficulty to the course. Wally admits to being considerably more worried this year than he was last year. “But, I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I’ll just have to be more intense.”