Kaci Lickteig’s fourth appearance at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run this weekend proved to be her toughest.
Lickteig — considered one of the best ultrarunners in the world — nearly quit 22 miles before the finish line. But the Omaha woman powered through, finishing six hours slower than she did last year.
She placed 16th out of the female competitors and 77th overall.
Last year, the Omaha woman won the women’s division.
Coming to terms with the disappointing finish, Lickteig on Monday thought of the people who helped her complete the race.
“Words can’t really describe this feeling. I’m just grateful for being able to finish,” Lickteig said. “This was the toughest race I’ve ever had.”
The Western States is ultrarunning’s equivalent of the Boston Marathon. The run started Saturday morning in Squaw Valley, California. Runners crossed the finish line in Auburn, California.
The remote and rugged route follows a 100-mile segment of the Western States Trail, which stretches in full from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, California. Much of it is accessible only by foot.
More than 350 people entered the race; 248 finished, including another Nebraskan.
Jimmy Brown of Omaha completed the route in 29 hours and 26 minutes. Mindy Coolman of Fremont started the race but did not finish in the race’s 30-hour time limit.
It took Lickteig 24 hours, 2 minutes and 18 seconds. In Lickteig’s previous Western States appearances, she’s placed first, second and sixth.
The 30-year-old said she felt good going into this year’s event.
“I was running happy. I felt free. I felt great,” she said.
As she ran through canyons on the course, the heat caught up with her. She got anxious and her breathing became shallow. Lickteig walked for 6 miles, pausing to lean against trees and sit on rocks. Several runners offered help, and Lickteig kept moving.
As she climbed over a fallen tree at mile 70, she slammed her knee into a branch. Crying, Lickteig walked the next 8 miles to an aid station. She told her team to cut off her wristband; She was ready to quit.
In a Facebook post, Lickteig said while she mulled over dropping out, she thought of her grandma who has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“I could set an example for my grandma by getting up and finishing what I had started,” Lickteig wrote.
Another runner wouldn’t hear of it. She grabbed Lickteig, and they continued on the trail.
Crossing the finish line was emotional. Finishing the race took everything in Lickteig, but she also credits the people who helped her along the way.
“That race means so much to me,” Lickteig said. “I love this sport because we’re not out for ourselves. It’s for everyone. It just shows the humanity we have in our world still.”
Lickteig was named UltraRunning Magazine’s top female ultrarunner of 2016. She plans to run the UTMB, a 105-mile mountain race in Mont Blanc, France, in September.