Arizona ultrarunner and running TikToker Zachary Bates has never been one to turn away from a challenge. On Sunday evening, the 21-year-old became the youngest finisher at this year’s Western States Endurance Run 100 (WSER), finishing the race in 23 hours and 37 minutes.
Bates’s journey to the WSER finish line has been inspiring, to say the least. Bates was diagnosed with autism at age four and fell in love with distance running in high school. He told his mom, frog, he enjoyed it because it felt like he could run forever. His goal when he started was to run faster around his neighborhood, which then became how many laps of the neighborhood he could run before dark. Now, Bates has earned himself a WSER silver belt buckle and the exclusive title of youngest finisher at the 2023 WSER 100.
Western States 100 mile race recap: How do you put a dream into words? The answer, there are no words. First of all, the overall experience at the race was exceptional! The organizers and volunteers were living in a dream too. Everyone was just so happy to be there. I can’t tell you how many times total strangers called out to Zach by name wishing him good luck or congratulations. The energy in Olympic Valley was incredible. Race morning the runners faced snowy, icy trails for many miles. It was super challenging to avoid slipping. Many runners fell and struggled. Zach managed to stay on his feet of him but it was impossible to move quickly because he would have expended a huge amount of energy trying to pass a massive line of runners on a narrow trail. By the time he got to Robinson Flat (mile 30) he was 2 hours behind pace to reach his goal of a sub 24 hour finish. He picked up his pace but it was still over an hour behind when he arrived at Foresthill (mile 62). He was feeling discouraged and almost conceded it was impossible to still get under 24 hours. But then he told himself, “No! I’m going for it.” He picked up his pacer and ran amazingly fast paces through the downhill sections. He kept pushing hard, making it a challenge for his pacer to keep up. At the Rucky Chucky river crossing he switched pacers. The hard climb out of the canyon was slow and frustrating. At the top he calculated paces and rallied again. The last 20 miles he just went for it! He flew, leaving his pacer behind about 4 miles from the finish. He wanted that silver buckle and he worked his tail off for it. Thank you to Zach’s coach @Nickademus de la Rosa Thank you to Zach’s pacers @johnrunsfar Robin McDearmon Thank you to #injinji @Running Warehouse @Squirrel’s Nut Butter @Heidi Garner Studio for all the support Thank you to all the people who have shown support and love at the race and on social media. We love and appreciate you.
♬ Winner Song – HitsLab
The goal of running 100 miles came to Bates two years ago. He had zero ultra experience at the time and only six months until his first 100-miler. At first, his mom didn’t think he was serious, but then she began documenting his ultramarathon training on TikTok, which has since inspired many new runners around the world who are on the autism spectrum. Bates accomplished his 100-mile goal in January 2022 at the Coldwater Rumble 100 in Goodyear, Ariz., creating something very special in the process.
Bates’s mother recorded videos of his ultrarunning journey, capturing every step as he prepared for last year’s Javelina Jundred. These videos were posted daily, showing Bates’s dedication and his progress. Additionally, they continued to share videos of her son’s training for WSER–the place all roads for Bates led to California’s Olympic Valley, where his aspirations would be put to the test.
Many runners in this year’s WSER struggled with the snowy and icy conditions in the first 30 miles. “It was super challenging to avoid slipping, and many fell,” his mom said. “Zach managed to stay on his feet of him, but it was impossible to move quickly, because he would have expended a huge amount of energy trying to pass a massive line of runners on the narrow trail.”
Bates’s goal heading into the race was to break the 24-hour barrier, and despite the challenges in the early stages, he rallied in the final 30 miles to smash his goal with 23 minutes to spare. Bates finished 92nd overall (73rd male) out of 377 entrants.
He was given a warm welcome throughout the race: “I can’t tell you how many times total strangers called out to Zach by name, wishing him good luck or congratulations,” his mom said in an Instagram post. “The energy in Olympic Valley was incredible.”
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You don’t see many ultrarunners tackle both Western States and Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in the same year (since they are only two months apart), but his next goal is to race UTMB in late August.
Earlier this month, a documentary on Bates called “Break the Mold” was released, which follows his incredible journey as he competes in his first 100-mile race before turning 20. You can find more information on the documentary here.