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With Seconds To Spare, 70-Year-Old Woman Finishes 100-Mile Endurance Race

The Western States Endurance Run is the world's oldest 100-mile race — and among its toughest. Runners begin the race in Squaw Valley, Calif., climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line in Auburn, Calif.

Here's what that looks like:

/ http://www.wser.org/course/maps/

This year's male winner was Rob Krar, 38, of Flagstaff, Ariz., who completed the course in 14:48:59. That's an incredible time. But the loudest cheers at the finish line on Sunday were reserved for 70-year-old Gunhild Swanson of Spokane Valley, Wash.

Here's how Runner's World describes what happened:

"With just 90 seconds left before the 30-hour cutoff time and 300 meters to go in the 100.2 mile race on Sunday, Gunhild Swanson ... dug deep to became the oldest woman to complete the course in a time of 29 hours, 59 minutes, and 54 seconds.

"The real buzz began for Swanson at the final aid station — Robie Point — about 1.3 miles from the finish. Volunteers there began receiving word that Swanson was arriving soon and would only have about 16 minutes to make it to the finish on the Placer High School track in Auburn, California.

"Swanson and her support crew, which included friends, her son, and grandson, climbed up the steep incline to the aid station, where volunteers screamed to her to keep moving. Along that last push, Rob Krar — the overall winner of the race who claimed his victory nearly 15 hours earlier — joined Swanson and ran the last mile with her, wearing flip flops."

In an interview with irunfar.com, a running website, Swanson described that last mile.

"Two friends, my pacers, another friend, Rob Krar, the winner of this race came down. He wasn't waiting there, but he came down the road, and Tim Twietmeyer. Everybody started yelling at me and telling me what to do and pouring ice water all over me. Then I was told, "You have to run as hard as you possibly can. When you get to the track, you can't let up. Down the hill you're okay, but you have to maintain that pace. You have to go with all you possibly can on the track." I came around and saw the clock. Oh, my gosh."

This was Swanson's third Western States race. She finished this year 6 seconds from the 30-hour cutoff, a record for the 70-and-over category.

"In over 15 years of attending Western States I have never witnessed anything like what transpired in the track shortly before 11am on Sunday," Andy Jones-Wilkins, an ultrarunner, wroteon the race's Facebook page.

You can also watch the video of Swanson finishing the race here.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.