On Saturday, June 28, Ranger alumna Stephanie Howe did the unthinkable as a debut runner in one of the most prestigious and oldest 100-mile trail races in the world. She won it.
Howe turned heads at the Western States Endurance Run across central California when she crossed the finish line in Auburn, California, in 18 hours and one minute, the fourth fastest time in the race’s 41-year history.
Howe, who finished 28 minutes ahead of the runner-up, earned a spot in the ultra marathon as part of a lottery draw but is now an automatic entrant for the 2015 race.
The 2002 Forest Lake graduate began training for the grueling course, which has 23,000 feet in descent and 18,000 feet of ascent, in February with the help of her fiance and residents in Bend, Oregon, where she now resides while she completes her Ph.D. in exercise physiology and nutrition.
Howe stuck to her game plan of starting slow and steady. It paid off when she took the lead at mile 30 and never looked back, although she admits to not allowing herself to feel too excited until around mile 80.
“Sixty-three miles is the longest I’d run before, so I was just hoping to finish the race injury-free,” Howe said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know if my wheels would come off or if my body would wear down — my goal was to just cross the finish line.”
And that she did. Howe said the feeling of accomplishment at the race’s close was indescribable.
“I went through so many emotions. I was just floating around the track,” Howe said. “I was so excited, so happy and so thankful.”
Howe had plenty of practice in distance events, starting in Forest Lake. She excelled in athletics even in high school as a state entrant and top-10 finisher in cross-county and distance runner in track and field, as well as a state champion in the classic race at the Nordic skiing state meet her senior year.
The athlete, who’s now sponsored by The North Face and Clif Bar among others, continued her success at Northern Michigan University on both the Nordic skiing and cross-country teams. Howe was a four-year letterwinner in cross-country and earned All-American twice as a Wildcat runner before moving to Bozemont, Montana, to earn a master’s degree from Montana State University in exercise physiology.
Howe’s parents, Mary and Charles Howe, watched live-feed updates online from Forest Lake until the early hours of the morning when their daughter finished in first place.
“It’s been exciting,” Mary Howe said. “She’s a very determined young woman, has always been very disciplined in her training and work ethic, even when it’s not always fun. It’s been exciting for us to watch and totally amazing at what she’s been able to accomplish.”