Wally Hesseltine, Contra Costa Ultra Runner

‘Discipline is key’ is how Wally Hesseltine underscores his passion for running. Wally practices criminal defense and family law at Pedder Hesseltine Walker & Toth in Lafayette. Wally’s running career dates back to June 8, 1981, when he went for his first run to get some exercise and help relieve the stress of law practice. It wasn’t long thereafter when he signed up for his first race – the Walnut Festival 10k in September 1981 and then the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon in October 1981. Since then, Wally has gone on to run at least one race every month; a streak that is unbroken almost 36 years later. His most recent race was the July 4 Stars and Stripes 5k in Concord. Each and every race is documented in a red binder that contains his racing history. Wally’s discipline has him running an average of 60 miles every week, running six days each week with occasional longer runs up to 35 miles.

Unlike most runners, Wally didn’t settle for 5k’s, 10k’s or even marathons. Wally is most known in the running community as an ultra runner. Ultras are any race beyond marathon distance (26.2 miles). So, in addition to completing 56 marathons, including the prestigious Boston Marathon, Wally has completed 183 ultra races. Of the 183 races, Wally has completed an amazing 26 100-mile races. His 100-mile personal record is 20 hours and 44 minutes, which he set at a race in Vermont. That is a 12.44-minute per mile pace for 100 miles.

Wally’s recent running goal has been to set the record for the oldest male finisher for the oldest 100-mile race in the United States, the Western States Endurance Run. The current record, set in 1998, is held by Ray Piva who completed the course at the tender age of 71. Western States is a 100-mile foot race that runs from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Beginning in Squaw Valley, the trail ascends from the valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in the first 4½ miles. From the pass, following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850’s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn. It is run every June. Western States started as a horse race until 1974 when the first person completed the race on foot. In 1977, the first official Western States was held in conjunction with the horse race. This race has become so popular that it now requires runners to complete one of the few qualifying races and then enter a lottery for the approximately 400 spots each year. Runners have 30 hours to complete the course. Wally has attempted the course 8 times now and has 3 silver (24 hour or less finish) and 3 bronze (over 24 hour finish) belt buckles – the award for completing this race. His Western States best time is 22:20 set when he was 58. Next time you see him, ask him if he is wearing one of his many 100-mile finisher buckles.

His first attempt to set the Western States age record in 2016 is documented in a movie. He had a heart-breaking finish that year missing the 30 hour cutoff by seconds when he fell on the track at the end. However, after a brief rest in the med tent and a Coke, he was up and feeling fine again. Wally’s 2017 attempt ended at the first cutoff when he and many others missed the time to reach the first-aid station due to heat, snow and heavy mud along the course. Wally described the 2017 course as the hardest he had ever seen at Western States due to the conditions. However fear not, if he gets in, Wally plans to return in 2018 to set the record.

If you want to go for a run with him, give him a call. He would love to get more attorneys running the trails.

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