The 2017 Golden Ticket Chase Mid-Season Update

AJW's TaproomThe month of March is ultrarunning’s version of the all-star break at least as it relates to the annual Golden Ticket season. After three early season races to select the first 12 winners of the coveted automatic Western States entries, we have a bit of a reprieve before the fast and furious final three races in three weekends during the first half of April.

Already in on the men’s side are Jeff Ball, Joel Frost-Tift, Ryan Kaiser, Alex Nichols, Elov Olssen, and Chris Wehan. Of these six, only Kaiser has been to the Big Dance previously, finishing a heart-wrenching 11th place in 2015. On the women’s side of those in so far, there is an even split of veterans–Emily Harrison, Stephanie Howe, and Nicole Kalogeropoulos–and first timers–Camille Herron, Sabrina Stanley, and Clare Gallagher.

In the next Golden Ticket race, the Georgia Death Race on April 1, we will have the longest and arguably toughest of the six races. At 68 miles and over 20,000 feet of elevation gain, GDR is a true endurance test and interestingly, of the four runners who secured Golden Tickets at GDR in 2016, three of them went on to top-10 finishes at WS100, more than any other Golden Ticket race. A talented group of men will be looking to snag tickets, including David Kilgore, Bob Shebest, Dominick Layfield, and Karl Meltzer. For Meltzer, the burliness of the course combined with his intimate knowledge of the East Coast mountain terrain, this could be his best chance yet to score a Golden Ticket. [Author‘s Note: Andrew Miller is on the entrants list, too, as of the time of this publishing, and he needs no introduction–or a Golden Ticket, in this case. However, Andrew said that, in light of recovery from a recent injury, he’s not planning to race GDR. ] On the women’s side, East Coast strong women Aliza Lapierre and Jackie Merritt will race former WS100 champ Pam Smith.

The following weekend, along the mighty Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, Race Director James Varner’s Gorge Waterfalls 100k will award the next four tickets. Gorge boasts just over 12,000 feet of climb over 62 miles and while it is not quite as gnarly as GDR, it is every bit as relentless. And, the out-and-back format gives runners the chance to size up their competition halfway through. Most eyes at the 2017 Gorge will be on 2016 Male UltraRunning magazine (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year Jim Walmsley as he seeks to punch his ticket back to Squaw where last year he led the race for 92 miles before missing the Quarry Trail turn along the American River and walking it in for a 19th-place finish. Chasing Walmsley up and down the Gorge will be 2015’s Male Ultrarunner of the Year and former WS100 top-10 runner David Laney as well as two guys looking to make comebacks, Mark Laveson and Phil Kochik. In the women’s race at Gorge, veteran Cassie Scallon is looking to get back to Western States after a few years away and she will likely be chased by two fast but largely unproven newcomers Emily Kalenius and Emma Patterson, among others.

In the final Golden Ticket test of the season, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, we will see the most competitive field of all six races in what is the shortest and likely the fastest race in the series. Packing just over 10,000 feet into 50 miles of buttery Northern California singletrack, Race Director John Medinger calls his race “relentlessly rolling.” This year, battling their way through those rollers will be speedsters Patrick Smyth, Ryan Bak, Dakota Jones, Sage Canaday, Chikara Omine, Paul Terranova, and Chris Mocko. Of those men, only Mocko is in Western States as a result of his top-10 finish in 2016. The rest will be battling it out for two precious spots.

The women’s race, at least at this point, is even more intriguing than the men at Lake Sonoma. There are several women coming to the race who, like Mocko, are already in, they are defending WS100 champion Kaci Lickteig, and 2016 top-10 finishers Meghan Arbogast and Alissa St. Laurent. Additionally, three additional former WS100 women’s champions will be at Lake Sonoma, Pam Smith, Magda Boulet, and Anita Ortiz. I’d have to do a little research but this may be the first time in a race besides Western States where four former WS100 champions have raced each other in the same event. If that is not enough, Camille Herron, already a Golden Ticket holder, and perennial fast women Ashley Nordell and Anna Mae Flynn are in the field. Finally, perhaps the most intriguing entry in this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 is 24-hour American record holder Courtney Dauwalter. Given the hot streak she has been on over the past few months I am guessing anything could happen.

And, there you have it, the mid-season Golden Ticket update. I have to admit, and of course I have a well-known bias for all things Western States, this Golden Ticket series just gets more exciting every year and this year, especially as the weeks count down and the Big Dance gets closer, the enthusiasm is positively palpable.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Bear Republic Brewing Company Hop ShovelWith Lake Sonoma featured in this week’s column, this week’s Beer of the Week must come from Bear Republic Brewing Company as they are a loyal contributor to John Medinger’s annual spring classic. And, although Racer 5 is the go-to beer after the Lake Sonoma, I have already reviewed that here years ago. So this week’s beer of the week is Bear Republic’s Hop Shovel is a dryer, slightly less hoppy, little brother to Racer 5. A great summer beer, Hop Shovel has an ever-so-slight Belgian flair that makes it fun to drink and it pairs very nicely with burgers and barbecue.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you following along with the results of the Golden Ticket series so far? Which runners who’ve gained Western States entry are you most excited about watching race and why?
  • Who do you think will earn Golden Tickets at the remaining three series races?

There are 29 comments

  1. Darian

    AJW- GDR is much more talented of a field than you described; You left out the 2 X returning Champion and Western States winner Andrew Miller will also be in the lineup (even though he does not need a Golden Ticket). Also toeing the line, Beast Coast runner Aaron Saft, from Colorado Avery Collins, from California Dominic Grossman, and of course yourself AJW! Not to mention a slew of talent that does not have a win on the bigger stage. GDR is arguably one of the deepest fields.

    1. AJW

      Darian, at the time I submitted the column (Wednesday midday) Andrew’s status for the race was uncertain. We are looking into this now and will edit the post accordingly.

  2. AJW

    Hey Darian, thanks for the comment. As you can see from the other two race profiles my intention is not to provide an exhaustive list of Golden Ticket contenders, rather just a brief snapshot of the few runners in each race that are intriguing/interesting. What you said about GDR is quite true, it’s a very deep field that goes beyond the few names I mentioned. And, the same can clearly be said for Gorge Waterfalls and Lake Sonoma, there are many other runners in the fields at those two races with chances to snag the ticket that I did not mention. It sure will be a fun few weeks!

  3. Michael Kealy

    Love to see Karl take a slot. His premier showing (benefitted the Huntsman Cancer Institute-thanks John Maak!) of the film that will be shown by Red Bull TV on last fall’s AT record was a treat here in Salt Lake a few weeks back. He noted that his legs have a lingering soreness that may last a while yet, but I’m pulling for him to bust another one out of his hat. Much like he did at the Run Rabbit Run a few years ago where his experience allowed him to wait for all the carnage up front to dissipate and then smoothly roll into 1st for the umpteenth time.

    1. speedgoat Karl

      Don’t count on me getting a slot, this is merely a “recon” effort to learn the course fully, for a run at a slot in 2018. I will be 50 in 2018, and hoping to wiggle my way into WS and destroy the over 50 record, which is quite soft at 18:43. Thanks for the kind words about the AT film too. 45 days of misery (day 1 was easy. :-)

      1. WeiDe

        Karl, is the documentary available already? Where can we see it and if it isnt, when is it planned to be released? Thanks and good luck this season!

  4. Burnsy

    Holy smokes. That female race at Sonoma is absurd – that might be the race of the year right there. Can’t wait for that slugfest!

    1. AJW

      Burnsy, for sure! And I am looking forward to the front row seat I’ll have running an hour or two behind all those speedy women! Think I’ll have to bring my camera and try to pull a Jamil!

  5. Chris P.

    The men’s race at Gorge has its obvious favorites, but in addition to Walmsley and Laney don’t forget about Vlad Ixel – I would expect him to be gunning for a top spot. I’d also keep an eye on Jesse Lang, Brett Hornig and Benjamin Stern to potentially mix it up, especially if any of the top guys happen to be off their game that day.

  6. Travis

    I don’t understand how Lake Sonoma is a WS100 golden ticket race at only 50 miles, when all other golden ticket races are 100k or longer. And in order to qualify for WS100 you need to have run at least a 100k qualifying race from their list of qualifiers. Why did they make an exception for one race?

    1. AJW

      Travis, I have spoken with the WS Board President John Medinger and Lake Sonoma is a Golden Ticket race because it is annually one of the 2-3 most competitive ultras in the country and THE most competitive during the January to April time period which is the logical build up period for most elite ultrarunners and is also after the lottery which is important for the race. As such, it is with great confidence that the Western States organizers believe that the top-2 finishers at Lake Sonoma are, simply by virtue of finishing so highly in that race, qualified to run WS and therefore have made the exception. Additionally, the organizers look at runners who have done well at Lake Sonoma and at Western States and have determined that success at one does correlate to success at the other. Runners such as Stephanie Howe, Jim Walmsley, Kaci Lickteig and Rob Krar come immediately to mind. All that being said, I certainly understand the spirit of your question as it is one that has come up often over the last few years as the Golden Ticket races have expanded to include all but one 100K.

      1. Ben

        There is no doubt Lake Sonoma is one of the most competitive races in the country every year.
        I’m not sure what the January to April timeframe has to do with the argument though? If you look back to early December the North Face 50 is even more competitive. Success there would undoubtedly correlate even more to success at WS if it were a golden ticket race as well.
        It would be interesting to see a race like North Face 50 be a WS qualifier so that tickets could be sorted earlier and arguably longevity and training strategies may be adjusted.
        It’s worth noting Troical John is also the RD of Lake Sonoma should anyone not already know that.

      2. Travis

        Thanks for the explanation AJW. Indeed it’s their race so they cant do whatever they want! Was just curious why there was one exception to the rule when no other race under 100k is considered “enough” for qualification anymore, that’s all.

      3. Travis

        One other question about Sonoma actually. Annually, it usually is one of the most competitive ultras in the country, but don’t they dictate who gets in to the race by lottery? So, theoretically, couldn’t it turn out to be one of the least competitive races as well? Or do they give auto entries to “elite athletes?”

  7. Jacques

    I’m pulling for Bob at GDR, especially after he and Mario Mendoza got sent off course at Bandera while leading in the first Golden Ticket race of the year.

    1. AJW

      @bethany indeed she is, along with YiOu Wang – defending champ, Liza Howard, Lauren (Besenfelder) Coury and possibly a few other late additions. After talking with John we decided it would be too hard to list everyone but we’ll do a pre-race article that covers everyone. It may likely be the single most competitive women’s ultra ever. And, we also dug around in the archives and assuming they all make it to the starting line this will be the first time that 4 previous WS champs have ever competed in the same race – any race. Which is pretty cool.

    1. justsaying

      Would be curious to see how the board at Western States decides to react to his admitted cannabis use seeing as how it is on the WADA banned substance list. It would seem to let him compete would be a glaring double standard. I have nothing against it’s use in or out of competition, but then again I don’t really think half the substances on the banned substance list should be there. I suppose this really gets into how do you police athletes from using drugs during training when anyone with half a brain can prevent those types of things from showing up on a race day drug test. Again, not trying to denigrate Avery as I don’t know him personally, but just pointing this out.

  8. Dominick Layfield

    I’m happy to say that I got a Western States ticket through the lottery. (Like regular mortals.)

    I entered several Golden Ticket races before the lottery, with (obviously) the intention of racing my way into WS. I’m extremely happy not to have any pressure. That meant I was able, for example, to enter a 108-mile winter race in the UK three weeks before Sean O’Brien, because I didn’t have to worry about peaking for that race.

    I’m still planning to race at GDR. Had a great time there last year (although frustratingly came in third). Psyched to run against some big names. But I’m not in good shape and not expecting to do well.

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