2017 Western States 100 Group Think Predictions

Western States 100 logoWhile it always means staying up late on one of the busiest weeks of the entire year, as always here are YOUR Western States 100 group-think predictions in one of my favorite iRunFar articles of each and every year. Yes, it’s geeky, but it’s also informative as heck. For the ninth-straight year, we’ve tabulated and taken a look at all the votes cast in our Western States prediction contest. In the past, these ‘group think’ predictions have generally been (much) better at forecasting the race’s outcome than individual pickers. So, if you’re looking for a solid relative ranking of this year’s Western States 100 competitors, look no further.

[Editor’s Note: You can read both our women’s and men’s previews ahead of the race and follow our live race coverage starting 6 a.m. PDT on Saturday.]

How the Group Think Predictions Work
Back to the predictions. Below, we attempt to apply a hive-mentality approach to see how the men’s and women’s fields play out when the collective thoughts of over 1,100 participants are accumulated. In addition to showing how many picks the top runners received for each place, we ranked the runners by MVP-style voting (i.e., 8 points for first, 7 points for second, and so on). Both the men’s and women’s tables show all WS runners who accumulated 30 or more points. Read on to see how the masses predicted the outcome for the Big Dance this weekend as well as some iRunFar analysis of those predictions and commentary on the race.

The Just Rewards
Thanks again to all who participated in the contest! After this weekend, four lucky winners will be crowned and receive prize packs courtesy of Drymax, Altra, GU Energy, and Julbo with the grand-prize winner also getting a sweet triptych from Maggie Tides. Remember to follow us on Twitter to receive updates on the leaders throughout the day to see how your picks are performing.

2017 Western States 100 Women’s Field

2017 Western States 100 Women's Group Think

Interesting Women’s Field Notes

  • It’s no surprise when the defending champ returns as the odds on favorite and such is the case with Kaci Lickteig this year. She was the top vote getter for first place by more than a 2-1 ratio and the clear favorite in the point total.
  • Magdalena Boulet, the 2015 women’s champ, was the top vote getter for both second and third place, as well as the clear second in the point total.
  • Stephanie Violett, who won in 2014 and was third in 2015 before missing last year’s race, was ranked third, but bunched with YiOu Wang who finished 13th in last year’s race. Violett had the most votes for a fourth-place finish, while Wang had the most votes to finish fifth.
  • Only a few weeks off winning the Comrades Marathon, Camille Herron was ranked fifth and didn’t receive the most votes for any single position.
  • Aside from Lickteig, each of the rest of the returning finishers from last year’s top 10 were ranked significantly lower than their finish last year with last year’s runner up Amy Sproston being ranked sixth (and the top vote getter to finish sixth and seventh), last year’s fourth-place finisher Amanda Basham ranked 9th, last year’s fifth-place finisher Alissa St. Laurent ranked 12th, and last year’s eighth-place finisher Maggie Guterl ranked 11th. Note that St. Laurent was also ranked 12th in last year’s group think.
  • In both the women’s and men’s race, three runners making their Western States debut are ranked in the top 10. On the women’s side, that includes Herron (fifth), Andrea Huser (seventh), and Clare Gallagher (eighth). Huser is also the only foreign woman ranked in the top 10.
  • Ranked 10th overall, Meghan Laws (formerly Arbogast) had the most votes to finish eighth and the third-most votes to finish seventh. With four finishes between sixth and 10th in the past six years (along with a fourth and a 12th place), she’s a solid safety pick.
  • With Boulet, Sproston, Huser, and Laws, four masters women were ranked in the top 10. The order was a bit different in the independent voting for top masters woman with the order going: Boulet (571), Laws (277), Huser (108), Sproston (76).
  • Slightly reversing the trend of an increasing percentage of women at least getting one vote, the percentage dropped to 92% this year, the lowest such percentage since 84% received a vote (with 25% fewer total votes) in 2013. Along the same lines, the number of women receiving 10 or more points decreased for the fourth-straight year, going from 62 to 57 to 51 to 47.

2017 Western States 100 Men’s Field

2017 Western States 100 Men's Group Think

Interesting Men’s Field Notes

  • With only one previous men’s champ returning… and that being the very first in Gordy Ainsleigh, you’d think the men’s picks would be wide open. Hardly. Never has there been such a lopsided favorite in one of our group thinks than Jim Walmsley for this year’s race. The next closest would be Ellie Greenwood at roughly 7-1 (367/52) over the next place woman (Lizzy Hawker) before the 2012 race. Walmsley outpaced the next most picked winner, Jeff Browning, at an incredible 96-1 ratio (1056/11)! Further, 1091 out of 1121 (97.3%) people who voted three-men deep chose Walmsley to finish on the podium. What’s more, he received significantly more first-place votes (1056) than any one else received votes in total. (Browning had the next most votes for any of the top-eight positions with 994.) The previous men’s high for percentage of maximum number of points was Rob Krar’s 92.2% in 2015, while Walmsley hit a whopping 97.1% of the maximum point total.
  • There was a rather tight race for second, with Browning just outpacing Chris Mocko on the basis of more votes and being the top vote getter to finish third or fourth. On the other hand, more folks picked Mocko to finish second outright than anyone else.
  • Only Alex Nichols in sixth broke up the foreigners’ stretch from fourth through 10th. I don’t believe that six foreigners have previously been picked in the top 10, so, perhaps, (1) the foreign competition is increasing, (2) the domestic competition is decreasing, (3) voters are becoming more aware of international talent, or (4) some combination of these. These foreigners are: 4. Thomas Lorblanchet, 5. Ian Sharman, 7. Jonas Buud, 8. Elov Olsson, 9. Ryan Sandes, and 10. Paul Giblin.
  • Of last year’s top 10, Lorblanchet is the only man the group think predicts to finish in the same position as last year. The group think moves Browning up from third to second, Mocko up from seventh to third, and Sharman from sixth to fifth. On the other hand, it drops Giblin from fifth to 10th and Pietari from eighth to 13th. Just outside the top 10, the group think put Tòfol Castanyer in 12th, right where he finished last year.
  • Ian Sharman appears to be a favorite safety pick in the contest, with the second most votes for fifth while being the leading vote getter for sixth, seventh, and eighth position. That’s not unreasonable given his seven-straight top-10 finishes at the race. Also, I believe this is the third-straight year in which Sharman was the top vote getter for each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth positions.
  • Each of the top five ranked runners–Walmsley, Browning, Mocko, Lorblanchet, Sharman–received more total votes than any lower ranked runner and the highest vote total for each of the top eight positions was found among these five. [Added June 22 10:30 a.m. PDT]
  • Only two masters men, Browning and Buud, were ranked in the top 10. Unlike the women, the independent top men’s master ranked reflected the overall ranking with Browning (641) getting many more votes than Buud (142). Michael Wardian (97), Jesse Haynes (48), and Castanyer (34) rounded out the top five in men’s masters voting.
  • Hey California, there are three Coloradans–Nichols, Avery Collins, and Pietari– and two Bend, Oregon residents–Sharman and Ryan Kaiser–before the second Californian in the group think. Interestingly, the second and third Californians in the group think–Christopher Denucci (15th) and Jesse Haynes (16th)–actually finished ninth and 10th last year.
  • For the first time in a while, there was actually a drop in the number of men receiving at least one vote, going from 164 last year to 142 this year.
  • All the way down in 19th, David Byrne of Australia might be the highest ranked 100-mile debutant in the race!
  • Ranked sixth through eighth, Nichols, Buud, and Olson are the highest ranked Western States rookies.
  • Amongst non-running celebrities, former Major League Soccer player Nate Jaqua outpaced Charles Humphrey III of the bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers 10 to six. (As a SCR fan since 2002, go Charles!)

Notes On Participation

  • At least three runners on the above tables voted, with the two men I spotted picked themselves above the group think ranking and the woman matching her group thinking ranking. Both spouses of runners on the table picked their significant other about the runners group think ranking. [Added June 22 11 a.m. PDT]
  • At least four  former Western States champs voted with Kaci and Jim ranking first. They tended to rank Olsson, Buud, Sandes, and Huser above their group think rankings. [Added June 22 11 a.m. PDT]

Call for Comments

  • So what do you think about the group-think prediction?
  • What interesting observations have you made about the data?
  • How would you change your picks based on what you know now?
  • Want to make any of your predictions public? If so, leave a comment!

There are 40 comments

  1. Nelson

    Wow, I’m surprised so few people think Camille Herron can make the podium here, given her speed and credentials. Trail bias?

    1. Andrew L

      Up until Tarawera this year, she has been very beatable on trails. Also seems like too soon after Comrades.

      I surprised at Mocko’s Group Think position. He’s had some entertaining interviews, but I don’t see race results that point to something that high.

      1. Nelson

        She was dealing with injuries through 2016, it seems. Her past performance on trails have to be considered through that lens.

        Given her speed and achievements, and how States is a “runner’s race” and not a true mountain course, I won’t be surprised if she challenges for the win. In fact, I think it’s going to be either Lickteig or Herron, but a lot can happen over 100 miles.

        These polls have a lot to do with popularity. For some reason, there’s been a lot of criticism of Camille’s confidence and ambition. If she were half as cocky as Walmsley, there might already be a change.org campain to deny her entry in this race or something.

        I don’t know why people don’t cut her some slack. I admit it kind of rubs me the wrong way when I hear her say she wants to go after Ann Trason’s Leadville record, for instance, before she has even raced 100 miles, let alone win. But then you have Jim saying things like he’s going to set a record people won’t even dare to go after, or that he intends to take almost an hour on the current course record, before he has even won the race once, or challenge anybody who wants to be considered the best to come race him at Western. And people just seem to love that. Camille’s claims aren’t as daring, I think, but somehow people feel the need to blog about how the “road attitude” she brings to the trails doesn’t belong, and she needs to learn humility. Which I think is BS, btw.

        Hopefully Camille will earn the respect and recognition she deserves through her performances and her speed, and followers of the sport will learn to deal with a confident and ambitious female athlete.

        1. Ben

          Nelson, I think the perception more so with Camille is not her confidence, that is to be admired, it’s:
          – the immediate self-publicity when she does well vs.
          – the perceived ‘injuries’ or excuses when she does not win

          I can recall races last year where she didn’t win and pointed to an ‘injury’. Then she ran a bazillion miles shortly after in training. It didn’t seem to add up, at least for me.

          And don’t assume everyone loves Jim’s attitude ;) There is a reason runners like Kaci and Magda are seemingly universally well-liked and appreciated. Besides being badass runners they are humble and thankful. Two qualities that have always stood out in our special niche sport.

          I don’t believe it has anything to do with gender. I hope we can move past the gender argument.

          1. Lars

            I was going to count how many times she referred to herself in her recent Comrades race report, but it was so overwhelming after just the first couple paragraphs that I gave up.

            I could be wrong, and all apologies if I am, but I feel like Jim’s brashness is more of after people ask him questions. I mean, yea, you could be quiet and not really honestly answer the question, but come on. He’s not wandering around offering up race reports about me, I, me, I. Again, apologies if I’m off basis on this stuff and just not paying attention.

            1. moose

              “…count how many times she referred to herself in HER recent comrades race report…” Who is it you think she should have been referring to?

              And how is this race report any different from Walmsley’s Grand Canyon R2R2R FKT report.. which ‘coincidentally’ has him refer to himself all over the place, in a report of HIS effort. Also published on this site.

              Is it public knowledge that Herron ‘wandered around offering up race reports’ and (therefore) managed to get this one published? And wasn’t requested to do so, as you imagine Walmsley must have been and was therefore just ‘answering the question honestly’?

            2. Lars

              I’ve read tons of race reports filled full of humility, self deprecation, and humor. I’ve also read plenty that were all about me, myself, and I.

              I’ve seen interviews of Jim crying and embarrassed of who he used to be and his personal struggles through life. So there is that side of the coin for him that I haven’t seen in her. But I don’t personally know either, so again I’m just giving my perspective based on what I’ve seen and read in the public domain. I’ve read lots of disparaging comments about her and her inner circle, so it could be that those comments bias my perception too.

          2. Charmin

            “– the perceived ‘injuries’ or excuses when she does not win

            I can recall races last year where she didn’t win and pointed to an ‘injury’. Then she ran a bazillion miles shortly after in training. It didn’t seem to add up, at least for me.”

            Are you kidding Ben? She really did tear her hamstring severely at Lake Sonoma and was limping badly. Some people recover faster than others. Even if you think you’re recovered they can get irritated over and over again and make it hard to run. That’s not making excuses- it’s reality. Don’t wish this injury upon anyone. Have some sympathy.

            1. Ben

              Simply my opinion. I don’t wish an injury on anyone nor did I say that. As runners, injuries are tough to deal with. I definitely know that.
              All I’m saying is that if you tear your hamstring you can’t bounce back that fast. Not even Kilian could and he has superpowers.

        2. Boston Chris

          1. Herron complained her sore hamstring hampered her running downhill at Comrades. 2. Three weeks isn’t enough recovery in the traditional sense.
          Maybe she’ll refute that Saturday!

        3. another_william

          Thanks, Nelson. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’ve been puzzled by the reaction to Camille Herron, and I hope she has good legs and can finish on the podium this weekend.

    2. Bryon Powell

      Nelson,
      I don’t think you can overlook folks taking into account (1) never having run a 100-mile race and (2) never having run Western States.

      On the men’s side, Alex Nichols in sixth is the top ranked guy making his WS100 debut, while Jonas Buud, with a stout resume at the IAU 100k World Championships and Comrades (though no win), is ranked seventh in his Western States debut. As for the top ranked guy making his 100-mile debut, you need to go all the way down to David Byrne in 19th.

      1. Nelson

        True. But look at last year’s group think predictions: Sage favourite for the win and Jim for third. Both new to WS and 100 milers (considering Sage didn’t complete UTMB). And both solid candidates going in, no argument here.

        Or imagine Zach Miller had chosen to debut at WS instead of UTMB. Most of us would have counted him as a candidate for the podium, even a win.

        It’s not as if the course is technical or has a lot of hard climbing, so that trail experience would be that big of an asset, I think. Actually, it’s been mentioned how the course doesn’t play to the strengths of mountain runners like Killian. I just think track or road ultras don’t catch the attention of people as much as trail races these days.

        Btw, how do you think Luis Alberto would do at WS? Maybe too runnable?

        1. Ben

          Not sure I fully understand your arguments.

          Zach Miller has both the proven leg speed (his North Face 50 was out of this world) and a tough 100 miler under his belt already.

          Have you run WS? Try climbing out of those canyons in the heat – it’s plenty hard climbing! :) Previous experience at WS has proven to be a reliable predictor of future success. I think that’s the key point about picking a WS-newbie over other elites also in their prime with previous experience on the course.

          Kilian won WS in his second attempt when he decided to focus on it for at least more than a few runs leading up to it. We can’t compare anyone else on this planet to Kilian I believe. He’s next level.

          Luis Alberto is a really interesting runner to me. He has proven to have both the technical running ability (Transvulcania’s downhill is insanely technical and he dances down it) along with amazing credentials at both shorter distances (80km and 50km world champion is insane!) and tougher mountain courses (2nd at UTMB two years ago). I think he’s the total package and when he is on he is nearly unbeatable. It will be amazing to see him against all the other top guys at UTMB this year. And no, I don’t think WS is too runnable for him ;) If he were to run it I would love his chances to finish top 2 and would bet on it.

          1. Nelson

            I meant if Zach had run States instead of UTMB for his first 100.

            What cost Killian his first try wasn’t lack of preparation but a poor hydration strategy, if I understood correctly what happened.

            Jim is also shaping up to be one of a kind. It will be interesting to see how he does at UTMB.

  2. Trevor

    I agree with Andrew– there isn’t much that actually points to Mocko will do so well given his prior performances. My best guess is that’s the power of his social media strategy hyping himself up– but hey, I could be wrong…

    Saying this now– Avery Collins’ will get top 10 and prove the haters wrong!!

  3. Ben

    Mocko’s resume is stout! Last year he finished 7th at States and he is on a completely different level this year as he:

    1) Ran 3:17 for 2nd at Way too Cool (7th fastest time ever on the historic race’s 28 year history)
    2) Ran 6:24, almost a top 10 time ever run in that race, for 3rd at Lake Sonoma (the most competitive 50 miler so far in the US this year)
    3) Won UROC in sub 9 hours for 100k
    4) Won the Cork City Marathon in 2:26 off 100 mile training with very little taper

    Dude is legit and trains like an animal. The question I don’t believe is his resume, this question is whether he trained and raced too hard already this year and will be cooked by the time he gets to the river.

    1. Nick Voss

      I totally agree, Mocko has pretty clearly to me improved and stepped up his training since last years States. He also raced a solid 50 mile (and won) at Behind the Rocks in Moab after the Salomon URA training week.

      Seems easy for some to write off his social media presence as a negative, but I don’t see it. Especially as he racks up sponsors and keeps putting up podium/winning results.

      Also, very curious to see how Collins finishes as this is looks to be the first time he’ll face a stacked field in a big time race.

      1. Trevor

        can’t disagree with any of that. Both of them are putting themselves out there (and short of Walmsley), are definitely two younger guys to watch no matter what happens. Mocko’s volume this year can’t be denied…

        Its true Collins hasn’t been in the higher status races much– however, knowing what I know about Ouray, a 1st place finish there is perhaps more meaningful than people realize as that race’s reputation is still developing. what can I say I just like an ultrarunner that doesn’t quite fit the mold (I can relate!) and I love an underdog — go Avery go !!

  4. Ryan W

    The Herfindahl Index (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herfindahl_index) is a simple metric often used to measure the level of concentration among firms in a particular industry. (A higher value means fewer, more dominant firms and a lower value means more even competition among many smaller firms.) I’ve adapted this to measure the cumulative concentration level of the predictions. Basically, I’m measuring how much agreement there is for the top N slots, where N ranges from 1 to 8.

    2017 Men and Women: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0-iBst13LSHQTc4bV9wMkU3Mmc
    2015-27 Men: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0-iBst13LSHYjQ1T18zd3JxODg

    As you can see from the charts, there is very high concentration for the men’s #1 slot while there is a much lower concentration on the women’s side. In other words, people agree much more strongly about the men’s winner than the women’s winner. However, this relationship actually reverses when looking at the top three slots – in this case there is actually more concentration on the women’s side than the men’s side. Stated differently: there is stronger agreement regarding which three women will podium than which three men will podium, even though there is near-consensus that Walmsley will win.

    The second chart shows the cumulative concentration level on the men’s side for the past 3 years. The 2016 predictions actually had very little concentration at the top – far less than 2015 and 2017. Furthermore, while 2017 is notable for its extreme concentration for the #1 slot, there is actually less agreement in 2017 when looking at the top 4 slots as a whole when compared to the previous two years. In other words, last year there was stronger disagreement about who would win but more agreement about who would be in contention. This year there is strong agreement on the winner but more disagreement about who would follow.

    Let me know if you find this interesting or would like to hear more details of the methodology.

    1. Torsten Heycke

      How do those Swedes (or anyone else) handle the heat (currently 106 (~41 Celsius) in Auburn)? Could that be the big wrench in the system?

      1. Nelson

        Jim said that the hotter the race, the more it would play in his favour. He already showed last year he does very well in the heat.

        I imagine the same goes for Kaci — 4th fastest finish in the 3rd hottest year (I think).

        Other than that, it can punish aggressive runners like Camille and Elov, like it happened to Sage last year.

        We’ve been in the high 90s where I live, and it’s been hell going out for an easy, flatish 6 miler.

      2. Henning Karlsson

        I think heat and aggressive running will beat Elov. Jonas has a more balanced goal and I think will adapt better.

  5. John Gardner

    The returning women’s winners are all great champions, and there are a dozen others with the fitness, like YiOu Meghan, and Maggie, the youth, like Clare and Amanda, or the experience like Andrea and Amy to win the race. The women’s race is going to be much more interesting than the men’s race. So much for gender equality!! Go ladies!

    I’m rooting for Camille Herron and I hope she has a great day. I’d like to see someone win who has never won before, and I like the fact that Camille is a little quirky. No one has ever referred to me as normal, and its not a tag you usually see applied to ultra runners! She seems entirely sincere to me, and I’m not going to take anything away from her running from time to time on an injury. She is no wimp. Everyone suffers over 100 miles. Go Camille!

    Thanks IRFM for bringing us the WSER race and all this marvelous, quality content.

  6. KarenBacon

    I am so confused about why folks ranked Ryan Sandes so low. He has a second place finish with a time of 15:03:56 and also another finish with 15:46:59. For comparison, Jeff Browning ran a 16:30:40. Not even close.

    If Ryan feels and runs well, I find it hard to believe that he falls lower than top three and most likely ends up second.

    1. Ben

      I think his finishes that fast were a few years ago at least. And he has dealt with overtraining and injuries the past few years. It seems he is on the way back to top form but perhaps not all the way there yet. I hope he is back though as I’ve always liked him.

  7. Keletso

    Ryan Sandes is sure to upset your near apple cart! He has been in good form lately and he hasn’t been this ready for a win in a long time.
    Gut feeling – Ryan for top spot!

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