2011 Western States 100 Group Think Predictions

The wisdom of the masses predict the 2011 Western States 100 winners and top finishers.

By on June 23, 2011 | Comments

Western States 100 logoFor the third straight year, we’ve tabulated and taken a look at all the votes cast in our Western States 100 prediction contest. In the past, these “group think” predictions have generally been better than individual pickers. For instance, if scored the same way as our prediction contest, last year’s group think responses fared better than five out of six entrants… and if you had removed the publicly-known-in-advance non-starters out of that mix, the group think predictions beat all but 14 of 200+ entrants. So, if you’re looking for a solid relative ranking of this year’s Western States 100 competitors, look no further. Actually, look a little further, as we’ll share a few more thoughts before diving into the analysis.

Fast Snow Course
This race is shaping up to be a fast one despite … or, perhaps, because of the snow. Last year, you saw how fast an alternate “snow course” could make the race. Well, this year’s course will be much the same as last year with the same long, sweet gradual downhill or flat from mile 9 to mile 22. Yes, there’ll be more snow, and a different route between miles 24 and 33, but the fast first quarter of the race, quickly melting snow (there’s still a ton of it), and relatively reasonable temperatures should be bringing smiles to the faces of many competitors. A few of those competitors will have a chance to do something special. Unthinkable just a year ago, a sub-15 hour Western States could happen this year if Geoff Roes, Kilian Jornet, or a few select others have the perfect day. That said, if the snow or the short new section turn out to be
slow, all bets are off.

Speaking of off, there will be a few top competitors who won’t head off with the others when the gun goes off. In the men’s race, neither Anton Krupicka or Gary Robbins will be lining up. We’ve also heard rumors this evening that neither Jason Loutitt nor Bill Fanselow will be running. On the women’s side, the biggest no shows will be past winner Annette Bednosky and Liza Howard. While less known in ultra circles, mountain runner and 2010 Mountain Masochist 50 mile champ Alison Bryant won’t be running either. If you know of other elite who won’t be running, please drop a comment letting everyone know.

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 nearly 350 contest 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 10 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
Montrail logoThanks again to all who participated in the contest! We hope you run away from it with a pair of Montrail trail shoes and some Mountain Hardwear apparel. Oh, and best of luck to all the runners the weekend. Remember to follow us on Twitter to receive updates on the leaders throughout the day.

Men’s Field
2011 Western States 100 mens field

Interesting Men’s Field Notes

  • iRunFar readers clearly think this will be a two man race between Geoff Roes and Kilian Jornet. Together they received 86% of the first place votes, with Jornet having a 156-145 advantage in the voting. However, Roes had the slightest advantage in the point-based scoring due to significantly more second place votes than Jornet. In fact, Roes had more second place votes than anyone else.
  • Despite being having roughly an order of magnitude lower number of first place votes and between a third and about half as many total points, there were three men seen as the top challengers for a podium spot: Nick Clark, Hal Koerner, and Dave Mackey, in that order. Clark had the most third place votes.
  • A bit behind these four, are Dave Mackey and Jez Bragg, in a tight voting battle for fifth and sixth. They have a large point lead over the remainder of the field.
  • Dave Mackey, aside from receiving by far the most points for a master in the open voting, was voted more often than anyone else to finish sixth, seventh, or eighth.
  • An incredible 461 ballots were cast with 435 ballots fully completed. Only two men made it onto more than 400 ballots, suggesting that these individuals are both unquestionable favorites and, possible, held in high esteem with regard to their likelihood of finishing. The are Mike Wolfe (439 ballots) and Nick Clark (402).
  • As with last year, Koerner was the only man to lead the voting for two separate places. Last year, it was second and third. This year, it’s fourth and fifth.
  • Mackey was the only top five contender who didn’t lead the voting for any particular placing. He was most frequently chosen for third or fourth. His point total was hurt by receiving fewer votes than those above him. That trend of point-total-based position being tied to ranking by number of votes holds true through the top dozen positions. It’s temping to suggest that correlation is tied to expectations of a runner not finishing or due to name recognition, but a (non-statistics-based) broad view of the table shows a strong upper-left to lower-right trend for number of votes. That suggests that those running in, say, seventh to 12th position based on points would have received a predictable number of picks for finish tenth through 15th if the picking went that deep. Such is the beauty of a large pool of data.
  • For the third year in a row, Andy Jones-Wilkins was selected more than anyone else to finish eighth. This is a great reflection of the fact that he’s finished in the top 10 at Western States six-straight times!
  • With the exception of Roes and Jornet in the top two spots, there was excellent point separation between all of the runners in the top 10. The next tight ranking was between 11th (Ryan Burch – 106 pts) and 12th (Todd Braje – 103 pts).
  • It appears that the voting pool is becoming even better educated or at least more focused in making their picks. Last year, 111 different men were chosen at least once to finish in the top eight. This year, there were only 79 different runners chosen to finish in the top eight.
  • Further confirming that increase in awareness is the fact that last year, the group think ranked two runners known to not be running the race fifth (Jez Bragg) and ninth (Tsuyoshi Kaburaki). This year, the top such not-gonna-run pick was last year’s WS runner-up Anton Krupicka in 13th. Even that doesn’t do all of you justice as only 14 out of 346 folks cast of vote for Mr. Krupicka. Similarly, last year’s sixth place runner Gary Robbins was ranked 22nd with only 17 votes.

iRunFar Men’s Commentary

  • The picks in the top ten are all solid choices. Seven of my eight picks are included among them. Of those ranked in the top ten, I feel Mike Wolfe has the best upside potential.
  • Ryan Burch and Mike Foote are my picks for dark horses.
  • While the voters generally did a great job, they did give James “Jim” Skaggs as many points as Graham Cooper and Dan Olmstead as well as me as many points as Michael Arnstein. Contemporary name recognition can skew the tail end of the tabulation.
  • Graham Cooper may be the most overlooked past champion in the history of Western States. He won the race just five years ago and now he sits in 26th. While he’s unlikely to win this go around, he knows how to train for and run this race.

Women’s Field
2011 Western States 100 mile womens field

Interesting Women’s Field Notes

  • Another field and, again, the top point scorer did not receive the most first place votes. While Ellie Greenwood was far and away the top vote getter for first place finishes, last year’s Western States champ Tracy Garneau had a significant overall point lead.
  • Garneau and Kami Semick tied for the most second place votes, while Semick was clearly the third choice.
  • Fourth and fifth positions were tight between Meghan Arbogast (second last year) and Nikki Kimball (three-time champ). They were separated by only 30 points – 1181 to 1151. Arbogast was the leading vote getter to finish third, while Kimball had the same honors for fourth.
  • Despite winning the race two years ago, Anita Ortiz was ranked sixth and was the leading vote getter to finish fifth. There was a large gap down to seventh, suggesting that Garneau, Greenwood, Semick, Arbogast, Kimball, and Ortiz will be duking it out for the highest places.
  • As with the men, there’s some great upper-left to bottom-right distribution symmetry (or something like that) for the first 13 point-based rankings. The green highlighted boxes denoting the highest vote getter per place also show this well for the top five.
  • However, in an iRunFar prediction contest first, Joelle Vaught was the leading vote getter for three different places: sixth through eighth!
  • Also, it seems like for the top ten men, each individual’s votes were more tightly centered on one place while third through eight for the ladies included a much wider spread of places. For example, Nikki Kimball had between 27 and 44 votes for each position except for second, where she had only 17, which still isn’t far removed from her otherwise tight vote spread.
  • Neither Rory Bosio nor Caren Spore, who finished fourth and fifth in last year’s race made the top ten. Bosio was ranked 11th while Spore was ranked 13th.
  • Spore and Amy Sproston were the closest ranked runners in either field who had more than a 100 total points. Sproston edged out Spore by one point for 12th, 185 to 184.
  • A whopping 90%+ – 73 out of the 81 – women’s entrants in this year’s Western States received at least one vote.

iRunFar Women’s Commentary

  • Ellie Greenwood has the highest upside potential in the field. With experience, she might only be racing the memories of legends. Experience, however, is what she lacks. She’s never run 100 miles and, therefore, has never run Western States. Still, she’s my pick for the win.
  • Overall, I’d agree with the group and would be shocked if the winner didn’t come out of the top six ladies above. 19 hours and change will not win the race this year. There are enough top ladies that someone is going to knock one out of the ballpark. I think sub-18:30 is in play.
  • That said, Joelle Vaught, Pam Smith, or Aliza Lapierre could all make a run at a podium spot.
  • The most underranked woman in the field is, without a doubt, Jill Perry. Her performance last year is in no way indicative of her capability. A flatland specialist, she now knows what it take to run Western States and is surely better prepared.

Master’s Picks

  • Dave Mackey (119 votes) easily lead the masters voting ahead of Andy Jones-Wilkins (78 votes) and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (62 votes). There was then a large gap back to Glen Redpath (21 votes), Dan Barger (11 votes), and Scott Jaime (8 votes). Past champion Graham Cooper again got little love with a mere four votes.
  • Last year’s runner up Meghan Arbogast (107 votes) was picked significantly ahead of Tracy Garneau (72 votes) despite Garneau’s much higher ranking in the open category. The same goes for Arbogast with regards to Kami Semick (54 votes). Anita Ortiz (42 votes) was fourth in the masters ranking before a big drop off to three-time champ Nikki Kimball (17 votes). Of all the fields in this year’s race, I might be most fascinated with this one. I wonder if there has ever been so many ultrarunning allstars in a single women’s master’s field. Of note, Arbogast is now 50 and has a great shot to break Diana Fitzpatrick’s year old 50+ record of 21:58:37.
  • I’ll never understand why so many folks don’t take their top master’s pick from the open category and then use that as their masters choice. This year, that happened with amazing frequency for those who picked Mackey over Jones-Wilkins in the open category, but picked Jones-Wilkins for the master’s win. It also happened countless times with those who picked Arbogast for the masters win, but who had picked Garneau, Semick, Ortiz, or Kimball ahead of her in the open field.

Call for Comments

  • So what do you all think about the group prediction?
  • 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!
  • Any statisticians want to dive into this?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.