2011 Western States 100 Group Think Predictions

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?

There are 20 comments

  1. Geoff Cox

    I watched Jez Bragg blow away a very strong field and set a new course record in the 62 mile Fellsman about a month ago. He's in awesome form, has Western States pedigree and could be a stronger contender than the poll suggests. Roll on Saturday!

  2. Jeff

    I don't even remember many of my picks, but I'm sure my women's picks would have been different if I just waited to enter instead of getting excited and making my picks right away.

    And AJW is always a safe pick in the top ten, because he never DNF's.

  3. PaulMR79

    I agree with the under-ranking of Jill Perry. She raced the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon a few weeks ago under difficult conditions (about 17 miles of the 26 was ankle-deep or worse thick sticky mud) as a warmup taking 1st for the women by over 16 minutes, and 7th overall. She seems in top form. I think she may surprise if she has a good day. I also know we got plenty of snow training this winter here in western NY so the miles of snow on the course may be an advantage for her. I'm calling a top 10 finish.

  4. footfeathers

    I made the mistake of not remembering (or maybe realizing) Tracy Garneau is over 40, so I obviously would have her for the masters win over ortiz, since I have her finishing higher up.

    I would also place Sandi Nypaver in the top 5 for the ladies.

  5. Terry Miller

    I, too, forgot Garneau was a Master, despite the drop-down list. By the time I had picked 8 men, 1 mens master, and 8 women, the last thing to pick was the women's master's category and the names were all a blur to me by then.

  6. Brett

    I too blew through my picks with about as much research as I do before an NCAA bracket…so I no doubt had no idea much of anybody's age.

  7. Patrick McKenna

    It might be interesting to ask for people's vote on a sentimental favorite. If you could pick one person to win the race, who would it be and why? Sort of a "Rudy" or "David" (David vs. Goliath) pick.

      1. Patrick McKenna

        Knew that was coming Bryon! A few come to mind, but I'll have to gather my thoughts and report back here tonight!!! Last year I would have picked Amy Palmiero.

  8. alex m

    i actually thought about the masters pick a lot. I wanted to hedge because i saw a post by mackey about possible GI issues. So i figured he will be stellar or maybe DNF, so i went with the masters runner i thought may finish for sure. we'll see these guys are all so talented…

    on the womens side def forgot about Garneau's age, darn

  9. Dylan Bowman

    I like your dark horse picks on the men's side. Surprised Tim Olson didn't get more love. Never met the guy but I like his style and his results indicate he'll be competitive.

  10. Narendra

    I am betting against a lot of fast times. The snow and melting snow is going to be a big pain, the canyons have been heating up all week, no crew access until 55.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Those things can't help times, but for the fast guys, they might save a minute and a half with crews by not having to fill water bottles at three aid stations. As for the snow, there was snow last year and that didn't stop the guys from running a bunch of sick times.

      1. Bev

        last year times seemed to be about 20 minutes faster to Robinson Flat than expected. I'm predicting addtional 15 faster with this years route. The wild card may be the river crossing with no safety rope for the rafts.

  11. bright629

    Gotta say. I think that Becky Wheeler is signifcantly underated this year. We're talking about a top 7 finish last year and no worse than 2nd-3rd at all of her runs since than. 2nd-3rd behind the likes of Oritz and Africa. She excells in snow and climbing! Look for her to suprise many with a top 5 finish.

  12. Patrick McKenna

    Here is my first pick for sentimental favorite Bryon (see link above [no longer works]). I know there are many good stories behind all the great athletes. If we could only compile all of them…

    My second pick would be for John Trent out of Reno. John is closing in on his 10th WS finish. He is a great supporter of the sport, a true gentleman, and always make himself available for advice when local newbie back of the packers like myself have questions. John's college aged daughters are getting into ultrarunning as well, and will trade off pacing duties for their Dad this weekend. P.S. John finished his 1st WS in 24:01.

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