My Thoughts on New Qualifying Races for Western States and Hardrock

AJWs TaproomWestern States and Hardrock are the two most in-demand 100 milers on the American circuit. In recent years, the probability of gaining entry into either of these races through their respective lotteries has decreased to less than 10%. It is for this reason that I am quite pleased that both events have recently announced changes in the races in which runners can qualify.

For Western States, interested runners must complete one of a list of 63 races within a year beginning and ending in early November. Most of the qualifying races are 100-mile races but, in keeping with Western States tradition of providing opportunity for runners to run their first 100 at the WS100, there are several 100k races on the list of qualifiers and a few events longer than 100k and shorter than 100 miles.

For Hardrock, an event that has for years billed itself as a “post-graduate” run, a 100-mile finish has always been a prerequisite and they maintain a list of acceptable qualifiers based on their own criteria. The Hardrock organizers have announced a significant reduction in the number of qualifying races based on their standards. Among the races on their list are Angeles Crest, Wasatch, Grindstone, and UTMB. Absent from the list are long-time qualifiers Western States and Massanutten.

I believe both of these races have made excellent decisions in adjusting their qualifying races and I would argue that both races have done so for strikingly similar reasons:

1. Both events have become significantly over-subscribed. By tightening up qualifying standards, the odds of being selected will go up slightly for each event. This is a good thing as each year’s lottery leaves more and more disappointed runners on the outside looking in. As an inclusive sport, it is my hope that we will always stay true to our egalitarian roots and these changes are a nod in that direction.

2. It is important for the organizers of both events that as many runners as possible finish their races. Certainly, there are many factors that could lead to DNFs but neither Western States nor Hardrock want runners at their starting lines who aren’t adequately prepared to get to their finish lines. As such, placing more demands on qualifiers and requiring runners to prove some degree of experience is essential in increasing the number of finishers. And, in an era when many people realize participation in this races could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, placing a premium on finishing seems entirely appropriate.

3. While it may not have been the intention of the organizers of these events, I believe these changes will be excellent opportunities for other races to increase their profiles and help to incrementally grow the sport. Think, for example, of the Laurel Highlands Ultra in Pennsylvania. This event, long a staple on the East Coast regional running circuit taking place on a beautiful stretch of trail, will now likely increase in size and stature as a legitimate Western States qualifier. Or how about the Mogollon Monster, a relatively new 100 miler in northern Arizona on the same trail as the well-known and longstanding Zane Grey 50. One can imagine how, due to the fact that it is one of only a handful of Hardrock qualifiers, that this tough, desert race will grow exponentially. It is my belief that moderate growth and expansion of these grassroots-type events will be essential to the long-term success of ultrarunning in this country and I believe Western States and Hardrock believe in the importance of such growth. Making these new standards does just that.

Finally, some heads were turned when the new Hardrock standards were revealed and Western States was left off the list. As a huge supporter of both events, I have to say I think it’s a good idea to not include WS100 as a qualifier. Here’s why:

1. Western States has enough traffic heading its way today. It does not need, or perhaps want, to provide people with another incentive to run it. For people wanting to run Hardrock, there are now ample opportunities to sign up for races without lotteries in order to get a qualifier and I see no reason why Western States would or should feel slighted by being left off this list.

2. If the goal of the Hardrock qualifiers is to prepare people for running Hardrock, then not including WS100 makes sense. I’ve run Hardrock once and Western States nine times. They are entirely different beasts. Wasatch, Angeles Crest, and Grindstone are all much better acclimating races to Hardrock than Western States is. In fact, I would argue that the final 25 miles of all three of these races are among the toughest finishing stretches of any 100 milers (save Hardrock and Barkley). And, on a side note, the organizational issues of Leadville notwithstanding, I think it too, like WS100, is not a worthy Hardrock qualifier. I know it’s hard for some people to believe but the total elevation gain at Leadville is only a couple thousand feet more than Vermont. I am sorry, but that kind of vert will not prepare you for running from sea level to the top of Mount Everest and back. Simple as that.

So, there you have it, my thoughts on all the new qualifying races. What do y’all think?

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Victory DirtWolf DIPA
This week’s Beer of the Week is DirtWolf Imperial IPA from Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. If you like subtle beers, this one is not for you. The resiny hops hit you the minute it touches your lips and they don’t let up until it clears your system, if you know what I mean. :-)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  •  Do highly oversubscribed races warrant tighter restrictions on entry? In other words, is it a detriment to races or the sport to routinely have a less than 10% chance of entry in a race?
  • If so, how best to limit the number of entrants? Making entry standards tighter time-wise? Limiting the qualification to races of more similar distances? Selecting a limited set of entry races that match the oversubscribed race’s values, thereby using the race’s influence to disseminate those values? Using markers of desire such as integral or exponential increases in ‘tickets’ upon lottery failure and sequential reapplication, increased accumulation of entry points (if a race were to expand up UTMB’s point system), or cost?
  • What creative alternatives can we come up with as a community? What about a matching system, like the one used for med students and residency programs?

A Call for Civility (from Bryon)
Many of us have highly personal, deeply held thoughts and feelings with regard to race entry, public-land use, the essence of the sport, why you participate in it, and so on. I encourage you to share your thoughts and engage in discussion. I require that you be civil, as you would with someone you were spending 20 miles on the trail with or sharing a beer with afterward. Your opinions can and should differ, but among differing opinions is plenty of room for civility, friendship, and respect.

There are 155 comments

  1. Luke Garten

    John I have volunteered at Green Gate aid station in the past in hopes of increasing my chances of getting in. But when talking with the aid station captain she has to choose between herself, her husband and the other ten or so volunteers to pick a runner each year. It would take about ten years of volunteering to get in through that way. Not a good route unless you are a captain.

  2. Gzrrnnr

    From my experience, I believe qualifying means everything about one's abilities to finish. I know of Grand Slammers who came to Hardrock, thought they were pretty damn good (and they are, for the Slam) and took 5-6 times to finally finish it. It is that difficult. Finishing a qualifying 100 in 25 hours and then doing Hardrock in 35-40 hours is completely different, especially if the runner is still on the trail for the second night.

  3. Dave Klein

    I have had some of my best time on the trail with pacers. Normally I train on my own. let pacers in later in the course maybe. I don’t much care for the banter with other runners. I don’t know what it is but ultra runners bore me. I do appreciate the time spent with my selected pacers though.

    1. @youngrenepics

      Totally agree. Not all of us are using pacers as a "crutch". I'm perfectly happy to run 100s w/o pacers and largely do so, have done so plenty of times. HOWEVER, I view pacing at Hardrock as an awesome opportunity for would be Hardrockers to experience the event, the course, the altitude, the climbs, the scenery. So when I've invited friends to pace me at Hardrock I'm doing it for them and not me!

  4. BillyontheBass

    I'm really interested to see how this plays out over the next couple of years, and in particular to see how the percentage of runners who finish changes. I think it is of unanimous belief that the finishing rate will go up, and as a result of that newer ultra runners in general will be forced to train more adequately and prepare adequately for these races that everyone wants to qualify for.

  5. johnvaupel

    A few comments:

    1. Mogollon Monster is actually not a desert course. It only shares 17 miles of the Zane Grey 50 trail, 75% of the course is through the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the USA and has an average elevation close to 7000' above sea level. Check out the photos on
    <a href="” target=”_blank”> it's a beautiful mountain area.
    2. I too applaud the changes made by both Hardrock and WS but think they could have gone even farther. I question why Hardrock added new races like Mogollon Monster and IMTUF then made finishers from the past two years eligible. Also there are several races where a 2013 finish qualifies the finisher for not only 2014 but 2015 as well. A lot can happen in two years to make that 2013 finish meaningless in relation to the finishers ability to complete Hardrock in 2015.

    As far as WS is concerned I doubt their changes were made to ensure a higher chance of entrants finishing. If that was the case races like Umstead, Rocky Raccoon and Javelina Jundred would have stricter finishing time limits on them. In no way has a finisher who squeaked in under the 30 hour deadline proven they have the ability to complete WS in the same 30 hour cut off.

    One final thought. Neither race considered DNFs in their qualifying criteria. Although currently it would be harder to monitor it is possible. I know several runners who have DNF'd 4 or 5 times for every finish they have. I would argue those DNFs are a more accurate indication of their ability to finish the next race, especially either of these races, than the one single race they finished.

    But overall it is a step in the right direction. Here's hoping for more stringent qualifications in the near future.

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