The 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.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
With 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?