Changing Times At The Western States 100

AJW's TaproomLast week, as a follow-up to their July meeting, the Western States 100 Board of Directors announced two significant changes that could affect the race for years to come. The first change announced is that, for the first time in race history and beginning with the 2017 running, event organizers will implement a general wait list which will also allow registered runners to withdraw prior to the event for a partial refund. The second change, supported by an anonymous Friend of the Race, will allow one runner over the age of 60 to bypass the lottery and gain entry to the race on the basis of their “contributions to the sport of ultraunning in general and Western States in particular.” Here are a few more details on these changes:

The General Wait List
Beginning this year, 50 additional names will be drawn at the December lottery and those runners will be placed on an ordered wait list. If, prior to the race, any registered runner chooses not to race and withdraws, runners will be pulled from the wait list in the order in which they were chosen and entered in the race. Registered runners choosing to withdraw will receive a 75% refund if they withdraw by May 2, a 50% refund by June 9, a 25% refund by June 20, and no refund thereafter. Runners who withdraw prior to race day will lose their “ticket counts” for future lotteries.

I caught up with Western States Race Director Craig Thornley earlier this week and asked him about the rationale behind the change, “We realized that with the plummeting DNS (Did Not Start) rate in recent years coupled with the increasing cost of the race that it made sense to implement a general wait list.”

As recently as 2013, the DNS rate was over 10% and in 2015 had dropped to 4.4%. Thornley went on to say that a wait list is something the Board has considered for several years but now feels as though they have sufficient data to support the move. Interestingly, this new format is likely to cause the race to bring in less revenue than past years, during which they have intentionally oversubscribed in order to hit as close to their 369 runner limit as possible.

Thornley also noted that they will not likely draw 369 names at this December’s lottery as the five-year rolling average has remained above 369 for the past few years. Once equilibrium is restored, however, Thornley suggests that 369 will become the annual start number moving forward. One caveat to the wait list is that if an aid-station runner or a sponsor runner chooses to withdraw, the aid station or sponsor can choose a replacement for that runner. If they choose not to do so, a runner will be selected from the wait list.

The Silver Legend Entry
As a tribute to the late Race Director Greg Soderlund, who passed away in April, the Board will reserve one space in the race for a runner over the age of 60 “based on their contributions to the sport of ultrarunning in general and Western States in particular.” Interested runners are invited to submit a resume enumerating their contributions by November 30. The Board’s Special Consideration Committee will make the selection and the winner will be announced at the December 5 lottery.

Thornley notes, “We hope that the Silver Legend Entry will inspire older runners who may not otherwise seek entry into the race to do so.”

It is my firm belief that both of these changes represent a wonderfully positive evolution for this beloved race. While there have been those in the past who have criticized the race for many reasons, the implementation of a fair and transparent wait list as well as a well-articulated consideration entry for an older runner should be lauded. As this incredible event continues to grapple with almost unmanageable demand, these are the kinds of changes that represent both forward thinking and sophistication. Bravo Western States and we’ll #seeyouinsquaw.

Bottoms up!

AJW’sCraig Thornley’s Beer of the Week

Knee Deep Brewing Company SimtraIf you like hoppy beer, a visit to Auburn, California’s Knee Deep Brewing Company is a must. At the top of my list is Simtra, one of their triple IPAs. Deliciously hoppy with a powerful punch, either limit yourself to one or better yet fill up a crowler or two and drink them at home after a run as the ABV is 11.25%.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you think of Western States’s implementation of a general wait list for the purpose of getting exactly 369 runners to start the race each year?
  • And how about the Silver Legend Entry, are you over the age of 60? Would you consider running Western States given this new entry process?

There are 13 comments

  1. Jamie

    I’m trying to figure out why a declining DNS rate would prompt the creation of a waitlist. I would think the opposite — that a high DNS rate would lead an RD/Board to implement a wait list because it is more wasteful to have a lot of unused spots. A low DNS rate means few spots to fill so less need for a wait list. What am I missing?

    1. Jamie

      Theory 1: there’s a concern that people are trying to start even though they are injured/not prepared because of the cost and difficulty of entry, and so having a waitlist with partial refunds will incentivize people who should not attempt the run to not attempt the run. But who’s to say the people on the waitlist will be any better prepared when they are offered a rare late entry?

      Theory 2: Low DNS rate makes it easier to add a waitlist and refunds because the expectation is that you won’t have to deal with all that many withdrawals.

    2. Meghan Hicks


      If I understand it correctly, the purpose of the General Wait List to have 369 runners on the start line each year. This is the number of people that the federal government allows to pass through the Granite Chief Wilderness during the race. In the past, the race has used a ‘rolling average’ of 369. They almost always allow entrance of more than 369 runners into the race, bank on a number of them DNSing, and hope the start number gets close to 369. If they overshoot 369 one year they’ll attempt to undershoot the next to keep that average where it needs to be. With a changing DNS rate, it makes it hard for the race to predict how many people they should allow into the race initially. The wait-list system will allow them to start the race each year with the appropriate number.

      1. Ron

        I’ve always wondered, if there are years they are above 369, but it “averages” with the years they are under to keep it compliant, then they are admittedly allowing more than 369 during the high years. Does the gubment just require an “average”? Do they look the other way when the number is over 369? Wouldn’t it be nice if the race was adjusted for inflation in the same fashion as currency….? 369 runners in 197X would have the same buying power as 1225 in 2016….. :)

  2. Adam

    I think the number of folks who come off the wait list will be impacted by the fact that you appear to be able to take a pass and not lose your tickets in the lottery, so long as you don’t accept to come off the wait list and register and then withdraw.

    Source: “If you are selected for the waitlist but decline the opportunity to register you will maintain your ticket counts in the next lottery. If you are entered in the race at any point your ticket counts will start over at the next lottery.”

  3. Mike

    If the race fees keep going up they should consider keeping the entire race entry fee to offset the race cost but give you the tickets you’ve earned back. The tickets are worth more to the runner than the entry fee, especially if you’ve run qualifiers like some for many, many, many years (there were 90 runners this year selected in the lottery that had applied for 5 or more consecutive years). I’d bet if you give the tickets instead of the money back you’d see more movement on the waitlist and a lower DNF rate (even though the number of DNF’s has gotten very low in recent times because people realize its a once in a lifetime opportunity).

    1. Greg

      Absolutely agree, Mike. I don’t think money is the driving factor with Western States, it’s the fact that it is Western States. If people can retain their ticket count, I think they’ll be more likely to withdraw and give it another go the following year. I can only speak for myself, but I know if I had waited five years to get in a couple hundred dollar refund would be irrelevant compared to the fact that I was losing all of my tickets.

  4. Steve

    That makes a lot of sense. There are other considerations but it would be great to see someone from the board (or Meghan, etc) comment on this perspective.

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