Golden Ticket Season: The History and Evolution of the Western States 100 Golden Ticket Races

A brief history and explanation of the Western States 100 Golden Ticket Races.

By on October 27, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomThis weekend in the Sonoran Desert east of Phoenix, Arizona, the Javelina 100 Mile will take place with over 1,500 runners competing across three distances. Dubbed “ultrarunning’s biggest party,” the Javelina 100 Mile has also become one of the most competitive 100-mile races in the United States.

The marquee event of the weekend, the 100-mile race, has, for the last two years, served as one of the seven Western States 100 Golden Ticket Races. Each of the races in the Golden Ticket Races series offers top competitors a chance to gain entry to the Western States 100 and this weekend’s Javelina 100 Mile looks to be a barn burner.

Arlen Glick - 2021 Javelina Jundred Mile champion

Arlen Glick, 2021 Javelina 100 Mile champion. Photo: Javelina 100 Mile

Twenty years ago, then popular trail shoe company Montrail began hosting a series of races across the United States called the Montrail Ultra Cup. At the time these races were spread across the classic ultra distances of 50 kilometers, 50 miles, and 100k, and typically awarded the top two or three finishers entry into the Western States 100.

Races came and went in the series. Some past races included the Way Too Cool 50k, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Ice Age 50 Mile, and Mountain Masochist 50 Mile. In 2013, two 100-mile races, the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and Pinhoti 100 Mile, were added to the series, and for a few more years 100-mile races remained part of the series.

As the Western States 100’s presenting sponsorship changed and ultrarunning evolved into a true global sport, the Golden Ticket Series — as it came to be called after Montrail left the scene — was predominantly there to provide North American runners with a chance to gain entry into the Western States 100, while international runners had similar opportunities to do so through the now defunct Ultra-Trail World Tour.

Golden Ticket Races continued to come and go, as some regional events like the Georgia Death Race 74 Mile were eliminated and other traditional 100k trail races, the Black Canyon 100k for example, were added. By 2019, the Golden Ticket Races series had established itself as one of the top ultramarathon race series in the world.

Keely Henniger on the course.

Keely Henninger (in red), the 2023 Black Canyon 100k women’s winner. Photo: Jesse Ellis/@letswanderphotography

After the demise of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, the Golden Ticket Races expanded to include more international races. In 2021, for qualification to the 2022 race, there were two French races added — UTMB and Endurance Trail des Templiers. Beginning in 2022 and 2023, races in France, New Zealand, and Thailand were included alongside more traditional North American races.

The series had by now also expanded to take place all year long, while previously it had been scheduled in the January to May window following the Western States 100 lottery in December.

All of this background brings us to the 2023 to 2024 version of the Golden Ticket Races — to me, the most mature version of the series to date. So far this season, four Golden Tickets each have been awarded at the CCC in France, Grindstone 100k by UTMB in Virginia — marking the return of the Golden Ticket Races to the U.S. East Coast for the first time in several years — and the Nice Cote D’Azur 115k by UTMB, also in France.

This weekend’s Javelina 100 Mile will be the first of two 100-mile Golden Ticket Races, with the second one taking place at the Doi Inthanon Thailand 100 Mile by UTMB in December. The final two races of the series will be two classic North American 100ks, the Black Canyon 100k in Arizona in February, 2024, and the Canyons 100k in California in April, 2024. When the dust settles, 30 athletes from around the world will have punched their tickets to the Western States 100 via the Golden Ticket Races.

For those of you coming down here to the desert for the Javelina 100 Mile or Black Canyon 100k, I look forward to seeing you!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

State 48 Brewery logoThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from State 48 Brewery in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Javelina Hefeweizen is a classic German wheat beer with a touch of sweetness. A smooth, well-balanced beer weighing in at 5% ABV, it goes perfectly with just about anything. If you’re coming to Phoenix, be sure to stop by State 48.

Call for Comments

  • Have you taken part in any of the Golden Ticket Races?
  • Or do you plan to for the coming season?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.