This weekend, the entry lotteries for two of North America’s most popular ultramarathons, the Western States 100 and the Hardrock 100, will be held. After the dust settles, a few hundred lucky runners will begin their preparations for these two iconic events, while several thousand others will begin the annual ritual of finding other things to do.
The demand for each of these races has soared over the past decade to the point where some first-year applicants face a less than 1% chance of gaining entry. Over the years many have asked, “With such popularity, can’t the races allow more runners in?” The quick answer is, “No.”
In the case of the Western States 100, the fact that the course traverses the Granite Chief Wilderness limits the field to 369 runners due to an agreement made with the United States Forest Service allowing the event to cross a wilderness area, something that no other event in the country is permitted to do.
In the case of the Hardrock 100, due to the remote nature of the course and the fragile, high-altitude environment through which the course traverses, race organizers cap the event at 145 runners.
[Editor’s Note: For the next few years, the Western States 100 announced they were able to increase their number of starters since they were below their normal 369 starters in 2021. Entrants will be 385 in 2022, 380 in 2023, 375 for 2024, and back to 369 in 2025. The numbers are based on a five-year rolling average.]
With these understandable limits on field size, race organizers have sought to create systems that reward patience and persistence. As a result, as runners qualify and apply year after year, their chances of gaining entry increase. For example, in the Western States lottery this year, there are 18 applicants who have applied for eight years, giving them a whopping 128 tickets in the hopper.
Curiously, this year, both races have seen a decrease in the number of total applicants. Western States, which last held a lottery in December 2019 due to the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen a decline of applicants from 6,664 to 6,208.
I believe the reason for this is twofold; one, due to the aforementioned pandemic, it has been more difficult for people to run qualifiers, and two, Western States recently initiated a new policy that allows runners to skip a year while maintaining their total number of tickets. As a result, I think some folks just decided to wait and try their luck again next year.
Hardrock has also seen a decline in their numbers as a percentage of the overall applicant pool since they last held a full-field lottery in 2018. Back then, 2,236 runners qualified and entered, and this year the total count is 1,916. While Hardrock did not have a significant policy change like Western States — and their qualifying standards remain unchanged from the past — the issue of qualifying has been equally challenging for runners, as many 2020 races were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic.
Do these new numbers indicate a decline in the popularity of these two races? I don’t think so. In fact, I will be not at all surprised to see a surge in interest in the coming years as we emerge from the pandemic, and full-field events are once again held around the world. For me personally, having been fortunate enough to participate in both of these events, I know that they are well worth the wait!
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from our favorite Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. Over the past several years, Sierra Nevada has introduced various seasonal beers to showcase new and innovative brewing techniques and their most recent offering is Danksgiving, just in time for the holidays. This fruit-forward IPA is a bit of a throwback to the West Coast IPA style that goes down smooth in spite of its 7.4% ABV.
Call for Comments
- Are you entered into the lottery for either of both the 2022 Western States 100 or 2022 Hardrock 100? If so, what are your chances of getting in?
- Why do you think these races have such high acclaim compared to other 100 milers?
- Later this month, AJW will share a reader-submitted trail love letter in his column, so we want to hear from you! Contact us with a short love letter about your favorite trail — international trails are especially welcomed.