Supply and Demand at the Western States 100

AJWs TaproomThis Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m. PST, the application period for the 2012 Western States 100 opens. From that point on, for the subsequent two weeks, hundreds of hopeful runners will be plugging their data into Ultra Signup in the hope of gaining a spot on the starting line next June. Then, on Saturday, December 10th, Race Director Greg Soderlund will preside over the lottery and the names of the lucky few will be chosen. Some will go away happy while many more will be deeply disappointed and forced to wait another year for entry into the race.

What more can possibly be said about the immense popularity of this race? And, how can race management effectively deal with the ever-increasing popularity of their race? Below are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

What they should not do:

  1. Raise the entry fee – While it could be tempting to do so, maintaining the inclusive nature of the race is essential. As it is, race weekend costs many runners thousands of dollars. Increasing the entry fee would only add to the elitist reputation the race has in some circles and would be perceived as an attempt to turn one of the great non-profit ventures in the sport into something else entirely.
  2. Expand the field – While there are other 100 mile races with larger fields there are none with as much tradition, mystique, and charm as Western States. Expanding the field would not only water down the experience for those who do make it to the starting line but it would also lead to increased environmental degradation of the Sierra High Country. As it is, the event puts thousands of people into the wilderness every year and the costs, over time, will be quite high.
  3. Change the course – The history and charm of the WS Course is unassailable. Changing the course to accommodate more runners could be attractive to some. But, I believe it would cheapen the experience. As it is, the course changes during the past two “snow years” have left many people wondering if the race will ever move back to the true High Country between Lyon Ridge and Robinson Flat. Further course changes, in an attempt to allow more access to the event, would essentially change the race forever.

What they could do:

  1. Make a 100 mile finish a prerequisite for entry in the lottery – I have written on this previously (original and followup articles) so I will not re-hash the argument. However, I will say that with over 80 100-mile races available in North America and countless others internationally there are ample opportunities to run 100 miles prior to Western States. While I know that some insist this goes against the heritage of the event (Gordy didn’t have to run a qualifier), I believe it would make it a better race and make the lottery playing field more level.
  2. Tighten up the qualifying standard – The WS100 is the Grandaddy of all 100 milers. Make it a challenge to qualify. I could see a sliding scale based on age and gender (like the Boston marathon) that would allow for accessibility and selectivity simultaneously. I am not suggesting the race become elites-only but, rather, that it become something that is not only highly sought after but also the result of a truly aspirational goal.
  3. Create more automatic entries for past performances – The Montrail Ultra Cup series has been an excellent addition to the Western States experience and has allowed elite runners to qualify for the race outside of the lottery. I suggest an expansion on this theme to include older runners. How much more difficult would it be to declare a couple of sub-100 mile races as Masters and Seniors qualifiers? Increasingly, young runners are crowding out older runners at WS and while this has done much to perpetuate the race brand it has narrowed the exposure many have to the race. And, this has also made those age-group records that much tougher to break:)

So, there you have it, on the eve of the application period, my unsolicited suggestions. Now, get out there and run!

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Call for Comments (from Bryon)
Here’s a simple call for comments… do you think any changes need to be made to the Western States 100 in response to the demand for entries and, if so, what changes should be made.

There are 73 comments

  1. Art

    well I didn't see this suggestion :

    How about a 5 race limit for all past entrants other than outright winners.

    With no grandfathering in anyone who already has 5 our more races under their belt.

    This might free up a few dozen spots.

    an outright 100 mile qualifying requirement is also not a bad idea.

    leave the field size the same, its big enough already.

    leave the course the same … its history.

    and maybe fewer automatic entries not more. I know you elite guys don't like being in lotteries, but Karl Meltzer seems to be in the lottery this year. what's good for ……

    1. AJW

      Zak, Not sure I was clear on the 100 mile qualifier. I do not think there should be a time standard for the 100 mile run rather just a finish. In the sub-100 mile "qualifiers" I think there should be a time standard.

  2. Zak

    Agree with Art. Also, I think the Boston Marathon has turned thousands of people off with the way they go about their qualifying standard process. You say you don't think Western States should be elitist, but then you suggest they make hard to qualify with a certain time standard over 100 miles. That just doesn't worn in trail ultras due to the wide variety of 100 mile courses. I mean, you would end up with a thousand runners going to the easiest, flattest, loop 100 mile courses just to qualify for Western States. In doing so, no one would be able to run the really tough ones because most of us can't do more than a few ultras a year (we are not all elites) and we would have to burn that candle doing something fast and flat. In the road marathon world it is entirely possible because many, many races are flat and fast and are all paved. I think requiring a 100 mile finish IS a good idea, but I do not agree with a time standard.

  3. Darthrunner

    1. A DNF at any race with a lottery should be required to sit out the next year. Sometimes the unexpected just happens but all too often I think runners show up unprepared just because they happen to get in.

    2. A cap on runners with more than 5 finishes, perhaps with the exception that you win or PR significantly each successive year.

    1. Craig Thornley


      1. Have you looked at the finish rates of WS lately? They've gone up not down. 82% last year and 77% the year before that. Finishing races at all costs is a dangerous game to play. If runners are in trouble and should stop, why have the penalty looming over them? Races where no runners go to the hospital due to renal failure or anything else preventable are much better for the sport (and the race, runner, and their family) than the opposite.

      2. I think there is a real value associated with runners that have multiple finishes at WS (or any race). Do you think AJW would have the passion he has if he was limited to five races? How about the Jim Scotts, Scotty Mills, Dan Williams, Gary Wangs, Gordys, Kathy D'Onofrios, Joannie Scannells, Terry Rhodes, and the list goes on. These folks not only develop their own passion, but they go back to their communities and share that passion and probably stay involved in the race in some capacity when they are done running. They become part of the history and lore of the race. That's valuable. I also wonder what a race full of new unknown faces would do to the volunteer experience. My brother, mom, and I worked at Dusty Corners for 10 years before I ran WS for the first time and we recognized all kinds of repeat runners. It made it fun when they recognized us from previous years and vice versa. Would the experience be as fulfilling for volunteers if every year it was *all* brand new faces? Seems to me having passionate runners with multiple finishes has played an important role in making WS what it is. Maybe it is time for a change, but I hope the value of those runners is respected and remembered.

    2. Erik@runningwarehous

      Why 5 finishes and I'm out? What not 10? or 3? or 15?

      I've have 5 finishes under 24 hours at WS100 and plan to do 5 more. That's my goal. I've done and will do other 100's, but it is WS that has me hooked. When I don't get in I pace, crew or volunteer just so I can experience the day. Why is my goal of getting 10 finishes in under 24 hours not a goal I should have? And please don't tell me "it's not fair" that I've done 5 and you've done none. Every June I want to spend a day (or 2) on the trails, race well and finish in Auburn. That's my fun. That's my Christmas morning. I put my name in the hat and hope it works out just like everyone else.


      1. art

        your goal of 10 WS finishes is an admirable but selfish one. you will be depriving others of even one finish. if you don't care, then go for it.

        and yes we could limit it to 3 WS finishes.

        1. Erik@runningwarehous

          I'd say that even going out and doing one WS100 is a selfish act. What does running benefit in the grand scheme of things other than your own self? So what you are saying is that by you wanting to do one, you are less selfish than me wanting to do 10. Now we are dealing with shades of grey that can be debated on and on. I'm thinking if they (the race) have a set award with a goal of 10 finishes then why not try to obtain that award. It would be the same as trying to obtain a different award (a finishing buckle). I'll go with AJW here when he mentioned that is inspired him to overachieve each year at States. I'm not in that class at all, but it does inspire me each year to push a little harder and try to place a little higher.


  4. Weldon

    As a somewhat new ultrarunner, myself, U can say that it has sometimes been tempting to sign up for races that I wasn't quite ready for. To some degree, that is good as it can help to solidify goals and motivation as well as serve to challenge ones self. The lottery concept for entry, which more than a few events are resorting to now, also puts some pressure on those who are interested in an event but who may not yet be adequately prepared to enter the lottery simply out of a desire to challenge the odds of gaining entry. Simply put, if they don't try this year they may not be able to get in next year, or even the year after that.

    Personally, I like the idea of reasonable qualifying standards, having completed similar events or multiple shorter events with, maybe, some reasonable time standards (although it is totally appropriate that, for many, it's not about time so much as simply finishing). This still allows for one to set goals and challenges and would also serve to better the experience for those who do get in to race.

    One idea that I have not heard which, might be feasible for many big races, is to offer a second event, separate from the main race for those who qualify, geared toward the masses who did not qualify for the main. Such a race could be run weeks or months separate, to allow some recovery to the environment and minimize trail impact, or even several hours after the start of the main event when resources, such as aid stations and marking, are still in place. Running after the main event would give participants the opportunity to compare themselves against the more elite runners.

    I don't like the idea of a DNF limiting participation in future races. Qualifying races should serve the purpose and sh*t sometimes happens even to the best of us. I also don't like the idea of limiting participants to any set number of entries. Runners should be able to do an event every year they want to if they qualify and can do it. Advancing PR's and/or race times with each event, also should not play a factor. Course and weather conditions change and people naturally tend to slow somewhat with age. It is not always reasonable to expect a progression in race times or PR's even in the same event over a number of years.

    One thing I would absolutely not want to see is trail events becoming as big, overcrowded, over-blown, and over-priced as many of the even smaller road events have become. I grew up when BMX racing was in it's infancy and watched it grow from

    small groups holding races in vacant lots to big, overblown and over commercialized events that eventually all but killed the sport for many. A witnessed Mountain Bike racing go through a similar process. Hopefully, Trail/Ultra Running can avoid many of the pitfalls that such other once very popular sports fell victim to.

  5. Rob Youngren

    I'd also add the "Hardrock Waitlist Corollary". Basically when the lottery is held, not only draw the entry field but draw an ordered waitlist out of those not drawn in the entry lottery. We all know that injuries, life, etc… sometimes (often) gets in the way between the time of the lottery and race day, why not give people a chance on the wait list to enter? I mean how often has WS started a FULL race field? Doing this might be a bit more of a headache for the WS staff to keep track of but it would be worth it to start a full race field and give more people a shot to race.

    Another suggestion, perhaps a hybrid approach to qualifying. I.e. if you have done a qualifier (i.e. WS is NOT going to be your first 100) perhaps give that person an extra ticket in the lottery over the person who hasn't run a 100 already. There is all kinds of ways the WS staff could *weight* this lottery to give more incentive to having more 100 mile experience BUT perhaps not too much. The thing I don't like about the Hardrock lottery is that after a certain number of finishes, you're excluded from the lottery and are taken automatically. That might be fine up to a point but then, eventually, you run into the same problem as the two-time loser rule. Have your fun in the sun for a while at WS but then move on and let others have a chance!

  6. Brett

    I can't see from the main summary what the main goal is for this post. Do you want to just increase the odds of getting in for everyone who applies? Do you want to increase the odds of elite folks to get in? Average folks? Which way is your main question for this post?

    HardRock with their ticket approach tends to give regular first time runners pretty good odds as you keep stacking tickets every year you only make the wait list.

    Requiring either a previous 100 or a maximum time in a 50 mile race would be good…but only if you are interested in runners' safety. That would only tend to keep out potentially unqualified folks. But a good argument could be made that if you can swap 100 folks that DNFd with 100 folks that could have in fact finished, that would be an improvement.

    Another option is how the Pikes Peak races do it – competitive entries. Sure there are some Montrail Entries, and sure it could be subjective, but there would be a good argument to hold 20 competitive entries for men and 20 competitive entries for women – send in your 'resume'. Those who didn't get in via the lottery, and couldn't get in via the Montrail Entries. This approach (if kept small enough) wouldn't infringe on the masses' ability to enter the race in measurable terms, but it *would* increase the quality of runners at the top end of the race in measurable terms.

    1. Speedgoatkarl

      Brett, yup, the Pikes Peak approach would be good. Also because they don't have a waitlist. IF a runner, such as myself, does not make it through the lottery, (for the 4th freakin' time :-)) I might think the race committee should have some sort of by-pass entry for those who certainly qualify..hint hint. I've been told to go qualify at an Ultra cup race, which is cool, I fully understand that, but 100 miles is like 3-50's. Its alot different, and those guys like myself are certainly qualified to run WS and compete for top 10 or better. Seriously, I only have to beat AJW to run top 10, how hard is that? :-) AJW did beat me once at 50 miles though. Remember that one AJW, I was the guy with the broken arm.

      My fingers are crossed, hopefully I'll be on the line in June so I can make a real run at Neal Gorman's Grand Slam Record.

      1. Shane

        Karl – I agree with the original AJW article on maintaining limited entry to races like WS. However, I do have a problem with the statistical fact that as the sport of ultramarathoning continues to grow there will be a decreased potential for the top performers to make the field. It is for that reason alone that I believe all major races should hold out a portion of the entries – 5-10%? – for a separate lottery limited to elite runners like yourself. That would ensure a competitive field and increase your odds for entry. I would like to believe that the majority of the ultra community would accept a separate lottery for those spots since the stronger fields would add credibility to the sport, inspiration to the each field of entries, and excitement for the fan base.

        For certain, I was inspired and prideful about lining up with the likes of you, Joe, and Duncan at the SJS50 this year. Honestly, why does the winningest 100 mile racer on Earth need to wonder and worry about entry in the same manner that I do.

  7. Patrick McKenna

    I'm slow, but working hard every day to get faster. One thing I can promise, if I do ever get into WS, I will never drop just because I'm "having a bad day." P.S. I also think DNF's in any race should be listed in our Ultrasignup results.

      1. Patrick McKenna

        I think it would show reality. Maybe a consistent top 10 runner should be be ranked higher than someone who is always top 3, but has a bunch of DNFs. I think many elite runners pad their record by being allowed to DNF and it not showing in the record books.

  8. Emre

    a pointing system like the UTMB could be suitable. The races could be selected over 100km. My idea is this race should be qualified as more points or past experience should be awarded. The main reason is the race is only open to 500 or so people due to the environemntal reasons.

    So the idea is the race lottery should be open to

    -the ones whom finished 100k in past 2 years

    – there should be more availble places for new runners so this joy should be spreaded around. There should be a limit to enter this race. Not only by luck but there should not be asystem where some one wins the lottery each time and qualifies for 10 races back to back and some one tries but cant for couple of years.

    more people should taste these chances…


  9. Goji Yerba Wong

    I was the lucky one last year. Qualifed with a 50miler. My first lottery. Got in. And I finished the race in 29hrs & 15min. I'm neither elite nor fast runner, should the current standards change dramatically. But I was grateful that WSER100 gave me a chance. I trained hard and I got my buckle. It was one of the best lifetime experience I have had so far. I feel for those who haven't got in for many years and for those who are lucky enough, like me, to get in the first time, train hard and finish it.

  10. Jim Skaggs

    I got really lucky last summer and got in on my second try. Decided to go for the slam since I figured it would be my only chance. Karl, the slam record was never threatened by my efforts last summer :-) While I'm tempted to put in again, I won't as there are many other races that I want to run. I enjoyed running WS, but it's not the most scenic course I have ever run by a long shot. It's two redeeming values are its history and the organization. Ok, been there done that got the shirt, moving on. Good luck to those that enter the WS lottery. May the lottery gods smile favorably upon you.

  11. Pam

    You mentioned the older runners are being crowded out. Well how about automatic entry for anyone winning their age group? Since the 20-40 yr old age group winners are usually in the top 10 anyway, you are only talking about a couple more automatic entries. This gives the older crowd an incentive to race for and keeps a few more spots open for older runners.

  12. Steve

    Finished WS once – should be enough but 2005 did not include duncan canyon and 2005 had way to cool temps as one of my buddies reminds me. It will reel me in soon but not this year. This morning I finished my run and put the key in the ignition and the time was 11:11 – what did I wish for? wealth? health? hapiness? No – first thing that came to mind was getting selected in the lottery for 2012 HRH! Sick!

  13. Wyatt

    Great article. Setting qualification standards might be problematic. If, say, the standard were a sub-22, then think of all the folks who would flood Rocky Raccoon, etc. chasing a WS qualifier. Also, if you ran a 25-hour at Hardrock, you're a super stud, but yet you might not qualify for Western.

    I think one thing that should be done is to do away with the 50-mile qualifier except in the case of Montrail Ultra Cup. If you want in to WS, you have to finish a 100. Period.

    I do like the idea of spots for various age groups–a la Hawaii Ironman. But God help us if WS ever became like Kona.

    Just a few thoughts–maybe relevant, maybe not.

  14. Bryon Powell

    While I'm personally biased against needing a 100 miler qualifier to run Western States… as it was my first 100 miler back in 2004, it's not an unreasonable idea. That said, I think the 100 mile would have to be a prerequisite in the truest since of the word, meaning you'd just have to have run a 100 miler at some point in the past, or, at the least, there'd have to be a long qualification period for the 100 miler … of no fewer than two years and, hopefully, three years. It would be entirely reasonable to have a 100 mile prerequisite with shorter term 50 mile and 100k qualification times.

    Why? We all face injuries and personal restraints. I was injured for most of the first half of 2010 and squeaked into this year's Western States with a 50 mile effort last October. Could I have run/walked a 100 miler finish last year? Yes, but it would have shown no greater an ability to finish or succeed at Western States this year than my sub-20 hour Leadville in August 2009. Indeed, I ended up running 19:24 at Western States without running a 100 miler in the previously 22 months. Similarly, my sub-20 hour Leadville in 2009 was following a 3-year hiatus from the 100 mile distance. That said, I don't think I could have run either of those times without previous 100 mile experience.

  15. Midpacker

    You don't want to make qualifying rules that create incentives to game the system.

    Easier 50-mile qualifying time = more easy 50-mile races (how many marathons are now advertised as good for Boston qualifying now?!). The major marathons do not vary *that* much in difficulty, compared to ultras where there is a huge range of difficulty. So a Boston qualifying-type time standard becomes impractical to implement. It would mean that in some of the hardest ultras (Twin Peaks 50, anyone?), even the top finishers might not qualify, but in an easier one like American River 50, the mid- to back-of-pack runners get in. That indeed has already happened, but races cannot reliably be rated by difficulty either.

    Disqualifying anyone with a DNF would just encourage more DNS's, if you're not sure you can make it, and that's against the ultra spirit of pushing yourself to the limit.

    I think Byron's suggestion #1 is the fairest, most practical one. Even flat 100-mile races require pushing the limit of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, etc. to a level that 50M, 100K races simply do not.

  16. footfeathers

    I respect the allegiance shown by one runner participating annually in the same event. It's not really what I personally like but respect and admire it. So, I wouldn't want to see that snubbed out. Qualifying is probably a good idea for any 100. There are several "easier" 100s out there and several 24hr events that could be used for qualifying. I doubt that would put a dent in the bulk of entrants but might help a little; plus, it would make it more of a quest for people (like Boston).

    If you want to be fair, then every entrant has one ticket, regardless of past finishes, entry attempts, etc. And, get rid of the raffle entries. Raise money some other way. Many people don't have the cash to purchase 100 raffle entries to boost their chances.

    1. MonkeyBoy

      "All proceeds from the raffle are used to preserve and maintain the trails"

      If you don't have money to purchase raffle tickets, then don't buy them.

  17. Alex

    I like the idea of holding spots for elites, although there would need to be some clarity on how one qualifies as such. What line, once crossed, makes someone elite and not just, say, locally fast?

  18. Ryan

    one method for implementing qualifying standards would be to require entrant to finish in the top 50% (or more or less)of finishers in a race of a certain distance. That would eliminate the issue of course difficulty. It would make things difficult for older people though. You'd essentially be cutting the eliigable participants in 1/2. That's not "too" elitist.

    The effects of such a thing could be interesting.

    People might be attracted to smaller races in an effort to avoid harder competition, increasing participation in those races, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

    It would increase the competition among some slower runners. It's not too often that people in the middle of the pack are trying to race one and other. I'm not sure if this would be good or bad, but they are 'races' after all.

    just a thought.

  19. MDP

    This race is held on public lands and theoretically there should be equal access to all. It does seem a bit unfair for some people to get access every year while others are repeatedly denied. A lottery with weighting favoring those previous year applicants that didn't get in seems the only fair selection method to pick 80% of the field. With the others being selected like the golf Masters, top 10 at prior year WS100 or winning another event in the last year.

  20. AJW

    Hey everybody,

    Thanks, once again, for contributing to the discussion here in the Taproom. As it was, originally, the intention of irunfar to establish an editorial voice to the website and provide some fodder for discussion, it appears as though, in that regard, we have succeeded. As Bryon and I have often said in these first few weeks of the column, we like to think of it as a place that might spark discussion that you would carry with you out on the trails and then back to the brewpub in the evening. All good stuff, indeed.

    Now, a couple specific replies:

    First, while I know the columns have leaned toward WS and DNF's, this is, by no means, the exclusive intention of the column. In fact, it is quite the contrary. That said, the topics that drive these editorials are the same topics that are floating around the interwebs and it is my attempt to encapsulate those from my own, and only my own, perspective. Please drop me a note if you have an idea for a future editorial and I'll add it to the editorial calendar.

    As for the WS100 requirements, what a great discussion! I would only add that I think limiting the number of times one can run the race can be and has been controlled and managed by the race administration. In that context, let me provide my own, personal example;

    A few years ago at the Awards Ceremony following the race I was awed by the presentation of the 1000 mile/10 Day buckle to Dave Terry and Kevin Sawchuk. At that time, I said to my wife, "I want one of those." She said, simply, "Well, you better keep training." And now, assuming my health allows, I'll get to my 1000 mile/10 day buckle in 2013.

    Could it be a 500 mile/5 day buckle? Certainly. But, it's not.

    We humans are a goal oriented species and we've been socialized to be inspired by others. Therefore, the goal for me of getting that 10-year buckle is something I have squarely in my sights and it has, quite frankly, inspired me to over-acheive at WS for the past three years (just go to the results from 2009, 2010, and 2011 to see how close I've been to being out of the top-10) Sure, it's just an arbitrary award in a race that's a blip on the world scene but it means something to me, my family, and the others who have been there before me.

    Now, if the standards or the lottery or the system prevent others from having at least the opportunity to go after 10 finishes I'd be worried.

    And, rest assured, I really truly look forward to the race in 2014 when my "spot" can be filled by someone else and I can serve WS as a volunteer and a cheerleader.

  21. FastED

    AJayDub – I like #2 as to what they could do. If you restrict it even further you are making it even more special, kinda like Hard Rock. Once people do get in they have trained themselves into the top shape of their life.

    But now for the more important part of this post – beer of the week! Yes – I like it! I tried one in Venice Beach and then again in NYC that I absolutely love, it's called Ballast Point Sculpin IPA – If I ever get a chance to update my blog that one is going right next to Green Flash West Coast IPA.

    Good writing JayDub. See you soon

  22. Danny

    Has anyone proposed running Western States a couple times in the same month.Sure some racers might get better weather and some would get an extra week to taper or train.

  23. Matt

    Between ajw and fast ed with their green flash and ballast point IPA references (head and shoulders above Sierra Nevada), welcome to San Diego. And there are A LOT more where those came from.

    Tomorrow is trailing and drinking at Alpine Brewery. Look it up,

  24. eric

    A mandatory 100M finish seems like a great requirement, as does tightening up the qualifying times. Will this force out some people, including some old timers? Yeah, it will.

    What I don't understand is the stance that the course shouldn't be changed. From my perspective, the course has changed, what, 4 times in the last 4 runnings? Of course it was due to weather, but still, it's not the course is some hallowed ground that can't be altered.

    Now if the course were changed to get around the BLM land (I think it runs on that land for 6 miles), it would no longer be required to be "amateur" and prize money could be offered, but I suppose that's fodder for a different discussion, eh?

  25. Tropical John

    Some good commentary here.

    The field is not expandable. The race crosses the Granite Chief Wilderness, which was implemented by Congress in 1984. Western States was grandfathered into that legislation and allowed to continue but at a participatory level no higher than the number of runners the preceding year, which was 369. The Forest Service allows a 5-year running average on this number. The only way to expand the number of runners is either to move the course first 10 miles significantly to avoid the wilderness area altogether (Granite Chief is about 25 miles long so it's not easy to get around, the race crosses it from mile 6-10), or an act of Congress.

    The sense of the Board is strongly egalitarian. There is very little interest in trying to turn WS into a Boston-type elite event. We value the 29 hour folks as much as the 19 hour folks. With the advent of the Montrail UltraCup qualifiers and the inclusion of the top 10 men and women from the previous year, there are about 60 spots reserved for elite runners, or roughly 15% of the field. There is always pressure from fast runners to increase this number, but at the moment the general sense is that there is plenty of opportunity for elite runners to gain admission.

    The remaining 340 or so slots (around 400 are typically taken, assuming some will withdraw due to injury or the intervention of "real life" things like family or jobs) are up to the luck of the draw. Doesn't matter if you're old, young, male, female, tall or short. You pays your money and you takes your chances. . .

    The primary reason for a qualifier is to make sure that the runner has a good idea of what he/she is getting into, and to assure that they have a reasonable chance to finish the race within the 30-hour time limit. Beginning with the 2013 race, the qualifiers have been modified to eliminate courses that are mostly road, and races that are mostly flat. WS100, as you will recall, is neither. There are still more than 100 races in which to qualify.

    There is little chance the course will be changed, except occasionally due to necessity. The race will use the regular route along Red Star Ridge whenever possible. There are two snow courses, that drop down to the south of Red Star Ridge to lower elevations at about mile 9. The 'B' course was run in 2009; the 'C' course (which avoids Robinson Flat) will only be run if Robinson is still not accessible by race day. It has always been from Squaw Valley to Auburn and there is zero sentiment on the Board to change that.

    The entry fee will likely change from time to time, but it is designed to allow the race to break even. It is highly unlikely it will be raised simply because the demand would allow it.

    1. Jim Blanchard

      As an "Old Timer" [as we all will be someday if we're lucky] I believe that the WS course is "Hallowed Ground" and should remain unchanged except perhaps by Mother Nature. I agree with Tropical John and what the board is doing. Eliminating road and flat courses as qualifiers was a great idea as a road 50 miler has little in common with Western. My concern involves increasing emphasis on the elite by many. When WS is refered to as the Super Bowl of N. American Ultrarunning we seem to ignore the efforts of all the mid and back of the packers. For us it was always much more than that. No prize money please.

  26. Keith Lascelles

    I like the idea of a 100 miler race requirement to qualify, but beyond that I'm not too concerned. This is my first time applying and don't expect to get selected and I'm ok with that. If I do its a bonus.

    1. Keith

      Tropical John wrote, "The entry fee will likely change from time to time, but it is designed to allow the race to break even."

      This is a FOR profit race (nothing wrong with that). Johns statement is misleading. With all of the sponsorship dollars and entry costs this race not only "breaks even" it makes money…enough to pay nice salaries.

      1. Tropical John

        To quote the late Sen. Moynihan "Every man is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

        WS100 is owned and operated by the Western States Endurance Run Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. Yes, the Race Director makes a modest salary, probably well less than McDonald's wages if one were to add up all the hours. No one, repeat, no one would be willing to do this job for free. And yes, non-profits are allowed to pay salaries. The race's annual budget is about $250K. Virtually every year the race comes within $10K of breaking even, some years plus, some years minus.

    2. OOJ

      A "little birdy" informed the WHOLESALE price for a silver buckle is $230. No word on how much bronze buckles cost. 88% of the field received a buckle in 2011.

  27. Burke

    I'm all for the 100 mile prerequisite, good idea. However, I think the rules as they are seem fine to me. I plan on racing and qualifying for many years to come and at some point I hope to be chosen. If I don't, there are plenty of historic, scenic and challenging 100's throughout the year that will provide similar experiences.

  28. Justus

    I have to admit I was a little surprised when I read Western States is a non-profit run. This leads me to ask: Why does it cost so much more than other hundreds? Supply and Demand or something else?

    As for raising the price, on one had it is already very high. On the other, if God were to smile on me and I hit the lottery the $370 is a small percent of my total cost for flights, car rental, lodging, etc… I really do not thing raising the price to even $500 would be a huge entry barrier and only make the race look worse for such a high fee.

  29. Mike Bailey

    Having run WS this past year, I will say the race lives up to the hype. I also got very lucky, and got selected on my first try. $370 was the most I have ever paid for an ultra, or any event. The schwag was also more than I have ever received, but also best. Perhaps it's not all necessary for folks who have run WS multiple times, but for people like me, if I never run WS again, it was worth the entry(and schwag). A 100 mile qualifier should be a given, especially with the plethora of new North American 100’s. An 11 hour finish on a flat 50 course should not qualify you for WS. Though it seems elitist, it gives the runners with the best chance to finish WS, a chance to actually finish by getting in. It also limits the likely hood for serious physical injuries for runners in over their head, and will hopefully increase the usual 60-70% finish rate. Ideal weather explains the 83% rate for ’11, though I believe runners are better preparing themselves, and are better informed about WS. The question is, if someone finishes an "easier" 100 like Umstead, or Rocky Raccoon under the cutoff of 30 hours, should that still equally qualify them? Or, would you mandate at least a sub 24 for these "flatter" 100's? I think we’d all agree that finishing the Bear, MMT, Grindstone, AC, Leadville, Hardrock, or Wasatch should/could be weighted more. In addition, previous finishes at WS should be worth something, in that you have already proven you can finish the race. Perhaps base it of a finish percentage, like finishing in the top 50% of your 100 mile starting field. Likewise, if the 50 miler qualifier stays intact, how do you give more lottery weight to someone who has run 8 hours at Mountain Masochist, versus just breaking 11 hours at a JFK, American River, or Rocky Raccoon 50? The Virginia Happy Trails Running club has a pretty fair weighted lottery system for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. Previous finishes, top finishes, and volunteer time toward the event all increase your chances of getting in. Elites have plenty of chances to earn their spot, though I’m wondering if runners seeking more elite entrees are using a less defined term “elite”. Elites, by a tight standard, should be any man, or woman who can contend for a win at most events.

  30. Dean

    I prefer to look at this from the perspective of motivation. What is the goal for this event, in terms of its runners and in terms of its own future? Is it…


    Largely as a function of its history, WS is currently held in incredibly high-esteem by much of the Ultra Community. To a certain extent, this is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. However, as participation grows, one can see that IF KEEPING PRESTIGE is a priority then a Boston-like standard may be the best way to go. "You have to earn your way in." "Have you qualified for WS?" "What are this years standards?" These are all PRESTIGE supporting conversations.

    If you don't make a change like this then as the field of runners who would like to run WS grows, and the odds of any individual runner making it drops, the inability to 'improve one's chances through effort' combined with the inherent clash between egalitarianism and competition 'that field is littered with people who've run one 50 and just got lucky' could possibly over time diminish WS's place at or near the top in terms of PRESTIGE.

    There is an inherent awarding of status to events in any realm that are 'the hardest to qualify for.' They represent 'the ultimate test.' And in a sport that is all about pushing the limits of endurance, I don't think one can discount this as a concept for an event's PRESTIGE.


    If the goal is tradition then the first task is to establish what the tradition is. For argument's sake here I'm going to say the Tradition would be 'to give anyone A CHANCE to run the same event as it has always been – within the limitations of reality'.

    In other words, 'yes we may move the course sometimes due to snow or fire, but otherwise we are going to have the same run on the same course at the same time of year and WE ARE GOING TO KEEP IT AS OPEN TO PEOPLE AS IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN — our only limitation being the math.'

    If this becomes the goal of the event, than one can see that a weighted lottery is probably the best bet. Changing any pre-requisite would be done only when deemed necessary by something like an alarming medical trend. And the community of runners would simply have to accept that running WS is something that will always be controlled by chance.


    Do you want WS to be an opportunity for anyone who can pass a very basic pre-requisite to run one of the 'originals' of the sport? OR Do you want WS to field a group of runners who have progressed to being the 'elite' of community?

    I understand the instinct to adopt a system like UTMB or Hardrock…

    …but I wonder if there should still be a few "great" races that offer the chance for someone, who might never be able to reach a "boston" standard, to connect with one of the real legacy events of the sport.

  31. AJW

    And, if some of you are still in doubt just go check the 990 for the WSER on Guidestar. Nothing to hide. $370 per runner does not pay the whole bill.

      1. Tropical John

        Actually, the RD fee includes fees paid to the three guys who spent race week loading trucks and the following week cleaning up. (and also did so for the training camp weekend) Can't remember what the total compensation was to these guys, something on the order of 6-7K I think. Direct RD compensation is something a little shy of $50K. (I wouldn't take the job for twice that)

        Bottom line, the race made a whopping $734 in 2010.

        1. Bryon Powell

          Thanks for the clarification, TJ. (The 990 simply lists it as a line item.) It's a reasonable salary. I wasn't meaning to quibble over a salary that could be ten thousand dollars more or less and still be reasonable. Maybe the salary mention will get y'all a few additional qualified applicants. (Still, not me!)

          Not surprising, but I've done a ton of thinking on the WSER entry fee. Yes, the race comes out nearly even every year, but so should a well-run non-profit with a sizable endowment that holds an annual event. It's true that if I were on the WSER board, I'd likely raise questions regarding certain costs… in private. (As a journalist, it's still not my place to publicly do so.) However, that's besides my point. I've come to realize that the WSER is in a difficult position in that it's trying to please a group of folks with wildly divergent expectations and motivations. Areas that I instinctively feel represent overspending are ones, when I give pause and think, that most motivate others. The fact that thousands of people, including myself, will apply for the race at $370 a head is testament that there are thousands of folks who feel that WS provides more than $370 of value in fulfilling those divergent expectations and motivations. That's all that matters. Well done.

          Ps. A proof of the sincerity of my statements, I applied to Western States for the ninth straight year on Saturday.

          1. Tropical John

            most excellent, Bryon. Interestingly, the biggest single expense is the buckle. Silver is up to >$35/oz. You factor in 100 or so silver buckles at something like $300 per and then add another couple hundred bronze ones at about half that. The buckles are hand tooled, sterling silver. Not stamped, German silver or whatever, a truly first rate looking piece of art. There's any number of costs that can be challenged, and the Board and the race director are keenly aware of keeping things in line. But the race also spends $20-30K annually on trail maintenance, and a like amount on medical research. No other race, to my knowledge, does either. True, there are those who find WS100 too expensive. But, like you, most think it is a reasonable (or better) value. And as someone pointed out, the race entry fee is typically a small part of the expense of getting to the finish line.

            But clearly, everyone has a choice. If they aren't willing to pay the freight, there are any number of fine races that are available at a lower cost. Many would like the Ritz-Carlton experience, but there's nothing wrong with the occasional Holiday Inn Express.

            1. Beefy T.

              … so to bring the costs down, eliminate the qualifying (or simply make the qualifying 'will your check clear?') and quit courting the elites and there will be fewer buckles to hand out … kind of like Leadville :-)… then, sell the race to a gym for a boat load cash.

              I jest … I jest.

  32. Mackey

    Thanks for the info, John. I'd resolved to not comment anymore on WS 100 posts (as there are way too many of them IMO). But this is clarifying to read some details of what goes on behind the numbers, particularly one with such a big target on it's back. I am not sure why I thought this was some secret; guess I should have just asked!

  33. Ben Nephew

    It seems like the math adds up to justify the costs, but it leaves me more confused as to how a number of races I've attended provide considerable travel funding and several days of room and board for 80-200 people. They must lose a ton of money.

    In terms of the medical research, I'm sure there are plenty of NIH or Defense Department funded researchers that would love the opportunity to collect data at the race. Human subjects are typically paid when they take part in federally funded research, and it may be a way for some runners to earn some of their entry fee back! I just found an free 75k trail race that was sponsored by the University of British Columbia this past summer which included a free V02 max test, and the level of Canadian research funding is considerably less than the the money available at NIH.

    It would be nice to think that if any race would get a large amount of sponsorship support, it would be WS, but I am guessing that you would have to go beyond ultra and local companies to offset a large percentage of the budget.

      1. Whatever

        You know, I long for the simpler days when doing a race did not involve an analysis of the the race's books, wondering who was getting preferential treatment, who was going to get what (prise $$), whether one would be crowned champion of champions, and so forth. As to medical research, I personally just want to run and be left alone.

        There are so many 100s out there Most are easy to enter, require little more than sending some bucks, showing up and following the ribbons. Have a nice day and go home.

        Too much talk, too little running.

        1. Bryon Powell

          You don't need to long for the simpler days. As you note you can still find a 100, send in some bucks, show up, follow the ribbons, have a nice day and go home… ain't nothing wrong with folks who want to chatting about the sport they enjoy between such runs. No one is forcing others to join in.

      2. Ben Nephew

        I was thinking the same thing, Bryon. I did a bit of work in Natick myself, but mostly with furry mammals, not the ones that talk back and require a lot of paperwork. They certainly do OK with funding. The facilities at USARIEM are impressive to say the least.

  34. OOJ

    Here are some thoughts that have come out of the "Eugene Tuesday Night Huntin' Group":

    1. Be true to The Mission.

    Based on the remarks of Mr Tropical, "Egalitarian" is the overarching principle of WS. As such: No special privileges for elites other than those already earned through M10, W10 and Montrail; allow equal entry to all.

    2. Huge applicant numbers are BAD for the race.

    The more "qualified applicants" in the burgeoning pool, the more crushed, deeply disappointed, and even embittered runners are created through the lotto process. Make the disappointment occur at a qualifying races:

    – Tighten the qualifying races to "2,2" or higher

    – Create age- and gender-based qual standards.

    A public lotto event in which NINETY PERCENT of attendees are "losers" is not good for the event. Numbers must drop. Tighten the standards — but age- and gender-base so it's a "proportional squeeze". Make qualifying for WS an "aspirational goal", as AJW says.

    3. Junk the weighted-entry lotto system.

    Well-intended, but a poor outcome. An accruing-ticket system only encourages and rewards those who enter before they are truly ready and interested in running. The compelling thought: "Welp, it's gonna take X years to get in, so I might as well start now". One ticket per entry, period. Reward persistence to qualify, not persistence in signing-up year after year.

    4. Do NOT mandate a previous 100-mile.

    The research ( stated that THE top factor in finishing WS was…NOT having finished WS before! Not sure what the research states with WS finishes vs ANY previous 100s, but I would predict first-time 100 finishers are more strongly motivated to finish WS than previous 100 veterans.

    First-time 100 runners bring untold and immeasurable energy and enthusiasm – in themselves and their crew and spectators. Had it not been my first-ever 100M, you would've have seen such a large (and good-looking) crew last year! :)

    [Broken link to Picassa removed.]

    1. AJW

      I know at least one multiple finisher who has finished the race every time he started:) In fact, I think you wrote something about that on your blog. What was it again, "the fastest slow-looking guy I've ever seen" or something to that effect…

  35. AJW

    All good points (except the last one). And, that crew burned more gas than an Exxon tanker as they were chasing Olive Oil Joe around the course. It was entertaining to see the crew meeting take over the entire lobby of the Squaw Valley Lodge. You took race prep to a whole new level. I really hope you get in again. Think you can go top-10? If you were a betting man, who would you picked based on the current lotto entries? And, had a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA tonight, priceless!

      1. AJW

        Happy to take the bait on that argument, as usual, I'd win.

        And, about that Eugene huntin' group, c'mon, are you serious? Everyone knows there is only one thing that is "hunted" in the yooj!

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