Monday, November 18, 2013

Changes to the Western States 100 Qualifying Standards: The Best Laid Plans...

In an earlier post (“Do What You Love… Love What You Do”),  I had discussed my decision to recommit to trail running and to my desire to pursue my number one bucket list item, running the Western States 100.  In the aftermath of that choice, a barrage of other choices followed, which ultimately led to us leaving for a year on the road for me to pursue my ultrarunning dreams.

I had carefully laid out a year’s worth of plans that involved qualifying for Western States early in the year in March in Kentucky at the Land Between the Lakes 50 mile race, on a course I was familiar with and comfortable with. The attempt early in the year was so that if I did not qualify on the first try that I would be able to follow that up later in the year with another attempt. If I did qualify, I was planning on a 100k, 100 miler or 24 hr race later in the year (still to be determined) to help get me ready in case I was lucky enough to get in.

Then, in late October, some news came out on the WesternStates 100 site that changed everything: their qualifying standards were changing! They subtitled the article with the statement “Keep it fair. Keep it Simple. Raise the Bar.”  Starting with the 2015 race (the earliest one I would be able to qualify for), 50 mile races were no longer accepted as qualifiers for the Western States 100. Entrants for the lottery now must qualify by running one of the approved 100k or 100 mile races.

They gave some pretty good justifications for the changes.  Because of the growing popularity of ultras and the draw of the Western States, the number of applicants has been steadily increasing. Because of their agreement with the Forest Service, however, the number of applicants must stay the same. Thus, the chances of getting selected in the lottery have been plummeting. Here is what the site has to say about this:

The chances of being one of the lucky 270 drawn last year, with only a single ticket in the bucket, was a scant 7.9%. With the likelihood of continued increase in demand – which parallels the growth of the sport worldwide – if we continue with our current standards and races, the chances of getting selected in the lottery will soon be below 5%. We don’t believe that is good for the race or the runners who get a qualifying time, enter the lottery, and then get rejected in the lottery, some year after year after year.

I do see what they are saying. By requiring the 100k or 100 miler, the number of entrants will probably drop, and that should help with the long wait times for entry. The site does not say what percent of the qualifiers each year come to the lottery through the 50 mile races, but it is probably quite a few. 

There is a lot of discussion of the changes on the ultrarunning discussion boards and blogs. It appears that most ultrarunners support the changes and feel that it is very reasonable to ask runners to have qualified at a 100 mile race of comparable difficulty before entering.  Most ultrarunners are very much against the “bumper sticker” approach to ultrarunning, where people rush to run distances to collect the sticker for the back of their cars. Many feel that to participate in a race like Western States runners should have shown at least enough dedication to the sport to be willing to run a 100 miler to prepare. In addition, most ultrarunners know at least one person who worked for years to be ready to make a serious attempt at Western States, qualified, and then waited another few years to get through the lottery process (or are still waiting) while others they know of, who are new to ultrarunning, possibly only having run one or two 50ks and the qualifying 50 miler, were lucky enough to get in on a first try. There really is something about that which just seems wrong.

I also support the change, although it does throw a monkey wrench of sorts into my plans since I will now have to prepare for and run a 100 miler this year to qualify (almost all of the 100ks are international events). However, I will take that over the possibility of qualifying and waiting years to actually get in.

There are 63 races on the qualifier list for 2015. I will need additional time to prepare and feel a race before August would be totally out of the question.  So now I am agonizing over choices…

I am leaning toward the Hallucination 100 at Woodstock. It has a lot of advantages for me: I am familiar with the trails there; I have a good support system in MI; and I really like the evening start so that I am running at night while I am fresh.  

Once I decide, which will probably be sometime in the next few weeks, I will backtrack to try to figure out my racing schedule to prepare.  Anyone want to join me at Woodstock?

P.S. While I wait, I am getting in some awesome trail running at Ross Prairie State Park in FL. Read about it on the Roaming, Running, Writing blog. 


  1. Missy,
    I am 99.9% sure that it will be the Hallucination 100. Among other things, it has the advantage of letting me visit you!! Of course, I will expect you to be there...


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