Western States Lottery

I throw my hat into the lottery for the 2011 Western States Endurance Run... and cross my fingers.

The Western States silver buckle: the big prize for covering 100 miles in 24 hours.
The Big Prize
I just ‘threw down’ for the 2011 Western States 100-mile Endurance Run lottery. As the 907th person to throw down in the first two days of the two-week registration period, my chances of getting into the Big Show are admittedly slim, but as they say, you can’t win if you’re not in the game.

After organizers make room among the 400 available starting spots for the 80 or so guaranteed entrants left over from the old Two-Time Loser system, last year’s top ten men and women, the 30+ elites who get in via the Montrail Ultra Cup Series, and the handful of people getting in on spots reserved for race sponsors, all of a sudden the odds get a lot tighter for the 250 or so positions left.

In almost every way, Western States is the Boston Marathon of 100-milers so it’s natural, if not expected, that every ultrarunner would want their shot at a silver buckle at least once in their lifetime. I say ‘almost every way’ because unlike Boston, you can get into Western States without ever having run the distance. Yeah, yeah, there are first-timers at Boston who get in because they raise money for charity or have connections to the big sponsors, but for the vast majority, you can’t get into the Boston Marathon without having first run a marathon, and a relatively quick one at that.

Western States is different. A runner can get in having only run a 50-miler within a very generous time cut-off of eleven hours (or three 50-milers over eleven but under twelve hours). This is where I wrestled a bit with my decision to sign up for the lottery. Personally, I think Western States should require runners to qualify with 100-milers. From a purely practical perspective, wouldn’t race organizers feel better knowing that all participants are at least capable of covering the distance before letting them loose over some pretty challenging terrain? Western States is the most prestigious hundred in the world and there’s already a thousand people signed up with a dozen days to go before the end of the lottery period so organizers can clearly afford to be picky. The only catch is that Western States is also the main event in the Montrail Ultra Cup Series and offers guaranteed spots to top finishers in each of the other eleven series events, all of which are either 50 miles or 100 kilometres. It would be hard to tell non-elites they have to run a 100-mile qualifier when up to 36 spots are reserved for elites running much shorter distances.

As much as I’d like to have that first 100-miler under my belt first, I used one of my 50-milers and signed up. Western States is something I’ve wanted to do for a while and at nearly 42 with a hip acting an age much older, I can’t wait forever. After some encouragement from friends, including some prodding by my business partners who offered to pitch in a few bucks to help cover the $370 entry fee, and after reading Bryon Powell’s thoughts about signing up on iRunFar.com, I went to ultrasignup.com and threw my hat into the ring. Registration closes November 27 and the lottery takes place on December 4, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed until then.

The lottery goes this weekend and today I got an email from race director Greg Soderlund which included the following:

Lottery applicants: After screening out all applicants without qualifiers and the “invitees” who accepted, we anticipate that a total of 1500 runners will go through the lottery. Go to: UltraSignup.com for the list of applicants.

How many will be selected in the lottery? The Western States entrant database will be limited to 400 runners. If 115 invitees accept, 285 slots will be available in the lottery. Of those 285 slots, approximately 60 slots will be set aside for designated aid station runners and special consideration cases. Since the designated aid station and special consideration runners will go through the Lottery first, approximately 6 to 10 will likely be selected, opening 6 to 10 slots to the general list of applicants. In other words, approximately 225 runners will be selected in the Lottery on December 4th, but we hope the actual number will be closer to 230 or 240.

How will the lottery work? The lottery will be all electronic. Guests from the audience will be invited to step up and press the BIG button. Each time the button is pressed, a runner will be randomly selected from the digital “hat.” Each selected runner will immediately be shown on the lottery results page. For live updates go to: http://www.ultralive.net/. Large screen and projector TV’s will show the results to the live audience.

As of Thursday, there are 1613 applicants set for the lottery, and 110 entrants who have already been accepted.


Numbers on lottery day from the Western States live blog:

Total Spots:
Sponsor: 14
Aid Station: 26
Foreign: 28
Montrail Cup: 16
Board Members: 2
Two Time Losers: 62

Lottery Spots: 218

Total Slots: 415 (approx)

(Note: These are subject to change)

About a 10% chance of being picked in the lottery this morning.


  1. You and me both! And counting my wife… that still makes just the two of us.

    Regardless of whether I get in I’m looking forward to your on-course reportage next year. You’re not going to let the running of the race get in the way of your duty to bring us iRunFar’s unparalleled coverage of Western States, are you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *