By Larry Carroll
Its history dates all the way back to the Native Americans; the first runner to successfully conquer it did so in 1974. By 1977, the Western States Endurance Run was official – and the first installment featured 14 men who were monitored at “veterinary stops” intended for horses. These days, the Endurance Run follows the middle part of the beloved Western States Trail, and is considered one of the most arduous organized running events in all of America.
And if you want to be a part of this epic history, the time is now, fill out your information online. But before you do, a few notes: You must be able to submit the results of a qualifying run whose results are available online – if your qualifier is deemed invalid, your application will be rejected.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to sit back and hope. On Saturday, December 7th, entrants will be selected via lottery system. All results will be posted on the WS website, and a fee charged to those folks. If your name isn’t announced on December 7, don’t despair: You may also be selected as one of the 50 applicants whose names will be placed on the ordered wait list, which would then be used to fill in for drop-outs, etc.
Of course, there are two other groups of people who will also get to strap on their running shoes. First are runners wishing to exercise their one-time lottery bye, a unique luxury the race affords those who have accrued lottery tickets but had an “unexpected life event” interfere. If you haven’t already used it, a one-time lottery bye will get you past the lottery – just be sure to declare your intention to use it during the application period.
Second are automatic entrants. These are folks who have qualified for special consideration, typically based on past achievements. They include the top 10 male and female runners from last year’s race, winners of the Golden Ticket Races (such as the Hoka One One Bandera), elite athletes in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, members of the Board of Trustees and more. Perhaps the most endearing one might be the “Silver Legend Entry,” created in the memory of longtime WS Race Director Greg Sunderlund and awarded to one qualifying runner who will be 60 years old or older on race day.
What can all these entrants expect, come race day? Assembling in Squaw Valley, California next June 27, they will begin the day at 5am with a few hundred of their closest friends. Any runner hoping to be eligible for an award has to reach the finish line in Auburn, California by 10:59:59 am the next day.
From Squaw Valley, the trail ascends 2550 vertical feet – and that’s just the first four-and-a-half miles. After that, runners follow the original trails used by gold and silver miners in the 1850s, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn. Running predominantly through rough and remote territory, runners are encouraged to bring two LED flashlights – and are encouraged not to try and find their way in the dark should they fail.
In case of emergency, much of the trail territory is only available via foot, horse or helicopter. At 78 miles, runners will come to the American River, where a guide rope (or in high-water years, a river raft) will help them get across. A message on the event’s official website reads: “The remoteness of the trail can lead to disaster for anyone not experienced in the backwoods.” So, as you can see, this race in not for the faint of heart.
If you still want to try and take your turn at the next Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, now is the time to jump in on the lottery. As 3-time Western States champion Jim King said: “There are three types of runners at Western States: The Survivors, The Runners and the Racers.” Which will you be?