Western States: The Boston of ultras

  • This was printed in December of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 83rd installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

When terrorists bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, I set a goal

to run a marathon in a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time to be able to enter the prestigious

race. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, having been held every

year since 1897.

Veteran runners have told me, “There’s nothing like Boston.” I’ve heard that the roar of

the crowd is so loud that you can’t hear your own thoughts.

Madera runner Audrey Crow and I BQ’d in March and continue to fundraise for our

April trip to Boston. While fundraising, we’ve had to develop a new goal. What do you

strive for once you’ve reached the pinnacle of marathoning?

Western States.

If BQ was all that we could obsess about last year, WSQ is the buzzword (acronym?) for

this year.

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is the Boston of the ultramarathon world.

Having started in 1974, it is the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race.

Held in June, it begins in Squaw Valley and ends 100.2 miles later in Auburn.

It crosses over Emigrant Pass and through the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, averaging

7,000 feet in altitude. Then it dips into the canyons — Deadwood and El Dorado —

following the path taken by prospectors during the California Gold Rush. In that section,

runners may encounter temperatures up to 110 degrees.

Runners get to cross the American River — yes, they run through the water — just below

class 6 rapids. And all of that is only the first half of the course.

Western States is a tough race, so to qualify to run it, an ultramarathoner must run one of

the 73 toughest 100K-plus races in the world. One hundred kilometers is 62 miles. There

is one qualifying race shorter than that, at 60 miles, called the Georgia Death Race. I

think I’ll take my chances on longer races with nicer sounding names.

Increasing your chances of getting into the Boston Marathon is a matter of running faster

than your designated qualifying time based on age and gender.

To get into Western States, however, you not only have to finish a qualifying race. You

have to be the best of the best, or the luckiest of the lucky. In recent years, fewer than 10

percent of all applicants have been selected to run the race.

For 2015, the race directors admitted 114 “automatics” consisting top U.S. runners, elite

foreign athletes, major sponsors and others somehow affiliated with the race.

Then there were 2,566 entrants into the lottery with 6,601 total tickets. Those who have

entered the lottery in previous years but weren’t picked were given extra tickets to

increase their odds of (finally) getting into the race. Only 270 runners were chosen.

My fellow San Joaquin Running teammate Eddie Nolen, 46, of Clovis, got in. He had

four tickets in the lottery. Jose Macias, 38, of Fresno, also made it in with four tickets.

Randy Vander Tuig, 41, of Tulare, made it in with 16. They are the only three from the

San Joaquin Valley to get into Western States 2015.

As for Audrey and I, we’ve jumped just one hurdle on our hopeful journey to WS — we

were two of the 870 applicants for the Miwok 100K lottery, and two of the 500 accepted.

Just 12 days after the Boston Marathon, we’ll be lacing up our trail shoes on Stinson

Beach to begin our 62-mile trek. We’ll have 15 ½ hours to finish the race to throw our

names into the Western States 2016 lottery.

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