The bottom line is this – demand for competing at Western States has grown dramatically in the last few years, making the odds of winning a lottery slot slip into the single digits (7.9%) and projected to go lower (less then 5%). The annual numbers of applicants tells the story of why these changes were made, and how it took a very different turn when the race was cancelled in 2008 from fires. Look at how much it has jumped over the last few years:
2000 – 583 applicants.
2005 – 791 applicants.
2008 – 1,350 applicants. (year of the fire cancellation)
2010 – 1,695 applicants.
2011 – 1,786 applicants. (first year of the multiple tickets solution)
2012 – 1,940 applicants.
2013 – 2,295 applicants.
The Western States Endurance Run is capped at 396 entrants, and 130 entries are reserved for race administration (aid stations, trail crew, sweeps, etc.), Montrail UltraCup winners, raffle winners, overseas runners, and members of the Board of Trustees. The remaining 270 slots are drawn in early December each year, and past "losers" get one additional lottery ticket for each time they lost.
Removing the 50-mile qualifying distance will certainly cut down on these numbers, as will the fact they have chosen a very small set of 100k and 100m races that have eliminated a lot of local favorites. Be sure to check the list of 2015 qualifiers (many of which require lotteries on their own) if 2015 qualification is on your radar.
The WSER also announced the qualifying races for the 2014 Montrail UltraCup, which will hold 30 slots for top 3 runners in each of the following races:
- Bandera 100k/50k 1/11/2014
- Rocky Raccoon 100mi 2/1/2014
- Sean O’Brien 50mi/50k 2/1/2014
- Lake Sonoma 50mi 4/12/2014
- Ice Age 50k/mi 5/10/2014
Montrail has been slow to announce the 2013/14 Montrail UltraCup Series this year, which has cut the schedule of qualifying races significantly. But the qualifying slots now go three deep, rolling down to 4th place if one of the top 3 already have a slot. They have renewed their contract with Western States for two years, so perhaps next year will have a broader qualifier schedule.
So there you have it, folks. What do you think – better odds or worse? Given the growing interest (curse you, Karnazes, McDougall, and Jurek!), the change was inevitable. I think I hold the longest losing streak to the Western States lottery (3-time loser got me in to the 2008 race, which was cancelled, and I've lost ever since...that's NINE years), but do correct me if you've heard of someone worse.