At the same time, the event has a rich history of egalitarianism. Run a qualifier, get picked in the lottery, and train your butt off. Assuming the planets line up, anyone who wants to run and is patient enough to wait out the process they can run on hallowed ground with the best in the sport. That, to me, is a great thing.
However, one aspect of the eligibility requirement that deserves reconsideration is the qualifying standard. To make the race better while still honoring the beloved history and tradition of the event I suggest that race administration require every registered entrant to complete a 100-mile trail race as a prerequisite to running the Western States Endurance Run.
In the early years of ultrarunning there were only a handful of 100-mile races to choose from. Today, these races form the foundation of the sport. Indeed, Wasatch, Leadville, Vermont, Angeles Crest, Hardrock and a few others stand as testimony to the staying power of well-run, highly successful 100-mile races. However, in addition to these “majors” there are currently over 50 100-mile races to choose from in North America. In fact, there are few weekends a year during which there is not a 100-mile race being run. The ease of finding a race in which to qualify is Reason #1 to consider the 100 Mile prerequisite.
Reason #2 is a bit more complex. Western States is a 100 Mile Endurance Run. As such, it is quite a bit different than its shorter, and equally popular, counterparts in the 50K, 50 mile and 100K distances. Just ask anyone who’s ever run a 100 miler what the difference is between a 50 and a 100. The answers will amaze you. In short, if you boil down the data, it will not be like comparing two different events it will be like comparing two entirely different sports.
In my 13 year ultrarunning career I have started (and finished) 21 100-mile races including 5 Western States’. While each race has been a unique experience, what they all have in common is the unknown aspect of the last 30 miles. Even after running 100 miles 21 different times I never know what’s in store for me after Cal 2 at WS, or Brighton at WF, or Chantry at AC, or Camp Ten Bear 2 at VT. I love that about 100 milers but it’s also what makes them different, mysterious and capricious.
I am suggesting that on the sport’s greatest stage, it would be best if every competitor knows the post-70 mile feeling prior to experiencing it at Western States.
Would you really want to play your first ever round of golf at Augusta National or have your first ever horse race at Churchill Downs? Indeed, you are not legally permitted to run your first marathon at Boston so why not make Western States something you need to earn? It could still be entirely egalitarian. In fact, it might be even more so when everyone on the starting line would have experienced, at least once, what it’s like to run down the trail at night with trashed quads on blistered feet feeling like they’re about to puke. It may be just me but that stuff doesn’t happen in 50 milers and 100k’s.
Perhaps I am being elitist. Perhaps, as a 100-mile guy, I am playing to my bias. If so, I am guilty as charged. However, I believe the essence of the race can be maintained and even enhanced by changing this aspect of the qualifying standard. I have not done the research but I have a hunch that there are a large number of runners out there who have started and not finished one 100-miler in their lives. My guess is that many of those runners have had that experience at Western States.
As egalitarian as the race wishes to be (and I support that notion 100%). 100-mile racing is not for everyone. Take a look at the record sometime. Take a look at the number of fast 50k, 50 mile and 100k runners who simply can’t get it done in a 100 miler. I don’t mean to be mean or rude to those people I am just pointing to the data. There are 7 hour 50 milers out there who have tried, and failed, in every 100 miler they’ve entered. Seems to me a 100-mile prerequisite would fix that.
I know this suggestion will not be popular with those folks out there who want to run Western States as their once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, those people may be pretty upset with me right now. They might be saying,
“Who the heck is this jerk spouting off about 100-mile prerequisites. Not everyone can hop off the couch, drop everything in their life, and run 100 miles.”
I know, I know. I get that. But, I am also saying that this is THE Western States Endurance Run -- the best 100-mile race in the world. To make it even better, make everyone run 100 miles somewhere else first. The race, and the sport, would be better for it.
This is the 3rd installment of the 2009 Western States Synchroblog Project. See what other ideas my fellow synchrobloggers have to make Western States better.