Written by James Poole –
On 6 December last year in Placer High Campus, Auburn, CA, USA my name was drawn out of a ‘hat’. The draw took place on Saturday at 8:30am PST with little fanfare. I wasn’t even there.
The significance of this is that this was the lottery draw for the grand-daddy of ultra-marathons; the birthplace of hundred mile runs and arguably the most prestigious race in running. This was the draw for the Western States 100 Endurance Run.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Western States, it began its life as a horse race. That was until in 1974, when Gordy Ainsleigh, joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Just under 24 hours later Gordy crossed the finish line in Auburn proving humans could cover the distance as well as, if not better, than horses. In doing so he, unwittingly created the phenomenon of hundred mile endurance racing and set the benchmark by which all “hundos” have since measured themselves.
A bit about the run itself. The WS100 course winds its way from Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains to Placer High Campus in Auburn, climbing a cumulative total of 18,090 feet (5,500m) and descending a total of 22,970 feet (7,000m) through canyons, mountain trails and snowy passes. In homage to its horse race history, those mentally and physically strong enough to make it to the finish line are awarded a belt buckle. Finish in under 24 hours and you get a solid silver buckle, under 30 hours and you get bronze.
While I write this post rather ‘matter of factly’, my name being drawn from the ‘hat’ is one most exciting things to have happened in the time I have been doing endurance sports. This race is ridiculously hard to get into. Firstly, you have to prove your experience by running a qualifying race and then you have to be extremely lucky to have your name drawn at the lottery. This year, as a first time lottery entrant, the odds were 20:1 against being chosen. Note: There is another way into WS100 and that is to place in the top two (men and women) at one of the Montrail Ultra Cup races held in the US during the year. Frankly, a pipedream for all but the best runners in the world.
Over the next few months, I intend to share with you my journey from Western States fortunate, to Western States finisher. I don’t write ‘Finisher’ out of arrogance or bravado. The reality of running a race as tough as Western States is that one needs to commit wholeheartedly to the cause. Failure is not an option. Ultimately, the Western States won’t care when it’s wet and miserable outside and I miss a training run. It won’t get any shorter because it’s warm in bed and I’ve hit the snooze button (again). It won’t take hostages and it won’t make it easy for me. The road to Auburn, CA doesn’t start on the 28th of June, it starts here, today!
Photo credit: Nick Ham