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Lottery and Qualifying Races – iRunFar

With the 2024 Western States 100 proper across the nook, I wished to higher perceive who shall be rounding the corners come race day. In the event you’re something like me, this can be a bucket listing race in your calendar, however the prospect of getting in is so distant that it’s extra of an idea than a sensible chance for thus many people at this level.

Simply how troublesome is it to get into this occasion? What’s the greatest technique for getting in? Will I be capable to run this occasion earlier than my physique provides out from overuse? On this article, I dive into the numbers in an try and shed some mild on these questions.

Kuni Yamagata ending the 2021 Western States 100 throughout the Golden Hour earlier than the cutoff, as photographed in “Second Dawn,” a e-book concerning the occasion’s historical past by John Trent. Photograph: Gary Wang

Breakdown of the 2024 Western States 100 Entrants

Western States is the oldest 100-mile race on the planet and attracts ultrarunners from across the globe to participate within the historic occasion. (See my earlier article for what this journey seems to be like.) Entry into this race has continued to develop in demand 12 months over 12 months, with solely a tiny fraction of all candidates gaining entry.

When the 2024 Western States kicks off in a couple of days, 375 people will toe the road. Here’s a breakdown of how these 375 people gained entry into the occasion.

2024 Western States 100 Entrants Breakdown

We basically have three foremost methods to get into the occasion:

  1. Turn into very concerned with the occasion, reminiscent of by being a board member or by volunteering at an help station for a few years;
  2. Be actually, actually quick; or
  3. Achieve entry by means of the race lottery.

With 72% (270) of individuals getting in through the lottery, that is the commonest technique to get in. That doesn’t, nevertheless, imply that the percentages are in your favor of getting in. Since choices 1 and a couple of are restricted to roughly 100 individuals, whereas the lottery this 12 months had 9,388 individuals, I shall be focusing this text on the third group.

Western States is sort of clear with their lottery system — they don’t do an incredible job of choosing me — and offers an in depth breakdown of lottery statistics yearly. Right here you possibly can see the expansion of candidates over time and what number of tickets they’ve collected over time. The variety of tickets an entrant has is calculated by 2^(n-1) the place n is the variety of years coming into the lottery with out gaining entry.

The Development of Western States 100 Candidates From 2000 to 2024

Western States 100 lottery applicants

Word: There have been no lotteries for the 2009 and 2021 races as in every occasion entrants had been rolled over from the race being canceled the earlier 12 months. Supply:

Due to this logarithmically scaled ticket system that rewards entrants who’ve been attempting for a few years, the 9,388 individuals really interprets to 53,966 whole tickets. Western States runs Monte Carlo simulations — a statistics method used to foretell outcomes of an unsure occasion — to point out the anticipated chance of an entrant entering into the occasion given a sure ticket quantity.

The chart under particulars your odds of getting in for 2024. With 1 ticket, your chances are high lower than 1% and people possibilities solely enhance to above 50% with 128 tickets, which suggests 8 years of coming into the lottery and never being chosen.

Primarily based on Ticket Numbers, the Odds of Getting Into the 2024 Western States 100

Supplied these dismal possibilities, I wished to grasp how lengthy it could take a mean runner reminiscent of myself to get into Western States. For the sake of this calculation, I assumed an applicant accomplished a qualification race yearly. Given the above odds and making an allowance for being chosen in a earlier 12 months, the anticipated variety of years to get into Western States is 6.79 years.

Word that the above doesn’t account for extra individuals coming into the lottery over time, which decreases one’s odds additional. If we take a look at current tendencies and apply a decay issue of 0.75 to mirror the change from the 2023 to the 2024 lottery, the anticipated variety of years turns into 8.3 years.

Perseverance is the important thing to being chosen for this race. Eight years is a very long time, however if you happen to proceed to stack up these qualifiers, you’ll finally get in. By this level, in case your physique remains to be cooperating, you can be fairly skilled in ultra-distance occasions and in a very good place to take advantage of the 100 miles.

A key half to this multi-year plan is to proceed to finish Western States qualifiers. Within the subsequent part, I break down the qualifying races and discover the panorama of those occasions.

Western States 100 Qualifying Races and Their Attributes

Western States qualifiers are “primarily based solely on the dimensions of the race” with massive and established races getting precedence, and the one restriction being that races shorter than 100 miles will need to have a minimum of 8,202 toes (2,500 meters) of elevation achieve. The race group reiterates its strategy is “primarily based solely on the variety of runners and never course issue.”

This strategy differs from that of different races, such because the Hardrock 100, the place many elements are considered for qualifying races. With Hardrock’s cumulative vertical achieve of 33,000 toes and a mean elevation of 11,000 toes, its board has set stricter standards for its qualifying races. They take a look at knowledge about race traits reminiscent of excessive elevation, lengthy steep climbs, extreme climate, and uncovered terrain to make sure entrants are ready to soundly full the Hardrock 100.

Eager about this issue standards acquired me within the variety of races included within the Western States qualifiers. As a result of there isn’t a issue standards, some races are inherently simpler qualifiers. On the finish of the day, every race is as troublesome as you select to make it and also you see runners push themselves to the brink from 100 meters to 100 miles. What I wish to deal with on this part are the elements that contribute to an athlete finishing a race within the requisite qualifying time for a lottery ticket. Which races are most certainly to safe the typical runner a qualifier?

Andre Blumberg - 2013 Western States 100 - feature

Andre Blumberg ending the 2013 Western States 100, alongside his spouse and crew, Patchanida Pongsubkarun. Photograph: Patchanida Pongsubkarun


On this part, I take a look at all Western States qualifier races within the U.S. and Canada. The info is pulled from every race’s gpx information.

Utilizing a fundamental scatter plot view, I mapped the space and elevation of Western States qualifiers for 2024:

Distance Versus Vertical Achieve within the 2024 Western States 100 Qualifiers

2024 Western States 100 Qualfying Races - distance vs vertical gain

Just a few issues soar out about this chart. First, now we have our outliers up and to the proper, with 4 200-mile or longer races. These 200-mile races are out of the scope of this text — and don’t get me began on 300-mile races. For sure, if you happen to full considered one of these races, you’re a monster and never searching for the ‘simple’ lottery entry into Western States.

Eradicating these outliers, we will get a greater view of the 100-kilometer and 100-mile distances that I deal with for the remainder of this part.

2024 Western States 100 Qualfying Races - distance vs vertical gain - zoomed

On this graph, we see two foremost clusters on the x-axis across the 100k and 100-mile distances, with appreciable variation within the vertical achieve (y-axis) for related distance occasions. For 100-mile occasions, this spans from the Hennepin Hundred Mile, which good points lower than 1,000 vertical toes to the Hardrock 100, which boasts over 33,000 toes of climbing.

This variation is large. A mountainous 100-mile course at elevation is a totally completely different race than a flat occasion of the identical distance at sea degree. Western States falls close to the center of the vertical achieve distribution for 100-mile occasions with round 18,000 toes of vertical achieve.

Vertical achieve is a crucial issue, however what goes up should finally come down — except you’re the Cocodona 250 Mile, then you definately simply hold going up. Taking a look at distance and web achieve, we will see a barely completely different story.

Distance Versus Web Achieve within the 2024 Western States 100 Qualifiers

2024 Western States 100 Qualfying Races - distance vs net gain - zoomed

Most programs are near zero web achieve, being run on loops or beginning and ending in related areas. The California programs take the crown for web downhill, with Western States itself having probably the most web downhill, edging out the Angels Crest 100 Mile and the Canyons 100 Mile.

The gap together with vertical achieve and web achieve are crucial elements when analyzing how troublesome a qualifying race is. One other vital issue to contemplate when securing a qualifier is the cutoff time. Taking a look at distance versus cutoff time, we see a detailed correlation with variation as a consequence of different issue elements of the course.

Distance Versus Cutoff Time within the 2024 Western States 100 Qualifiers

2024 Western States 100 Qualfying Races - distance vs cutoff time - zoomed

Most 100k cutoffs fall within the 17- to 22-hour vary, whereas most 100 milers are between 30 and 36 hours.

Distance and elevation achieve are the 2 most generally obtainable knowledge factors round races and provides us a top level view of the cutoff customary in extremely races. Eager about the Hardrock 100’s qualifier necessities, I wished to gather knowledge round some extra traits like elevation and lengthy, steep climbs to color a extra detailed image of those races.

I pulled this info and compiled a dataset for all races from their gpx information. The extra variables I checked out in addition to distance and ascent had been common elevation, most elevation, sustained climbs of over 2,000 toes, and sustained climbs of over 3,000 toes. Initially, I wished an summary of which variables had been most intently tied to course cutoff instances. By plotting a heatmap of correlation between variables, we will see which variables are intently associated to different variables.

Western States 100 qualification race - race factors correlation map

The above plot may be very colourful and enjoyable, however what does it actually inform us? The row I’m most interested in is how sure variables are correlated with cutoff time.

Western States 100 qualification race - race factors - cutoff time correlation

Zooming in on this backside row we see that distance is most correlated with cutoff time — no shock there — whereas the variables subsequent most intently correlated to cutoff instances are vertical change and sustained climbs, which refers back to the variety of sustained climbs of greater than 2,000 and three,000 vertical toes, suggesting a mountainous course.

Predicted Occasions for Ultramarathons In comparison with Their Cutoffs

Contemplating these variables, I used to be curious to see if we may decide which races are theoretically probably the most cheap to finish throughout the cutoff time. We’re, in fact, restricted by knowledge and the next evaluation doesn’t seize the various nuances of an extremely race. Regardless, I hope you discover the next evaluation fascinating when it comes to occupied with the relation between race options and cutoff time.

Gunhild Swanson - 2015 Western States 100

The gang celebrates after Gunhild Swanson completed the 2015 Western States 100 with six seconds to spare. Photograph: Ted Knudsen

Taking the earlier scatter plots completely different options, I wished to suit a regression mannequin to view the anticipated cutoff time. Right here we will see the anticipated line for cutoff time primarily based off probably the most intently correlated characteristic, distance.

Regression Fashions Present Anticipated Cutoff Occasions for the 2024 Western States 100 Qualifiers

Western States 100 qualification race - Distance vs cutoff time regression

Taking out the 48-hour cutoff races outliers of the Hardrock 100, Fats Canine 120 Mile, and Merciless Jewel 100 Mile, we will higher evaluate races with related cutoff instances within the scatter plot under.

Western States 100 qualification race - Distance vs cutoff time regression - zoomed

Including in additional variables we will proceed to enhance the accuracy of the mannequin as we account for extra options of the race.

Western States 100 qualification race - Distance vs total ascent vs cutoff time regression - zoomed

After accounting for the entire variables collected we will graph a residual plot exhibiting how a lot a race’s cutoff time deviates from what could be anticipated primarily based on its options.

A Residual Plot Exhibiting How A lot the 2024 Western States 100 Qualifier Races’ Cutoff Occasions Deviate from Anticipated

Western States 100 qualification race - deviation from expected cutoff time

The above graph is fascinating as a result of it permits us to have a look at the info factors with the biggest residual. These are the races which have a decrease predicted cutoff time than the precise cutoff time, i.e., a beneficiant relative cutoff time. In case you are chasing cutoffs, a change of an hour or two could possibly be the distinction between finishing the race and timing out.

Based on this mannequin, the races with the biggest residuals (most beneficiant cutoffs) throughout 100k and 100-mile distances are the Dinosaur Valley 100k, the Misplaced Soul 100k, the Extremely-Path Harricana 125k, the Quebec Mega Path 100 Mile, the Superior 100 Mile, and the Zion 100 Mile. To reiterate, these are usually not the best races, fairly these with probably the most beneficiant cutoffs primarily based on the options accounted for on this mannequin.

I’d have cherished to spend extra time on this space to construct out a extra full mannequin round ultramarathon course issue (keep tuned for this sooner or later), however, alas, cutoffs, this time of the editorial selection! Onto the takeaways.


  1. There are greater than 200 qualifying races for Western States to select from. When contemplating a qualifying race, you will need to observe that races differ considerably in distance, elevation, and a wide range of different methods.
  2. In case you are seeking to get a Western States qualifier, you will need to contemplate the cutoff time. A race might seem ‘simpler’ on paper, however may need a much less beneficiant cutoff time, thereby making it troublesome to finish throughout the time constraint.

For these of you racing Western States this 12 months, better of luck and take a second to understand what acquired you to this second — particularly these of you who acquired in with one lottery ticket!

Name for Feedback

  • I really like knowledge, however acknowledge it doesn’t inform the total story. What different elements do you suppose contribute probably the most to races being extra ‘troublesome?’
  • For the races I recognized as having probably the most beneficiant cutoffs, are there any that you just disagree with primarily based on different elements that weren’t included within the mannequin?
  • Are there any races you suppose are ‘simpler’ qualifiers?
2022 Western States 100 - Ruth Croft - Rucky Chucky - feature

Ladies’s champion Ruth Croft on the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78 of the 2022 Western States 100. Photograph: iRunFar/Bryon Powell


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