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Why Is Western States 100 So Hard to Get Into, and Why Did EmKay Sullivan Decline a Golden Ticket?

And why that's such a big deal...

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American ultrarunner EmKay Sullivan recently placed second among over 100 women at the 2024 HOKA Canyons Endurance Run by UTMB. Not only did this confirm her position as one of the best ultrarunners in the world currently, but also secured her one of the final two Golden Ticket entires to the coveted Western States 100.

Although at some point in her career Sullivan envisions herself crossing the line at Western States 100, it certainly won’t be this year, according to Run (Outside). Despite earning one of very few Golden Ticket entries, Sullivan has confirmed that she’ll be declining the entry to Western States.

Why Is Western States 100 So Hard to Get Into, and Why Did EmKay Sullivan Decline a Golden Ticket? 1
Photo Credit: UTMB World Series

Why Getting Into Western States Is A Big Deal?

Getting into Western States may be a more challenging accomplishment than the race itself.

So, why is it so hard to get into the race?

Firstly, you need to meet the basic requirements. You must be at least 18 years old on race day, and you have to complete a qualifying race within the specified time frame, which spanned from Nov. 7, 2022, to Nov. 5, 2023 for the 2024 race. Your qualifying run must meet an alloted time, and the results should be accessible online.

The entry process begins with the lottery registration period, which typically runs most of the month of November. Then, in early December, the lottery takes place, determining who among the applicants will secure a spot in the prestigious event. 

Why Is Western States 100 So Hard to Get Into, and Why Did EmKay Sullivan Decline a Golden Ticket? 2
Photo Credit: UTMB World Series

The results are then posted online, but don’t get too excited as there is only about a one percent chance of getting selected from the lottery if it’s your first year applying.

However, if luck favors you and your name is drawn, you’ll receive an invitation to complete your registration within ten days, along with the entry fee, which amounts to $450 plus additional online fees.

Alternatively, there’s a chance for automatic entry, but you must finalize your application by Dec.r 1, 2023, prior to the lottery. Automatic entries are awarded to the top 10 finishers from the previous year’s event.

And finally, there’s the elusive Golden Tickets. 

There are only 15 made available to men and women each year at certain races.

With only two Golden Tickets left, Sullivan claimed her entry into Western States after finishing second place at the Canyons Endurance Runs by UTMB.

Why Is Western States 100 So Hard to Get Into, and Why Did EmKay Sullivan Decline a Golden Ticket? 3
Photo Credit: Mike McMonagle

Why Is EmKay Sullivan Giving Up Her Golden Ticket?

Sullivan had her doubts about attending Western States even before she earned her ticket.

“Even before Canyons, my thought was, ‘Should I be thinking about doing a 100-miler if I get a ticket?’” she said to Run (Outside).

“So of course I finished second in the race, and I’m like absolutely I’m never doing something like that again.’ I couldn’t imagine running an additional 60K [to reach 100 miles] at that point. But then Craig hands you the ticket and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, do I want to do this?’ It’s pretty cool, but I knew I had to think about it. So my goal was to take about a week to talk it over with my coach and my husband, and after doing that it’s just the right decision not to do Western States.”

Sullivan has her sights set on different goals for the 2024 season, including increasing her speed to match the European racing style. 

“I think one of the things I’d like to really work on this year for shorter distance events is going out faster,” she says.

“European women just go out so hard, which is not really my style. I want to try to get a little bit better at that because that’s going to help me be competitive, especially at a race like OCC.”

Why Is Western States 100 So Hard to Get Into, and Why Did EmKay Sullivan Decline a Golden Ticket? 4
Photo Credit: Jacob Banta

However, one of the main reasons she’s opting out of Western States is that it doesn’t fit well within her calendar and takes place too close after Canyons 100K. 

And she isn’t the only one who thinks so.

Drew Holem, the second place finisher in the men’s race at Canyons 100K, also surrendered his Golden Ticket.

“The challenge with training and racing Western States is that it tends to really F-up your summer,” he said before he gave his Golden Ticket to Sweden’s Petter Engdahl. “No disrespect at all to Western States. I love the race, and I want to come back to do it again.”

Sullivan says that although she won’t be toeing the line at Western States this year, she plans on taking on the race at some point in her career.

“I know that I’m capable of getting a Golden Ticket now,” she says. “I’m leaving it knowing that I could have done better, I could have done more. But I also know that eight weeks is like not that long of a time period to train for my first 100-miler. I’ll definitely have some FOMO on race day, like, ‘Ooh, should I have done it?’ But 100K was pretty fricking far, and I’m not ready to emotionally endure the next 60K.”

This year’s Western States 100K will take place from June 29 to 30, 2024 and begin in Olympic Valley, California, finishing 100 miles later in Auburn, California.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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