If you follow trail running, your social media feed has surely been filled with updates from the Western States 100 recently, and after reading the articles, you may find yourself wondering how to qualify for the Western States 100.
These races feature challenging courses and stacked fields of professional and amateur runners. They also all require you to run a qualifying race and enter a lottery system in order to hopefully gain a coveted entry.
Like most ultrarunners, several of these races are on my bucket list. Since I know that the lotteries can take several attempts (years) to gain entry, I’ve started the process for several of these races.
In 2022, I ran the Leadville Marathon and attempted to gain a lottery entry from a drawing at the end of the race. When that didn’t come to fruition, I entered the general lottery in December since I ran the marathon, which was a qualifying race. Once again, I didn’t get in.
A few weeks ago, I again ran the Leadville Marathon and was unable to get a spot in the field from the post-race drawing. The cycle will continue, and I’ll explore a few additional options to gain entry into that race.
Western States is the Super Bowl of ultramarathons in the US and rivals almost any race in popularity and competition other than UTMB.
So how do you qualify for Western States 100?
In this article, we will look at:
- What is Western States 100?
- The History of Western States 100
- How to Qualify for Western States
- A List of Western States Qualifying Races
Read on to learn more!
What is Western States 100
The Western States Endurance Run, or Western States 100, is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. The race is 100.2 miles and takes place the last full weekend of June each year.
The course is a point-to-point that starts at the Palisades Ski Resort in Olympic Valley and ends on the track of Placer High School in Auburn, CA. Auburn is also host to another major ultramarathon, Canyons 100k.
The race runs through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The course often features snow at the high points and record heat in the canyons. It features over 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 20,000 feet of descent.
The race is part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which features five, 100-mile races held across North America. These include:
- Western States Endurance Run – California
- Old Dominion 100 – Virginia
- Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run – Vermont
- Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run – Utah
- Leadville Trail 100 – Colorado
Those who finish in under 30 hours receive a bronze belt buckle, while those who finish in under 24 hours receive a silver belt buckle.
The History of Western States 100
The Western States Endurance Run was originally the Western States Trail Ride, a 100-mile horse race. The Western States Trail Ride, or Tevis Cup, has taken place all but two years since 1955. For the race, riders attempt to cover 100 miles in 24 hours on horseback.
In 1972, soldiers from Fort Riley covered the distance on foot in under two days, proving that the tough trail could be done on foot as well as on horseback.
After his horse had to drop out of the race at mile 29 due to injury in 1973, Gordy Ainsleigh decided to try and cover the distance without a horse.
In 1974, he lined up on the starting line with the horses and set out to cover the 100 miles in under 24 hours on foot. He would cross the finish line in 23 hours and 42 minutes, showing everyone that it was possible to cover the distance on foot in less than a day.
The first official Western States Endurance Run was held in 1977. Sixteen people signed up and started the race along with the horses. Only three would cross the finish line.
Andy Gonzales finished in under 24 hours, while Peter Mattai and Ralph Paffenbarger both finished in under 29 hours. This led to the introduction of the bronze belt buckle for a sub-30-hour finish.
In 1978, the race became separate from the horse race, and thirty runners finished the 100-mile course. That year, Path Smythe became the first woman to cross the finish line for the race.
By 1981, the race had grown in popularity, and a lottery system was put in place.
Western States has seen and made its fair share of legends. Some of these include:
- Scott Jurek, who won the race seven years in a row in the late 90s and early 2000s.
- Ann Trason, who won the race a total of 14 times from 1989 to 2003.
- Jim Walmsley, who won the race three times and holds the current course record at 14:09:28.
- Courtney Dauwalter, has won the race twice and just set a new women’s course record of 15:29:34.
- Perhaps one of the most famous finishers is Tim Twietmeyer. Tim has completed the race 25 times, all under 24 hours. He’s even won the race five times!
How to Qualify for Western States 100
So how do you qualify for such a popular race that only has 369-385 spots? Compared with the multi-step process of UTMB, Western States is a bit easier to wrap your head around.
In order to qualify to enter the lottery, a runner must complete a qualifying race in the allotted time during the qualifying period.
The period generally runs from November to November of the preceding year (for example, races finished between November 7, 2022, through November 5, 2023, qualify for the 2024 race).
Runners who meet this requirement and sign up are entered into the lottery. The drawing takes place at the beginning of December. In addition to those who get into the race, 50-75 names are drawn and placed on a waiting list.
Here is the good news. If your name isn’t drawn, it stays in the pot. Each year you qualify and enter the lottery, you gain additional entries into the lottery.
The race uses a formula: 2^(n-1), where n is the number of years you have entered the lottery.
- 1 year = 1 entry
- 2 year = 2 entries
- 3 years = 4 entries
The max you can get is 128 entries at eight years. You can view a breakdown of the odds of getting in based on your number of tickets on the Western States 2022 lottery numbers page.
In addition to the lottery, certain races, like the UTMB and Canyons 100k, offer Golden Tickets to Western States to the top finishers.
A list of Western States Qualifying Races
So what races can you run to qualify for the Western States 100?
The bad news is you have to run a race that is at least 100k to qualify for Western States. The good news is there are races every month of the year and all over the world that count.
It is likely a qualifying race is within a few hours of where you live.
With over 200 races that count as qualifiers, there is no way to list all of them in this article. I encourage you to check out the list of Western States qualifying races to find a race near you.
For this article, we will look at the number of races available each month and highlight a few of the bigger races available.
Keep in mind this list is subject to change from year to year.
- January – 6 races
- Notable race – La Sportive Arc of Attrition 100M in England
- February – 11 races
- Notable race – Black Canyon 100k in Arizona
- March – 6 races
- Notable race – Salomon Hong Kong Dynamic 100 in Hong Kong
- April – 19 races
- Notable race – Canyons by UTMB 100k in California
- May – 22 races
- Notable race – Aso Round Trail 121k in Japan
- June – 24 races
- Notable race – Ultra Trail du Saint-Jacques by UTMB 123k in France
- July – 29 races
- Notable race – Hardrock 100 in Colorado
- August – 20 race
- Notable race – Swiss Alps 100k or 100M in Switzerland
- September – 31 races
- Notable race – Karkloof 100M in South Africa
- October – 25 races
- Notable race – Puerto Vallarta México by UTMB 100k in Mexico
- November – 19 races
- Notable race – Transjeju International Trail Run 112k in South Korea
- December – 8 races
- Notable Race – Kosciusko by UTMB 100k and 100M in Australia
The Western States Endurance Run is one of the premier ultramarathon races in the world. The process for getting in is pretty straightforward. However, it may take some time for you to get an entry.
If this race is on your radar, it’s best to get started on the qualifying process sooner rather than later.
Now that you know how to qualify for the Western States 100, all that’s left is to find a qualifying race and start training to finish.
Which race will you be running to qualify?
What about UTMB? For a complete guide on how to qualify for UTMB, click here!