How To Qualify For Western States + WS100 Qualifying Races

We'll explore what the race entails, it's history, and how to qualify.

If you follow trail running, your social media feed is surely filled with updates from the Western States 100 once a year. After reading the articles, you may find yourself wondering how to qualify for the Western States 100.

As you start to race ultramarathons, you’ll start to hear the names of some races spoken in reverence: Leadville, UTMB, Hardrock, and Western States.

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 gain entry.

Like most ultrarunners, several of these races are on my bucket list. Since I know that the lotteries can take several attempts (meaning years) to gain entry, I’ve started the process for several of these races.

A trail runner.

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.

In 2023, I again ran the Leadville Marathon but was unable to get a spot in the field from the post-race drawing. As the cycle continues 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?

A trail runner.

What is Western States 100

The Western States Endurance Run (WSER), 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.

It takes place on a section of a trail that runs all the way from Salt Lake City to Sacramento.

The course is a point-to-point that starts at the Palisades Ski Resort in Olympic Valley close to lake Tahoe and ends on the track of Placer High School in Auburn, CA. Auburn is also host to another major American 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.

Within the first 4.5 miles along, the trail climbs an epic 2,550 feet from the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games to Emigrant Pass.

The race organisers recommend running as much of the trail as possible through training runs before the race in order to become familiar with the trail.

Other potential hazards for the race include wildfires, high flow at a river crossing, and snow.

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.

A trail runner's shoes.

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.

Trail runners.

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, and he’s even won the race five times.

Other epic tales include Katie Asmuth finishing in 9th place with a broken foot, and Ruth Croft finishing 2nd then 1st place in her first two years running the race.

A trail runner going uphill.

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 and entered into the race or wait list, it stays in the pot. Each year you qualify and enter the lottery, you gain additional entries into the lottery.

A trail runner.

The race uses a formula: 2^(n-1), where n is the number of years you have entered the lottery.

For instance:

  • 1 year = 1 entry
  • 2 year = 2 entries
  • 3 years = 4 entries

The maximum entrants 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 past years, the qualifying races had to be run in consecutive years in order for you to keep having tickets added. After COVID, that policy has been relaxed.1Lottery Changes Announced – Western States Endurance Run. (n.d.). Www.wser.org. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from https://www.wser.org/2021/03/22/lottery-changes-announced/

In addition to the lottery, certain races, like the UTMB and Canyons 100k, offer Golden Tickets to Western States to the top finishers.

Trail runners.

A List of Western States Qualifying Races

So what races can you run to qualify for the Western States 100?

You must run a race that is at least 100k to qualify for Western States. There are races every month of the year and all over the world that count.

Hence, there is likely to be a qualifying race 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.

A trail runner.
  • 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.

Two trail runners.


Photo of author
Adam Rabo has been running since junior high. He has coached high school and college distance runners. Adam recently completed the UTMB Canyons 100k, making the cutoff for the Western States 100 and UTMB. You can generally find him on the rodes or trails in Colorado Springs, training for upcoming marathons and ultramarathons.

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