Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run: Complete Guide (2022)

Western States runners

Last update: 2022-06-13

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is an iconic race, home to one of trail running’s most legendary competitions. After almost five decades, this event has come to represent one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world. Here’s your complete guide to the 2022 Western States 100.

What Is the Western States Endurance Run?

Western 100 participants
Photo by Tonya Perme

The Western States 100 is the oldest 100-mile trail ultramarathon in the world. Runners travel 100.2 miles (161 km) up and down mountainous paths on the historic Western States Trail through California gold country between Olympic Valley, the 1960 Winter Olympics site, and Auburn, California.

Participants come from all walks of life and travel from all around the globe to compete for prize money and personal glory in this legendary trail race.

Western States is one of five ultramarathons that make up the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. The other races are Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run, Vermont 100 Endurance Race, Leadville Trail 100 Run, and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Origin and History

The Western States Endurance Run (WSER) officially began in 1974, and it’s come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the decades since. It follows the Western States Trail, connecting Salt Lake City, Utah, with Sacramento, California.

The trail was used by the Washoe, Nisenan, and other neighboring Indigenous Peoples as they traveled their traditional lands between what is today known as Utah and California’s Sierra Mountains.

During the 19th century, gold and silver rushes drew many travelers, such as gold prospectors and settlers, to explore California gold country along the trail. After the gold frenzy faded, the trail essentially went out of use until Robert Montgomery Watson rediscovered it in the 1920s.

Then in 1955, Wendell T. Robie rode the trail on horseback from Tahoe City to Auburn, California. This led to the establishment of the Western States Trail Ride, or Tevis Cup, and the Western States Trail Foundation.

In 1960, the city of Squaw Valley, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe, hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Squaw Valley was later renamed Olympic Valley, California.

Olympic Valley California

The first noted attempt to hike the trail on foot without stopping was in 1972. Future Western States finisher Jim Larimer guided twenty infantrymen from the U.S. Army on horseback. Seven starters made it to the finish in the small town of Auburn, California, in times from 44 to nearly 47 hours.

In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh completed the course on foot in 23:42. He took on the trail with 198 Tevis Cup horses. Ron Kelley attempted the course in 1975 but withdrew three miles short of the finish at No Hands Bridge.

The first official Western States Endurance Run took place on July 30, 1977. Fourteen men started. Andy Gonzales was the only sub-24-hour finisher; however, Peter Mattei and Ralph Paffenbarger were unofficial finishers in 28:36. This led to the current official cutoff time of 30 hours.

Notable Winners

Western States finish line
Photo by Tonya Perme

In 1989, Ann Trason became the first female runner to finish in the top 10. She went on to win the women’s division 14 times.

Tim Twietmeyer holds the record for most WSER sub-24-hour finishes. His silver belt buckle collection stands at 25, including five overall wins.

Ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek has won Western States seven times.

Andrew Miller joined the record books as the youngest male winner of the Western States 100 at age 20 in 2016. Everyone expected Jim Walmsley to win until he took a wrong turn approaching the American River’s north fork at about mile 95.

Western States 100 river
© Wikimedia Commons

Jim Walmsley currently holds the men’s course record, finishing 100.2 miles in 14:09:28 in 2019. This tops his record time from 2018 when an encounter with a mother bear and her two cubs on the trail reportedly delayed him.

Ellie Greenwood has held the female runner course record of 16:47:19 since 2012.

Popularity of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run

After nearly five decades, the number of applicants far exceeds the number of athletes permitted on the course. The organizers introduced a lottery in 2017 as a result.

WSER Characteristics

Wester States runner stopping at Duncan Canyon Aid Station
Photo by Tonya Perme

Itinerary

Race week is an exciting time for Western States participants. On Thursday before the race, there is a welcome event and expo for athletes, crew, and pacers.

The Friday before WSER includes race registration, drop bag drop-off, and a pre-race briefing at the Olympic Plaza.

Race day begins with a complimentary breakfast at 3:30 am, followed by pre-race check-in from 4:00-4:50 a.m. The Western States 100 begins at 5:00 a.m.

The 24-hour cutoff is 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, and the race ends at 11:00 a.m.

Notable Landmarks

The starting line is in Olympic Valley, California, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. From there, the trail climbs 2,500 feet over four miles, cresting at Emigrant Pass. Runners experience the majestic high country as they pass through Granite Chief Wilderness Area to Robinson Flat checkpoint.

Middle Fork American River

The checkpoint at Rucky Chucky is notable because runners must brave the ice-cold waters of the American River’s Middle Fork. A cable and volunteers assist with this memorable crossing. A boat transport runners if it’s impossible to reduce the water flow with upstream dams.

After crossing the river’s Middle Fork, athletes follow the historic reddish-brown trails to the lowest point on the entire route: No Hands Bridge over the American River. Afterward, there’s a final climb up to Robie Point.

Finally, runners reach Placer, California. They circle the track at Placer High School stadium to complete 100.2 miles before crossing the finish line.

finish line of the Western States Endurance Run
Photo by Tonya Perme

Type of Landscapes and Trails

Throughout WSER’s decades-long history, both the weather and the terrain have challenged even seasoned trail runners. Within the first four miles, there’s the rapid climb from the valley floor of Olympic Valley, the 1960 Winter Olympics site.

The next section of the course is old-growth forest at an average elevation of around 7,000 feet through Emigrant Pass and the Granite Chief Wilderness. It’s not unusual to see snow in this majestic high country.

Granite Chief Wilderness

Next is a section of fire roads and trails leading through canyons with steep drops and climbs. Temperatures may reach up to 110°F (43°C) during the day here.

Then there’s a memorable crossing in the ice-cold waters of the American River at Rucky Chucky, followed by a relatively easier section with rolling terrain. However, this is toward the end of the race when runners are weary, and it may be dark, making it one of the most challenging sections of the course.

Finally, there’s another climb in the last few miles before athletes reach the finish on the track at Placer High School stadium.

Course Difficulty

WSER is one of the ultimate endurance tests, largely considered the most difficult 100-mile trail race in the U.S. Runners experience wide temperature variations, challenging climbs, and rough terrain. Even experienced trail runners have struggled on this course.

For this reason, entrants are encouraged to participate in one of three training runs held on Memorial Day weekend each year.

Western States race
Photo by Tonya Perme

Elevation

Runners ascend more than 18,000 feet and descend almost 23,000 feet.

Awards

All finishers who complete the course in less than 24 hours receive the sport’s oldest, most prized possession: the coveted silver belt buckle. Finishers between 24 and 30 hours receive a bronze buckle.

Additionally, the first official male and female sub-24-hour finishers receive the Wendell Robie Cup. This perpetual trophy is named for the first person to complete the Western States Run and has the winners’ names engraved on it. The Western States Cougar Trophy is awarded to the first male and female finishers.

There are age group awards for the top three categories of men and women in the 30 and under, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and 70 and over. There is also an award for the oldest male and female finishers.

ultramarathon athletes
Photo by Tonya Perme

Gender Inclusivity

WSER offers a pregnancy deferral option for female entrants and a notable transgender entrant policy.

2022 Edition of the Western States 100

Thinking of trying for the coveted silver belt buckle? Here’s what you need to know for the 2022 event:

Race Dates

The 2022 Western States 100 will take place on June 25 and 26, 2022.

Favorites

Western States arrival
Photo by Tonya Perme

For the men, Tyler Green, Drew Holmen, Cody Lind, Tim Tollefson, Kyle Pietari, Hayden Hawks, Kyle Curtin, and Alex Nichols are 2021 returning top-10 finishers. Other runners to watch include Mark Austin, Reid Coosaet, and Brett Hornig.

Female top 10 finishers Kaci Lickteig, Ruth Croft Ragna Debats, Brittany Peterson, Katie Asmuth, Emily Hawgood, and Henninger are all returning for 2022. Courtney Dauwalter and Camille Herron are also ones to watch.

How to Enter

participants at Western States 100
Photo by Tonya Perme

There are two steps required for entry into Western States Endurance Run:

  1. Sign up for the lottery. Must be 18 years or older on race day.
  2. Complete a qualifying race within the required time limit. Placing in the top two of a “Golden Ticket” race earns an automatic entry.

The top 10 finishers of the previous year’s race also receive automatic entries.

There are 385 runners allowed for 2022 instead of the usual 369 due to pandemic-related participation impacts in 2020 and 2021.

Lottery Entry Process

The lottery for the 2022 WSER was on December 4, 2021. The selections for 2023 will happen on Saturday, December 3, 2022.

Applications are accepted in early November each year. For the 2023 Western States Endurance Run, applications must be submitted November 1-21, 2022, at https://portal.wser.org/.

Those whose names are drawn receive an invitation to register online at ultrasignup.com. They have about a week to enter and must provide proof of qualification. The 2022 WSER entry cost is $410 plus an online fee.

sports athletes on Western States trail
Photo by Tonya Perme

Qualifying Races

For 2022, qualifiers could be completed from November 4, 2019, through November 7, 2021.

The 2023 Western States qualification period is the usual one year. Runners must complete 2023 qualifying races between November 8, 2021, and November 6, 2022.

Most qualifying races have a target finish time that you must beat. Events include distances from 100K and up across the U.S. and around the world.

See the 2023 Western States qualifying races list and check back each September for the following year’s qualifiers.

WSER trail race

Service Requirement

2022 is the only year since 1998 that entrants have not been required to complete eight hours of volunteer service at another running event.

FAQs

When Is the Western States Endurance Run?

Western States is held the last weekend in June each year. The 2022 Western States Endurance Run is from Saturday, June 25, to Sunday, June 26, 2022. The 2023 dates are Saturday, June 24, to Sunday, June 25, 2023.

How Do I Qualify for the Western States 100?

Qualification for the Western States 100 takes place the prior year. Prospective runners must complete a qualifying race, typically under a specific time cap.

Is there a Waitlist if I Wasn’t Selected this Year?

Yes! Since 2017, 75 applicants have been drawn and placed on a waitlist. If an entrant withdraws from the race, their spot is offered to the next person on the waitlist.

Continue reading : The Most Iconic Trail Races in the United States

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