The number of Applications received each year greatly exceeds the number that can be accepted. The annual Lottery is the method used to select those who will participate.
Everything starts with this: Our permit with the U.S. Forest Service limits us to 369 runners. Why this odd number? In 1984, Congress enacted the California Wilderness Act, which created the Granite Chief Wilderness. The Western States Trail crosses the Granite Chief Wilderness, at about miles 6-10. Normally, organized events are not permitted in wilderness areas but, as Western States pre-existed the wilderness designation, we were able to get the race “grandfathered” into the legislation, with the proviso that we have no more runners than we had prior to the passage of the act. In 1984, it happened that there were 369 starters and that has been the magic number ever since.
The Forest Service allows us to use a five-year running average of 369. Historically, we have found that about 10% of those chosen in the lottery will not make it to the starting line due to injury, illness, or other “real life” interventions. So, we will typically choose about 400 runners total. This number will vary slightly from year to year, depending on where we are on the five-year average.
The annual Lottery was instituted in an effort to provide for the fairest means possible of choosing the starting field. Those selected via the Lottery are provided access to the online application forms. It is important to fill out the application forms promptly and provide valid payment information. Proof of Qualification information is collected online as part of the application process.
There is no longer a Buddy System in the Lottery: The “buddy system” was eliminated starting with the 2009 Run.
All other runners’ names are put into a “Hat” and drawn at random by members of the audience at a public lottery held at Placer High School in Auburn each fall.
Each runner who enters the Lottery and fails to gain entry into the Run (and otherwise doesn’t gain an entry via other means such as an aid station, sponsor, or MUC spot) will have one additional name in the electronic Hat (for a total of two) when entering the Lottery the following year, thus improving the odds of being selected. Every lottery applicant will receive an additional name in the Hat for each consecutive failure to gain entry. As an example: If a runner applies and fails to gain entry three consecutive times, their name will be in the Hat four times when entered in the Lottery the fourth consecutive time. Conversely, if a runner enters the Lottery one year, is not chosen and does not enter the following year, they will not have an extra name in the Hat when applying the year after that.
During the period between the close of registrations in November and the December Lottery Day, the contents of the Hat can be inspected online.
Odds of being selected are a function of the number of applicant names in the Hat versus the number of slots available to be filled. For example, the number of entries in the 2011 Hat, including those runners with more than one chance in the Hat, totals 2,113. Based on an expected draw of about 218, the odds work out to about one chance in ten (10%) for those with one name in the Hat.
The lottery is open to the public, and all runners, friends and family are encouraged to attend. Special prizes are given to Lottery winners who are present. Also, a Bonus Drawing at the end of the Lottery gives those present “one last chance” to be selected.
Check the WS Calendar for the December date of the next Lottery Day.
Results of the December Lottery are posted on the Web in real-time. A link to the live site is provided on the WS home page starting a day or two prior to the drawing.