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Lottery

The 2018 Lottery will be held on December 2, 2017, 8:30-11:30 a.m.

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.

In order to start exactly 369, beginning in 2017 the race uses a wait list model.

The annual lottery was instituted in an effort to provide for the fairest means possible of choosing the starting field. Registration for the lottery is open for a period of one week in November. Applicants must provide valid payment information, but will not be charged until and if selected in the lottery. Proof of a completion of a qualifying run during the qualifying period will be required at registration.

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 Golden Ticket spot) will have additional tickets in the hat when entering the lottery the following year, thus improving the probability of being selected. Every lottery applicant will receive 2^(n-1) tickets in the hat for each consecutive failure to gain entry where n is the number of years applied. As an example: If a runner applies and fails to gain entry two consecutive times, they will have four tickets in the hat when entered in the lottery the third consecutive year (2^2), eight in fourth consecutive year (2^3), 16 in fifth (2^4), 32 in sixth (2^5), etc.  Conversely, if a runner enters the lottery one year, is not chosen and does not enter the following year, they will not have a extra tickets in the hat when applying the year after that.

During the period between the close of registrations in November and the December lottery, the contents of the hat can be inspected online.

The probability of being selected is 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 entrants in the 2017 hat was 4248, with a total ticket count of 11021. Based on an expected draw of 250 and using a monte carlo simulation, the probability of being selected with a single name in the hat was 2.5%, with 2 tickets 4.9%, with 4 tickets 9.5%, with 8 tickets 18.1%, with 16 tickets 33.0%, with 32 tickets 55.1% and with 64 tickets it was 80%.

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.


The lottery is held in the Placer High School Auditorium on Agard St. in Auburn, CA on the first Saturday in December.

Results of the lottery are posted on the web in real-time at www.ultralive.net/lottery, the live video feed on our facebook page.

Lottery History

YearTotal
Applicants
1 Year2 Year3 Year4 Year5 Year6 Year7 YearNotes
2000583
2001556
2002529
2003638
2004740
2005791
2006841
20071048
20081350Fire year, race cancelled
2009no lotteryRollovers, two-time losers, autos
20101693Last year for two-time losers
201117861286500electronic drawing
201219401221461258electronic drawing
201322951486480207122manual drawing
20142704172756125810652manual drawing
2015256614276412811365724First year of 2^(n-1)
20163510223363937717171145
2017424824271023397256112312First year of wait list