WS Lottery Emotions

The mixed emotions experienced and observed at the WS lottery were draining today.  When someone from the audience was picked, you could see the joy and excitement on their faces whether it was their first time running the race or their 8th time.  It’s fun to see.  While observing this on others I was also going through a range of emotions myself.  Early I was optimistic and sure the person pressing the buckle that told the computer to spit out another name would pick one of my friends or me.  Later, like when ten out-of-state non-attendees were selected in a row, and the crowd was seemingly detached from the process, bored in fact, I was bummed and didn’t feel like anything good was going to happen.  As Monkeyboy said, he went “from being very anxious to feeling very desperate.”

The lottery is a bizarre human experience.  The anticipation in the days and hours before are intense.  Even though the probability of getting selected today was less than 20%, before the drawing we’re all full of hope. Hell, Monkeyboy, Laurie and I drove 500 miles to attend.  Will our names get called?  Why not?  We have the same chances as everybody else.  Just looking around at the 200+ people in the audience before the start you could see the hope.   At the end, even after the lottery within the lottery, there were about 100 people in attendance that left disappointed.  Those who were selected were obviously excited and wanted to share their jubilance, but with so many around them that didn’t get selected, many of them friends, that jubilance must be tempered.  It was a bizarre juxtaposition of excitement and disappointment.  Probably not unlike the end of a 100 miler when those that ran well are near those who DNFed or otherwise had bad races.

This year the process was a little different than years past.  Instead of a GUBrew bucket with pieces of paper with names on them, the WS lottery entered the hi-tech world with a big screen TV, several computers, a second screen with a projector connected to yet another computer, a video camera with streaming video to those watching from home, and a silver belt buckle that functioned as the button connected to, yep, a computer.  Similar to years past members from the audience were asked by RD Greg Soderlund to come up and press the buckle five times. After Twiet and Julie Fingar, I was the third person asked to come up and I just about broke the whole thing by pushing too hard (I took the opportunity to practice my CPR).  One of the five I picked was Pam Smith from Oregon.

Other than the process, the lottery felt a little different this year.  My wife commented afterward that with all the gadgetry,  “There was more emphasis on the technology.  They lost the human element.”  I’m not sure that is entirely accurate, but it did feel less intimate in some respects.  Instead of the board of directors sitting at the table in front of the audience, it was mostly computers.  Another difference was that it seemed to be more cutthroat today among the entrants.  Perhaps it was because the odds of being selected were so low.  While in the past, when Californians not present would get picked, there was geniune and loud cheering.  This year, the crowd seemed subdued.  It was almost like a jealously.  Crap, they called somebody other than me.   With 1500 people vying for 270 spots, it might be inevitable.  When it is 1000 going for 400 it hasn’t felt as cutthroat.  It’s been more like a celebration.  Today, it felt more edgy.  Sure, there are always going to be people who are disappointed.  That, we can’t change.  But, we can change how many people are disappointed by having fewer people in the bucket.

So what about me personally?  I really enjoyed sitting next to Gordy and Dr Lind and listening to both tell stories about the old days, even though it did not improve my chances.  I did not get my name called.  But, Sunsweet is a sponsor of WS so we have a spot.  The tentative plan by our leader Alan Abbs before the lottery was to give the spot to the person on the team with the highest finish from 2009 that didn’t get selected in the lottery.  You may recall, Lewis Taylor passed me just before highway 49 and finished 19 minutes in front me (read his report).  He ran awesome and I was so proud of him after he got lost on his first try and finished a disappointing 22 hours.  Since he didn’t get picked today either, the Sunsweet spot should be his.  When we chatted on the phone after the 270 names had been picked, he said it was no question who should get the spot.  There was no way he was going to run if I wasn’t in the race.  I started crying.  He said he wouldn’t be an ultrarunner or know anything about WS if it wasn’t for me.  That was powerful and with all the other emotions of the day, I just lost it.  He knows how much this race means to me and while he also loves the race and obviously wants to run it, he could not take the spot.  Thank you, Lewis.  You are a man of character.

Congrats to those who got selected, especially to my guys Tbag, Splits Monologue, and Glender.  Sorry to the many more who are disappointed.  Hopefully, you can look for the positives and find something else to do on race day to share the experience of running the greatest ultra on the planet.

How did it go for you?


  1. It clearly was a recipe for disappointment. With odds as low as they were and a room full of hopefuls, I knew it was going to be ugly at the end of the day. As the lottery progressed, the room lost it’s energy. However, when it was discovered there were a few extra names to draw at the end, the crowd went crazy, that was great.

    I was glad to see you guys there and disappointed I didn’t get to join the post lottery run. Glad to hear you will be running.

  2. Great post Craig…(sniff sniff…that was a tear jerker!) that was very nice gesture that Lewis made…congratulations…i had a feeling that you’d end up in there this year. It’ll be even more fun and exciting to track you guys online on June 26th as it was to take part in my first lottery experience via the internet. I agree…it’s crazy…I was so excited Saturday morning…I grabbed some snacks, took over the living room couch area (as usual) with my laptop and tuned in. I was pleasantly surprised about the live feed camera. I thought it was just going to be names popping up on the screen. It was also nice to hear voices. I agree with Mark…when I found out that they were going to pick ten more at the end…I jumped and pumped my fist. Still No dice! I could also see the excitement from the “in-house” lottery winners…maybe I’ll try to go down next year 🙂

    I kind of went in to the lottery with the same attitude as I went to the inaugural 100 in the Hood. “Don’t have these great expectations and you won’t be let down too hard”. So although I was a little bummed yesterday after the lottery, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I went out and did a speed workout on the track and thought about the positives. With another year of experience under my belt I will probably be in a better position to finish up on that infamous track down in Auburn, CA…sooner or later!

  3. Well, I’m certainly glad to know you’re in Craig. Lewis continues to be the class guy we know he is. I’ve got a dart board on its way to Eugene. He’ll now have the time to get really, really good.

    Lotto was great for most of the Ashland runners. It appears the best way to get into the race is to work at RVR. Nick, Ian, and Chris (oh, Carly too) all were successful.

    TRT here I come after pacing the SOB to a sub 24!

  4. It was nothing short of online ultra-cyper porn. With the couple clicks of the mouse I got to enter and watch the WS lottery without ever leaving the comfort my basement here in Iowa, pretty cheap sex, I am not out of a dime, didn’t take any effort, yeah — I had to qaulify, I could have walk-jogged a flat 50 miler to get into the lottery. Best thing since Cyber-Sex. I got to expience everything with a hand job on my mouse.

    I think the electronic draw, electronic entry, the names on the flat screens with no faces, with no recognition of who these people are is diluting the spirit of the race — at least download a photo or something that tells us a little bit about yourself when you enter? A guy from Coralville Iowa was selected yesterday, that’s about 15 miles from my house, never heard of the guy and Iowa is sparsely populated with runners and virtually no ultrarunners. I saw a lot names from the flattest States in the Country, not saying they don’t deserve to get in, just sayin…

    A couple of years ago when I first moved to Iowa I ran into another Midwestern runner that had qualified for States…we ran together at McNaugton 50 mile. I asked him if he wanted to get together to prepare for States and what his plan was to prepare his quads for downhills? His response was…”downhills?…oh yeah, I am going to do more sqauts to prepare my quads…” I thought to myself…this is a DNF in waiting.

    He ran last year, he didn’t make it to the river crossing…DNF. There are no squat racks on the course, soooo.. I don’t know how his preperation was going to help him finish.

    I think WS needs to change its qualifying standards with more specific results that indicate you should be on the course. In addtion, the Lottery should require some sort of barrier to entry, earnest effort — hell, at least I should have to pick up a pen and lick a stamp.

    The medical tent will prove me right next year.


  5. Thanks for the great post, Craig. I haven’t attended the lottery for a few years, back when the odds were much higher, and it sure seems to have changed a lot since then.

    And as an RD who puts on some tough races but also a couple of flat, fixed-time events, I agree about changing the qualifying standards such that qualifying is a better predictor of finishing.

    One other comment about the lottery process – there are people (I don’t know how many, though) who were already ‘in’ for 2011 via the __ time loser rule who got drawn yesterday for 2010. Doesn’t it seem odd that they keep their spot for 2011, since that was really intended as a way to eventually run? I mean, should someone who’s running next year also be guaranteed a spot in 2011? That seems to be contrary to the purpose of the __ time loser rule. But maybe I’m just being too…something or other.

  6. Great post Craig. Indeed, just about everything about the WS experience arouses tremendous emotion. And, that is a total classy move by Lewis.

    Of course, it means that we’re on for Year 7 of the 10-year bet. Good luck with your training:)


  7. Wow. Not that I am at all surprised at Lewis’s move, but did you have to make me cry too?

    Looking forward to training with you for 2010, and watching you close the gap on the 10 year bet.


  8. Craig nice meeting you yesterday. It was disappointing to not see some locals get picked in the draw but that is the way it goes. Nice to see the story about Lewis..There are other stories which many never hear about which show individuals helping others out at WS..I enjoyed Greg speaking of Jack Meyer and his yellow shirt/turned black as well. It is all the people that make this event special.

    See you out on the trails..Tony Lafferty

  9. I know this has been hashed out on a (very long) previous thread, but if the race committee doesn’t do something about the qualifying standards for their race, the lottery risks becoming even more farcical next year and in the years to come.

    In my opinion, there is quite clearly a need to make Western States a “graduate race” requiring, at a minimum, a previous 100-mile finish. Tough, but universally achievable time requirements would be even better: sub-25 for the open men’s field at Leadville, as one example.

    I understand that the race has a history that the committee wants to stay true to, but they have the potential to make the race a competitive spectacle without being totally elitist about qualifying standards.

    Congrats on finding that side door in and on having such a stand-up buddy.

    • @Nick Clark, We used to have a sentence on the web pages of our two flat fixed-time events that stated that we didn’t consider them to be legitimate qualifiers for any hundred mile trail runs, but since the folks at WS accepted those results (>50 miles in 11 hours), we ended up removing that sentence.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you for “picking” me! I am just sorry for all those who didn’t get in.

    Even though I haven’t run WS before, I already have a sense of what a BIG DEAL it is. In fact, on Friday (while “working”) I spent some time looking up all the female entrants in Bandera, and after deciding a 1st or 2nd finish was in the realm of possibilities (heck, probably more likely than getting in through the lottery), I even put a 24 hr hold on a flight to TX to run through a cactus field in January! (how’s that for obsessed??).

    I would love any advice (ie. TEACH ME, please!). I already ordered my PX90 and joined cross-fit, so I plan to be ready! (just kidding!). Also, I am in need of pacers, if any of your friends/readers want to take a little CA jog with me in late June.

  11. That Lewis! What a most excellent pal with all the Right Stuff. That was very impressive to hear about him stepping up to the plate for you, Craig. Very cool. Looking forward then to another fun time in June! Meantime, see you at SOFA next month, if not before…

  12. @Sarah, I am someone who is in for 2011 and was told that I could enter the lottery for next year and still keep my place in 2011. I considered it for about 10 seconds, but somehow that just didn’t seem right. I knew there would be a lot of people vying for too few spots, and I felt it would be greedy for me to try for a second spot when I’m already assured of a spot in 2011 — now I just have to qualify. I’ll be joining SLF at TRT in July.

    Congratulations Craig, and to all the others who did manage to get in. I’ll be there in June cheering you all on, and will happily volunteer my crew services to anyone who needs a crew.

  13. LB, nice jesture by your friend and teammate lc. And who knew that eating dried prunes would pay off in spades? It’s kind of funny that when I’m in the grocery store and see Sunsweet products I think of you and your love for States. Or is that a little weird? Anyway, I agree with lc that the race wouldn’t be the same without you. And how could this website go on without your posts on the race? What baffles me is that you aren’t in as a “special consideration”. Believe me, there are people who get in on far less. But not less cash ! Especially considering the fact that you worked at the race for ten or so years in various forms of volunteerism. But maybe you can play that card in future years if you don’t finish in the top ten ;).Besides, it will be fun watching Andy three names running from Victor next year. I don’t think Victor will make the same mistake twice. I think the ten year bet is going to get very interesting in the future.
    Enjoy the “body of work”. Good luck.

  14. Craig, glad you get to run the race. That Lewis is a classy cat. With how obsessive you are, I’m sure it is saving you guys a lot in psychiatrist fees. You owe Lewis a whole bunch of dark Oregonian beers. Train hard. I’ll be rooting you on down there!

  15. Nicely written Craig. It was an interesting,emotional lottery this year. Congrats to all whose names were drawn. Lewis, you are an example of what good charater represents as a dedicated friend and human being. Tears and cheers to all.

  16. So I guess my putting your name in the God box worked after all, although it did not work for me. I just didn’t mention that Lewis would be playing God. So he’s not only a great writer, but also a great friend.

    Congratulations to everyone that got chosen. There are lots of other 100s out there next year for the rest of us! Take care.

  17. You drove 500 miles? That’s an interesting decision considering (a) you had < 20% chance of being selected; (b) that mileage amounts to probably 185 lbs of CO2 per passenger; (c) the lottery didn’t even have any money to win. If you’re feeling to need to drive hundreds of miles for a no-win affair, just keep going and head to Vegas!

      • @Craig, To me, you driving 500 miles down there, besides being able to spend time with your mom, stepdad, and especially your mom’s bird, just speaks to your commitment to, and passion for, the WS100 race.

        If you ever care to go into it (lest why did you mention it?), what’s the story with the bird?

          • @Craig, Peaches is a real sweetheart RobertB. She’s a pink cockatoo (did I remember right Carol?), about 16 inches tall. If she’s not the center of attention, she let’s out the kind of screech that freezes everyone in place. Carol and Bill carry her around, give her showers, and seem to have a respectful relationship. Let me tell you though, that when one of these birds is loose, and running around you in the living room, she is not showing respect – she’s sizing you up for a snack. Did I mention that cockatoos can crush nuts, rocks, and human bones with their beak? The truth is that Carol told me not to pet Peaches, but she is really cute, Peaches I mean, well Carol too, but I was talking about Peaches; and anyway, I misinterpreted this circling as courtship. Later that day, on the trail up to Deadwood I was using trail marking ribbon to try and stop the bleeding. Carol, Bill, and Peaches are always such gracious hosts when we visit, and visits without seeing Peaches are just missing a little something special.

  18. I think it’s funny when people congratulate me for getting in, like I actually extended some effort to have my name electronically drawn.
    I know what the intention is, it’s just a funny way of saying it.

    I’m beyond excited and humbled to be running in 2010 and will do the virgins proud!

    • @Eric Schranz, Oh come on, you did a lot just to get on the starting list. You made it through the complex ultrasignup process to get on the list – that alone is worthy of a congratulations.

      If you’ve been reading my blog you may know I love seeing 100 mile virgins at WS and don’t want that to change. Maybe you should get shirts made for Team WS Virgins?

  19. I teared up a little also, LC is a good guy. Or is he? It’s quite possible he is setting you up, all I can say is don’t lone him any money.
    Great Post, I’m looking forward to being a part of the whole event again this summer.

  20. It looks like I won’t have the time to attend Western States next year and it’s going to absolutely kill me because I love that race (just like everyone else on this blog). I’d quite like to come over and tackle that new Swan Crest 100 in Montana. Waldo looks super-tempting to me also Craig. I guess the upshot of it all is that its not so much the event i enjoy, its the adventure and the people.

    Enjoy training for the Creampuff!

    Cheers, Paul

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