Waiting for Western: A Spot in Western States Is No Guarantee for 51 Massachusetts Hopefuls

Maddy McCarthy made a quick stop at the Highway 49 aid station and then cruised down a long stretch of smooth, winding singletrack before dashing across historic No Hands Bridge.

The iconic Western States course was beneath her feet, and it felt perfect. This was what she’d dreamed of.

Sort of.

Shortly after crossing the 104-year-old bridge, the Western States course angled west toward Auburn, Calif. McCarthy headed south to Granite Bay. The Western States 100 takes place in June; this was November.

Eric Ahern of Somerville, Mass., is in the Western States lottery for the first time. File Photo/MassUltra.

McCarthy was racing the Rio Del Lago 100, a race that shares a few miles of trail with the Western States course. This was a small sample of Western States; McCarthy wanted the main course.

“I did have the opportunity to see some of the (Western States) course and run on the gorgeous trails at Rio Del Lago, and I can see why people love the course,” McCarthy recalled. “The trails are amazing.”

McCarthy, who lives in Newburyport, Mass., has dreamed of running the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run since her earliest days in ultrarunning. She has never run, crewed or paced at Western States, so Rio Del Lago provided her with a brief in-person introduction.

“It’s like the Boston Marathon of 100’s,” McCarthy said of Western States. “The best of the best come out to race alongside a group of people who might be running their first or their 50th 100-mile race. I think most 100’s, especially the older ones, have a unique vibe of being a family, and I love to be a part of that.”

She hopes 2017 will be her year to run Western States. Rio Del Lago was her qualifier, and she placed 12th overall and was the second-place female finisher. Qualifying for the lottery by no means guarantees runners a spot in the race, however. Few know that better than McCarthy.

The 2012 Western States lottery was her first shot at getting into the legendary race. Back then, she was just a 27-year-old dreamer.

Alexandra Brinkert of Medford, Mass., is a first-time Western States hopeful in this year’s lottery. File Photo/MassUltra.

“At first, the goal was to run it before I turned 30,” McCarthy said. “Now I just want a shot at running it.”

Now 32, McCarthy is in the lottery for the sixth straight year. She’s still waiting for her name to be drawn.

“I don’t think the fact that I had very low odds of getting in really hit home until maybe the third year of not getting into the race, and then I was like, ‘hmm, ok, this might not happen for a while,’” McCarthy said. “I also have my name in the Hardrock lottery right now, and basically I tell everyone I have no chance of getting in. Western States never seemed like that to me. It was always, ‘ok, this is going to be my year.’”

The lottery takes place at 11:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 3. A total of 4,257 runners are entered the lottery – a record by more than 700 applicants. Fifty-one applicants are from Massachusetts. Of the 4,257 who applied, approximately 270 will be selected to take part in the 2017 Western States 100.

For those who are selected, a dream will come true. Logistics and training plans will soon begin in earnest to take part in the sport’s original 100-mile footrace. For most, however, their name won’t be selected. Instead, they may start the process all over again by signing up for a qualifying race so they can try to be eligible for next year’s lottery, just as McCarthy has done over and over again.

Chris Bustard knows the process, too. The Cambridge, Mass., resident is excited about the lottery, but isn’t letting his emotions get out of hand. This is his third straight year trying, and he is realistic about his chances of being selected.

“The odds were so low the last two years that I really didn’t expect to get in,” Bustard said. “The odds are still too low this year – just under a 10-percent chance – but it would be a nice surprise.”

Chris Bustard of Cambridge, Mass., second from left, is in the Western States lottery for the third straight year. His odds of getting in are around 10 percent, Bustard said. File Photo/MassUltra.

To be eligible to enter the Western States lottery, runners must have completed one of 83 qualifying races around the globe between Nov. 9, 2015, and Nov. 6, 2016. All of the qualifying races measured at least 100K. Applicants had one week – Nov. 5 through Nov. 12 – to enter the lottery.

Bustard qualified for his first lottery by completing the 2014 Hallucination 100 in Michigan. Last year, he re-qualified by finishing the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas. He’s back in the lottery thanks to a gritty effort in late September on a rainy, muddy, snowy mountain course in Utah at The Bear 100.

“I’ve definitely targeted races that are Western States qualifiers,” Bustard said. “My first 100 just worked out that it was a qualifier, and since then I’ve identified qualifiers.”

Collectively, the lottery entrants hold 11,058 tickets that are divvied out based on the number of consecutive years a runner has been in the lottery without having their name drawn. First-year applicants get one ticket and second-year applicants get two. Third-year applicants like Bustard get four tickets. The ticket increments ultimately rise to the point where seventh-year applicants are awarded 64 tickets.

Twenty-four of the Massachusetts lottery applicants will have just one ticket and face the lowest odds of being selected. McCarthy will have 32 tickets, the most of anybody from the Bay State. She nearly lost the tickets she’d accumulated through the years after dropping from the Eastern States 100 and Javelina Jundred qualifiers earlier in 2016. A last-minute cross-country trip to Rio Del Lago produced her finest performance of the year and thrust her back into the lottery for another chance.

“Other than the fact that I had to work a little harder this year to get my qualifier, I think it feels a lot the same,” McCarthy said of her emotions leading up to lottery day. “I go into the lottery every year thinking I will get in, which is why it’s so hard when I don’t year after year after year.”

Only 30 other applicants will have as many tickets as McCarthy, and only two of the 4,257 lottery entrants will have more.

Dani Rai of Dorchester, Mass., is in the Western States lottery for the first time this year. File Photo/MassUltra.

Massachusetts residents Tom Morton of Chicopee and Oliver Truog of Milton are in the lottery for the fifth straight year and will have 16 tickets apiece. Shaun Miller of Somerville, Karen Ringheiser of Newton, and David Souza of Winchester are in for the fourth time in a row and have eight tickets apiece. Just like McCarthy, none have ever toed the starting line at Western States and all hope 2017 will be the year their opportunity arrives.

While most of the applicants are seeking their first crack at Western States, a few have been there before. A review of all 51 Massachusetts applicants’ results on UltraSignup.com showed that seven have taken on Western States previously.

First-year applicants Amy Morgan of Woburn and Aimee Jefferson of Topsfield both finished Western States in 2005. Second-year applicants Joseph D’Alessio of Boston (2009), Dane LeBlanc of Littleton (2015), Greg Lowe of Ipswich (2012), and Roy Van Buren of Reading (2015) also had prior Western States finishes. Third-year applicant Marilyn Oberhardt of Arlington has been seeking another shot at Western States since 2014 when she started the race but did not finish.

Last year, 44 runners from Massachusetts entered the Western States lottery. Only three – Amy Rusiecki of South Deerfield, Peter Plourde of Westfield, and Robert Drewell of Petersham – had their names drawn. Rusiecki and Plourde both completed the race; Drewell did not start. A fourth runner from Massachusetts, then-Boston resident Kyle Pietari, was not selected in the lottery but later received a “golden ticket” into the race via UltraRunning Magazine’s points standings.

If history is any indication, then it’s reasonable to expect that only a handful of this year’s local applicants will have their names drawn on Saturday. Given the low odds, applicants may find themselves rooting simply for someone that they know to have the opportunity to race in what is essentially the Rose Bowl of ultrarunning.

“It’s cool to watch the lottery, not just for your name, but for your friends’ names as well,” Bustard said. “Last year, I was riding in the passenger seat with my now fiancé driving. I was checking the lottery on my phone, and I started cheering so loudly that she thought I got in – but I had just seen that my friend Frank (Schwartzkopf) had gotten in.”

For her part, McCarthy doesn’t plan to spend three hours glued to the computer screen this weekend as names are drawn. She has a vested interest, of course, but she has been through this before.

“I typically get up, have coffee, watch a few names being pulled, then go for a run,” McCarthy said. “And I only let myself stop three times to check if my name has been pulled.”

The 44th running of Western States will take place June 24-25, beginning in Squaw Valley, Calif., and ending on the track at Placer High School in Auburn, Calif.

Massachusetts Residents in the Western States Lottery

Sixth Year/32 Tickets

Maddy McCarthy

Fifth Year/16 Tickets

Tom Morton and Oliver Truog

Fourth Year/8 Tickets

Shaun Miller, Karen Ringheiser, and David Souza

Third Year/4 Tickets

Christopher Agbay, Jack Bailey, Chris Bustard, Bill Howard, and Marilyn Oberhardt

Second Year/2 Tickets

Wayne Ball, Jason Como, Joseph D’Alessio, Shaun Daylor, Russ Dresher, Matt Elam, Neil Feldman, Annette Florczak, Daniel Gulas, Dane LeBlanc, Gregory Lowe, Damien Pinault, Kristin Scott, Scott Traer, Roy Van Buren, and Kim Vanyo

First Year/1 Ticket

Eric Ahern, Maartje Bastings, Alexandra Brinkert, Patrick Caron, Bruce Commander, John Correiro, Max Darnell, Lizzy Dickey, Jake Dissinger, Matthew Drury, Julien Fourcade, Joe Fubel, Colton Gale, Thomas Gennaro, Jeff Hansen, Chris Irving, Aimee Jefferson, Sam Jurek, Christopher Lay, Keith McWilliams, Amy Morgan, Brenda Phillips, Dani Rai, and Leanne Tierney

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