This is one of the hardest posts I have written since I set up Sofa to Ultra in 2012. I think the last 24 hours have been as exhausting- certainly mentally- as if I had run the actual Western States.
As with most things Western States related, I follow amendments and updates religiously. This included the two new course variations for 2017 and the addition of a waitlist at the lottery. The latter I didn’t give much thought to, aside from thinking it was a sensible way to ensure that come race day they maxed out on the correct number of starters as opposed to DNS’s skewing things.
Back in October I secured a place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy for the same weekend as Western States and always said I would drop this for Western States if by any chance my name came up in the lottery- the logic being Western States is not only statistically harder to get into, but my absolute dream race. The chance with 8 tickets was still slim and I kinda hoped I would slide through this one to have 16 tickets in for next December.
Well, as I watched the lottery yesterday, I didn’t get in.
As the 250th and last name was read out, I knew there would always be next year and I would keep running qualifiers and putting my name in the hat and I would have 16 tickets next December. C’est La Vie.
Then came the waitlist draw. Six names were drawn and read out by the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. Then the seventh “Another from Great Britain (gulp), fourth year ticket holder (GULP), from Bath (fuck me), Tim Lambert (I’M [probably] RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!!!).
Over 4200 people had their name in that hat and I had 8 tickets with my name on out of over 11,000 total tickets. The odds of being selected were very slim, but my name was picked and very, very high up the wait list.
With 24 DNS’s last summer, this all but guarantees I would move up the list and run Western States in summer 2017. Something I have been working towards since summer 2011.
And you probably knew this was coming…but, there is a but…
With just 369 runner spots, this race is in ridiculously high demand. If you get in, you do all you can to hit that start line. Training begins at once and you have six months to get super fit and deal with any issues such as injuries. As a consequence, barring broken limbs, very few people withdraw prior to very close to race day- only when they absolutely have no chance of starting.
Yes, there is a chance that might be different this year but there is also a chance I would be training, half unsure if I would be getting into the race. With a race of such supreme importance to me, that’s tough mentally to handle. Ideally I would like the certainty of a secured place, although don’t get me wrong I appreciate I am in a very lucky position.
But to maybe have to wait until April, May or even early June to know if I am running, would put me personally at a distinct disadvantage to those picked and preparing from now. Others might get a rush off the adrenaline, but I do like a little security, its just who I am.
In addition, in order to gain a place I would be secretly and inadvertently hoping for seven runners to injure themselves or get sick. That is not good karma and I would feel like my place had been secured off the back of misfortune of others. I have a feeling this might get to me, despite there being no reason whatsoever that it should, but I do over analyse things.
I think if I lived in the USA I would feel differently, but I am not in a position to pay for flights now on the chance I might run or pay a premium for lastminute flights. The same with accommodation. I need to commit to Lavaredo or Western States and by committing to Western States, there is a chance I could spend a lot of money to run neither race. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.
If I do decline the waitlist place, I keep my ticket count doubling each year. So I would have 16 tickets next year, 32 the year after and so on. It is highly likely that given that trajectory I will get a secured spot in the conventional lottery within the next 3 years. I have waited so long for this and I want to do it right. Obviously if the ticket count had gone I would have invested four years in nothing so would have taken the waitlist place, without a shadow of a doubt.
A good friend of mine summed it up perfectly, that the waitlist is the worst of both worlds. It’s a taster of what could be, but also limbo land and not enough to focus on Western States or Lavaredo.
Another put it less subtly “Imagine if only 6 pull out…” Cheers, Mark.
Finally after the year I have had, I need a good year to get back on the horse. If I hadn’t been picked for WS at all, I would have been OK as I had alternatives planned to build the confidence. For the last 24 hours I have been in a world of confusion as to what to do, but I think once a decision is made it is important to stick with it and commit 100%. If you second guess yourself, you’re fucked.
And that decision is I am going to run Lavaredo in 2017.
I am going to withdraw from the waitlist and I am going to qualify for 16 tickets for the draw next December. I am going to have a wonderful year of experiences and achievements and I am going to run Western States when fate calls me properly.
A lot of people will think I am nuts. Half my friends get this decision and half think I am being stupid. I can relate to both as that is the (first world) turmoil I have been going through these last 24 hours.
Thank you to everyone who has sent me congratulations and advice. This still means the world to me, as does your friendship and this wonderful community.
I might regret this decision in time but as it stands, I think it is the right one and I will see Squaw Valley when the time is right.
And most importantly…I now know for sure that they actually do put the tickets with my name on, in the tumbler. That, my friends, is key.