It had been a disappointing week for me, and I hoped an uplifting weekend with friends might help distract me from the sadness. I recruited Sean and Gretchen to carpool to the Western States 100 (WS100) lottery and run in Auburn afterwards.
To enter the lottery, runners must first qualify by completing an approved 100k or 100m race within the year. The drawing is held in early December and those in attendance have an additional chance at getting in, for 3 more spots, after the official lottery is complete. 105 spots are awarded outside of the lottery, at the discretion of the WS Board.
Each consecutive year you are a “lottery loser”, your ticket count doubles. This year, with 4,909 qualified entrants, there were over 15,000 tickets from which 261 runners’ names would be drawn. Our carpool consisted of Gretchen, who had 16 tickets in the hat and a 31% chance, Sean, who had 2 tickets and a 4.6% chance, and myself, with 4 tickets and an 8.9% chance of being selected.
On the hour+ drive to Auburn, there was a subdued but electric energy in our car. I had high hopes that Gretchen would be drawn, and I was happy that I’d be there for it.
Inside the crowded auditorium at Placer High (just down the block from the track; the finish line of WS100), it was impossible not to feel overwhelmed with energy and anticipation. We sat in the balcony with our friends Alex, Steve and Julia, who were also each in the drawing.
The legendary and charismatic Tim Twietmeyer of Auburn was the MC of the event. Tim’s many accomplishments in Western States history include 5 wins, 25 sub-24 hour finishes, and 15 consecutive years in the top 5.
One of the first names drawn was my friend Chris Eide, of Palo Alto. We met at our first WS qualifier- the Rock N River 50, 7 years ago (way back when 50 milers were qualifiers!). He’s qualified every year since, and finally made it into the race. The auditorium roared with enthusiasm as he ran up to the stage.
A few international names, a local, more international, and then the announcer, Tim, hesitated – “I know this name… sort of local… from Truckee, California…. Jenelle Potvin!”
My friends screamed and Julia jumped up and down, screaming in my face, “OH MY GOD JENELLE YOU ARE RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!!” It seemed that the entire auditorium was cheering as I ran down from the balcony and up onto the stage. I was in shock, for sure, but also shaking with excitement. It was definitely my “Price is Right” moment. Chris met me backstage for a quick photo.
Backstage, my friend Allyson gave me a hug and a big green bag of treats. I posed for a photo with the volunteer who had drawn my name, who commented “You are really shaking!”
After the photos, I returned to my seat. We weren’t sitting for very long when Tim announced, “this is kind of close to Lake Tahoe“… (we all leaned forward), “Carnelian Bay“… (OMG!) “Sean Flanagan!!!” The screaming resumed as we jumped up and down cheering for Sean. Our carpool was now 2 for 3, and Gretchen had the odds in her favor. I was sure we would have a sweep.
As the lottery continued, we saw more friends and members of the Donner Party Mountain Runners selected, including: Nattu Natraj, of Auburn, who’s wife Karen was the FINAL finisher last year, Annie Rutledge of Reno (formerly Truckee), who’d been trying forever to get in, Georgeanna Quarles, our incredible 64-year old friend who was the oldest female finisher at her qualifying race, Bill Clements, who had been trying for 6 years, and more. However, in our row of friends with Gretchen, Julia, Steve and Alex, no more names were drawn. Maybe it wasn’t the “lucky carpool”, maybe Gretchen was our “lucky charm”.
One of the beautiful things about the lottery is the support and enthusiasm that the entrants show for others, despite their own dreams not being met. I had one sweet friend tell me afterwards, “I was just as excited to hear your name as I would have been to hear my own!!”
Outside the gym we celebrated and planned out our post-lottery group run: we would start at the track and run reverse-course direction for an out and back with a commemorative lap around the track at the finish.
It’s hard to explain the immense gratitude, relief, and hope I felt while running down the historic Western States trail on this magical afternoon. After weeks of feeling heartbroken, I suddenly felt a sense of purpose again. My life didn’t actually suck; I was lucky, I was in love… with Western States!! And Western States wasn’t going to dump me; I had a new partner in life, at least until June 23, 2018.
We made it 7.5 miles out before turning back, and as we retraced our steps back up the trail, I visualized hitting these beautiful sections at miles 93, 94, 95…
When we reached Robie Point (mile 99) I heard a scuffle and a scream – I turned around, and Gretchen was pointing at a big heavy pine cone that had crashed down on the pavement about 3 feet in front of her. She’d heard the noise from high above, and stopped to look up, just as it came down. If she hadn’t heard it and stopped, she could have been knocked out and/or seriously injured.
Perhaps it was her lucky day after all.
Auburn Journal: http://www.auburnjournal.com/article/12/02/17/4900-runners-261-slots-ws-100
Full video of the lottery is HERE (my name was called just after 33 minutes)