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A Golden Chance to Make My Way

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Brian Paulson

By: Brian Paulson

Brian Paulson is a suburban, ultra runner dad from New Jersey. As a writer he is always looking for stories that fly under the radar, and he’s never met an underdog he didn’t root for. He’s a fan of Philly sports, punk rock and vegan treats.

A look at the 2024 WSER Golden Ticket Winners 

With the conclusion of the Canyons by UTMB and the last of the Golden Tickets being handed out and received, the proverbial eyes of the ultrarunning world begin to shift to the last Saturday in June. To Olympic Valley. To the escarpment, the high country, and the canyons. To the field of 375 runners from all over the globe all with the same goal of making it to Placer High School. The end of the 2024 Golden Ticket races means that it’s time for us to get ready for the greatest show on dirt – the 2024 Western States Endurance Run (WSER). 

While most of the participants spend several years accruing lottery tickets to get into the race, for the elites that are not in the field there looms a coveted number of Golden Tickets that are up for grabs at some of the globe’s most competitive 100-mile and 100-kilometer races. This year’s field of Golden Ticket recipients is as diverse as we’ve seen in recent years. From former race champions to runners racing their first 100 miler, this year’s class brings with it storylines that will extend well beyond race day. This peek inside our Golden Ticket recipients will not only shine a light on these accomplished athletes, but it will also provide some insight for your Fantasy picks. As race day approaches be sure to get your fantasy picks in here as well as check out our other races that are on the horizon. Let’s get into our Golden Ticket recipients!

CCC by UTMB – 101 kilomters September 1st, 2023

Yngvlid Kaspersen – The twenty-nine-year-old Norwegian athlete is coming into WSER with a fair amount of recent success and experience at the 100 km distance. Leading up to her win at CCC, Kaspersen was 2nd at Transvulcania (73k) in 2022 and 7th at the 2023 edition of Black Canyon. Since her win at CCC, this Terrex athlete won the Kullamannen 57k in Sweden while breaking the 4-hour mark and finishing 8th overall. Kaspersen has the speed needed to compete at states, but it’ll be interesting to see her jump up to the 100-mile distance. With that being said, a win at CCC shows that the lights may never be too bright for Kaspersen.  

Emily Schmitz – Schmitz finished 5th at CCC and was ultimately awarded a ticket to WSER after some roll down with two runners declining the ticket and Emily Hawgood already being in the race. Don’t let that fool you, Schmitz absolutely has the chops to compete with the front of the pack. Similarly to Kaspersen, Schmitz has had career success at the 100 km and under distance with an impressive 7th place finish at the world mountain and trail running championships in 2023. As one of the lesser-known Golden Ticket winners in the field, a top-ten finish at Western States could make this Hoka athlete a household name. Schmitz comes in with nothing to lose, time to let it rip.

Jonathan Albon – From August 2021 to August 2022, Albon did not lose a race that falls into UTMB index rankings including wins at the Mount Blanc Marathon and the 2021 edition of OCC. Albon’s first non-victory following the yearlong domination? A second-place finish to Petter Engdahl at the 2022 CCC. Albon came back to then win the ultra-competitive CCC the following year and ultimately punched his ticket to WSER. This UK athlete has made a career dominating races ranging from the 25 km up the 100 km. There will be a great deal of hype surrounding Albon as he looks to make his mark in the 100-mile distance, as there should be. A win at the 100-mile distance and we’ll have to start talking about Albon amongst the all-time greats, that is, if we haven’t already. 

Dakota Jones – Dakota Jones enters this year’s WSER via a 3rd place finish at CCC by way of 2nd place finisher Jiasheng Shen already having earned himself a spot from the previous year. Jones is no stranger to the WSER course and 100-mile racing. This Nnormal athlete has been a part of the ultrarunning scene at a super competitive level for over a decade and will toe the line as one of the most experienced runners in the field. Despite his 19th overall finish in last year’s race, Jones led the race for roughly the first half. When we look back on past WSER champions, often they are runners who have either been veterans of the sport or runners who have swung and missed a few times before getting this right. With a strong start in last year’s race followed by a tough second half, it feels like Jones knows what he’ll need to do to get things right this year. He’s going to be a tough out. 

Grindstone by UTMB – 100 kilometers September 23rd, 2023

Lotti Brinks – Those of you following Lotti Brinks will know that she has been on a bit of a heater in her recent races. Since winning the burly East Coast Grindstone 100 km in September, Brinks has not lost a race. That includes wins at the Big Alta 50 km and the Gorge Waterfalls 100 km. Brinks is no stranger to the 100-mile distance as she finished 4th at Javelina back in 2021. Brinks has been racing a ton heading into WSER, but it’s hard to look past her recent success. Look for this Salomon to keep riding the high come the last weekend in June. 

Devon Yanko – Devon Yanko is the ultimate veteran to watch out for in this year’s race. This Lululemon athlete will carry a presence with her to the start line that will certainly be intimidating for younger runners looking to make a name for themselves. Yanko comes into this race with nearly two decades of ultrarunning experience, and the chops to run at the front of the pack. Since her 2nd place finish at Grindstone, Yanko has run a 6:37 50-mile time on a flat and fast Tunnel Hill course as well as a 2nd place overall finish behind Jeff Browning at the Coldwater Rumble in January. This is all without mentioning Yanko’s vision quest performance at the Lululemon “Further” event in March. Yanko has the speed, experience, and grit to really shine at WSER. [Devon will unfortunately not be starting this year’s event.]

Caleb Olson – The two male athletes who earned Golden Tickets at Grindstone are exactly why the Golden Ticket system exists. These are two runners who are both on the brink of becoming household names and they both just raced themselves into the biggest trail race in North America. Starting with Olson, since his win at Grindstone, Olson finished 2nd at Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100 km and 2nd at the Madeira 85 km along with podium finishes at several local Utah races. This Nike athlete has a chance to solidify himself amongst the best in the world with a top-ten finish at this year’s event. The jump to the 100-mile distance can present difficulties, especially if it’s a hot day, but Olson certainly could find himself in the mix come the end of June.

Caleb Bowen – Caleb Bowen is my dark horse runner to really shine come Western States. For those who don’t know Bowen, the West Virginia athlete is the head Cross-Country coach at Marshall University and this guy can absolutely fly. Going back to 2022, Bowen’s 100-mile finish at the Canal Corridor was one of the fastest 100-mile times in the U.S that year (12:40). Bowen also has wins in back-to-back years (2020, 2021) at the Rim to River 100-mile race which takes place in West Virginia. If Bowen can put it all together on race day, this is a runner that you may see at the front of the pack. Is my East Coast bias showing yet? I hope so!

Nice Cote d’Azur by UTMB – 115 km September 30th, 2023

Eleanor Whyman-Davis – This North Face athlete is going to be an interesting runner to keep an eye on come race day. Most Whyman-Davis’s races and wins have come at races that are in the 50 km to 100 km range with Nice by UTMB being one of the longest races in which she has finished atop the podium. Aside from racing, Whyman-Davis also has a recent 20-plus-hour winter FKT effort on the infamous Bob Graham round. The 2:33 marathoner brings up the age-old question in Western States, can a runner with marathon speed put it all together on race day without a great deal of 100-mile experience? A win at Nice and the Bob Graham round effort suggests that Whyman-Davis is knocking on the door, and we’ve seen runners like Adam Peterman have success without much (if any) 100-mile experience. It’s hard to shy away from marathon speed and the ability to win a 100 km race. 

Giulia Vinco – Vinco is an athlete that may be relatively unknown to the U.S audience as she is an Italian runner that typically runs races that are in her home country. With a 3rd place finish at Nice along with a number of top-ten performances in the last year and a half this Brooks runner has the ability to hang with the front of the pack. Vinco embodies the Brooks “run happy” motto which is an attitude that could certainly serve her well come race day. Vinco has been raising money for her trip to Western States. Be sure to follow her on IG and check out her story. 

Jim Walmsley – “The places where you grow are the ones that keep kicking you in the teeth.” This year Walmsley makes his return to the original “teeth kicker” after a few years living in France to slay the dragon that is the big loop around Mont Blanc. It’s hard to say something about Walmsley that hasn’t been said in the past. He’s a first ballot ultra running hall of famer, multiple-time winner here at Western States, and a guy who flat-out wants to compete on the biggest stages. He’s a runner that doesn’t always get it right, isn’t afraid to fail, and takes a lot of big swings. His name on the start list will bring more eyes to race and at the end of the day he’s a tough guy to beat. It’ll be interesting to see If Walmsley takes it out hard like we’ve seen in the past at WSER or if he settles in a bit in the beginning like we saw at UTMB. Either way, this guy is going to put on a show.

Simon Gosselin – This French athlete comes into this race finishing second to Walmsley at Nice and with a recent win at the Istria 70 km course. Gosselin follows a long list of Europeans coming over to Western States with a great deal of speed in the 50 km to 100 km distance but without a great deal of experience in the longer 100-mile races. Gosselin is spending extended time in the U.S leading up to the race, which could pay huge dividends come race day. While we often use past results to predict champions, more times than not it’s what runners are doing day in and day out when no one is watching. Gosselin and Walmsley have been training partners extensively over the past two seasons and his build to WSER took him to Flagstaff which sounds all too familiar.

Javelina Jundred- 100 Mile – October 28th, 2023

Heather Jackson – Upon Jackson’s entrance into the ultrarunning world, she quickly became one of the most intriguing athletes on the start line. With a very successful Ironman career Jackson has the aerobic engine to run with anyone in the race. With a win at Javelina, it’s clear Jackson has the chops to run hard through the 100-mile distance. I’m sure this Hoka athlete can’t wait to rectify her DNF at last year’s Western States. As we’ve seen with past champions, sometimes failure teaches us more than success. If Jackson can put it together like we saw at Javelina, it’s hard to imagine her outside the top 5. 

Ragna Debats – If we are going to see an international woman make a big splash at Western States there’s a strong chance that it’s going to come from Debats. This Merrell athlete comes into Western States with a second-place finish at Javelina showing that she has the ability to come over to the US and compete after what can be difficult travel. Aside from Javelina, Debats has previously won the Istria 100 and the Nice 100. History tells us that experience tends to play at Western States and Debats has shown just how fast she is with a podium finish and staking claim to the Master’s Course Record (17:41) in her last appearance at the race.

Johnathan Rea – John Rea ran one, if not the best, races that the Javelina course has ever seen – breaking the course record and looking smooth and steady while doing it. Before his win at Javelina, he found himself in 15th overall at last year’s Western States, and snagged a 4thplace finish at the ultra-competitive CCC. If Rea puts together another day like he had at Javelina, he’ll be tough to beat. He’s been relatively quiet since his win at Javelina which only tells me that the focus is all Western States. 

Blake Slattengren – For those not from the Pacific Northwest, Slattengren’s performance at Javelina put this guy on the map. Slattengren ran the third fastest time in history and broke the 13-hour mark while doing so. His Golden Ticket performance also ran him into a well-deserved contract with Brooks. Slattengren has quickly made a name for himself and looks to keep the ball rolling with another breakout performance on the biggest stage. 

Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB 100 Mile – December 8th, 2023

Lin Chen – On a recent episode of the FreeTrail podcast Corrine Malcolm discussed that there can be a Western bias when talking about the competition at Western States and it’s certainly a point I relate to. I’m not familiar with most of the athletes that are coming from Doi Inthanon, but that’s the beautiful thing about the Golden Ticket system. Last year we had a male and female athlete both finish in the top 10 from China and Hong Kong – and we can’t wait to see history hopefully repeat itself. In Chen’s last five races that are a part of the UTMB index system, she has finished either first or second in four of them. It doesn’t matter where you are racing when you are consistently finishing on the podium of 100 km and 100-mile races. Keep an eye on Lin Chen come race day. 

Anna Li – Like Chen, since October Li has run five races ranging from 50 km up to 100 miles and she has finished either first or second in all of them. Our athletes coming from the Eastern part of the world clearly like to race a lot and have the tenacity and grit to run and compete at the 100-mile level. Don’t count out Anna Li as race day gets closer. 

Ji Duo – Ji Duo is another Chinese athlete who can be expected to break out onto the North American scene. In the last 13 months, Duo has raced eight times, and his worst finish was 14th place at UTMB which is maybe the most competitive mountain trail race in the world. He has six podium finishes in eight of those races. Whenever someone races his much leading up to a 100-miler it’s worth noting there could be some burnout, but this seems like a trend for our runners coming over from China. They race a ton and quite frankly they don’t lose very often. 

Robert Hajnal – With Golden Ticket roll down Hajnal’s fourth place finish was good enough to snag the Golden Ticket and the Altra athlete appears to be making his first trip to the US to race. Hajnal has some impressive finishes for an athlete that may fly under the radar for the North American fan. He was 2nd at Lavaredo in 2023 and 9th at UTMB Mont Blanc in 2022 (and 2nd there in 2018). We’ll see how the travel to Olympic Valley affects this Romanian runner, but he certainly has the 100-mile experience to surprise the casual onlooker. 

Black Canyon Presented by Hoka – 100 km February 10, 2024

Rachel Drake – Let me be as clear as possible when I say that I am very excited to see what Rachel Drake does at Western States this year. Drake comes into this race with some of the most interesting range that we have seen. Throughout her career Drake has won races ranging from the 10 km to the 100 km and everything in between. This year she qualified for the US Olympic trials in the marathon and decided to not run the trials to focus on Black Canyon (Trail Running will save the world!) which surely paid off. While I would normally suggest the jump to the 100 mile may be a difficult one, Drake has shown range throughout her career and her husband/coach Tyler Green is one of the best in the business when it comes to Western States. She’ll be a great runner to follow. 

Becca Windell – Windell may be a relative unknown to those outside her running circles but anytime you finish top three at Black Canyon, you deserve the opportunity to line up at Western States. Aside from her performance at Black Canyon, Windell has some interesting podium finishes including a 1st place (5th overall) finish at the Bear going back to 2021. Windell has shared her struggles with injury over the past few years, but she’ll get a chance to let it rip on a big stage come June. Similar to Emily Schmitz she comes in with really nothing to lose which can be a recipe for a good day.

Lauren Puretz – A quick look at Puretz’s ultrasignup page and it’s clear that this is a human being that simply loves to run. Race results range from half marathons to 100-mile races and everything in between. Notable results include some finishes just outside the Golden Ticket reach in the last few years including a 4th and 8th at Javelina 2023 and 2022 and a 5th at Bandera in 2021. Puretz finally gets her Golden Ticket looks to continue to shine heading into Western States. 

Hayden Hawks – Western States is a better race with Hayden Hawks in it. Hawks is going to come into this race as one of the favorites to win and he absolutely should be. Hawks is a veteran with a long history of podium finishes including a 2nd place finish at Western States in 2022. Hawks hasn’t been shy about wanting to win this race and I expect to see nothing less than pure grit from Hawks as he makes a push to etch his name in ultra running history. His performance at Black Canyon shows that he is back in form to compete for a win at this race. I can already see a lead pack including Hawks and Walmsley coming into Forest Hill…

Jupiter Carera Casas – Talk about making a name for yourself at one of the biggest Golden Ticket races of the year. Jupiter was a relative unknown to most of the US audience heading into Black Canyon and he turned in a super impressive 2nd place finish to make sure that he will never be an unknown again. Before this Black Canyon performance, Jupiter was dominating races in his home country of Mexico where he had seven podium finishes dating back to 2021 that we are aware of. Jupiter was also a member of Team Mexico for the World Mountain Running Championships. I’m sure there will be many eyes following him as he makes a push for a strong Western States performance. 

Chris Myers – While it’s early in his career, this 27-year-old is one of the younger athletes that is going to be leading the Ultrarunning charge for years to come. In his young career, he has had some impressive performances not limited to this 3rd place performance at Black Canyon. He recently won the Gorge Waterfalls 50k, was 3rd at the Mammoth Trail Fest 50k, has another 3rd at Way to Cool from 2023, a 5th place at Lake Sonoma, and the list goes on. Myers is going to be a household name for years to come and a top 10 finish here would only expedite the process. 

Canyons by UTMB presented by Hoka – 100 km April 27th, 2024 

Anna Louden (nee Kascius) – Louden finished 3rd at Canyons behind Katie Schide who is already in Western States and Emkay Sullivan who did not take her Golden Ticket, but don’t let that fool you, Louden can shake the field up. Louden qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2022, won the Javelina 100k in 2023 and was 2nd overall, won the Kauai 50 miler and was 6th overall. If Louden can hold it together for 100 miles, she has shown that she has the leg speed to compete with anyone in the field. 

Careth Arnold – Arnold, who is Lotti Brinks’s sister-in-law runs herself into Western States with a stellar 4th place at the ultra-competitive Canyons race – oh while only 7 months postpartum! Arnold is an Altra athlete and mom of 2 who has been close to running into a Golden Ticket for the last few years. With a 6th place finish at last year’s Black Canyons, and a 3rd place at last year’s Bandera, Arnold is a name you may not know but she is certainly deserving of her spot in the race. She’ll be a great follow come race day.

Rod Farvard – In what may be the performance of the year to date, Rod Farvard showed the world that he must be considered amongst the favorites heading into Western States. Rod finished 11th male and 12th overall in last year’s Western States just missing an automatic entry spot. Leading up to Canyons, Farvard mentioned that he has been working very specifically on his nutrition and it’s certainly paying off in a big way. Farvard’s move to focus on nutrition speaks to the professional-like attitude that you must have now to be successful in these longer races. In a world where these races are decided by a few short minutes, athletes must be doing all the non-running things right. Farvard is a great example of that.

Petter Engdahl – Petter Engdahl is another impressive European runner who is now lining up to race Western States. Leading up to the race there was some talk as to whether Engdahl would accept the ticket if he had an opportunity to run the race given his unfinished business with UTMB. We learned very quickly that when Drew Holman passed the ticket to Petter we were going to see this Adidas Terrex athlete join a long list of teammates on the start line. If the former CCC champ can channel some of that magic, he is absolutely going to be in the mix throughout the race. Adidas Terrex athletes have had success in this race recently and I’m sure there will be a great deal of time devoted to making sure Engdahl is another success story. 

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