A DEMAND FOR EQUITY FROM THE WESTERN STATES 100 ENDURANCE RUN



I want blind people to be treated equitably and permitted to run the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  Currently, the Race Director has effectively prohibited blind runners from participating due to enacting and enforcing new discriminatory policies.

Last year I ran the Vermont 100, finished in under 24 hours and qualified for the Western States 100.  I contacted the Western States Race Director and asked for admission through the "Special Consideration" process due to my visual impairment and need for a guide.  The Special Consideration criteria is defined on the WS100 website as follows:

The Board of Trustees reserves the right to grant admission to runners via special consideration. While this special consideration definition is broadly drafted, it is narrowly applied, and each year very few are granted entry. These are limited to:
Exceptional Circumstances. Where exceptional circumstances warrant . . . special consideration may be granted . . . 
The exceptional circumstance I noted was my deteriorating eye condition.  I am currently legally blind - with a 10 degree field of vision (tunnel vision) and 20/200 & 20/400 visual acuity and night blindness (I have retinitis pigmentosa - RP).  RP is a degenerative eye disease that robs its victims of sight - doctors told me I would have no light perception at age 30.  Somehow, I have not lost all my light perception, and have been able to run ultra-distances and trail races.  I explained to the WS Race Director that the sight I have is deteriorating, that I had qualified for the race, and that I was requesting special consideration to gain entry into the 2018 race (as I don't know if I will have eyesight in coming years to continue running trails).  I routinely trip, fall and become bloodied in trail runs.

Bloodied knuckles from falling with trekking poles


It is more difficult for me to rack up training miles, having to line up guides, or run memorized city routes on bike paths, and not having the ability to train on trails.  I have been hit 19 times by cars while running and training.  I have more expense and complexity when I race as I need guides for trails and night time running.  Just qualifying for Western States with a disability is significantly more work than for most typical able-bodied runners.  I have not spoke up about this fact in my past running, but I think it is noteworthy for this particular conversation when "Special Consideration" is being requested.  I believed these circumstances coupled with the fact that my eyesight is dwindling were sufficiently compelling to warrant serious consideration of permitting me entry into Western States due to Special Consideration.

The Race Director responded by telling me that if I needed a guide for the entire race, it would not be feasible to permit me to enter the race as the guide would take up one of his permitted 369 spots.  Hence, the only option he gave me to enter the race was for me AND my guide to both qualify for AND both of us would need to be successful in the lottery for the same year. 

The WS100 website states that "less than 10% of applicants are successfully selected in the lottery process."  Hence, I would have less than a 10% chance to be selected, and my guide would also have less than a 10% chance of being selected.  The chances of me and my guide being selected the same year are effectively less than 1% (<10% x <10% = <1%).  This also assumed my guide would not get injured, or have a personal conflict/life changing event (new job, a move, etc.) arise, and would forsake his/her own Western States race to guide me in the year s/he was successful in the lottery.  The Race Director's new policy created a virtually insurmountable barrier, preventing a blind person from having access to the race.  This discriminatory policy effectively bans people who need guides from participating in the Western States 100 race.  The policy is illegal, inequitable and just plain wrong.

OTHER RACES & EXAMPLES OF INCLUSIVE POLICIES FOR BLIND RUNNERS

I have raced many other difficult races where Race Directors have worked with me create accommodations that would enable me to compete in their races.  Examples of these races and policies are below:

1. Boston Marathon - I was permitted to have guides (who were not a registered participants) and a 5 minute early start to aid me and my guide from colliding with other runners.

2. Badwater 135, Spartathlon, Leadville, Vermont, Puerto Rico 150+ - I was permitted to use trekking poles and have a guide (who was not a registered participant) when necessary, despite there being a finite number of runners permitted.

3. Various Other Races (California Int'l Marathon, Indian Creek 55k, North Fork 50k, Colfax Marathon, etc.) - I was permitted to have guides (free of charge & not registered as competitors), I was permitted to use trekking poles if necessary, and/or I was given 5 minute early starts to help me not collide with other runners at the beginning of the race.

These are just some of the races I have participated in where Race Directors have been accommodating and inclusive with their policies.  

After I asked for Special Consideration, another blind runner qualified for Western States and was also interested in participating in the race, although he would also need a guide for 100% of the race.


Click HERE to see YouTube Video

On June 23-24, 2018 at 5 am, I will begin running from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California on the Western States Trail.  I will have guides and my own support crew.  My run has it's own t-shirt and belt buckle.  It is not a race.  I am just running a trail that is open to the public.  I hope that this run can influence the Western States 100 Race Director and Board of Directors to immediately stop their discriminatory practices, and include challenged athletes who need guides.  SPECIFICALLY, the Western States must cease enforcing it's policy that "a runner who needs a guide must be accepted into the lottery, and his/her guide must also be accepted into the lottery in the same year in order to participate."

Even in a minority of one, the truth is the truth.  ONWARD!  #TWC100

Together We Can 100 Belt Buckle


"Be the change you want to see in the world"
- Ghandi
Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 10+ world records in ultra-running, an author, the subject of a full-length documentary, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.jasonromero.net
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Comments

  1. Jason, why not seek out a runner who is officially in the race to run through the wilderness with you? I'd bet that on any given year there are runners who run at your pace that would be happy to do this. Perhaps the race would allow you to pick up a pacer after that point. Running as a bandit is not the answer. It's also terrible PR and is going to piss off a good portion of the ultra running community.

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    1. Guy - thanks for your words and taking the time to read this and respond. I just had this same conversation with the WS RD. I explained that guiding a blind runner on trails takes a lot of work and training. It is not a task that somebody can just accept for hours without any experience. My guides for these types of runs have guided me on multiple occasions in many different types of terrain. When I explained this to the WS RD, he wasn't aware of that issue and realized this "quick fix" was not a solution. The good news is he and I had a productive conversation, and I think a mutually agreeable solution has been reached. I'm sorry this conversation became about "bandit running" - that was never my intent. Again, thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts.

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  2. A spectacularly bad and completely selfish idea. More than 4000 other runners didn’t get in through the lottery either. Maybe everyone of them should bandit the race, too?

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    1. John - this conversation is about permitting challenged athletes who need guides, to have guides. The challenged athlete must qualify for and be accepted through the lottery just like everybody else. This was the disconnect that gave rise to this situation. I had a conversation with the WS RD as a result of all this, and I think we have reached a mutually agreeable solution. Thank you for your comments. And I do not support "bandit running", and I'm sorry this is the part of this blog that resonated with you. Wishing you the best. - Jason

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  3. Please don't bandit this event!! If you do have a tendency to fall during races like you've mentioned in this post, you will absolutely be a burden to the race's S&R resources whether you intend to or not! Even if you don't get injured, WSER will still have to keep an eye on you, detracting from runners who have made the lottery! Along with that, runners who are there with WSER's blessing will have to pass you in the high country if you start early!

    Instead, run the 100 miles at a time when the race isn't happening with your own support! It's awesome that you want to prove it can be done but doing it at the wrong time will only draw negative attention! Please wait a week or two and do this right instead of a jerk move like banditing! It's a no win situation!


    Lastly, I understand that you think you deserve special consideration and sympathize with reasoning! Obviously, Craig Thornley does not! I agree with his interpretation of "special consideration"! Personally, I would love for you to be able to run if you got in from the lottery the same as everyone else! After that, allowing a pacer to run with you would fall more under the "special consideration" umbrella! As an example, Gordy is allowed to have a pacer in the high country as a special consideration due to his age! He isn't, however, allowed to circumvent the system and still has to run a qualifier in order to toe the line! Life happens to all of us, and none of us can say with any amount of certainty that we'll have what it takes to be able to run WSER next year! This shouldn't be a reason for guaranteed entry into the race!


    Once again, I applaud your intent to prove that it can be done and admire that you want to run the course solo! Please do this the right way, when the event isn't happening!!


    All Day!
    ~Ken

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    1. Ken - thanks for taking the time to read this, and I agree with many of your points (some I don't - but we can agree to disagree). I did qualify for this race by running the Vermont 100. I did apply for Special Consideration and was denied - I have no problem with that. It's an arbitrary process and Craig decides who gets in through that process - no problems here with that. My problem was with the fact that - if I did get in through the lottery, I would not be permitted to bring my own guide. I was going to be forced to have another runner who qualified and was successful in the lottery guide me. Guiding blind runners on trails is not easy and takes a lot of work. People who guide me in these types of races and this type of terrain have guided me in many different environments as well. The good news is I had a good conversation with the WS RD and we discussed many of the above points. I think we also came to a mutually agreeable solution. Thanks again for your time to write such a thoughtful comment. I share the same sentiments about "bandit running" and apologize this conversation got sidetracked on that topic. More to come . . . .

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  4. If you bandit, you will likely be barred for life from this race; your crew can also suffer the same consequences. Banding is stealing; somebody has put a lot of effort and cost into marking trails, getting permits and wrangling volunteers.

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    1. Keith - thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm sorry this conversation was sidetracked into a "banding" conversation. I share your sentiments with what you wrote about banding, and apologize to the running community at large for this distraction from the real issue I was trying to address - if a blind person needs a qualified guide, they should be permitted to have a qualified guide. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment. - Jason

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  5. You should try applying like everyone else .. through the lottery. Then ..try working out the details about how to get it done..."In fact, we are not entitled to anything in life. We must earn our successes. There are no shortcuts for success. There are no handouts in life. .." Words from your Spartatholan blog post..

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    1. Steve - thanks for the note and taking the time to comment. I spoke communicated with the RD when it was application time. The communication I received was that if I was successful in the lottery and I needed a guide, my guide would also have to be successful in the lottery. I had a conversation with the WS RD today and we rehashed our prior communication. More important than that, we had good dialogue and discussed many of the points raised in the comments to this blog. I believe we have reached a mutually agreeable solution. More to come . . . .

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  6. Thanks to Western States & Craig Thornley for working with me to create an inclusive policy for Blind runners to have guides at the Western States 100 Endurance Run #ws100 ONWARD!

    http://relentlessromero.blogspot.com/2018/06/thanks-to-craig-thornley-and-western.html

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