As most people who read this blog are well aware, the tangible award for finishing Western States is one heckuva nifty belt buckle. In fact, it's so nifty that most (if not all) of each runner's entry fee goes to paying for said buckle. The rest of the stuff runners receive (schwag, aid station food, a sweet course, superb organization, tasty finish line breakfast, hot showers, etc) is paid for through numerous sponsor donations.
The cost to run Western States is $295 ($195 this year for 2008 runners who rolled over). That definitely seems high to me, but I understand the buckles aren't cheap (nor is anything else we receive). So I have a solution to help lower individual runners' entry fee: make the finisher's buckle an optional item. Yep, optional. I can already hear the old-timers out there gasping.
I ran WS in 2005, finished in under 24 (barely!), and proudly accepted my silver buckle from Tim Twietmeyer. I remember taking my buckle to Leavitt's Western Wear, the cool little western store in downtown Sisters, so I could find just the perfect belt to go with my buckle. I was so proud to show the cowboys in the store my buckle and even prouder when I told them the whole story behind 100 milers, Gordy, horses, buckles, etc. They were impressed, and I got my fancy brown leather belt to hold my pretty silver buckle. In fact, I'm wearing it right now. I like it so much that I wear it probably once a week. I occasionally take the WS buckle off my belt so I can wear my Hagg Lake Hall of Mud buckle. Sometimes I even put my Silver State buckle on it. There are a few others that get thrown into the rotation. But far and away, my WS buckle is the one I wear on my belt most often.
On June 28, I look forward to walking across the grass at Placer High Stadium again to be recognized for finishing WS. However, I would be just as happy to not receive a buckle. I have one. I don't really need another. Well, unless, of course, that buckle said "Champion" on it...I'll have to wait for Karl's odds to see what those chances are, though.
What I propose is for WS to have an option on the entry form that says if you want a buckle, you pay $X. If you don't want a buckle, you pay $X - $100. That's basically what all of the roll overs from last year did. Since we didn't get a buckle last year, we got a $100 break for 2009. For the lucky few who got into this year's race who weren't roll overs, they paid the full $295. So it basically sounds to me like the runner's cost for their buckle is $100, while the rest of the stuff is $195. I think that's reasonable.
Anyway, I propose the following: At the time of registration, if you want a buckle, you pay $295. If you don't, you pay $195. If you dnf, you don't get a buckle, regardless of what price you paid. If you finish, you get a buckle if you paid $295; you don't get one if you paid $195. Yeah, I'm sure there would be a few runners who didn't pay for a buckle, then would want one upon finishing. If the organizer's want to sell buckles at the award's ceremony to those finishers, I'm sure they could bump up the price to $150 for those runners who didn't plan accordingly. Or not. Organizers could just say no.
With registration for WS taking place in Octobert of the previous year, and the lottery in December, that gives race organizers plenty of time to plan for the correct number of buckles. I don't know how they figure out how many runners are going to earn silver vs. bronze every year, but they do a pretty good job of it, so I'm sure they could use the same percentages for just the smaller number of runners who pay for the buckles.
I think this is a great way to reward finishers who really want buckles, and also to reward those of us who already have way too much stuff and really don't need anymore (and we get to save some cash). I realize I could pay the full price, finish, and then just not accept my buckle. Sorry, that won't happen. I'll find some use for it. I wonder what Tim uses his 25 silvers for?
Read what new ideas my fellow geeky Western States Synchrobloggers would like to implement to improve Western States, check out their blogs: