This is the time of year in the North American ultra season that the community is abuzz with anticipation and expectation. Over the next three weeks, anxiety and excitement will continue to build as we creep closer to the two biggest ultra lotteries in the country, Western States and Hardrock, with them taking place respectively on December 5th and 6th this year.
Along the way there will be a fair amount of grumbling about how difficult it is to gain entry into these races and various prognosticators will come up with increasingly ingenious ways to determine one’s odds for entry. Still others will spend hours attempting to figure out what could be done to increase people’s odds of entry. Regardless of all this, however, it is clear that these two events have incredible demand because they have captured the imagination of thousands of runners around the world. From where I sit, this phenomenon is a very good thing.
Each year after these respective lotteries, when thousands are left disappointed and looking for other ways to spend their summers, there are some who wonder if these races are worth it. Questions emerge: “How great could these races be?” “There’s always another race.” “Why is there so much hype for these two races?” “What makes these races so great?” While there is some of this that smacks of sour grapes or even a bit of cynicism, one thing is undeniably true, the demand to run Western States and Hardrock is at a record high.
In this context I would like to comment a bit on what makes these to events most alluring. I can do so from a runner’s perspective as I have run both races but I’d rather do so from the perspective of a spectator. You see, I spent three weeks this past summer participating in both events as a volunteer and from that side I truly saw what makes these events so special. Here, in no particular order, are the top-five reasons Western States and Hardrock are awesome!
- They have impeccable race organizations. From packet pickup to awards ceremonies, aid stations to course markings, these races provide first-class amenities to their runners in ways that few other races do.
- They have iconic courses. While the scenery and trails speak for themselves, the purity of each course–Western States’s point-to-point format and Hardrock’s alternating loop format–provides a certain gravitas to the event that is felt by the runners and spectators alike.
- They are historic. Both races are on trails carved into the mountains and canyons decades ago not by runners or bikers but by miners. Linking up historic mining towns, these trails take runners through history and this serves to amplify the mystique of each race.
- They are competitive. While Hardrock makes no concession for elite runners and Western States provides qualifying opportunities for elites, each race produces incredible performances by some of the finest runners in the world. As such, the allure for mainstream runners is fueled by the opportunity to run on the same ground as the best.
- They provide a venue in which runners are part of something much larger, deeper, and more meaningful than just themselves. This is perhaps the most intangible reason these races are so attractive and something I saw clearly and plainly in my role as a spectator in both races this past summer. It’s not something that’s easily explained but when you see it and feel it, you simply know it.
And so everyone, good luck in your lotteries! Know that you all have a small chance of getting in but that if you do you will be privileged to be part of something extraordinary, something that will break you down and crush you, and something that will quite likely change your life forever.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This past weekend a friend of mine from New England brought down some great Vermont beers for me to try. Among them was an amazing IPA from Zero Gravity Craft Brewery in Burlington, Vermont. Their Conehead IPA is lower in alcohol than your typical hoppy IPA and yet every bit as satisfying. While hard to find, it’s totally worth it if you can grab a few.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Are you entered into the Western States or Hardrock lotteries? Or perhaps both?
- Why? What makes you want to take part in either of these races?