Follow Up On Hardrock Qualifying Races

AJWs TaproomOne of the things I try to teach kids is that there is a difference between intent and impact. Often a kid will tell me when he’s sent to my office as a result of some “bullying issue”, that, “I didn’t mean it seriously. It was just a joke.” And, while I nod my head and say, “Of course, that’s what you intended but is that how Johnny received it?” I am thinking, the intention was a joke but the impact was an insult.

My column last week on the new qualifying races for Hardrock provided an example of me, of all people, doing exactly that. While I was analyzing the impact of the Hardrock Board of Directors’ decision to revise the qualifying standards for their race, I failed to consider their intent. After consulting with Kris Kern, the Board of Directors President, I’d like to offer some additional comments.

In the context of the new standards, the Board did NOT change the qualifying standards to restrict entry into the lottery. Nor did they alter their standards to ensure runners are more likely to finish, or to promote other races. That was my interpretation, not their intent.

Rather, the Board’s principal goal was to:

…better ensure safety in the mountains by tying the qualifying events through an objective analysis to the conditions a runner might experience in the San Juans. Those that have done Hardrock or read the race reports will realize that almost every year there are conditions that have the potential to become a rescue situation. Having some confidence that runners know what they are getting into and are prepared is the purpose for having qualifiers, and we think it is the responsible thing to do. We try to make this clear on the Hardrock website.

Furthermore, the Hardrock organizers laid out a series of attributes which they will use to determine future qualifiers:

We describe on the website why we have qualifiers and what attributes we expect of them. We gathered data reflecting those attributes from race websites for all candidate races to use as a basis for comparison. The data we looked at, as best we could determine from websites and race maps included total climb, maximum elevation, number of sustained climbs (greater than 2,000 feet, greater than 3,000 feet), sustained running at high elevation, number of aid stations, and maximum distance between aid stations. We also tried to gather the potential for mountain weather, water/snow crossings, exposure to drops, and navigation off trail, all of which are much harder to find and in some cases we had to rely on familiarity of Board of Directors members with individual races. This allowed us to look at many race attributes to evaluate how someone running that race might experience some of the conditions they would find at Hardrock. In general, the qualifiers we kept had significant climb plus at least two or three other attributes we were looking for.

Kris Kern, speaking on behalf of the Board, went on to say:

The Hardrock 100 Board of Directors worked hard to make the transition to the new qualification standards as fair as possible, phasing out runs over two years (with the exception of Leadville – please read our reasoning for that change on the website). The unanticipated result is that there are substantially more qualifying runs for the upcoming lottery for the 2014 run than there have been in the past and will be in the future.

Finally, after reviewing some of the comments from last week’s column, the Board would like the public to know two additional points:

1. The Hardrock lottery is NOT conducted via computer. In fact, the Board of Directors cuts paper tickets, drops them in boxes, and draws them one-by-one. The changes we made to the lottery last year balanced the lottery between those with a long history at Hardrock, those that have finished and want to return, and those wanting to run for the first time.

2. Starting limitations (currently 140) are set by the National Forest Service and BLM in our permit. We work with them every year to ensure that we are being responsible users of public lands. At the same time, we have an ongoing debate: if the BLM raised our limit, how many participants should we limit ourselves to? There is not an answer to this, but we consider impacts to the land, our volunteers and the community that hosts us, safety, and the character of the event in these discussions.

Lastly, I would like to offer my personal opinion on what it takes to be qualified for Hardrock. I ran the race once, in 2009, and prior to that race I had finished Western States seven times, Angeles Crest four times, Grand Teton 100 two times, and Wasatch two times. And, to be quite honest, I felt like I was barely qualified for what that race threw me that year and that was in an, admittedly, benign weather year. When all’s said and done, Hardrock requires serious chops!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Southern Tier Live Pale AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Southern Tier Brewing Company. Their Live American Pale Ale is a creative twist on this classic variety. This smooth and eminently drinkable APA is a blend between Sierra Nevada AP and Dale’s AP. Not bad!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you think about the clarifications the Hardrock 100 Board of Directors made here, explaining the intent of the changes to their qualification process?
  • For those of you who have run the races on the new qualification list, what elements do you think best make them an environment for runners to gain the skill set they need to run Hardrock with success?
  • For those of you who have previously run Hardrock, did you find that you were adequately prepared by your previous ultrarunning experience for the rigors of this “post-graduate” outing in the San Juans?

There are 6 comments

  1. NGTrailRunner

    Good stuff, AJW…it's an interesting question (how many runners would HR accept if the BLM increased their permit limit). Number-wise, HR is a pretty small event and I don't think there's much question that the course could accommodate more runners than the current BLM cap…but I don't think that means it SHOULD. Let's face it, there is a mystique about HR, and I see no reason to mess with a bellwether event. When the superstars of our sport talk about HR with the reverence which they do, you know you've got a good thing.

    Honestly, the folks I feel for more than anyone are the folks who have been running the event for years and don't have their numbers pulled for the lottery. I know there are events that I run every year and if I wasn't able to run them I'd be completely bummed. I don't know if an "RD" run would be logistically feasible in the week(s) leading up to the event for veterans/alums who didn't get picked in the lottery? Perhaps not. In any event, it is so easy for those of us on the outside to sit and lob hand grenades at RDs (of any race, not just HR) over decisions they oftentimes are forced to make about their events.

    At the end of the day, my experience is that the overwhelming majority of RDs have their hearts squarely in the right place in terms of runner safety, being good stewards of the land and being true to their event. Honestly, I'm not sure that they really do owe the running community any further explanation for their decision to revise qualifying requirements. How about we just trust their judgment and hope it continues to be the special event it clearly is?

    1. BreatheThinAir

      Well said!

      I agree that the majority of RDs have their hearts in the right place, but I still think there's room for constructive debate and even criticism of events. The HR board speaking out against Leadville is a great example. They could've sat back and not said anything but by coming out with a (loud) denouncement of unsustainable race practices they've sparked a discussion that will hopefully bring some positive changes to the LT100.

      1. NGTrailRunner

        I hope my post didn't come across as an indictment of healthy debate and discussion within and among our community, and completely agree that the question of the HR Board's choice to publicly denounce Leadville is an issue in and of itself. Here's hoping that the discourse regarding this issue results in positive analysis of how to make events better all-around…for the runners and ma nature!

      2. jasonhoy

        Is there a link to detail the "unsustainable" practices ? I have been looking for Lifetime's misbehaving other than the course just being too crowded. I have some friends trying to make a decision about next year. If it is just the mismanagement of the aid stations, etc that is one thing but if they did stuff to the locals I am not aware of I would like to read about it.

  2. MatthewCBryant

    I feel I must comment, but only so I can get other comments in my email. I'm merely a spectator at that race, and absolutely couldn't run the whole thing. I have a place between Silverton and Durango, so I know quite well how difficult that terrain at that altitude is.

  3. lstomsl

    The changes to the lottery did help new runners have a better shot at getting in eventually but they did absolutely nothing to "balance" those with a long history. Every single person who applied in the legacy category got in last year, even if some had to be on a wait list for a change they got in. They are scientists. They understand probability. It is hard to believe that their intention was not for every single legacy runner to continue to get in as long as there are legacy runners. It is hard to believe it was nothing but a smoke screen to make themselves look better as they continued their private party on our public land. I am not fooled. The ultra-running world deserves better.

    1. mathewbegley

      Those legacies made the race what it is today, before it picked up in popularity. They've earned the right to be awarded a spot each year that they apply for one, no matter how unfair that seems to the entitled newcomer.

      1. lstomsl

        And yet EVERY single veteran got in. Do you think that was accidental? Remember these folks are rocket scientists who analyze that race every way imaginable. They have right to have that opinion of their ideal mix. But it is my opinion that that mix is indefensible for an event that occurs on public land. I actually find it highly offensive.

        All due respect, the veterans are great, let them have a higher probability to get in than others but to have the same people getting in EVERY single year, for an unlimited amount of time when everyone elses odds get to 1 in 10 and getting lower every year is just wrong. That is a private party and has no place on public land. They have received their reward. They were exempted from the lottery for an entire decade, how much more the they deserve just because they participated in a race 15 years ago? Its almost a moot point because as they start inevitably dropping out they will not be replaced as it will be essentially impossible for any new runners to ever get 5 entries in the future but that doesn't mean it is not wrong today.

        I personally don't have any interest in crashing their silly party. I live in the area and get to run those trails whenever I want (although they get so crowded in the weeks leading up to HR that I have to go elsewhere). I enjoy the event as a follower of the sport but I would never contribute to the race in any manner until they become more reasonable. If it was something I wanted to take part, you better believe I would be writing letters to the BLM and Forest service and encouraging others to do so as well. I work with those agencies and they have very strong opinions about events occurring on public land. I think they would listen if enough people complained, but complaining to the HR board (who clearly aren't listening) or on this forum won't help. If you want to be heard write to the land management agencies that control the permit.

        1. mathewbegley

          35 slots are allotted to veterans. Yes, if 35 apply they are all accepted while others have odds that aren't necessarily in their favor. I sympathize with the majority of your comment, but this really stood out:

          "… I enjoy the event as a follower of the sport but I would never contribute to the race in any manner until they become more reasonable. If it was something I wanted to take part, you better believe I would be writing letters to the BLM and Forest service and encouraging others to do so as well. I work with those agencies and they have very strong opinions about events occurring on public land."

          Don't be that kid who flips over the birthday cake and spoils it for everyone else because you didn't receive the frosty corner piece…

        2. codarunner

          A few random thoughts came to mind while reading your post…

          1.) Whenever I hear or see "all due respect" I know someone is about to be disrespected…

          2.) For someone who says they don't have much interest in the silly party, you really seem to have strong feelings about the silliness.

          3.) When I was a kid there were a couple of popular sayings… "it's not rocket science" and "it's not brain surgery". Since HR is being run by rocket scientists the obvious countermove to their shenanigans would be to get brain surgeons on your side to circumvent the rocket scientists evil plot.

          That being said, I appreciate your passion.

        3. BradBBishop

          Istomsl, I understand the substance of your complaint to be that, because Hardrock occurs on public lands, it is a public rather than private good? Or at least subject to public rules and regulations regarding participation? I agree with the latter, as it is already the case: no discrimination is allowed based on race, sex, color, etc etc. I'm not sure how to categorize "discrimination on the grounds of experience with an event".

          At the risk of committing reductio ad absurdum, how do you see this playing out on a larger scale? Even if the BLM/NFS is convinced that Hardrock is committing unfair discrimination and removes this permit, what precedent does that set? As pretty much every race event occurs on public land, do you also see a "private party" occuring at:
          -Western States, which discriminates toward those who have been applying for a greater number of years, as well as those who have run one of a certain set of races.
          -Boston, which discriminates with those who are faster have greater chance of entry as well as being exclusionary in not allowing those who are "speed impaired" to even participate
          -Barkley, which discriminates according to…ok, well, no one really knows
          -As well as pretty much every other race, which discriminate in favor of those who plan farther in advance and sign up sooner.

          I believe we agree that the governmental agencies responsible for protecting the land have the authority to set a limit on the number of participants in an event. Is your argument that we need additional BLM/NFS regulations for events on public lands regarding who is allowed to participate, or that any such regulations set in place by the permitted event-coordinating body are invalid? (Or both)

          At the risk of betraying my liberal roots, I don't believe more governmental regulations are the answer here. As Hardrock exists as a private non-profit, it is subject to public demand and public response, and always carries the risk of losing its constituency if either of those take enough of a negative turn. That is the regulatory force in place for this discussion.

          Personally, I believe the changes that took place with last year's lottery are positive.

          In the 5 years leading up to the change, under previous lottery rules, the number of first-timers who gained admittance averaged less than 30 spots. Now they are guaranteed 35.

          In limiting the number of 5-time vets to 35, Hardrock prevented the full set of 42 (I believe) vets last year who could have participated at the loss of other first-timers and lesser-experienced folks at the start line. If your main complaint is that this number in particular is too high or shouldn't exist, I'm nowhere near convinced the risk of setting precedent for other races by pulling the permit is warranted, or do I agree that it would be appropriate for the permit to be modified so as to regulate this one particular provision.

          I believe that we agree that the lottery procedures should not be static – future changes can and will be needed. However, I disagree with what I understand your implied positions are regarding whether the race is moving in a positive direction, as well as what grounds are appropriate for governmental action to take place.

          1. lstomsl

            I never called for pulling the permit. I don't think a regulation per se is needed because the HRH is the only race that I know of that conducts itself in such a manner on public land. But I think that since the HRH is clearly not concerned with anybody not in their old-boys club then the only way to effect change is to ask the controllers of their permit to put some pressure on them to make their use of public lands a little more public.

            What western states does is very different. They allow Gordy and the cowman in every year. And they let those with 9 finishes automatically get a 10th. But they don't automatically get an 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, etc as long as they feel like it. So they have a few automatics every year but they are not the SAME automatics every single year (except for Gordy) And they have 400 entries to play with I believe. All your other examples are based on merit. You can get in to WS if you are very fast and win some races. You can get into Boston if you prove your worth elsewhere. I'd like it if more than 1 person were allowed in HR based on merit but I'll stay out of that one. The equivalent for WS would be to take away all the merit based entries and then give 100 other entries to the same group of the RDs friends every single year. WS does not do that. Its not the same thing.

            I would agree that the changes last year were good for first timers but they changed absolutely nothing for the veterans. I don't think that was an accident, they are too smart for that.

            Is there another race anywhere that guarantees the same 35 or so people entry year after year indefinitely when everybody else faces 10-1 odds? I don't know of any. I'm not against higher odds for veterans, but guaranteed entry every single year forever? How can anybody justify that? If its such a great system, how come no other race anywhere does it?

            The veterans won't be excluded from the HR experience. They can still come and pace or crew , or run an aid station like the thousands of other folks who enjoy the experience without running the race.

      2. mcroninrn

        If there are 4,000 runners that have completed a 100 mile in the US and are contemplating applying for a Hardrock spot, then they would be in a lottery for 35 spots (25%) – if they meet the other criteria.

        If there are 400 runners that have already completed Hardrock and are contemplating applying for a Hardrock spot, then they would be a lottery for either 35 spots (25% for >5x HR finishers) or 70 spots (50% for 1-5x HR finishers) – if they meet the other criteria.

        Now I'm not a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, but I think that means that a HR "virgin" has less than a 1% chance (using my somewhat arbitrary conjectured numbers), and a runner with at least 1 HR finish has a likelihood in the vicinity of 25% (depending on the proportion of >5x finishers : 1-5x finishers).

        Granted my numbers are made-up, but it does feel a little like a private party. That said, if it's as difficult and dangerous as the race reports I've read describe, then that's probably a good thing. Having a bunch of newbies lost in the dark at 12,000ft with hypothermia could result in hospitalizations and negative publicity that no-one wants.

  4. mathewbegley

    Not sure if I'm reading your comment correctly, but your issue seems to be in the fact that people who completed Leadville this year lost a component of their qualification standard for Hardrock – as a result of how the race was conducted, rather than the conduct of individual racers.

    Per the Hardrock Qualifying Standards website:

    "Because of timing, the 2013 LT100 will still be accepted as a qualifier for the 2014 HR. LT100 finishes will not be accepted as qualifiers for the 2015 HRH and beyond."

    1. scottrunsalot

      Yes mathewbegley, I believe you read it correctly. The 2013 Leadville finishers are totally being treated unfairly by the HRH Board by being stripped of a year from their qualifying finish. The runners/HRH applicants have been found guilty of finishing a race that the Board does not agree with anymore and now they have decided to punish us as if we were to blame. I would just like to hear someone explain to me logically how or why this is fair. Why punish the runner/HRH applicant? What did they do wrong? I'm still wondering how they rationalized this decision.

    2. scottrunsalot

      It would be like the forest service taking away half of the HRH permits cause they didn't like what happened at Leadville. If Lifetime screwed up, then we are going to assume you screwed up too and we are going to take away half your permits. That is how it feels like we have been treated. Quite unfair in my mind. I sure would like to hear an explanation though.

  5. lstomsl

    A) I don't want a piece of their cake, but I do love public land.

    B) I am not spoiling anything for anybody. The HRH board of directors is. No other race anywhere conducts itself in such a manner. Its indefensible.

    1. Matt Smith

      "No other race anywhere conducts itself in such a manner. Its indefensible."

      This is not accurate. One example – The Wakley Dam Ultra in the Adirondacks, NY.

      For the first 10 years of the race, the policy was veterans first – any previous runners got first dibs and the rest of the 65 spots were open to lottery (I got in my first year by winning a treasure hunt on the race's website…) And this is a race run through a designated wilderness area on NY State land.

      And this was a perfectly defensible policy, in that the RD bears ultimate responsibility for the runners' safety and if he chooses to use a selection procedure that favors highly-qualified participants and rewards veterans for their early support – well, than that's his prerogative. Wakely is ~35 rugged miles with no aid or road crossings – not quite like HR, but no joke.

      Nothing is stopping you from hosting a race one week before/after HR on the same course and enacting an admission policy that is to your liking. That way you don't need to impose your ideals in the HR board – you can create your own race with your own signature style.

      I don't think that there is an abuse of public land nor any harm done other than limiting the choice of some runners. Not all horses get into the Kentucky Derby either.

  6. lstomsl

    The Kentucky derby is a private event held on private land. That is very different. And they don't let the same horses in every year either.

    It is absolutely not true that nothing is stopping me from hosting a race a week before or after HR on the same course. The Forest Service would stop me. A friends permit for an event in the area a month later was denied largely because "your community is already well served" with hardrock. It was eventually approved but was not allowed to use a section of the HR course that is not part of the maintained trail system. See that's my whole point. It is PUBLIC land. Not my land, and not Dale's land. We can't just do what we want.

    But thanks for the heads up on Wakley. You said that was their policy for the first 10 years. What is the policy now and why did they change it?

    1. NGTrailRunner

      I respectfully submit that you would be hard pressed to find a 100 miler held entirely on private land and I think you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater once you start trying to justify entrance into some of these races based upon the "it's public land" argument…

      I also would submit that there are a whole host of ultras out there that have unusual (i.e. goofy) selection processes. I think this paragraph from Ancient Oaks 100 (an invitation-only race held on public lands) proves this point rather well in describing their selection process: "The Process is NOT fair. In the same way that life is not fair, so is the Process not fair. There is NO race entry process that IS fair – the first-come, first-served process used by the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run is not fair, the lottery process used by the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is not fair, the complicated mathematical formula/lottery used by Hardrock is not fair, the opaque selection process used by the Barkley Marathons race is not fair. The Entry Selection Process used by Ancient Oaks is no less unfair than any of these races."

      Clearly this is an issue that seems to have some personal impact for you and incites an emotional response…I'm doubting anything I say will change that. But I wanted to point some of these out in response to your statement that "No other race anywhere conducts itself in such a manner…" Honestly, as long as a race isn't excluding participants on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation, I'm okay with RDs having their own selection process. Happy trails.

      1. olgav100

        I read some Buddhist work a while ago. The first sentence was in tune of: "Life is not fair. Deal with it".
        :) We just all love to talk…

  7. MelindaRuns

    Great article! I applaud the changes to qualifiers for both races. I, having completed WS in 2012, was eligible to toss my name in for Hardrock but ultimately after comparing the courses also felt that it was not adequate preparation. And I would love to see the odds of folks getting into WS increased, and always thought it unfair that folks could qualify with a 50 miler that is practically all on fire roads such as Tussey. (Not that that isn't a great, event, it just didn't seem comparable to some of the others.)

  8. Run From Ordinary

    I really appreciate you bringing up the issue of "intent vs impact". It's a lesson we can all apply to our daily lives, and something that, as I become older, I am increasingly aware of in my own interactions with others. I recently was schooled in this by one of my blog readers. Following the WS100 changes, I posted that I was in favor of the changes made, though I knew that some would not be. I was speaking clearly from a standpoint of agreeing with the future elimination of 50 mile qualifiers. However, one reader took the time to explain to me that there was a far greater impact of the board's changes beyond what my rather flippant assessment had been based on. Here are her comments, which I encouraged her to voice to RD Craig Thornley. It definitely made me look at these issues in a new light.

    "When you’re running for that coveted silver buckle, take a look at the trail that’s been worked for you, the bridges that have been rebuilt for you, and the volunteers who are there for you and remember that the WSER board eliminated EVERY local qualifier in favor of easier but larger qualifiers (Rocky Raccoon versus Rio Del Lago 100 Milers). Most of the volunteers do it because they have dreams of running it, are training for it, or have run it. The legends of WSER are all locals. So when you think about what’s fair, think about all the work the locals put in all year round (especially after the fires) and are being denied a chance to qualify if they can’t afford to travel. Also think about everyone who wants to run the Miwok 100 and the TRT (the two closest qualifiers) that are already lottery events and how much tougher it will be to get into those now. WSER should have standards, but when did a large and popular, but easier race become a standard? Surely the locals who do the trail work , volunteer, and are the pacer pool at night for non local middle of the pack and back runners should have the chance to qualify in a local comparable 100 miler and “earn” a spot. Every WSER finisher will tell you they couldn’t have run it without the volunteers. Sadly, the board seems to have forgotten that. Please don’t confuse “willing” and “committed” with financially able. From Auburn up to Squaw Valley, it’s all small towns with tough economies. Not everyone is elite with sponsorship or able to take off a week from work and travel with crew and pacers. Surely keeping (or even creating) ONE local qualifier wouldn’t significantly impact the lottery, the number of DNF’s, or the quality of runners and the/or the race."

    Food for thought…

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