Thoughts on Lottery Weekend

AJW's TaproomTomorrow, for much of the day, the eyes of the ultramarathon world will be focused on Auburn, California and Los Alamos, New Mexico for the two most competitive lotteries of the season, the Western States 100 and Hardrock 100. The summer plans of over 8,000 people hang in the balance as runners from around the world test the odds of getting into one of these two iconic American races.

What will then ensue, after the lotteries are over, is the now-familiar refrain of frustration and disappointment coming from the massive number of people (over 90% of the applicants to both races) who will be left to wait at least another year for entry into these wildly popular events. The frustration will range from ‘aw shucks’ bad luck to downright visceral anger at the seeming injustice of it all. And, at the end of the day, it will leave thousands of people feeling left out and bitter.

I admit it, I am one of the lucky ones. Having entered the sport of ultrarunning prior to its current explosive growth, I have had the honor of running Western States 10 times and Hardrock twice, once in each direction. I have had the privilege of enjoying these hallowed trails multiple times with hundreds of fellow competitors over a decade and a half. I can say with certainty, in fact, that those 12 days were some of the most rewarding of my life and I am so happy I got to experience them. As such, I say to all those who need to wait another year (or two or 10), do it, it’s totally worth it.

Now, I know there will be some out there who will say, “What could possibly be so great about a race that it’s worth waiting 10 years to do?” And, in some ways, I understand that sentiment. But, as one of the lucky ones, I am here to tell you that if you do wait it out you will not be disappointed. Western States and Hardrock are really that good.

Also, in the meantime, I urge everyone who may be disappointed to not shy away from getting involved in the races or participating in some of the other activities around them. Both races are always looking for volunteers and the opportunity to see these iconic events from the ‘other side’ can be an invaluable learning experience. You could also sign up for the three-day Western States Training Camp over Memorial Day weekend. For a very modest fee, you can run the final 70 miles of the Western States course with fully staffed aid stations and sharing the trail with many Western States veterans who are a wealth of information and stories. At Hardrock, you can join the course-marking party in the weeks before the race or even run your own ‘Softrock’ as many people do the week before the race, covering the part of or the entire course over a three- or four-day period.

This is all to say, for those of us who will be licking the wounds of disappointment on Saturday–and there will be thousands of us–don’t lose hope. Instead, take those lemons and turn them into lemonade. Find a way to enjoy the events from a different perspective, and then, when the time comes and your name is finally drawn, jump in fully with both feet and a head held high.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week is a delicious Oatmeal Stout from Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, California. Their Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout is truly incredible. Aged in bourbon barrels for over a year, and released each October, this rich milk-chocolate-and-coffee-flavored stout is smooth and creamy and truly one of the best versions of this popular variety I’ve ever had.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you entered into one or both of Saturday’s lotteries? If so, which one and how many tickets do you have?
  • What coping mechanisms have you brainstormed or back-up adventure and racing plans do you have if your name isn’t chosen?
  • For those who have been lucky enough to run a race that’s difficult to enter, do you think the wait was ‘worth it?’

There are 30 comments

  1. Paul

    I got lucky last year, getting into WS on my second try. I have to agree with AJW, truly a tremendous experience, complete with a high five from AJW on the streets of Auburn!

    Can’t wait to do it again, whether it’s this year, next year or 5 years from now.

  2. Joseph

    7 years deep in the WS lottery and 4 in Hardrock here. I’ve volunteered at Brown’s Bar many of the years I didn’t get in (I missed the year my daughter was born, but she was there with us last year at the AS!). I have to agree with AJW, I’ve had my moments of feeling really upset and angry, and even contemplated not putting in for the lotteries at a few points. But, my stubborn streak lives on, and I’m in both and hoping for “only” getting into WS OR Hardrock. I have this visceral fear of hitting both in the same year, and not being a Jeff Browning, that would definitely suck (but of course I’d give it a go). Looking forward to finishing both someday, whenever that is. Best of luck everyone in tomorrow’s draws!

  3. AT

    I said I’d never run a Half Marathon, I’ve now run 6. Also said, I’d never run a marathon, I have since run 1. I’ve said several times I would never run a 100 mile race, guess what, I am done saying never. It might be another 10 years before I run a 100 mile race, but there’s something telling me I just might be crazy enough to toe the line one day. Until then..

  4. Mark M

    Thanks, AJW. Your words ring true even if you got yours before the boom in the sport made these races so tough to get into.

    I will add that the qualifiers I’ve used to enter both lotteries have been amazing events themselves. I would have never entered a few of them if they weren’t “means to the WS/HR end”. Tunnel Hill 100 was a great experience and much more aesthetically pleasing than I expected. Grindstone was an epic Night/Day/Night (spiced up by Hurricane Matthew!) with some of the best volunteers and fantastic group of fellow runners I’ve experienced in any race. And Cascade Crest…well, I would’ve done that race even if it wasn’t a rare double-qualifier (but it certainly helped that it was!). They say the journey is as important as the destination. And even if I never run either Western States or Hardrock, the incentive they have given me to achieve higher levels of fitness, to see new places and to have the company of fellow WS/HR hopefuls has been reward enough.

  5. MyTHoughts1

    As someone new to the sport, I must say the current Hardrock lottery is an absolute joke. I think they need to shift towards a more egalitarian model such as the one the WS100 employs. There is no reason why the current system should exist and it does not serve the interests of the vast population, only a select few.

    However, I think it’s good in that it causes folks to seek out other local races and support the less profile events.

    1. AJW

      @MyThoughts1 I understand the criticism that people such as yourself have with the Hardrock lottery although referring to it as a “joke” might be somewhat disrespectful of the volunteers who spend hours coordinating it. That said, what I admire most about the Hardrock lottery is that it is entirely in keeping with the values of the race. And, in an era when values seem to be thrown around willy nilly, I think an organization that sticks to its values, however controversial, should be applauded.

      1. MyThoughts1

        I would argue that clinging to a broken system that serves 0.1% of the ultra running community and neglects the remaining 99.9% isn’t something to hang your hat on.. but agree to disagree.

        1. You're not running WS or HR

          Actually the Western States lottery is a joke. Almost 1/3, YES one-third, of the spots in this race are reserved for various reasons – most of which I find unacceptable.

          Sponsors (aka, pay for entries) – get rid of these slots, I’d happily pay double to run the race. I don’t care who sponsors the race bot could I tell you who the sponsors are. T

          UTWT or whatever it’s called, does anyone actually care about this? What’s the point? Allow European runners into the race? Give spots to elites who dropped or didn’t make top ten the previous year?

          Golden ticket – Again, who cares. I want to run the race, not spectate and see what happens at the front end.

          Top 10 M/F – I know the race wants a competitive field, but make it top 3 or at most top 5. I think most runners would rather run than watch what happens up front.

          The only spots I would keep would be Gordy and one spot from each aid-station.

          It seems like they keep adding additional categories each year. This memorial spot, that special consideration.

          Hey WS, how about giving the majority of these entries to the public?

          I know the structure of HR isn’t much different, but at least they have their priorities straight – much more grassroots than WS and less corporate or worrying about making the race competitive.

          Flame away

          1. SageCanaday

            I’m a little hesitant to post under my real name…but I’m all for transparency so here it goes:

            I can see with where you are coming from with how all these spots (1/3) of the filed is already determined.

            However, you should ask yourself this: If a race like WS100 didn’t have such a competitive field/history would so many people want to run it nowadays? It is a lot like the Boston Marathon…people like to run Boston because it has so much competitive history and because it is hard to qualify for. Scarcity creates demand…but where does that scarcity and “prestige “come from? You take away the top 10 returners and the Golden Ticket winners (not any easy thing to do…trust me) and the race isn’t going to be nearly as competitive at the front end. Now that might not matter to you or many in the race, but it would change the history and dynamic of the race over time. Why not just run the course for fun during a non-competitive event if you don’t like competition? Is it all about the buckle then?

            Would so many people want to run the Boston Marathon if it wasn’t competitive at all with top runners from around the world? Maybe nowadays. But Boston developed that prestige over time and because of all the battles of top runners over such a historic course in a historic place. If Boston had been just a non-competitive marathon without elites and qualifying times then it probably won’t be so popular now!

            Taking a note from a race like UTMB, if you are a top level runner (and have earned your points) you can simply skip the lottery. Same thing with pretty much any major marathon. Now I know we don’t like to compare trail-ultras to road marathons, but I view WS100 as the “Boston Marathon” of trail ultras in the US. Now WS and Hardrock don’t do that “elites in automatically” for most top runners, but the fields are obviously quite limited (compared to a race like UTMB or even Comrades).

            It seems like you want things to become “more grass roots” but with a lot of these events that doesn’t mean its going to please everyone. Change and evolution of the sport is inevitable…a lot of people seem to want the “glory days of the past when trails were less crowded and lotteries were easy to get into.” Well that’s simply not going to happen anymore with some of these “popular” races.. The good news is there still are small events and “grass roots” races. The most trails are free and open to all. The community of people trying to improve their health and get enjoyment out of the sport of running is growing.

          2. Brian Curtin

            “Sponsors (aka, pay for entries) – get rid of these slots, I’d happily pay double to run the race. I don’t care who sponsors the race bot could I tell you who the sponsors are.”

            Then you’re going to lose sponsors, and events can’t afford to do that without then passing the cost on to someone else. While *you* would pay double (and sure, if they’d take my $820 and let me in right now, I’d do it too), the balance of keeping an event affordable while also building a foundation for the event to continue in the future is a lot more important than people wanting to pay double to work around things.

            If all of a sudden Western States went from $410 to a $1000 or multi-thousand dollar race—this on top of the cost for a massive percentage of the participants needing to travel and lodging for several days—over time you would eventually see lottery entries drop off, and/or repeat runners becoming less of a thing, and that would just signify the beginning of the end for the race.

        2. J

          I totally agree with you. Apparently what Hardrock values is keeping the total number of people who ever get the chance to run the race as small as possible. Their “values” are nothing more than blatant elitism, and everybody accepts it because running an outstanding event apparently makes the race directors authorities on ethics.

          That someone is somehow more deserving of a chance to run simply because *they’ve already run it before* is absolutely backwards. But I’m sure we’ll hear from a lot of the people who are in the club who disagree with this assessment.

  6. John Vanderpot

    I’ve always respected and never resented the way these things are done, my calendar qualifies me for everything I’d guess, although I rarely enter lotteries, the one thing I have wondered about, and I’ve wondered about it a lot, is the way so many live their running lives in quest of what are essentially impossible dreams, there are so many beautiful, beautiful events to do out there, and many of them never even fill…

    My 2 cents, and best of luck to everyone this weekend,


  7. Ondřej

    This year, after few years of reading, watching and dreaming (and… running), I have run my first ultra trail race, a 100K which happens to be the only Western States qualifier in my country (Czech Republic). My plan was simple: to run it well and enter the WS100 lottery. I managed to finish in a decent time (for a newbie), nevertheless, my name is not in the pool. Somehow, I lost my grit on that trail and never got it back.
    Good luck to all lottery participants, I admire you courage!

  8. KenZ

    As a seven year (7!!!!) never-run entrant to Hardrock, I say “meh, whatever.” If I don’t get in, there are so many absolutely phenomenal races out there that don’t have lotteries. For the last 7 years I’ve run amazing things like BIghorn, Wasatch, Mogollon Monster, Fatdog, Santa Barbara,, Black Hills. San Diego, Spartathlon, Teanaway, Cascade Crest, etc etc etc. Some are lotteries, many are not. If I don’t get in this year, then I’ll look at Salt Flats, Angeles Crest, The Bear, Plain, Superior, and a ton of other epic races. And while it would lack the hype (and level of support), no one is stopping you running these courses not on race day.

    1. thegreatest

      Even if you don’t get in you can run any of these races ON RACE DAY if you like. You might not liked, but it’s your public lands.

  9. Mark

    Some things are worth waiting for I guess … and having been fortunate enough to pace my friend in last years WS I will wait patiently for my chance through the lottery to run this unique ultra.

    While no system is perfect I think the WS lottery has a lot of equity and transparency. That and an incredible community.

  10. Aaron Sorensen

    If everyone is really going to complain about the odds, there’s a very easy way to double the entrants.
    Just take away pacers.

    Any race that has a lottery should not have pacers.
    If you want your security blanket, don’t complain about not getting in.

    1. speedgoat

      Hardrock could do that, but WS could not, because the Granite Chief Wilderness area can only allow what WS has in the race. I agree completely though, I wonder if the FS even considers pacers when they give permits? Seems like they don’t.

    2. KenZ

      I would totally be in favor of no pacers (obviously), especially if it increased the number of runners. I think it’s pretty clear the HR organizers won’t do that, so here’s a compromise proposal:

      Create a “Solo” division, kinda like San Diego, except in this case they can still have a crew. Runners, when entering in any given year, can commit to running it Solo. This will give them a special bib, and they will be DQ’d if they take on a pacer.

      *What does the runner get? 1.5x (or 2x? or just plus 16?) the number of their tickets.

      *What do all the entrants get? For every two Solo runners pulled, a new slot instantly opens up for an additional runner. Have to do the 2:1 because you don’t know if the next pulled runner will be Solo or not.

      *There is one additional plus for the race organizers: now that the field size will vary dynamically based on the number of Solo runners entered/selected (and their individual ticket numbers, the probability of x them being selected, how many slots that opens up, compounded by more Solos being selected…), the math for the probability of selection will be a bit more complex (but still solvable). I know they’d enjoy that.

  11. RC

    Its always funny seeing all the local runners here in NorCal so focused on states. It’s a fun race. But far from the most beautifful course, and not that hard. Just way overhyped. Like WAY overhyped. There are so many better races out there. Wasatch destroys it for scenery and difficulty. Zion is incredible. And the races in Europe make it look like a run in the park.

    I can’t comment on Hardrock. It’s impossible to get in, and I have given up trying (which may be the goal of the lottery).

  12. Dan

    Several days before the 2011 Hardrock race, I ran “HarderRock”. I started in Ouray, ran the race course, had one point of aid in Silverton, and finished under 48 hours. Several years later, I was selected in the lottery and finished Hardrock. Of the two, my solo HarderRock was more memorable, more enjoyable, and, well…harder!

    Hardrock was quite the experience, but not more so than numerous other 100 milers I’ve completed. The year following Hardrock, I ran Ronda dels Cims in Andorra, an amazing race that helped me put Hardrock in perspective, blew the socks off Hardrock!

    You can build up Hardrock in your mind to be the Nirvana of ultrarunning, but in reality, it just ain’t so. A big part of Hardrock is all the build up and hoopla. If you step back from that a bit, it loses some of its luster. It’s gotta be one of the most cliquish races out there. Maybe it has improved in the last few years, but I found the course marking poor, but just fine for the veterans.

    Anyway, for the 2,375 applicants that do not get chosen in the draw, maybe it’s not the end of the world.

    1. bc

      Thanks for the thoughts. I’m stuck in a pickle as I’m an American living abroad and while I want to run Hardrock, it’s a delicate act of balancing schedules and qualifiers as a handful of them have opted out of ITRA, which makes it trickier to qualify for EU races. As someone mentioned above, it’s about respecting the race and the decision of its directors and with Europe as my backyard, I’m not at a loss for races any weekend of the year. To each their own.

      I had heard about Ronda dels Cims but didn’t know much about it. Now that I’ve looked it up, I think you might have convinced me it should be the peak of 2020 for me. :-)

  13. Caperboy

    I just don’t see it. I’ve been to both and while they are well ran events, and beautiful trails in their own right, I feel it’s more hype than substance. There are so many nicer or just as nice trails, and just as well ran events. Trail running is now blessed with an abundance of options. I don’t regret either experience, in fact I cherish all races I have been able to run, but to those who miss out year over year, it’s not the life changing race(s) your told they are. Its just a wonderful marketing team and a group of runners who perpetuate the myth. That said good luck to those applying. Ps. Hardrock was the better of the two, not even close.

  14. Jonathan Gardner

    Life is too short for me to do an annual chase of races that I have a small chance of getting into via a lottery. No disrespect to people who do, but I ain’t got time for that.

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