Ultra Lotteries: Leaps! and Letdowns

A discussion of how to improve ultramarathon lotteries.

By on February 5, 2010 | Comments

Tomorrow, February 6, 2010 is a big day in American ultrarunning … and it’s not just because of the races being run. Nope, and you can forget the fact that it’s Superbowl weekend. Folks, tomorrow is the Ultralottery ™ day with both the Hardrock Hundred lottery and Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run lottery being held. This got us thinking about ultramarathon lotteries… and how they could be improved.

No, we’re not gonna do the normal lotto bashing deal of quibbling over who should get in automatically or why folks from Oregon should be banned. That’s the kinda stuff that RDs or race boards should steer in whatever way they feel will best foster the sort of race they want to put on. It’s their race, after all. What we want to start a dialog on is whether ultramarathon lotteries should be coordinated and, if so, how?

While we’d be thinking about our friends as well as elites in both lotteries this weekend, we’ve got to give credit to Trail Runner Magazine contributing editor Garett Graubins for sparking our thoughts of lottery coordination when he threw the following our way at the tail end of 2009.

I wish all races could coordinate their lottery efforts so that we don’t need to play this waiting and “If-Then” game while trying to set our racing schedules (i.e. “If I don’t get in the Hardrock 100 lottery, then I will do the Leadville Trail 100 again …”). Here’s an idea we should start promoting: what if the Big 100s all held their entry lotteries on the same exact weekend in early December? Think about it — it could be the Super Bowl Saturday and Sunday of the off-season: Western, Hardrock, Wasatch, Massanutten, etc.” Maybe even Miwok 100K and Way Too Cool! And let ultrasignup.com run the entire shabang! Wouldn’t it be great to know in December which races you’re running the following summer?!?!

Garett recently followed up his initial thoughts by adding:

In the case of Hardrock, I think the race itself is barely 20 weeks, give or take, after the lottery and I’m sure a lot of Hardrockers would love to have more time to get their climbing legs into shape for the Big Show … That’s certainly become a race where everybody wants to bring their A Game, and 20 weeks is just barely cutting it.

A Super Bowl Sunday of lotteries would be an incredible mid-winter boost to the sport. And, with technology nowadays, imagine if streaming video could be transitioned from the gym in Auburn, CA, to Silverton, to Salt Lake City, to Virginia, and to Leadville!

While it may seem absurd to think that “competing” ultras could have a coordinated lottery system, medical residency programs cooperate in matching up with applicants. If best in the world medical education programs (and the attendant life and death medical care!) can check their egos at the door to make for a better system, one would hope that a few ultra race directors could do the same.

Would it be hard to work out the initial logistics in the Ultralottery? Yup, it sure would be. Many questions would need to be answered. Which races would be included? Which order should the race lotteries by held? Do entrants rank the race lotteries they enter and get preferential treatment based on that? Would entry stuffing (entering every race or nearly every race in the lottery) be combated and, if so, how?

With the discussion topic laid out, we wish good luck to all the folks in one or both lotteries this weekend! We hope we’ve provided you with something to write about while you stare nervously at your computer screens on Saturday.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.