Ultra Lotteries: Leaps! and Letdowns

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.

There are 6 comments

  1. olga

    You already mentioned the idea of s superbowl lottery but I forgot to comment: how is it going to help us, would we have to submit money for all of them at once? and what happens if I, say, get into a few too close to each other? ask for a refund? most likely, if given, it'll be cut – I loose money? if we don't submit checks, just app for lottery – and then a bunch takes their names off a bunch of races, the whole thing has to start over to make the field? i think it will complicate matters to no means. may be the lottery have to be sequncial. i kind of liked how this year you apply for wasatch and wait, and then the follwoing weekend you get a chance to submit for cascade crest. while it's been done, i can't run both:)

  2. crowther

    Good, provocative ideas on this topic. My own bias is that we should avoid changes that make it even more necessary to plan out one's racing schedule 6 or more months in advance. I often can't think beyond my next race because I need to see what my mood will be after my next one. As a current example, now that I'm done with Rocky Raccoon (whew!) I could imagine getting psyched up for Miwok … but that lottery was held in December.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Greg, First off, congrats on your win at Rocky. I'd never thought about it from the perspective that there would be too much time from lottery to race day, because I personally like more than 6 months between a lottery and a focus race… particularly if it's a 100 miler.

  3. Bryon Powell

    Those are the sort of details that would need to be worked out, but I don't think they are insurmountable. I think one would need to spell out which races they would want and identify how many they want to run. It could also be a two step process. A drawing on one Saturday, confirmation of entry by the lotto winners over the following week, and a second round of entry with a few more folks let in later.

    I'd love sequential lotteries, but good luck getting a bunch of RDs to agree who goes first! :-)

  4. Chris Werner

    I'd like to address this point, as it seems central to the working of the whole:

    From your next to last paragraph,

    "…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?"

    My solution would be to give each entrant one lottery entry per race. If there were four race lotteries being conducted, an entrant would have four total lottery enries. The entrant could divide his/her four entries between the lotteries(1-1-1-1), use them all in one race's lottery(4-0-0-0), or divide them in some combination (3-1-0-0, or 2-2-0-0). Obviously there are a number of permutations, but they are simply detail. The system would allow runners to increase their likelihood of gaining entry to a much preferred race, or spread the likelihood between races in a given number of combinations. It would function to limit entry stuffing while allowing runners a greater chance of gaining entry to a given event to which they are particularly inclined. Obviously there would be details to work out, but its a rough sketch of a solution that could work.

    1. Bryon Powell


      A problem with the weighted lottery might be that folks who had no intention of running three of the races could get tickets from all four and only enter one. I suppose that would be the best way to gauge interest in a particular race, but might make it effectively impossible for someone who wants to run the most popular race and one other race from running both.

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