Western States And Hardrock Lottery Season

AJWs TaproomThis 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!

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Bottom up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Zero Gravity Craft Brewery Conehead IPAThis 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?

There are 35 comments

  1. wMichaelOwen

    No grumbles here about the lottery methods of either race; I've even missed out 4 straight years and missed a "golden ticket" by a mere 92 seconds and another time by 2 places. But I'll still keep trying to get into both races to be a part of the history, legendary moments, and all that takes place at WS and HR. I've spectated at both, and paced, and that has just fueled my desire even more.

    I understand the permit and capacity requirements, and it just comes with the territory that about 3,700 people get left out of WS each year that apply for the lottery – in a way, the challenge of getting in make these races even more appealing and legendary. The races would be diluted and watered down if several thousand made it in. In a time when inclusiveness is so important in America, these two races need to remain exclusive to race in – they still remain very inclusive for the fan, volunteer, or family member.

  2. Bartels

    I also have no problem with the methods of ticket distribution of HR and WS. Both races should keep the number of runners capped at the current number.

    Here are my issues with each of the races current lottery system:

    RUMOR is that the HR board has 5 special picks that bypass the lottery. I am fine with this, but I would like this to be transparent and know who those 5 picks are. IF this is not a rumor, I would bet money that I know who 4/5 people are that got picked last year. I wish someone could definitively confirm or deny this rumor.

    Western States-
    This one is a real problem. Greater than 1/4 (maybe close to 1/3 in past years) of slots are reserved for Golden ticket winners (form, sponsors, volunteers, international, special consideration, top 10 (really, top 10?), etc. I think this is BS. Does anyone else see this as a problem?? WS needs to get rid of all these entries and shift those spots to the general applicant pool.

    Let the top 3 come back, give volunteers, special considerations, etc an extra ticket if you want. Everyone else needs to get in the lottery. Golden Ticket/Montrail cup is a joke. Why not generate the most diverse race instead of trying to make it the most competitive? I wonder if the permitting agencies (FS/BLM, etc) know that so many spots are reserved for the non-general public?

    Out of all of those I think the sponsor slots need to be eliminated. Don't argue that it's a money issue. WS is one of the more expensive 100's. Look at Cascade Crest, Hardrock, Bear, Wasatch, Pine to Palm, etc as examples. They seem to do just fine with limited sponsorship and their aid stations have the same assortment of junk food as WS.

    Blah, blah, blah. You get my point.

    1. totops1

      This rumor is probably something to consider. When I saw last year that Anna Frost got picked when it was the first year she applied, it made me think twice about this "lottery" process. It could be pure chance too but I would not be surprised as I know FOR SURE that some of my local RDs make their friend bypass the lottery for their own race.
      I am not against lottery and I understand that we need/should limit the number of people on the trail (we've seen this disaster with Leadville 100).
      Ultimately, if people are not happy with those lotteries, I just recommend to do like me: avoid them ! Run your local lowkey race and support them!
      It makes me think of the article that Geoff wrote about Grand Canyon last month : why do people want to go to WS so bad ? is it mainly because everybody else wants to run it too ?

    2. @elsbernd9

      While I sympathize with much of what you say, I would say that WS100 for whatever reason is not a cheap race. One year they stated that the costs per runner were several times the actual entry fee. They must make up the difference from sponsors, merchandise sales, and raffle tickets. Why is it so expensive? Not sure, though it cannot be cheap to rent ski area facilities and an entire stadium. Pine to Palm has zero rental costs at the start and low rental costs at the finish, using a public street for the finish line. Cascade Crest uses the facilities of the volunteer fire department, since the fire department is a beneficiary of the race.

      1. iThinkBeer

        Unlike majority of ultra races in US, WS100 has a paid RD which works full time the whole year. His salary is little above US average. Good pay for doing what you love, but nothing what makes you rich. I am not sure if there is other paid staff as well. Anyway, I participated in organization of one 50 miler where everybody was a volunteer. The price per runner was about 50$. The contribution from sponsors is for most of the races rather marginal and in majority cases only in-kind donations.

  3. ajoneswilkins

    Hello everyone, thanks for the comments. I do not know anything about the rumor of elite getting allowed to bypass the lottery at Hardrcok and knowing many members of the Hardrock administrative team I a would be quite surprised if this rumor were true. That said, maybe someone should ask them?

    As far as WS is concerned (and keep in mind I have no "official" connection to the event) tradition is very important to the organizers. In that context, cherished traditions like top-10 automatics and aid stations spots have been and likely always will be part of the mix. Sponsor spots, Golden Ticket Race winners, UTWT, and Raffle winners are also a way for people to gain entry into the race through alternate means than the lottery. If you don't like that of course that's fine however there is nothing underhanded or secretive about it as every single runner who gains entry to the race has an identifier next to their name indicating how they gained entry. You may not like the process or the policy but please don't quibble with the integrity.


    1. @SageCanaday

      Golden Ticket Race winners are only top 2 places from a select few (rather competitive) races. It's not a walk in the park!…anyone can try to earn those two automatic spots…it's up for grabs…they just have to race for it! Same thing with bringing the top 10 back every year…it keeps the race competitive and that is part of the long tradition. I can respect that (of course you can say I'm very biased with gaining entry in that regard, but realize that some Ultra-Trail-World Tour international runners have an automatic "in" to WS and I'll have a much harder time than them in getting into WS as my shot is earning a Golden Ticket). But to say it is "a joke" is disrespectful IMO. It's only a joke when top athletes get in on an automatic sponsorship slot….as that is disrespectful to those that earned a Golden Ticket.

      In road running the Boston Marathon is so appealing not only because of the history, but also because one has to qualify by hitting a rather challenging time (aside from the charity enteries)..it makes the field rather deep and competitive. People train and sacrifice for years to get a "BQ". The Boston Marathon is to road marathons in the US, much like WS100 is to trail-ultras.

  4. ctkohm

    As everyone on the post seems to agree, the lottery systems protect the allure of the race and most importantly protect the land/trails from overuse. However, the HR lottery certainly favors those who have completed the race, particularly multiple times, and this is very unfortunate. Its soo strange that year after year I read about people who state of HR "I'll be back next year" (or at least think it and plan on it and get to do it) such as Scott Jaime, Jared/Adam Campbell, Scott Mills, Kirk Apt, Darcy P. etc. etc. While those runners are not responsible for the format, and they are likely awesome people, how unfair that they get to experience HR over and over while most have very little chance to get the experience!! It seems so backwards. Why not make it harder to get picked for those who already have gotten to experience the race, and make it easier for those who still hope and pray for a slot? Perhaps allowing ten slots (or twenty tops) for previous finishers, all with an equal chance and no favoritism, and the rest goes to general public, with increasing chances until a draw/finish, and then get put into that finishers pool and let those who have never been able to get in have a fair chance? Something has to change to give those who have never been picked a better chance than anyone who has been picked.

  5. Bartels

    @SageCanaday – I disagree. Why is your winning a race and getting a WS spot more important then me or anyone else finishing DFL. I train my ass off, work a full time job, have a family, I'm OLD, have injuries, etc, etc, etc, etc. Why not just give 2 random racers a golden ticket? This is clearly a rhetorical question as WS wants to make the race competitive. I still call BS on the cost of the race and the sponsor slots.

    Here is another example as to why the Montrail/Golden ticket race is a bad idea. I won't name names, but the blog is out there for those that want to look it up. It's not hard to find, just look at the finishers. It was at Sean O'Brien in the past few years, I don't exactly remember which year. Post race I read a blot about a racer that already had a sponsor slot for WS. Rather than finish strong as he probably would have in any other race, he decided to let his buddy intentionally pass him at the end and get a WS spot. If he would have beat his friend, the friend would not have got a WS spot. I think that's very poor form and sportsmanship to say the least. How fair is that to those of us that put our name in the lottery year after year.

    WS needs to change and adapt like many other races out there. HR added more first timer slots last year.
    Get rid of top ten and Golden ticket to start. Have everyone wait their turn like the rest of us.

    @AJW – My question about the 5 board picks has been asked in this form as well as others (and not just by me), including the HR facebook page. I've never seen an answer. Therefore I suspect the rumor is true.

    Good luck to all those regular folks in the lotteries.

    1. @SageCanaday

      I'm just saying that a part of the tradition of Western States is that it draws a competitive field. If you don't care about that (and I'm sure a lot of people don't) that's fine. I'm also not sure how long the Golden Ticket (used to be Montrail) auto entries have been in place, but I'm just saying it doesn't take up that many slots/entries and that they are rather hard to get into (even for a pro like me who has but a career/family/ on hold to pursue a dream in running and sacrificed a lot). I disagree with the sponsorship slots if they are used for elite athletes as that is disrespectful to those that earned a Golden ticket. I also would disagree with international runners that get an automatic "in" to WS100 because of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. But again, it's part of the tradition to keep the race competitive.

      It is a rough analogy, but again I will compare WS100 for US trail ultras to being like the Boston Marathon for US marathons. Most people have to earn an entry into Boston by running a certain time. Fast performances are rewarded. But that is exactly why everyone (including charity runners) want to enter and race it!…it is exclusive, it is competitive, it is historic. If we just made entry into Boston a lottery entry for all with a 5% chance of entry it would not only lose it's competitive field, but it would likely lose it's appeal.

      I think we're actually in agreement with other entry systems for other races being "questionable" (i.e. like HR "draws", and having it become easier once you've done HR).

      What is poor form is you calling out another racer from Sean O'Brien (and i know exactly who that is/was) and deciding to judge his "sportsmanship" based on what he decided to do in a race to help a friend. Seriously? And I thought ultra running was this opening/welcoming community…

      1. @sharmanian

        The concept of racing your way into WS100, either through a top 10 finish or a Golden Ticket Race, is the most meritocratic way to do things – that's just the definition of meritocratic! That's also why I sponsor the Golden Ticket Races through my coaching business and why I have a huge target of earning my entry each year through a top 10 finish…which is not easy.

      2. corunr

        @SageCanaday – if the golden ticket is meant to reward high finishers and promote a meritocracy, circumventing that process and allowing a friend to move up a spot (if that is indeed what happened) seems to be against everything the "golden ticket" and the community stands for. Helping a friend is what everyone should strive to do but looking at the greater impact of your decision should be part and parcel of that same decision.

        Would you take a WS100 spot if in fact someone let you beat them meaning you maybe didn't actually earn it?

          1. totops1

            Well, like Sage said, " ultra running was this opening/welcoming community..", the runner was just welcoming/opening his friend into the WS100 community by giving him a ticket ;-)

        1. @SageCanaday

          These are the results of that race: https://www.irunfar.com/2014/02/2014-sean-obrien-5
          Now, this is a very unusual circumstance: (and what I gathered happened). Dom Grossman already had a spot at WS100. Chris Price did not. To earn a spot at WS100 through "Golden Ticket," Chirs needed to finish in the top 2-3 OR be in the Top 4 overall since those ahead of him (like Dom) already had WS100 spots. So Dom may have let up a little at the end and let Chris Price beat him by 1 sec to earn that last spot. It was "up for grabs." If Dom beat Chris, the auto spot would've been lost.

          My guess is that Dom wasn't feeling too great and Chris was closing fast…they decided to come into gather and not risk a total blow up to preserve their spots. They worked together. It is a great story and a dream come true for Chris…he earned every bit of that WS100 entry! Question Dom's integrity all you want…he's a pretty cool guy in my book though.

          Do you think all of us race 100% hard to the end of a race all the time?…Sometimes people decide to tie (Even at UTMB!) Sometimes us elites even DNF. I understand that you want everyone to enter the lottery for WS100, but just note that it is one of the only running events in the world that doesn't give "easy auto entries" for "elites". Again, Golden ticket entries are earned through hard work, sweat and tears…there aren't very many of them. It's much harder than qualifying for the Boston Marathon. If I was to "complain" about something it would be auto international entries for "elites", or elites using sponsorship slots, or other entries more tied up in $$.

          Boston Marathon, NYC Marathon….I can get into those easy and last minute – But WS100 I have to "earn it." That's a fair enough trade though, as it's part of the race's long tradition, the history, and because the entry process is totally transparent. Those Golden Ticket entries are up and open for grabs for anyone to earn.

  6. totops1

    If the goal is to keep the race competitive, then why not do like Boston and make ultrarunners "earn" their entry to WS or HR with a time ? So far, we only ask to "finish" an ultra but why not ask in the future to finish an ultra in xhxmin….. (WS seems to do that already but the times dont look hard to attain)? That would definitely help keep the race competitive but also bring the finishing ratio up. isnt that what they would want ?

    I really agree with ctkohm, and to mention what Sage was saying, if the Ultra community is so opening/welcoming then how come HR for example seems to favor the runners that have already run HR numerous time ? To me, it doesnt look like welcoming except for the ones that have already run the race (catch 22!)

    Yes, the ultra community is welcoming but I find that it is also beginning to be contradictory. We want more trail runners to bring money in the sport, to allow for prize money, to allow for people to live and support their family with but yet we complain to see those same people on our trails (R2R2R discussion example) or our races because it gets "crowded". So what do we want ultrarunning to be ?

  7. fschuetz

    This is regarding Western States. I am German. Apart from me there are 21 other Germans in the Lottery. So if none of us gets in via the Lottery (which is possible) is there a chance to get in via "Foreign Consideration"? Am i right that they said something that some people of every country can get in every year? Thought i read that somewhere.

    1. TropicalJohn

      "Foreign consideration" is substantially a thing of the past. Many years ago there were very few foreign runners applying to run Western States, and 25 spots were reserved for them to encourage international participation. But the ultra trail scene has exploded on the world stage. This year we have 798 foreign applicants, almost 1/4 of those who applied. We might grant foreign consideration to a runner from a country that has never been represented before (unsure if there are any) or possibly an elite foreign runner who has a legitimate chance at winning the race. But if there are any, it will a very small number.

  8. lstomsl

    I like the idea of having some elites being able to race their way in to keep things competitive at the front end. Makes it fun to watch. But maybe WS overdoes it a bit and HR underdoes it a bit.

    My issue is with HR veterans getting virtually automatic ins. The HR board can certainly make whatever decisions they like with regards to letting all their friends come back year after year, but I think the Forest Service and BLM need to take a harder look at the way the race utilizes our PUBLIC lands. It should not be a private party. When there are thousands of people trying year after year after year to get in and a few people who get in every single year it is contradictory to the egalitarian spirit of our public lands which should be equally available to all. If you want to have a private party for your friends, great, but do it on private land.

    The HR board has the right to WANT anything they desire for their race but they don't have the right to DO anything they damn well please on our PUBIC land. They still need a permit and the FS and BLM need to step up and exercise a little more oversight over the entry procedures on lands they manage.

    1. Bartels

      If agree, but HR is no different then WS in regard to public land. WS giving anywhere from 1/4-1/3 or allocated slots to the aforementioned people for a race on our PUBLIC land is wrong. Just like a guaranteed lottery at HR is wrong. But I'd rather see a HR type system (as skewed as it is) for WS than all the sponsor, volunteer, golden ticket, special consideration, etc. BS.

      I do have to give WS credit for their transparency.

      I think people need to start writing the public agencies that permit BOTH races. PUBLIC input is the only way they will have any idea as to what is going on.

      Contact info for WS- http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=502 http://www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe/

      and for HR- http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/sanjuan/home

      This might be opening Pandora's box, but maybe it will get both races to consider that it is no longer 1995 and the demand for each is growing every year.

      1. lstomsl

        I'll admit to being far less familiar with WS entry than HR, but I think it's OK to have some performance based entries. And I don't think it's the same people that get in every single year at WS, except for Gordy. And there are several hundred tickets pulled in the lottery rather than the 40 or so avaliable for first timers at HR.

        But your point is well taken. The rules regarding participation in events permitted on public land should apply to all races. And making the permit issuers aware if what is going on is the best way to affect change. They do actually listen to the public. Certainly the race organizers feel their actions are totally appropriate and are unlikely to change without pressure. To their credit both races are upfront at least about their goals and the lottery procedures. I don't think they are deliberately hiding anything, just misguided.

  9. naynaynaynay

    One's intense desire to run WS & HR seems to be able to mislead them into thinking their criticisms are not rationalizations of frustration or longing. Neither of these races were designed or should be designed as populist events – although WS + @sharmanian do a lot for inclusivity.

    1. lstomsl

      Can't speak for anyone else but I have zero desire to run either one or any other hundred mile race. I prefer to have balance in my life. . I do care intensely about how we use public lands. I could care less about how these races were designed. As long as they take place on public land they absolutely should be populist events or they will lose their permits.

      1. naynaynaynay

        Good logic to your point. If its public land, its a public event for anyone to participate. But its the concern of race organizers to strike their own "balance" so that the event is run well, it is safe and inevitable environmental impact is minimized. Whatever form of exclusion comes as a byproduct of this trumps public land. public event logic.

        1. lstomsl

          I agree. All those things are important I have no problem with race directors or public lands administrators limiting field sizes or even denying permits in sensitive areas. I don't think they should have races in national parks, in wilderness areas, or other sensitive areas. But I don't see how allowing the same 40 people to get in every single year helps to achieve those goals.

          In the case of HR I have often wondered if keeping the field so small actually increases the environmental impacts. Because it is so hard to get in to it is becoming something that will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime event. When people get in they plan their entire year around it, come out weeks before to acclimate, scout the course, etc. And they bring family and friends along to crew and pace and be part of the mythic experience. And all summer long there are now people on the course, even unmarked, non-system trails who want to experience a part of the event. I lived in the area since before there was a lottery and I have watched it balloon to the point where I don't even want to be near Silverton in early july anymore. It has become such a zoo.

          I don't know for certain but maybe if they allowed 500 people every year, the stigma will be lessened and it would become like any other race and people would just show up on race day and run because they know they will likely get a dozen chances to run it over the course of their lives. I realize altitude acclimation and course familiarity are still important in such an event but surely they become less important if you know you will get a second chance.

          Maybe it would be better to have 500 racers and 500 pacers for a couple days than to have 150 racers and 1000 family, friends, crew etc, in the area for weeks.

          1. naynaynaynay

            "Maybe it would be better to have 500 racers and 500 pacers for a couple days than to have 150 racers and 1000 family, friends, crew etc, in the area for weeks." Really interesting point! Never thought about that side of it.

            1. totops1

              If they're really concerned about having too many people on the trails, let's get rid of the pacers and double the entrants list! Who of those "wild and tough" people need a pacer anyway ? Isnt it supposed to be the toughest run out there ? Then make it a REAL tough run and allow no pacers but more runners!!

        2. iThinkBeer

          You and the guy above are both wrong regarding public lands. Of course if you get a permit you can host a private event on public lands. It's done all the time all around US. Now as of HR, the event is limited not because it is private or public event, but simply because the custodian of the public land decided that they don't want to allow more people in the event. It is outside of HR powers. You may not like the lottery system, and it sure can be tweaked one way or the other, but besides that it would help not to use flawed arguments.

          1. lstomsl

            HR has always had the opportunity to expand if they choose. Doing so would require an environmental impact statement and some expense and the result is not guaranteed but they absolutely have the opportunity and they have chosen to not pursue it for their own reasons as is their right. But it's wrong to say that the Forest Service has put an absolute cap on the number of entrants. They have only said if you want to expand you need to follow standard NEPA procedures regarding any commercial activity on federal land.

            And getting a permit doesn't entitle them to do anything they want. If enough people complain to the FS I suspect they will listen and they absolutely can require a more fair entry procedure as a stipulation of the permit in the future.

  10. @AaronOphaug

    One thing that has not been mentioned – entertainment value and the excelling of human running limits. I want to see Golden Ticket people get in because all those top tier racers create an atmosphere where records are broken and the limits of what is possible move forward. I don't want WS to be filled with a bunch of us mid packers. I want elites (and many of them) to be in it so I can celebrate the sport of running. Plus elites make it entertaining. I don't watch the live event at 5am to see a bunch of 40 year olds with salomon packs strolling by – I watch to see Dom and Price from SoCal represent our area against the other elites. Keep Golden Tickets the way they are. And if I ever got fast enough to earn one u bet I'd feel like I earned a spot to a historic race. Btw- I hope sage gets a spot so I can watch sage compete with krar and max king. Wouldn't that be epic?

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