Growing Pains - Page 2
Don't let the logos fool you. Ultrarunners aren't making a living plying their passion. Hiroki Ishikawa takes on the burly 2005 Hardrock 100-miler in Silverton, Colorado. Photo by Topher Donahue.
Lottery Ticks And Online Clicks
At precisely 8 a.m. Pacific Time on December 10, 2007, Rob Evans and his wife, Kate, intended to hop on active.com to register for the Way Too Cool 50K, held March 8 in Cool, California. Problem: only one of them could be on their computer at a time. So Rob called his parents and attempted to navigate them through the process.
Evans explains, “Kate got in, my parents tried to register me but were not quick enough.” The race filled in a little over 11 minutes.
In the end, Evans ran the race—he was wait-listed and gained entry one week later. He was one of the lucky ones.
Way Too Cool, which has taken as little as seven-and-a-half minutes to reach its 450-runner limit, is the poster child for high-demand trail ultramarathons. Bill Finkbeiner of Auburn, California, who has run every one of the 12 Way Too Cool races, remembers the race’s humble roots: “It was put on by a local couple, just as a fun run … they never intended it to mushroom into a huge deal.”
And, while many races use online registration or first-come-first-served mail-in entries, others have resorted to lottery systems in an attempt to give runners a fairly weighted chance of entry. In some lotteries, every entrant is given an equal chance of being picked. In others, entries are weighted according to a number of factors such as previous race finishes (with bonus points for top placing), race volunteering and whether they have been unlucky in previous lotteries.
“A FCFS [first-come-first-served] system would unfairly penalize those who are farther away or have inefficient postal service,” says Blake Wood, Vice President of the Hardrock 100 Board of Directors. “Our foreign runners would be particularly impacted.”
Even elite runners encounter problems getting into the big-name races. Karl Meltzer, who has won more than 15 trail 100s, struck out in the 2007 Western States 100 lottery. Scott Jurek, who won the 2007 Hardrock 100 in record time, was wait listed in the race’s 2008 lottery. So was Darcy Africa, previous winner of the prestigious Wasatch Front 100. Some Grand Slam hopefuls (those attempting to complete the country’s four oldest 100-milers in the same year—Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch) admit that it’s easier to get an entry through the Grand Slam “loophole” than via the lottery.
And past champions aren’t shoo-ins, either. At Western States, says Twietmeyer, “There is no specific past champions rule as the number of champions is also growing. If runners are worthy of being included in the field, they’ll get in through special considerations, as long as they enter with everyone else before the lottery.”
Even 23-year-old wunderkind Kyle Skaggs, who in 2007 set a new course record at the Wasatch Font 100, could not gain entry into the 2008 Hardrock 100, landing eight spots deep on the wait list (he didn’t win the lottery in 2007, either). Skaggs eventually got in and crushed the course record, but 161 other wait-listed hopefuls never saw the starting line. [Editor’s note: Beginning in 2009, Hardrock will change its policy, allowing automatic entry to past champions.]
The best solution may be for racers to eschew the “name-brand” races, and sign up for the plentiful less popular—but high-quality—races. This scenario played out in 2008, when several runners turned to the nearby Tahoe Rim Trail 100, a stunningly scenic ultra around Lake Tahoe from the Western States starting line. Several other runners, including eventual top three TRT finishers Erik Skaden, Mike Wolfe and Nikki Kimball, turned to the race after Western States was cancelled due to forest fires. The TRT subsequently filled up—and the positive post-race buzz and reviews have some runners already ruling out Western States and looking at TRT for 2009.
“[Western States] is off my radar now,” says Sam Thompson, an accomplished endurance runner from Seattle. “I find myself looking for obscure races that aren’t going to fill 24 hours after they open their website.”