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At a “Women of Hardrock” panel on Wednesday night in Silverton, Colorado, Trail Sisters founder and Hardrock 100 board member Gina Lucezi announced that the historic endurance run will make changes to their lottery system to include more women among the starting runners.
The change would make it such that the percentage of women on the starting line would be no less than the percentage that qualifies and enters the lottery. Meaning, that if 25 percent of lottery entrants were women, 25 percent of runners standing on the startline would be women. There could be more women if they get in through the lottery, but this policy creates a floor for female participation. This update marks a significant update to a competitive lottery system that has inadvertently limited the number of women who have been able to compete at this marquee race.
The Hardrock 100, a rugged 100-mile loop in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and one of the country’s classic trail races, is highly sought after by ultrarunners. Its byzantine lottery involves a rather convoluted system of allocating its small number of entries to a large number of aspirants—145 spots for 1,966 applicants in 2016. The number of runners is capped by permits granted to the race to use public lands and trails.
“The goal is to bring this system, which was never designed to hurt anyone, back into balance,” says Lucrezi. “Things have changed, and we were looking for ways we could progress as well.”
The lottery provides good odds for “Veterans”—those who have run Hardrock five or more times—bad odds for “Never Starters,” and O.K. odds for “Everyone Else,” or those with one to four Hardrock starts. Since “Veterans” tend to skew male, and “Never Starters” skew female, this has resulted in years of underrepresentation on the start line – with just 16 women running in 2021.
“This solution forces the female demographic that’s excited to go out and qualify and get their name in [the lottery],” says Lucrezi. “The cool thing about it is that the more women that apply, the higher the percentage of entrants we get, the more women get to the start line.”
Just A Start
Had the changes been implemented in 2021, there would have been 25 women on the startline instead of 16. To apply for the lottery, runners must have complete a qualifying race with a significant mountain challenge. While female participation in ultras, particularly 100-mile races, has increased, women still make up just 23% of all ultra competitors.
According to Lucrezi, women’s interest in the race and the number of female applicants had grown, though the number on the startline stayed relatively stagnant. This solution was partially reached with input from female athletes and women associated with the race, including Darcy Piceu, Meghan Hicks, and Nikki Kimball and Stephanie Case.
“We asked ourselves, what can we do for the sport through Hardrock? How can we be a leader?” says Lucrezi. Starting in 2022, Hardrock will also be a Trail Sisters approved race, which means the race conforms to a set of standards established by Trail Sisters aimed at including women in competition. “We’ll also strongly be encouraging all our qualifiers to get approved as well.”
Many other large 100’s, like Western States and Leadville, also have lottery systems to enter, which have been critiqued for the underrepresentation of women in the past. Hardrock, which occupies a large bit of cultural cache, could inspire other races to adopt entry systems that prioritize equity and inclusion.
“We will be working through other issues related to diversity in the future, and we know that this isn’t the only problem to solve,” says Lucrezi. “Not at Hardrock, not in the sport.”
This policy change is part of a two-pronged approach to increase female participation at Hardrock, and in ultras generally, that will also include opportunities for childcare, and a potential future Hardrock “camp” for women that would get runners out exploring the San Juans and provide mentorship for aspiring Hardrock runners. Lucrezi also has a “Women of Hardrock” focus group that would connect runners interested in the 100-mile distance and rugged mountain runs, and help women form mentorship, childcare groups, and women-centered meetups in the mountains.
“They’re all small things, but we have to take steps forward into the future,” says Lucrezi. “We want women to know, you can do this.”
Zoë Rom is Editor In Chief of Trail Runner magazine.