With the ever-increasing interest in the sport of ultrarunning has come an explosion of prospective entrants for certain races. This popularity has race directors resorting to lotteries, wait lists and other measures, in some cases just short of asking entrants for their firstborn for entry into their events.
After pushing the entrant numbers as high as possible to accommodate demand within the constraints of permits or the pressure to preserve the runner experience, race directors have gotten creative. Some races like Hardrock have elaborate sub-categories of lotteries to try to find fairness and meet their objectives for the field. Western States 100, the race with 8,000 or so applications for 200 lottery spots, is implementing a new approach in which lottery losers with more than two “losing” years get exponentially increasing odds (its called the ‘n minus one’ provision, and if you figure out how it actually works, please let me know).
The smartest minds in our sport are tackling this issue with the objective of black and white entry rules and “transparency.” And they are failing miserably. But it’s not their fault, bringing a level of order and fairness to the process of entrant selection that satisfies everyone’s desires is an impossible task.
What I see mostly now are just online lotteries held on date X, and then the inevitable waiting list.
But there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of an ultra race. A lot is asked of the family and friends who assist the race director in the task of staging races and appreciation needs to be shown to those who help to make an event what it is. Sometimes this appreciation comes in the form of a simple thank you or a plaque commemorating service, some may receive a small stipend for their efforts. But in many cases others are guaranteed an entry spot into the event itself. That seems fair to me.
Some races allow a certain number of spots to previous winners, podium placers and top 10 runners in their events, as well as spots to winners of other races, and some high-profile runners may be granted a free pass. A few other spots are also sometimes granted to a number of foreign runners requesting entry. And then there are just special friends of the event or director.
Race directors who navigate these choppy waters the best are truly talented individuals who have great judgment and common sense to do the right thing. You know it when you see it, and of course it’s obvious when it is lacking.
Sometimes you make a wait list, even “high up” on the wait list, but then you get inexplicably passed by someone well beneath you, and there doesn’t seem to be justice. Sometimes immensely qualified and worthy individuals in the ultra community do not get into big races, while newbies may slide right in.
There’s just no way to make everyone happy. I hear from disgruntled acquaintances and friends from time to time about their disenchantment with the process of selection. Race directors sometimes make decisions that aren’t understood, especially by those on the outside looking in.
No matter what you think your status is, you may find yourself on the outside looking in. It’s happened to me, life goes on and there are other events. Things happen and we can’t always be privy to the reasons why. None of us wants to be excluded from something of interest we’d like to do or to seemingly be discriminated against or looked over. But should you find yourself on the short end of the stick, you can look inside and find a positive in the situation, like any good ultrarunner does every time they lace up and race. With all of the ultras out there, you can go to a plan B for racing at that time of the year. And that could lead you down a path of entirely new experiences and meeting wonderful new people at a race or event you never would have done. With all the great trails out there and people doing epic runs outside the context of a race, maybe an FKT awaits you now.
Even in the early years of Western States, when it seemed relatively easy to gain entry into the race, I had a couple of back-to-back years when I didn’t get in, and I didn’t like it one bit. Of course they had the two-time loser rule in effect so at least I and others were assured of a spot the third time around. And in those two years I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had running other races and trails in June, plus crewing and pacing my lifelong friends at the big dance.
So if you find yourself not only having to produce a qualifying time in a particular race as well as subjecting yourself to a lottery, a service requirement, a wait list, etc., and possibly the granting of a date with your significant other to the RD just to run the race, and you STILL don’t get in, then suck it up. It’s just the cost of doing business in this current era of ultrarunning.
Or you can start a race of your own that guarantees your entry. It’s not as if we have enough events on the circuit, what with all of the demand for entries. Western States, Wasatch, Hardrock, Bear 100 and others have lotteries, mandates or hoops we have to jump through for entry, but there are tougher things in life, get over it. I’m wanting in! And I wanna be wined and dined by Halle Berry, but that ain’t happening either.