By: Philip Snyder
Saturday, December 3rd marks a very important date on the Ultrarunner’s Calendar: Lottery Day. Both the Western States 100 and the Hardrock 100 will choose their fields for their respective 2017 races. Both races have limited fields with ever increasing interest in running them. Western States is the oldest 100 mile trail race, and so much like Boston has a special place in road runner’s hearts, Western occupies that with trail runners. It may not be the most difficult, but it was the first. Hardrock, on the other hand represents one of the most difficult endurance challenges in the country with 33,000 feet of elevation gain held at an average elevation of 11,000 feet.
Western States boasts a larger field of up to 400 runners (permitted for 369) compared to Hardrock’s 145 runners allowed on course (down from 152 last year). Western States also boasts a larger number of qualifying races than Hardrock, 83 vs. Hardrock’s 24. Hardrock’s qualifiers also must meet their board of director’s standards which, in the interest of having the most qualified field of applicants, gets tougher and tougher. There are some very challenging races that have been eliminated from Hardrock’s list of qualifiers over the years, Western States included.
Once again the number of applicants in both lotteries has increased this year. Western States has 4,258 brave souls wanting to toe the line in Squaw Valley this year, compared to thirty five hundred last year. Hardrock’s numbers are also up, with 1,970 runners coveting a chance to kiss the rock. Both lotteries are structured to increase an applicant’s odds the more years of unsuccessful entry and Hardrock also give’s runners a chance to increase their odds by giving extra tickets in the lottery in exchange for volunteer hours.
The chances of a first time applicant to get in either race are somewhere between an ice-cube’s chance in hell and slim to none. In the case of Western States a person holding one ticket can be illustrated from their website; “The probability of being selected is a function of the number of applicant names in the hat versus the number of slots available to be filled. For example, the number of entrants in the 2015 hat was 2566, with a total ticket count of 6601. Based on an expected draw of 270 and using a monte carlo simulation, the probability of being selected with a single name in the hat was 4.7%.” This year’s race has 4,258 applicants with 11,058 tickets. Meanwhile, down in the San Juans, they structure their lottery a little bit differently by breaking it up into three separate ones. The Veteran group is for those runners who have finished five or more races and has 33 spots available for 43 applicants. The Never group is for those who have never gotten in. This is the largest group and the crux of getting in to the dance. This year 1,726 people have applied for 42 spots. Of those, 736 have only 1 ticket in the lottery and only a .6 percent chance of getting in. Thus making a first time applicant’s possibilities of getting in about the same as getting struck by lightning on Handies Peak. The third group is called “Else” which like the name implies is everyone else, non-veterans, people who have gotten in and did not start, people who did not finish, etc… There are 62 spots this year for the 201 applicants to fight for.
While the Hardrock lottery is a bit more complicated than Western States, it has evolved over the years to be as equitable of a system as possible to provide what the Race Director and Board of Directors feel to be a field balanced between veteran’s and first timers. The lottery gods can be cruel at times, as the 2016 edition proved when 3 time winner Darcy Piceau found herself on a wait list that never moved and was unable to avenge her 2015 loss to Anna Frost. (returning winners get an automatic bid.) And local running favorite Anton Krupicka had a stack of tickets that only got him as far as 99th on the “Else” waitlist.
If you are interested in following the lottery live, both Hardrock and Western will be tweeting results. For a little background and inspiration, may I recommend Matt Trappe’s fine film Kissing the Rock or JB Benna’s Unbreakable:The Western States Movie. Salomon Running TV also has two excellent short films by the African Attachment: Kroger’s Canteen and The Original, about Hardrock and Western respectively.
I will be crossing fingers for teammates and friends and for the longshot of getting my one ticket pulled in the Western lottery. Best of luck to all! And remember there are other races out there as well, the Leadville 100 lottery opens on the first of the month and we will be hosting the lottery draw here at the Roost on January 15th. Another great way to get involved with these races is to either pace someone, if you have a friend who is fortunate enough to get in, or volunteer at an aid station. Either is a great way to give back to the running community as well as appease the lottery gods.
Kroger’s Canteen: https://youtu.be/P5e7pr2Z6ZU?list=PLxumoM5LXuxnAXIy_rx5rOjjh2Vv_cpUe