Just for background: The old system was first-come, first-served. You registered on January 1. The 2014 race closed in, I believe, two days. That was amazing. Just to put things in perspective, in 2010, I registered in April and I believe registration stayed open until May or June. Interest in the race has exploded in large part because of The Book.
With the new lottery system, essentially you pay $15 to have you name put in the hat, and that $15 goes to the Leadville Legacy Foundation, which provides support for all graduating high school seniors in Leadville who aspire to seek further education/training (great cause!). From there, all you can do is hope your name is pulled and that you have a spot at the starting line on August 22.
Many of us knew a lottery was coming at some point. But many of us--myself included--assumed that "race veterans" would have special consideration. That is, if you're a returning finisher or you have multiple finishes under your belt, you'd get multiple tickets in the lottery. Or, better yet, if you finished the previous year's race, you're in automatically if you want it. I have four finishes. I'm not bragging when I say that; my point is that I am (was?) part of the Leadville faithful and I believe I should get more tickets than someone who read The Book and got inspired (and, let's face it, will likely DNF at/by Winfield). That may sound elitist, but it's how I feel and it's how most Leadville vets feel. We feel like we've been forgotten with this new lottery system.
The only folks getting automatic entries, besides those who finish high in the qualifiers, are nine-time LT100 finishers going for their tenth. That's awesome--I'm all for it. But what about the rest of us?
Here's the rub: Human nature is such that a lottery will induce even more demand than what we've seen in previous years. When something becomes scarce or is perceived as scarce, people all of a sudden want it. So, I believe the lottery, which will be open for an entire month, will garner thousands of entries--just as with the mountain bike race. The odds of getting in will be slim.
At Leadville every year, dozens of people come up to me and tell me how helpful this blog has been to their preparation. I don't claim to be some Leadville master, but I appreciate the feedback. I have lined up for that race five times and gone deep into the well each time. I have stood by the race through thick and thin, defending it after the 2013 running that left many in the ultarunning world disenchanted and disgruntled. So, from where I'm sitting, to have to stand in the same line as Born to Run disciples leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I have fought for my four finishes and believe I, along with other race vets, should have some kind of special consideration when it comes to a lottery. If the race organizing staff doesn't want to give us 2014 finishers and vets automatic entry into the 2015 event, that's fine--but at least give us some extra tickets to boost our odds of being chosen in the lottery.
Lotteries suck but they're a necessary evil in the "sport" (not sure this is a sport, which is why I put that word in quotes). Hardrock and Western States have done a great job with their lotteries, though I'd say I prefer Hardrock's lottery when comparing the two. With Hardrock and Western States, as well as the Boston Marathon, you know any tweaks to their intricate systems have come on the heels of great thought, consideration and engagement with those who will be affected. With Hardrock, we're literally talking about rocket scientists who developed the lottery. With Western States and Boston, you have two races that really set the standard for all others. I don't sense that with Leadville's new lottery system. There has been a backlash, confirming that this new system is unfair and faulty. It's not like the wheel has to be reinvented--look at Boston, Western States and Hardrock for models.
I talked with the race director, Josh Colley, yesterday. Josh is a good guy and he's about Leadville. The 100-mile run has to show a positive impact on the community as there's a small but vocal anti-race series community in Leadville. So, I totally support any and all tactics for boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation. I think he wants a great race and I know the 2013 run inspired him to step it up, which he did because the 2014 running was nearly flawless. I don't know what Lifetime's role is in the race, meaning I don't know how much control the company has over what takes place at the shop in downtown Leadville. The race doesn't make Lifetime a ton of money (probably just a drop in the bucket), but it does give Lifetime a nice boost to its brand. What I do know is that Josh is doing what he thinks is best/right, and I know that as an RD he has to make some unpopular decisions at times (I'm not an RD, but that's my take). I don't agree with the direction that's been taken with the lottery, and for the time being I'm thinking hard about whether or not I return to Leadville. I'm also thinking hard about whether it's time to move on from ultrarunning--too many damned people. I can run in the mountains and do crazy stuff--hell, I can run the Hardrock course if I want.
While the backlash unfolds, here are some ideas to consider.
- Give automatic entry to 2014 finishers. About 360 finished. Not all 360 would return in 2015 if given the option. Maybe half would return. That leaves plenty of spots (500+) for the lottery entrants, the other automatic entrants, and additional folks such as elites.
- If the above isn't possible, give runners a ticket for every year they've finished. It is unfair that I, with my four finishes, or my buddy Matt, with his five finishes (just using us as examples), get just one ticket each.
- Or do what Hardrock does and have separate lotteries--a lottery for vets, a lottery for newbies, etc.
- Institute a qualification standard. You have to finish a 50-mile race or just about any 100-miler to qualify for the lottery. I know Leadville has a tradition of welcoming all comers, but times need to change when it comes to that. Besides, Leadville isn't a race for newbies. The epic carnage I see every year when coming back to Twin Lakes reveals that the race needs to institute a qualification standard.
- Institute a service requirement. You need to do at least six hours of trail-related/race-related/outdoor-related service to gain entry. That would thin the lottery field--and it might give the Leadville Race Series some additional volunteers.
- If boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation is a key goal (which I totally get and support), institute a surcharge for the fund and/or increase the race entry fee. I would be happy to pay more. As it is, I always give an extra donation to the foundation.
- Radical: Scrap the existing course and develop a new route that is a big loop starting and finishing at 6th and Harrison. A point-to-point wouldn't work as the start and finish need to be in Leadville in order to keep aligned with the traditions of the race. A loop course would enable more runners and better traffic flow, while keeping the start and finish where they've always been. Then you could have a huge event, but it would also mean you'd need more volunteers because you wouldn't be using each aid station twice. Admittedly, this solution would require years of planning, but there are trails galore, along with old mining roads, in the area and it could be done.
At present, I don't know what I'm doing in 2015 as far as Leadville and my race schedule (not that anyone cares). My #1 hope is to get into Western States. But there are a few other 100-milers I'm eyeballing as backups. It may be time to step away from Leadville and do something new. I believe in the end Josh and his team will revisit the lottery and make some changes. For now, to say I'm saddened by this new system would be an understatement. In all honesty, I'm heartbroken over it because I love Leadville--my son has practically grown up on that course. My wife and I have had some powerful moments during that race. I have history there.
I realize this is a "first-world problem," but it's saddened me.