Those weren't the only Hardrock lists I looked over. I also reviewed the list of the several hundred would-be Hardrock entrants whose tickets weren't pulled in the lottery. Damn, that's a lot of unlucky people who got disappointing news. I didn't count, but it looks like far more people didn't get in than did get in or at least make the wait list.
Running in the Hardrock 100, like the Western States 100, is a personal dream of mine. Hardrock is generally considered the #1 most difficult 100-mile race in North America, unless you want to throw Barkley into the mix. Hardrock brings a combined 68,000 feet of climb and descent--all at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with a high point of 14,048 feet. It takes place in Colorado's spectacular San Juan Mountains, which I haven't yet visited (but will hopefully this summer). I've heard people say it's the ultimate mountain ultra...and inconceivably hard with never-ending killer climbs, quad-busting descents and plenty of thin air. But Hardrock has something else--tradition, community and uniqueness.
Because Hardrock is so difficult, my plan was to work up to it over a period of a few years--first trying to nail Leadville a few times. Unfortunately, based on what I saw with the huge list of Hardrock lottery rejects, it looks like I may be waiting for a long, long time to get a crack at this storied, legendary race. By the way, even if you're elite, you still don't get special treatment with the Hardrock lottery. There are some amazingly talented runners whose name didn't get drawn. In a way, that gives me hope, because then I know my lottery ticket carries the same weight as that of the elites.
This issue brings to light the larger issue of demand outstripping supply in ultrarunning. I got into the sport in 2005, when demand was starting to
So what to do about this situation? Some options to consider--and please chime in with your own:
- Tighten the qualification standards, especially for Western States. This will reduce the number of entrants and ultimately enhance the quality of the field. You should have to complete a 100-mile race within a certain time or win a qualifier to get into Western States.
- Have multiple wave starts over a period of hours a la the Boston Marathon. For example, let the elite guys and gals start at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, with the non-elites starting in waves an hour or two later. This will allow more people on the course, provided the "authorities" sign off (more on that below). Granted, more people on the course isn't possible for some races, such as those in pristine alpine environments. Wave starts isn't a novel idea; the Boston Marathon does it and they have it down to a science. Technology can make wave starts very feasible.
- For the above to work, you have to bring the forest service and related agencies to the table and get their buy-in on increased capacity. This is a tough proposition on two grounds: 1) The government is rife with backward, status-quo thinking and it's hard to get access to the "right" decision makers. 2) These are the same folks who assume trail runners are going to trash the joint. They need to know that most of us really respect nature and would never do anything to harm the trails or environment (unfortunately, littering was apparently a huge problem at the 2010 Leadville 100, though I didn't see much discarded trash). We are truly stewards of all things green and races actually work to nurture respect for the environment and increase awareness of our wonderful parks system. But for those jackasses who choose to litter, have stiff penalties for intentionally throwing crap on the trails, such as a lifetime ban from the event and a stiff ticket from the park service (I say "intentionally" because sometimes things can accidentally fall out of our pockets during a race). When I won the Mohican 100 in 2009, a few times I stopped--while in the lead--to pick up stuff (wrappers, etc.) I accidentally dropped. We're all bound to do that.
- Add more races. This is already happening and it's probably the #1 tactic right now for trying to meet demand. But this tactic doesn't solve the problem of deserving runners not being able to get into the Western States 100, Hardrock 100 and other big races. On this point, I go back to the idea of wave starts. Also, there's an unintended consequence to adding more races. More races are going to work to water down the competition, which might irk a few. I can see how elites would be opposed to more races. They want to square off against each other on the biggest stages, get into whatever race they so choose, and contend for big prize purses. This exposes another huge issue in ultrarunning--the conflict between the wishes of elites and the wishes of the rest of us. I don't want to see ultrarunning fall victim to what's happened with Ironman triathloning, so I think ultrarunning should side with non-elites in the spirit of the best traditions of the sport. Which means I think more races should be added--but maybe we could have a Super Bowl of races for the elites.
Until then, my dream of one day running in the Hardrock 100 may just remain that...a dream. An unfilled dream bcause I wasn't lucky enough for my name to be drawn in a lottery.