Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Take on the New Leadville Lottery Standards

Over 3,000 hits to the my blog yesterday tells me a few folks maybe wanted to know my take on the new lottery system that Lifetime Fitness is instituting for the Leadville 100-Mile Run. So, here goes.

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.
Those are just a few ideas. I'm no expert on this--lots of people know more about lotteries than I do. All I really want is engagement. Runners need to be engaged when big changes are percolating.

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.


  1. I feel for you Wyatt - a race I love and have done 7 of the 9 years is Hinson Lake 24 Hour run. Its gone from 100 people to 350, way beyond what the 1.5 mile loop around the lake can handle. I'm sure there will be a race cap next year. They give out bibs based on total cumulative mileage over the race's history, so I hope they provide some guaranteed spots based on that, but it really depends on the RDs philosophy of if they want to allow any sort of favoritism based on that or not. I guess we will see. Personally, I think all race cultures are a mixture of the volunteers, RD, and racers who have come before - so the more you have done a race, the higher chance of entry you should be given if there needs to be a lottery...

  2. I am not a fan of the preferential lotteries (like Hardrock) as they arguably need to be continually tweaked to be considered "fair." Keeping it simple is fair to me.

    I am also not a fan of mandatory volunteerism given the oxymoronic nature of that very phrase. That said, I'd be fine with the RD granting a lottery ticket, or two or whatever to persons that have contributed to the race in a positive way.

    I'd be fine with there having to be a qualifier - including a recent Leadville finish (say within 2 years) being one.

    My understanding though is that a qualifier goes against some of the initial pathos of Leadville. Changing the course that significantly is probably in the same vein.

    Folks seem to agree that the race needs to change ... there just seems to be disagreement on what that change is ...

    1. GZ: Note that in my blog I didn't use the word "volunteer."

      Almost any good system needs to be tweaked now then. Very little in life is static. We'd all agree (well, maybe not all) that Apple makes great phones, and yet they're always sending out tweaks.

      Regarding the course change, you could probably keep the first 50 the same but then have a new backside 50. Not sure how it would look, but I'm guessing it would involve a ton of vertical.


  3. As a runner who has never tried an ultra but is considering the Pb100, I think requiring a prior 50 miler would be good for the Leadville rookie to understand what they are getting into and good for the race to see more successful finishers. I believe that is the thinking behind the rocket scientists at WS " we want you to succeed" not a bad motto for a race.

  4. I know it runs core to who they are, and I know they take advantage of publishing a high DNF rate to make the course seem like the toughest out there, but I find any attempt to make a lottery without a qualifier a joke. Most of what is wrong with this event -- in my opinion -- is a result of them allowing unqualified and unprepared runners to toe the line. Yes, you can turn that around and say everyone deserves a shot to take the challenge. But, with the climate what it is today, I think runners that are prepared for the challenge should be rewarded, those that have paid their dues. Leadville could still reap the benefits by using their own Race Series as qualifying events. If the runners were more qualified, then you could consider some additional change that would be positive for the course, namely not allowing crew or pacers at Winfield, except for maybe those runners that are in danger of going back over in the dark, those near the cut off.

    Beyond that, I agree with GZ, keep it simple. Hardrock's lottery, while well thought out, seems unnecessarily complicated to me.

    1. AJ: I agree with everything you said in the first paragraph. My wife has told me, like you, that a lottery without a qualifier is a joke. In this case, the lottery without qualifier is clearly a tactic for getting money to the legacy fund. I do think the Hardrock lottery is pretty impressive. It's a model Leadville could consider. Leadville thinks it needs a big lottery for the legacy fund, so in the end who knows how this turns out. But this I do know: people like us are getting the shaft.


  5. Excellent Post!! WHY??? Because You Gave Solutions!! Cheers

  6. AJ: Hardrock is run by nuclear scientists. :) They want to run a lottery that strikes a balance between people who have done it several times and those that have never done it. While it seems complicated, I think its actually quite simple.

  7. I am not opposed to the lottery, but I think it needs to be done right. A few thoughts:

    I agree wholeheartedly on the automatic entry for prior year's runners (#1 above). This Summer was my first LT100, but as we left town my wife (who crewed and paced for me) said "Make sure you rent this house again for next Summer; we're coming back, even if you're not running, to crew or pace or volunteer." To me, that's what LRS should be striving for - encouraging returning runners and the traditions that familes, like yours (and hopefully mine), have started around the race, but at the same time welcoming newcomers into the fold. A mixed automatic entry and lottery seems to strike the right balance.

    Along the same lines, Volunteers should get an automatic entry or increased odds, as should runners who have completed LT100 in past 3 or 5 years, though not in the prior year.

    Also, a slug of automatic entries should also be reserved for Leadville residents. How crazy would it be for Leadville folks to have to sit out their own race?

    I understand that LRS is opposed to qualifying races, but they could give increased odds to someone who has completed a 50 miler or above in the past year as a way to reduce the strain on resources attributable to less-experienced runners. Still allows the complete newbies, but encourages them to get some miles under their belts before they show up at 6th and Harrison.

    As to course changes, I'm probably in the minority, but I love the out and back. But since the road to Winfield is now shut down during the race (a brilliant move), use the Colorado Trail to Winfield outbound and the road from Winfield to the base of Hope inbound (or vice versa). Won't solve all the problems of congestion, but it deals with one of the most narrow/crowded sections (miles 47-53).

  8. Wyatt,
    great post and articulated very well (much better than my attempt). Although you said something that had me scratching my head for a second. You mentioned you may even retire from the sport of ultra running altogether because of too many people (or however you worded it). If you're looking at stepping away from the sport, but I couldn't disagree more that the reason would be because of there being too many people in the sport. Just doesn't seem like a valid reason to me, but that's just my thought on it.

    Back to the subject at hand. I think you've brought about some valid solutions and I do hope that there is more tweaking being done to the lottery prior to next year. I think LRS recovered better than anyone could have imagined after all the bad pub from the 2013 race. I'd hate to see them lose any of the ground they've gained since that day.