Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lottery Luck

I have no lottery luck.

This may sound like I'm whining, but at this point, I'm actually kind of amused. You'd think that there wouldn't be so many other "crazies" out there that this would be a problem, but let me tell you a little about what I have to go through to run in the events of my choosing in this "sport" of mine.

For 2012, I registered for two lotteries: Western States and Hardrock. My odds for getting into each were low, I don't recall the exact numbers, but less than 5% per (probably much less). Being the hopeful optimist, though, I imagined the nightmare of getting into both races, and how delightfully fantastic that would be. When the lottery days came and went, I felt deflated. It wasn't as though I actually thought I was going to get in, I knew the odds, but I hoped, and I lost.

Thus far, for 2013, I've registered for 5 lotteries: HURT, Western States, Hardrock, the Barkley, and UTMB. In short, so far, I've missed HURT, Western States, Hardrock, and the Barkley. The UTMB selection looms.

According to, there are 110 100-mile races in North America. has ranked a majority of these races from easiest to hardest, each having a percentage with respect to Western States, which is arbitrarily set at 100%.

According to RealEndurance, the "easiest" 100-mile races in the states, in order, are:

82% Keys 100, Key West, Florida
82% Heartland 100, Cassoday, Kansas
82% Umstead 100*, Raleigh, North Carolina
82% Iron Horse 100, St. Paul, Alabama
82% Boulder 100, Boulder, Colorado
83% Lean Horse 100**, Hot Springs, South Dakota
83% Rocky Raccoon 100***, Huntsville, Texas
87% Vermont 100, West Windsor, Vermont

*Wesley Rolnick, you're on notice.
**Made sure to get this far down just to make Jordan Hanlon's 2013 Race Schedule look "light."
***Misty Schmidt is a rockstar Sawtooth finisher now, so I can't give her crap.

In contrast, the 3 "hardest" 100-mile races are:

270% Barkley Marathons, Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee
"Meaningless Suffering Without A Point. The entry procedure is secret. There is no official website. This is not the official website. It is not listed on any calendar. You have to email the race director on a certain day of the year. The race will fill up on that day." RealEndurance 
159% Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, Silverton, Colorado
"The Hardrock 100 connects or passes near the old mining towns of Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, Telluride and Ophir. With a total elevation gain of approximately 33,000 ft and an average elevation at near tree line of 11,186 ft, the Hardrock 100 peaks out at over 14,000 ft on Handles Peak, one of Colorado├»¿½s 14ers." RealEndurance 
128% HURT 100, Honolulu, Hawaii
"A very tough, multiple lap (5) course on muddy, rooted and rocky single-track trails in a mountainous rainforest. Nearly 25,000 feet of ascent and descent." RealEndurance
A little lower on the list is:

111% Superior Sawtooth 100, Lutsen, Minnesota

UTMB isn't ranked on RealEndurance, though I imagine it'd compare to Hardrock.

So, for the record, my five lottery entries this year include Western States, the grandaddy of them all--the race that every other race is judged against, and then 4 of the most difficult 100-mile races around. Fun stuff, eh?

Now, my lottery luck.

First, HURT 

Registering for this brutal yet gorgeous race in Honolulu is actually really, really easy. Really, there's no qualifying restrictions. To enter the race, you just have to submit an application and pray. For this year's lottery, 220 brave souls registered, of which 125 people were selected to run. Then, a waitlist of 50 was selected. I had a 57% chance of being selected to race and an 80% chance of at least making the waitlist. Nope. Missed both.

Next, Western States 

It's the original 100-mile trail race, the World Series of ultrarunning, and with 2300 applicants, it's nearly impossible to get into. First, you have to qualify with a finish at one of a selected list of ultras under certain time restrictions. Then the uphill battle starts. The Forest Service horribly only allows a five-year running average of 369 runners per year. Typically, 15% of those that get in don't show up, so 425 or so runners are selected each year, with those numbers being adjusted in coming years if more or less than the expected 15% fail to show up on race day. In my opinion, there are better ways (see the Barkley, below).

First year applicants get one ticket for the Western Lottery and each year you apply but fail to get in, you get an extra ticket. The odds this year:
  • 1486 single-ticket folk with a 7.9% chance at entry
  • 480 unlucky two-ticket folk (including me) with a 15.2% chance at entry
  • 207 really unlucky three-ticket folk (me next year) with a 21.9% chance at entry
  • 122 horribly unlucky four-ticket folk with a 28% chance at entry
15.2% at Western isn't great, but with 80% odds of at least getting waitlisted at HURT, for those two races combined I had an 83% chance of either getting into Western or at least getting waitlisted at HURT.

The good news: Jason LaPlant got it, and I get to go out there with him, which is ridiculously exciting!

Then Hardrock 

If you thought the Western odds sucked, just wait. First, like Western, you have to qualify, and some of Hardrock's qualifiers require qualifiers. Luckily, my local love, the Superior 100, is on the list, and finishing allows a two-year entry window into the Hardrock lottery.

So you qualified for Hardrock! Congratulations! Now the hard part starts. The Park Service allows 140 runners per year, but with more than 850 applicants, things get hairy. Once you've qualified and registered, the board throws you into one of three groups of runners, of which they have an "ideal mix" they limit registration to:
  • Newbs (never before run Hardrock) 25%, 35 spots
  • Vets (>5 Hardrock Finishes) 25%, 35 spots
  • Returning Runners (>1 Hardrock start, <5 finishes) 50%, 70 spots

Like Western States, each applicant receives tickets at Hardrock, though each group of runner gets tickets based on different criteria. Newbs get 2^n tickets per year for each year they've failed to get in (first year one ticket, second year 2, third year 4, fourth year 8, etc.). This year, a Newb's odds of getting into Hardrock started at 1.94% for first-year applicants, and then went up to 3.9% for second-year applicants (that's me this year), 7.86% for third, 15.88% for fourth, 31.76% for fifth, etc.  The other two groups, the Vets and the Returning Runners, had it much, much better, with the Returning Runners odds starting at 10% and the Vets starting at 42%.

So, 3.9% for my second-year odds at Hardrock. Missed it. The good news: there are waitlists. The Newb's waitlist goes 50 deep, which would give one-ticket Newbs a 4.7% chance of at least getting on the waitlist, two-ticket folk a 9.5% chance, etc. As luck would have it, I missed that too.

With my nearly 10% chance of at least waitlisting at Hardrock, my odds of being selected for at least the waitlist at any one of HURT, Western, OR Hardrock shot up to 85%! But nope. Humph.

Even taking away the 80% HURT odds (which were largely skewing things at this point), I had nearly a 25% chance of getting into Western or at least waitlisting at Hardrock. Zero for three thus far.

Onto "the Barkley"

"Meaningless suffering without a point." The race with the secret entry requirements (which I posted, here).

All kidding aside, yes, I know how to enter this race. No, I won't share secret details with you (unless you're Eric Clifton), but maybe not for the reason you think. I'm completely enamored with the fact that, at the Barkley, the veterans hold the keys for new runners to register for this race. I have a similar fondness of fighting in hockey, letting the players police the game themselves. I simply don't feel I've earned the right to give out those secrets yet. I need to be there, at least start the race, then we'll see.

All things considered, with it's secret entry procedures, unknown starting time, and limited field of just 35 runners/year, once you figure out how to register, the odds of getting into this race are actually pretty decent, comparatively.

Legend had it that Lazarus Lake, the Barkley czar, made selections into this race solely by whim, some thought that you just had to write a good entry essay, but it seems that either that never was the case or that those days are gone. The selection for Barkley most closely parallels Hardrock--and likely for good reason (one of those in charge of Hardrock's selection criteria, Blake Wood, is a regular and one of the only 12 ever finishers of the Barkley). The difference is that Laz doles out some gimmes (e.g., past finishers get in, strong 4th loop attempts, "fun run" finishes, etc.), and then distributes tickets for the rest based on criteria of his choosing (through-hike dom, strong 100-mile performances, PHDs, etc.) before leaving the bulk of the selection up to Excel's random number generator. There were only 200 applicants this year. 35 were selected. As best I can figure, after the gimmes, I was fighting for one of 25-30 spots for entry, with an approximate 12% or so chance of hitting. 50 more were selected for a "weight list", giving me a nearly 40% chance of at least being on that, assuming my "weight" was average.

The thing about the Barkley though, if you beat the odds and get into the race, but drop in enough time to let someone from the "weight list" take your spot, Laz will make sure you get into the race the next year. That's a fantastic policy, one that all races should implement. It'd curtail runners from trying races just because they got in. In no way, shape, or form do I want to run all the races I sign up for. Yes, if I only get into one race, I'm going to run it, but if I get into all of them, I don't know if I could run them all, let alone if I'd want to.

But, I ended up missing the Barkley, too, or as Laz would probably say, I "won" the Barkley lottery.
"You do realize that the losers in the barkley lottery are the ones who get chosen, right?"
Anyway, taking the Barkley into account, my odds of at least making the waitlist at any one of HURT, Western, Hardrock, or the Barkley was nearly 92% (55% without HURT). Things are getting ridiculous. Zero for four.


If you haven't seen the TNF helicopter coverage of the 2011 UTMB, you really should. The beauty of the Alps is really something I need to experience someday.

The course circumnavigates the 15,782 ft Mont Blanc, departing in Chamonix, France, and taking runners through Switzerland and Italy before finishing again in France. I can't think of a better way to visit Europe. This is a big race, too, with 2,300 runners each year. Though, like Hardrock, there are pretty strenuous entry requirements for this guy. There's a relatively short list of qualifying races, each awarded points, and you need to accumulate 7 points through a maximum of 3 races in the two years leading up to the race. Superior 100 is a 4-point race, and rumor has it that Zumbro 100 was recently awarded 3-point status, though my 2011 and 2012 Superior finishes get me over the 7-point requirement (2011 Ice Age 50 and 2011 JFK 50 netted me another few points).

In 2012, there were 5,100 applicants for the 2,300 spots, giving applicants a 45% chance of entry. There doesn't appear to  be any type of waitlist, so I imagine it's run like Western States. This year, they changed things up a little (see here). Going forward, at least, if you lose on your first year's draw, you get 2 tickets the second year. If you lose the second year, you get "priority registration" for the third, which likely means that all two-time losers get automatic entry, something you can do when you have 2,300 spots to play with.

Registration for the 2013 UTMB lottery is open for another few days yet, until January 8th, and the lottery takes place January 18th. If UTMB trends like the others, my odds of getting in should be slightly lower than last years odds, so roughly 45%, which doesn't look too bad until you recall that my odds of getting into any one of the previous lotteries was over 90% and I still missed. Rolling these odds in, my chances of getting at least waitlisted in at least one of HURT, Western, Hardrock, the Barkley, or UTMB are 95%. Even throwing out HURT, the odds are still over 75%.

And now for the real kicker: I've registered for Leadville on August 17th, 2013 and would love to run Superior 100 again on September 6th. There's a chance I could do Leadville and still be good to run UTMB two weeks later on August 30th, but if I don't get into UTMB, I plan on doing both, Leadville and Superior. But UTMB looks epic and hard and I want to do it! I don't really know why, I just need to.

Anyway, I'm nervously awaiting the results of that January 20th drawing. In all actuality, no matter what happens this year, it's going to be epic.

Next up, I think I'm going to write about diet, running, and weight, and maybe even get that Ultimate Direction pack review up. Cheers, folks!


  1. You know that next year you are going to get into every single one of these races. And knowing you, you will try to run every single one of them.

    1. That, my friend, would be genuinely disastrously amazing.

  2. Excellent post! Sorry about your terrible luck... but I had no idea about the entry specifics for these races. Like you, I dream of doing Mont Blanc. I think that would be epic. Unfortunately, a destination ultra is not in the cards for me right now. I will live vicariously through your exploits. Go get 'em.

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