Registration for the 2016 Run Rabbit Run has been open for over a week, and there are still about a hundred spots available. I’m a bit surprised, as I thought the race would surely sell out in the first day or two. Why? Well, Run Rabbit Run has a fairly uncommon trait — something special it shares with six other 100 mile runs. These seven races are: Angeles Crest Bear Bighorn Cascade Crest Grindstone Wasatch Front Run Rabbit Run What do they have in common? These seven events are currently the only races in the U.S. that qualify runners for entry into both the Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 lotteries.
Leaving aside the lottery conspiracy theories and the perceived injustices that some people see in entry processes, the fact remains that it’s difficult (and getting more difficult each year) to get into either one of those events. And it’s especially true for runners trying to get in for the very first time.
Based on pre-drawing probabilities, the likelihood a first-time or one-ticket entrant getting selected in 2015 for the 2016 Western States was just over 3.6% (as per: http://www.wser.org/2015/11/26/2016-lottery-statistics/). First-time applicants to Hardrock in the “Never Started” bucket had a 1.3% chance of being selected for 2016 (as per: http://hardrock100.com/2015odds-else.txt).
Because these two races are so iconic, the dream of many middle and back-of-the-pack ultrarunners such as myself is to be able to run them at least once before we go to the great singletrack in the sky. So “doubling up” on the lotteries, and improving the narrow chances of getting in to one of the events, seems like a good strategy. It also makes sense to start entering the lotteries as soon as possible, because it’s probably going to take at least a few years before getting chosen. (For example, if the 2015 odds for Western States were to remain constant over the next four years, then I still have less than a 50/50 chance of getting selected even if I run a qualifying race each of those four years. [Based on the probabilities on the WSER page above, the odds of not getting selected at least once during any of those four years are (1-.03656)*(1-.07181)*(1-.1384)*(1-.25777)=57.2%.])
It’s true that the selection processes for Western States and Hardrock are different in a few significant ways. For example, after you’re chosen to run Western States, the next time you apply you’re down at the bottom of the heap again with just a single ticket in the drawing, whereas runners who are selected for Hardrock will find themselves in a different bucket of applicants (with better overall odds of selection, based on current numbers) the next time they apply. Plus, in order to keep gaining a larger number of tickets for Western States and improving your odds, you have to apply again the following year — fail to put in for the lottery and you’re back to square one, with just a single ticket in the next drawing you qualify for.
The key is that the more times you apply to one of these two races, but are not chosen, the better your odds next year. So with the expense of racing, and the fact that many of us probably couldn’t attempt more than one or two or maybe three 100 mile races each year, it’s important to get the most out of those qualifying attempts. (I added a 350 mile driving range to each of the seven races in the map above, figuring that driving is usually the most affordable travel option, and 350 miles is about as far as a person might be willing to drive to get to a race.)
Running one of the seven events listed above lets a person put themselves in the best possible position for getting into Western States or Hardrock at some point down the road.
Don’t get me wrong — Western States and Hardrock are not the only exceptional 100 mile races out there. And their high profiles might even be a negative factor in the eyes of many. But if an ultrarunner has any desire to connect with the roots of the sport at Western States, or experience the ass-kickingness that is the Colorado San Juans, then running one of the seven races above would seem to be a good first step toward making it happen.