Monday, December 3, 2007

Western States Lottery Results and...a Rant.

As anyone who might be reading this blog already knows, the Western States Lottery was this past weekend. I won’t get into the specifics of the process, nor the history of the event as perfectly good accounts of both can be found other places. However, also as many already know, a number of who some might consider to be “top runners” (most prominently, I suppose, being Karl Meltzer, myself, and Leigh Schmitt) weren’t picked in the lottery nor allowed entry by the race committee.

Why am I writing about this, and why might this be considered troublesome? Well, it’s my blog and the nature of blog writing is inherently selfish, so I’m going to write about whatever concerns me. And, I guess the main reasons that me not being allowed into Western States concerns me is A) for the selfish reason of my wanting the opportunity to test myself against the stiffest competition available in ultra running, and B) because I love the sport of ultra running and think that some of the actions of several race committees, including Western States, across the country are somewhat hurtful to the sport in general.

I’m not really one who is typically content with the status quo in any situation, and for me, ultra running is no different. I yearn to push the boundaries, explore my limits, and hopefully, be allowed a more intimate glimpse into the core of my being in the process. And all that other cliché stuff (seriously). Although ultra running offers that opportunity to me on many levels, racing is a unique experience. To paraphrase Jenn Shelton, “Running is a way of life, and racing is a celebration of that life.” And, to me, the unique thing about racing is the presence of others—be it spectators, a crew, a pacer, media, other competitors—sharing in that wonderful yet heart-rending experience of plumbing the depths of the soul.

So, my first point is that without sufficient competition a race loses a whole bundle of its meaning for me. In order to inspire my absolute best performance, in order to truly fulfill my potential, in order to be allowed that aforementioned privileged view with the utmost clarity, I need others of equal or greater ability out there pushing me to step as close to the edge as possible, to achieve the most pristine look afforded to only the truly brave (or, stupid, maybe). I need to be prodded to that terrifying territory where one knows for sure that an inch further and nothing but the great, yawning abyss awaits.

I have only been there but once thus far in my (so far, very short) ultra racing career. It was at 11,400’ on the top of Sugarloaf Pass at about mile 80 of the 2006 Leadville 100. I’d been doing everything in my power to continue simple forward motion ever since leaving the Fish Hatchery aid station at 76.5 miles and having my crew tell me (wrongly) that Steve Peterson was only 20 minutes behind me. As shitty as I was feeling, I knew that if I wanted to maintain my lead I needed to go as hard as possible. All I’ll say is that crazy things happened on top of that mountain, and if you’re an ultra runner I don’t really need to tell you about them, because you already know. But, the point is, I never would’ve accessed that raw, primitive, unadulterated portion of my being if I hadn’t been forced to by the (albeit, false) pressure of knowing that a 5-time Leadville champion was hot on my trail (Steve was actually nearly an hour back at that point).

The two other 100 milers that I’ve had the pleasure of finishing since that first finish at Leadville have done far less to throw my psyche into such a clarifying frenzy. They were both certainly a measure more comfortable, but consequently, a touch less fulfilling. (But, only a touch…a very, very light touch.) Maybe the experience of a first 100 mile finish can never be regained, but I do know that I have disappointingly been unable to give my absolute best effort at either subsequent event because of a lack of competition. So, I primarily plan my racing schedule by looking for the competition that will force me back to that rare position on the edge of the precipice.

Western States clearly offers the competition this year to provide that kind of race, but it saddens me to think just how great the field could be at Western States in 2008.

The second part to all of this is that I think not promoting the top competition possible at any given ultra is actually a disservice to the sport and the mid- and back-of-the-packers that compose the majority of any race field. What, you say? Aren’t you being a bit elitist by calling for all these concessions for the top athletes? Yes, I can see that point of view, and I think that I understand the importance of essentially treating all runners in a race “the same.” There certainly seems to be a noble egalitarianism in it. Plus, I have spent many years as a mid- and even back-of-the-pack runner. The only thing I need to do to ever get humbled is go jump in the average big-city road marathon or even the average NCAA Division III Cross Country meet. The depth of decently good runners in this country is absurd and I am nowhere near the top.

However, even though I am a mid-packer in either of those types of races, I don’t feel any such sentiment that, in order to treat me more “fairly”, the race directors should block the admittance of the truly top runners. In fact, one of the coolest things about going and running a big-city marathon for me is that I get to toe the same line as any of the East African runners—the best runners on the planet—and run the same race as them. That is the essential beauty of our sport.

This type of fraternity is magnified in the ultra running scene because the top runners in ultra running are just normal dudes (and chicks) and don’t have a hard time relating to slower (but no less committed or passionate) ultra runners. I don’t really understand how giving other ultra runners the opportunity to be in the same competition while something historic occurs up front is treating those mid-pack runners unfairly. Some day, I would love to be running in the Berlin or London or Chicago marathon at which the world record is being set.

I think the same sort of thing is true in ultra running. When the tight-knit community finds out that some big face-off is going down (e.g. Scott and Karl at Hardrock last summer, or Uli and Matt at the TNF 50 this past weekend) everyone gets excited and wishes that they could be there so that when they finish their races a few hours later they might actually have the opportunity to share a beer with them or ask them how many gels they ate per hour or if they had any rough patches and what they did to get through them. The ultra running community is a wonderfully intimate one and I don’t think allowing more heated competitions to occur more often is going to change that.

Now. As for the current Western States field, it’s going to be a barn-burner. Here is my list of notable runners currently in the race (I really hope I didn’t miss anyone):

Women
Bev Anderson-Abbs (2nd Woman and 13th overall last year)
Meghan Arbogast (1st overall at Where’s Waldo 100K this year)
Michelle Barton (2006 Javelina Jundred Champion)
Annette Bednosky (2005 WS Champion)
Chrissy Ferguson (too lazy to look anything up...)
Devon Crosby-Helms (2007 US World 100K team)
Nikki Kimball (2007 WS Champ and 8th overall…among other things…)
Caren Spore (perennial top-3 finisher in races)

Men
Josh Brimhall (2nd at 2006 San Diego 100, 1st 2006 Zane Grey)
Graham Cooper (2006 WS Champion, 3rd 2007 WS)
Mark Godale (2007 Burning River 100 Champion)
Hiroki Ishikawa (8th 2007 WS, 1st 2007 Grand Slam)
Andy Jones-Wilkins (4th 2007 WS, 1st 2007 VT, 1st 2007 Teton, 2nd 2007 JJ)
Hal Koerner (defending WS Champ)
Sean Meissner (damn you, laziness...)
Zach Miller (2007 Mt. Masochist Champ, 2nd 2007 JFK…never worse than 2nd in a 50)

Brian Morrison (<300y from 2006 WS Champ)
Glen Redpath (6th 2007 WS, 1st Master)
Erik Skaden (2nd 2007 WS, 2007 MUC Champ)
Michael Wardian (2007 JFK Champion, prolific 2:2x marathoner)
Mike Wolfe (2006 & 2007 White River 50 Champ, 2nd 2007 Bighorn 100)

Of course, there are many other possible entries with the remainder of the MUC series…but right now a top-10 finish in this field makes you one heckuva runner (right now, I’m going to say Zach Miller for the win…).

33 comments:

andyb said...

I agree with you one hundred percent - I would love to toe the line with the top competitors in the ultra world, even though that would be the only time I would see them until the finish line. IF, they hung around long enough at the finish line. :D

Seems like WS, and probably some of the other major 100's, need to re-evaluate how they admit elite competitors to allow for increased competition at the top level. WS should also revisit the "two-time loser and you are in" rule. I liked the idea of giving extra lottery tickets for each time you enter and don't get in (at least for the rest of the pack, not the elites).

I also think you should give serious consideration to entering one of the Montrail races that would qualify for entry in WS with a win. Just my two cents.

Dave said...

I agree with you as well. I know a lot of runners of my caliber who entered the lottery for WS and didn't get in; and a couple who did. Yet, your win at Leadville (2 wins) is a strong case for your getting in. In addition, Karl's won so many 100s...

Anyway, for now, it is what it is. I'd recommend you and Karl challenge either other at Wasatch. You've run with Kyle; you know its a tough course - yet one where if Kyle or Karl runs - you'll certainly have your hands full with competition to push you to your best. Or maybe you can also convince Karl to come back to Leadville to give a hard effort...

Michael Kanning said...

Hi Anton,

I first heard of you upon reading your interview in the Jan. issue of Trail Runner magazine. You are not only crazy fast (your 100 mile PR is less than half of mine) but I find your philosophies and simplistic approach to both life and ultrarunning most intriguing. I'll certainly watch "Indulgence" when it comes out on the 14th, which also happens to be my 16th birthday (what a great birthday present!)

Anyways, about WS. I too agree with your opinion. Of course, WS isn't all about the elites, but look at the current qualifying standards: 11:00/50 miles, 14:00/100K, and 100 mile finish. These are nowhere near elite times. The primary thing I would do is toughen the qualifying standards a bit to perhaps 9:00/50 miles, 11:30/100K, and 24:00/100 miles. Other changes such as eliminating "automatics" like the 25 foriegn slots would also help, but I feel that toughening the qualifying times is paramount to avioding the very possible disaster of having a sub-5% lottery chance in years to come. I'll be posting my own thoughts of the WS dilemma on my blog in a couple days.

-Michael

Dan said...

Couldn't agree more. I believe they could simply add a measure where-in ANYONE running under a certain pace at a qualifying 100 the previous year should be allowed admittance. What that pace would be is negotiable...but it should be set to ensure that the top 5% of the sport are allowed to compete against each other whenever they can, as often as the want. Setting up this type of competition could only help grow the legend of the sport. And I can't really see where it would affect the MOP/BOP runners that much...other than meaning their chances are 1 in 989 instead of 1 in 1,000 for getting in.

Miles said...

Hi Anton. Lots of good points in your post and in everyone's comments. From my vantage point as a two-time loser, I believe simply getting rid of the 25 automatic entries for foreign runners and requiring a 100 mile finish would go a long way toward easing the WS lottery crunch & I suspect the smart folks on the WS Board will move in this direction shortly.

I also totally agree with your point about what having elite-level runners can mean to a mid/back-of-the-packer like myself. In fact, your presence at RR100 last year (as well as the amazing & ever-smiling Jenn Shelton) provided a tremendous source of energy for my own effort in the RR50 mile. The buzz at each aid station was palpable as the day progressed and provided a tangible lift to my own tired legs and psyche. Felt the same thing as I watched Lon Freeman tear up the Miwok course last spring running against a deep field. This sort of competition does everyone good and that's why Saturday, as I repeatedly scrolled down the WS list looking for my own name, the next names I looked for were yours and Karl's (and Jon Olsen's and Lon Freeman's, etc.).

In any event, I hope your recovery continues to go well and that you make it down to Huntsville State Park in February (where I can almost guarantee there won't be any snow!).

Jasper said...

I see this competition issue as the biggest current problem in ultrarunning. The sport is so decentralized and iconoclastic, that it is very hard to get a field at any ultra which is both competitive and deep.

You would think that USATF national championship races would get a great field. Not the case. You occasionally get a handful of great runners, but rarely a truly deep field. And no one really seems to care, probably because there is a perception (probably correct) that USATF is basically clueless and irrelevant in ultrarunning. I won the USATF 100 mile championships this year, and nobody really paid attention. Nor, really, should they have. No offense to my competitors, who included some great runners, but it was definitely not a championship-caliber field in terms of being both competitive and deep.

You would think that races with a lot of prize money would get a great field. Not the case. Look at the North Face events this year. A few great runners at each one, but nothing like a deep field. Even for a race with a $10k prize!

Instead, the only race that consistently gets a truly competitive and deep field is Western States!! Not because it's a great course. Far from it. It's mostly dusty fireroads. But because of the history and mystique of the race.

Whatever the reason, WS really seems to be the de facto championship of ultrarunning. Which is fine, though I think the course could be a better one. But what happens when you've got a de facto championship and no one can get into the damn race?!

Something is very wrong with this situation.

-J

P.S. And don't even get me started on the Montrail Cup qualifiers. White River, Masochist, and Miwok are the only ones that make any sense at all. You're telling me that running fast at a 50k or a flat 50m should be a qualifier for a championship 100? Come on. Why not have the other three grand slam 100's as qualifiers?

Eudemus said...

As a mid-packer myself, I definitely agree that having a good field of elite runners definitely enhances the race for many of us further back. I also agree with Jasper and would love to see a more elite front-runners at the USATF championship. If there was some way to draw more attention to this event as "the elite 100-miler", I think it would also take some of the focus off of States as an elite race. In some ways, WS is more about the history than anything. It is sort of like the difference between Boston where people come to be part of the tradition and Chicago where people come to set records and really race.

Furthermore, I think that the TRT100 is a great venue for a championship race. It's always exciting and inspiring for us "chuggers" to see you elite guys come running by in the opposite direction. I remember having my mind blown last year during the 50-miler when Jasper flew by in the opposite direction on his second loop of the 100. He was burning up the course with nobody even close to him. It would have been that much more exciting to see a bunch of other runners nipping at his tail!

Anton said...

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments. It's very heartening to see that there are people--both front runners and MOP & BOP folks--who agree with my views on this. I certainly don't want to be viewed as elitist, mostly because I feel that I'm not.

Andy, I am giving the MUC races serious consideration---probably AR50 because it doesn't conflict with anything else I want to do. And, the thought of busting out a flat, fast 50 PR is kind of appealing.

Dave, hopefully Wasatch happens (yet ANOTHER lottery!). I'll certainly be focusing on LT again, but Kyle, Karl, and I all know that the Wasatch record can go lower. Kyle didn't really have a great race there this year (he had about 3/4 of a great race).

Michael, I appreciate your thoughts on stiffening the qualifying standards at WS, but I don't know if that would really address the main problem that I'm concerned with, which is more what Jasper is talking about. I think stiffening the standards would make a lot of the MOP and BOP runners a little upset and I can sympathize with that. I think that if they can demonstrate ability to make the cut-offs they should be allowed in (I know, that's a very grey statement).

Dan, your point about having a 1/989 vs 1/1000 chance is spot-on. I totally agree. And yet, something like that would have a HUGE impact at the front of the race (i.e. having, say, 5 extra top runners up there).

Miles, thanks for the kind words about Rocky...things are still tenuous on the injury/preparation front, but it's still my most impending goal. I'm pretty sure Jenn's returning, too. (Btw, Rocky is a great race. Joe P. comps returning champions and keeps entry open indefinitely. Last year I signed up the night before).

Jasper, I couldn't agree more. I've thought about the TRT 100 (because I love the trails there), but unfortunately, because deep competition is so often an issue I find myself picking events that have a deep history so that I can at least test myself against that (a la LT and Clifton's/Jorge's performances at Rocky). However, I would LOVE to see a bunch of us take the championships more seriously...honestly, I think we really need to just self-organize on this! TRT would probably be a great venue, except that it conflicts with Hardrock at this point...and I think HR will probably be a priority of mine in the near future.

Steven, again, it really makes me glad to see this point of view...why can't RDs seem to realize this?

Finally, instead of us all just agreeing, I would love to see someone comment and make an argument in the opposite direction. I don't know, maybe myself, Jasper et al are just asking too much of a cult, niche sport, but I don't think so.

Tony

Paul Charteris said...

Anton,

I am going to have to provide strong agreement on almost everything that has been said by yourself and all the commentators here (sorry). So, I will focus on the only two areas where I strongly dissent.

1. The foreign slots. I am in favor of keeping all the 25 slots (max. 5 per country) and even increasing this to 50 foreign slots. However I would most certainly tie most of these slots to the top 3 runners (or age group winners) in world-class overseas races e.g. Tour du Mont Blanc, Australian 100k Champs, West Highland Way 95-mile (Scotland), Marathon des sable, Brazil 135 etc. More elite foreigners (of course Americans are welcome to qualify vis these races if they wish to do all the traveling) would make Wesrtern States a real horse race.

2.The qualifying standards. The very real danger of tightening the standards is that it will force middle of the pack runners to target easier races like Helen Klein and the SF One Day Run (to take a couple of local races) in order to qualify for Western States. Not only are these races horrible (albeit legitimate) qualifying events for Western States, you may also decrease the competitiveness of other tougher trail runs such as Tahoe or Sierra Nevada.

Cheers, Paul

Anton said...

Paul,

I think both of your points make a lot of sense...I'm not sure, though, that there would need to be a full 50 spots reserved for top foreign runners.

Paul Charteris said...

Just a clarification on my “50 foreign runners" comment.

I would suggest retaining the 25 foreign slots with a maximum 5 per country as it is now. I would also implement a 1-year stand-down rule so that runners cannot auto-enter every year simply based on their country of residence. All foreign runners would still be eligible to enter via the lottery however.

The other 25 “foreign” slots would be qualified runners who finished top 3 in prestigious trail ultras around the world. Any automatic entries not accepted by these runners would go back in to the general lottery. Of course, American runners would be eligible to qualify this way, but (due to time and travel expenses) the vast majority of runners would be from other countries, most likely the home country of the race.

Cheers, Paul

Jamil said...

Paul,

When you recommend opening up slots to the top 3 runners at prestigious foreign races, (regardless of that runner's country of origin) I wonder why we would not qualify many U.S. races in this same manner. Why should a U.S. athlete have to travel across the world just to qualify for WS when legitimate trail races exist here in the U.S.? I think there is a valid argument to opening spots for the winners of foreign races, but I think that invitation should be equally extended to U.S. hundred mile race champions.

Whether or not the race committee for WS intends to transform this race into a true ultra running championship, we just don't know. Judging from this year's selections, it is clear that some top contenders were left out of the mix. Regardless of the race committee's intentions and the past history of the race, it appears there is a growing demand for WS to be the place where the top competitors go to race.

Although I wasn't selected in the lottery for the second straight year, I don't see why Anton or Karl shouldn't be accepted to "improve the competetiveness of the race".

Two years ago at Across the Years, the race organizers found a way to accomodate Yiannis Kouros although I believe the race was full. His presence at the race was something that everyone still talks about today and his performance set one or two world records.

I do value allowing all ultra runners capable of finishing Western States an entry, but I would like to see as much competition as possible. I would also be in favor of an off year for those runners who were selected this year. I know out of the Arizona entrants, two runners who ran last year were selected again this year, while several of us who have never run WS have been left out again. I would of course still be in favor of selected competetive spots.

Thoughts?

Jamil

Paul Charteris said...

Jamil,

I was initially only thinking about the foreign entry situation. Yes, I agree with you. Of course, many winners (or top 3 placers, or age group winners etc.) of prestigious US ultras should also be granted automatic entry into Western States. That includes this blogs author.

Another clarification. I recommended an off-year only for the automatic entry only of those first 25 foreign runners that got selected because their entries were the first ones to arrive in the mail. They can still enter the lottery. I would not recommend an off year for anyone that was lucky enough to be picked in the lottery.

Cheers, Paul

Michael Kanning said...

Anton,

True, I can understand that point of view. The other idea is to have an "automatic" qualifying standard for the elites, such as sub-6:00/50mile, sub-7:30/100K, and sub-16:00/100 mile, and keep the current lottery-qualifying standard as it is.

I think, however, that we are dealing with not one but two problems here. The first, clearly, is that of the lottery issues. The second is what Jasper adressed; WS-and, to some extent, ultrarunning- needs to decide where it's going as a sport.

phineasbeall said...
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phineasbeall said...

Well, I'm comforted to see the elite of this sport are capable of the same frustrations as the rest of us. One of the things I've noticed in the last few years is that in the weeks post-lottery, there seems to be an abundance of ideas for reforming the system which read like answers to the question, "How would you keep this fair, but still increase your own odds of getting in?" At some point we have to just accept there are too many people vying for too few spots, and it is unavoidable that there will be a bunch of very unhappy people afterward.

I agree that it is more exciting if the elite of this sport can be brought together to compete at something like WS. If there were unlimited entries available, I would prefer knowing that the sport's greatest athletes were duking it out some hours ahead on the same trail I am plodding along. But we don't have an unlimited number of entries -- we've got a famously finite number of them.

So, responding to your point about having been "blocked from entry" so that us mid-packers can be treated more fairly? As it relates to Western States anyway, I disagree. In a big, big way. You were given exactly the same chance I was. You were no more blocked from entry than I was. And having been denied entry through the same system I was denied, you still have other ways of entering which are closed to me. You are suggesting more spots be held for elites, that this will benefit those of us bringing up the middle and rear of the race. Not as I see it. I admire what you do, but the only way to set aside a spot for you is to decrease others' chances in the lottery. That doesn't benefit me at all.

Not that it's up to you or me, but you haven't convinced me here that I should give up even a fraction of my odds so that you or anyone else can run this race.

Jasper said...

phineasbell,

In some sense, I agree with you. It would be very fair to all concerned if WS had a simple unweighted lottery with no special consideration entries or Montrail Cup entries or etc. WS would be a race for the masses. I would actually be totally fine with that situation.

Unfortunately, WS clearly wants to be the "100-mile championship" as well as being a race for the masses. Thus the Montrail Cup entries, the special consideration entries (well, historically anyway), the guaranteed entries for top ten runners. WS is already not fair!

The problem is, WS wants to be all things to all people, and right now it sucks for everybody. It's not really fair to the mid-packers to have all these special entry provisions. But it's also not fair to the elite runners to treat your race like a national championship, do everything possible to attract top runners, create the most competitive 100 in the country, but then deny entry some of the top runners around.

The winner of WS has a great claim to being the best 100-miler in the country - certainly I bet the WS board thinks that's the case. But how about somebody like Tony or Karl, who thinks "I'm as good as any of those guys, but they won't even let me prove it"?

Unfortunately, the WS folks have no incentive to change anything. The whole thing probably seems great to them. They can charge more than any other 100 in the country, despite having way more volunteers and sponsorship than any other 100. They've got all the mystique and aura built up over 30+ years, despite a mediocre course at best. And their number of entrants just keeps on going up!

The only thing that would change that situation, in my opinion, is if the top runners would boycott the race and go somewhere else. But honestly, what are the chances of that?

-Jasper

P.S. This is not necessarily just a WS issue. Hardrock has a lot of the same problems, and they have come up with a totally different solution. One which, I might argue, is equally unfair (but in a completely different way). But I'll still be putting my name into that lottery again. I'm trying to see how just how many lotteries I can lose (so far 0/3 WS, 0/2 HR, and yes I'm an idiot for taking a year off from the WS lottery and not getting a two-time loser spot).

Danni said...
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Leah said...

Anton, I was very sorry to hear you were not selected for this race. Not that you didn't make the lottery, but that you weren't selected. It is very unfortunate to see a race loved by all and what has been understood as an opportunity to compete against top runners turn you down.

The race used to hand select top runners. I understand that can be a difficult position for a race director or board to be put in. So as I understand it they now rely on the Montrail Ultra Cup series. I had a conversation this fall with someone on top of the race organization who recognized you should be in the race, but said anyone able to win the race should be able to win a MUT race. Possibly, but not necessarily. We all know my dearest Scott is not as quality of a 50K or 50M runner as he is at 100M. He may not have been allowed entry in the race had he been ten years younger. These races are not a good projection of how someone will race at States. My conversationalist agreed. But he should have allowed you in. Not ask you to come to another of his races. You shouldn't have to use one of your top efforts in one of these other races.

I wish they were using some top competitive 100 milers as an entry standard. You win one of these 10, you're invited. Seeing someone who can run Leadville with such passion and style showing the result you do not able to take on the challenges you want saddens me. For you. For the race. For the sport. If Scott choses to come back to the race, it will be because runners like you are lining up with him.

Best to you. Keep true to yourself.

Leah Jurek

Leah said...

Mistakingly used MUT rather than MUC..

And I would like to add that by selecting some top runners in by 100 miler performances rather than MUT performances, I feel the field would be much more stellar and it would require a fewer number of spots reserved for top runners.

phineasbeall said...

Jasper, I agree with you on the mixed message coming from WS. But I do think they try to be fair about it. They set aside spaces for a competitive field. They set aside spaces for us, the unwashed and teeming masses. There's too many of both and there's no way for that race to avoid disappointing people, and some bitterly so. Elite runners still have better chances of getting in. Ultimately, it's a numbers thing. Damn near everyone wants to run this event and they just don't have the space. If it's unfair, it's unfair across the board. And that may be the best they can do with the demand this high.

The argument I've been reading here, Karl's blog, the List, etc. dances a very fine line teetering on elitism. It's worded carefully and gently, but it's elitism nonetheless because the assumption at the bottom of it is one kind of runner is more critical to the sport than another. I've seen so much of that in road racing, and its relative absence from ultrarunning has always been one of the sport's big attractions for me. To see it creeping in now makes me sad. I'm not willing to dismiss the egalitarianism of ultrarunning as some quaint artifact. To me, it is the very heart of it. In principle, I like to know there's a horse race for the finish, but when we have so few entries relative to the demand, I'm not willing to give up my spot to make that happen.

I didn't get in this year. I think the WS board has done the best it can trying to be fair to as many people as it can in a time of rapid change in the sport. I'm sure they've made mistakes. I'm okay with it.

Jasper said...

Phineas,

Just to be clear, I love the egalitarianism of ultrarunning too. I love the fact that the fastest of the fast and the slowest of the slow are out there together facing the same challenge, and maybe sharing a beer afterwards.

However, I think WS has already established a tradition of "elitism", with its history of special consideration entries and top-ten automatic entries. I'm surprised to hear that you're willing to give up your spot for the top ten runners, for the MUC winners, etc., but not for a few more special consideration entries. They're already elitist. I'm just want them to apportion their elitism more fairly.

Or, alternatively, not at all. If they went to a straight lottery with no special exemptions and strings attached, I'd be totally fine with that.

Supply and demand is a bummer, eh? Can we blame this all on Dean somehow?

-J

phineasbeall said...

Jasper,

Really, the problem for me is not that the race sets aside a certain number of spots for elite runners — the race also sets aside a certain number of spots for the lottery. (I accept that as a baseline, that they are trying to put on a "full-spectrum" race.) The problem for me is shifting that balance one way or the other because of increased interest, because making more elite spots available necessarily means they have to come out of the available lottery spots, and vice versa. I have a problem with that if it's two extra runners or 60 (conceivably, the male and female winners of thirty different 100 mile trail races could demand the same consideration.) Where do you draw the line?

But your suggestion of eliminating all the special consideration/automatic entry spots and going to a lottery system for the entire field? Absolutely. Hell, I'd even put Gordy through the lottery. Seriously. I'm curious what Anton K. and Karl M. think of that idea?

It's been said elsewhere — with this much trouble getting all the interested elite runners into this race, why must it be this race? Why don't all the elites line up somewhere else without the hassle? It isn't the venue that makes it a trail championship. It's the participants. We all know who the top runners are. You get them all to line up and duke it out at Leadville, AC, TRT, VT, etc., and there's no one who'll mistake it as anything but THE championship race. Shoot, I'd pay to watch that go down.

phineasbeall said...

Oh, and Jasper, you're absolutely right. We should find a way to pin this on that Karnazawhatzit fellow.

Anton said...

Phineas,

I'm basically entirely in agreement with Jasper on this. I agree that it does NOT need to be WS for it to be a championship race. I'd still want to run WS in the future, but I wouldn't stress about getting into it as much (not that I'm really stressing right now. seriously)---whenever it happened it would happen. But, I would only feel that way if it were a completely, absolutely open lottery.

It's just that historically WS has been a competitive race so the top guys have gotten used to going there to find competition and chase prestige (and, historically, WS has allowed automatic entry to top runners). Now, it's clearly time to find a new venue, which is fine.

It's always tough to change a paradigm, but this change needs to happen (i.e. WS ISN'T the only place to stage a competitive 100 mile trail race).

However, the other thing is the marketing: with Montrail calling it a "World Championship" and then denying entry to top runners...meh, it rubs people (myself included) the wrong way.

Thanks a lot for your viewpoint...I don't want it to seem like there's just a bunch of the top guys patting each other on the back and bemoaning how it's all unfair, because clearly it's not unfair. (It only seems that way to the people who haven't gotten in!)

Tony

ultrasloth said...

I think one thing that's being overlooked here is the influence of Montrail. The "championship" is that of the MUC and not WS. Montrail also has a vested interest in doing everything in their power to see that that the best runners participate in the MUC races leading up to WS. If automatic entry to WS was granted to these best runners, where's the incentive for them to run the other MUC races? So before slamming the WS board or RD, take a long hard look at what corporate sponsorship has wrought.

Geoff said...

everyone wants to get into WS mostly because it's WS and the history that goes with it... it's already been stated by many that it's not that great of a course.

I think then a solution to this problem for top level runners is to simply organize together to "choose" another race, something low key and unassuming that anyone can get into... and a more challenging and more fun course. (we all know there are dozens of races out there that fit this criteria).

If suddenly several top runners got together on this they could essentially turn a race into a "championship" style event with the competition they seek but without all the other crap that goes along with a hyped up race. I don't know about all you, but I want to run against top competition for the purity of trying to run with runners who are faster than me. i could care less if there are a few thousand people waiting at a finish line that's all dressed up with corporate logos and such.

Word spreads fast nowadays with this whole interwide web thingy. all it would take would be a handful of top guys getting together on this to choose a race and spreading the word to other top runners through email, blogs, etc. choosing a different race each year would keep the "chosen" race from turning into another longshot lottery.

It might seem a bit far fetched but I think it's totally possible because clearly based on all these comments and rants on other blogs the interest is there.

Viva La Ultra Revolution!!

Enga said...

I'll start out by admiting that I'm in this year on one of the 25 foreign slots, but that is not what I am commenting on now.

I feel the elite runners are justified in being disapointed on not being selected this year simply because the WSER website pretty much says they will be let in. It is too much to cut and paste the whole paragraph, but the website makes it sound like we could expect 6-9 people let in "who would greatly enhance the competitive aspect of the race". If WSER wants the elites to compete for a slot through the MUC then I feel the website should say something like "We encourage elite runners to compete for a slot through MUC races." As long as the website says that elites will be let in, then they should have been let in.

Now I like it that there is no prize money in ultras, and hope that it stays that way. But as long as there is no prize money, then I do not see how anyone can expect any runner to be able to just show up at these other MUC races. There is airfare, time off from work, hotels and entrance fees. It's hard to have it both ways.

Sharon

swolfe said...

The 36 entry spots that Montrail essentially bought from the race eliminates that "greatly enhances the field" rule under special considerations.

Think about it. If WS Board chooses to let someone in on this premise, then it's going behind what the MUC and Montrail money is contributing. Montrail and WS feel like if you feel like you can have a chance of winning WS, you should have no problem demonstrating that by winning or placing Top3 in one of the Montrail Ultra Cup events.

andyb said...

I like what Geoff had to say about a rotating "championship" being a possible solution to this quandary. With a Grand Slam already being in place, why couldn't a championship be rotated amongst those four races? It would lessen the pressure on each race, and allow for greater entry opportunities for both elites and the rest of us mortals (based on the presumption that more slots open in years where the championship is at another of the Grand Slam events).

Another thing to consider is this - why can't the Forest Service up the number of slots for WS? Really, there is no valid reason, in my opinion. Now, I am a lover of wilderness, and wish to keep wild places wild. But for one weekend a year why can't they let 500 people run WS? Will it spoil the wilderness that much? If so, then maybe the race shouldn't be allowed at all? Maybe we all need to put a little pressure on the Forest Service to open it up a little. I mean, it is OUR land, isn't it?!?

Gundy said...

Ultimately, everyone has different interests to uphold, myself included. All of these "solutions" to this "problem" are designed to serve the individual first and increase the individual's odds first. Rather than increase my own odds of getting in, it's probably time to accept that the foundation of this race rests with those who have poured themselves selflessly to make it happen. Ridiculous suggestions like even making Gordy subject to the lottery would only tear away at this foundation.

Sponsors are a way of life these days, and sometimes you have to give something in order to preserve the parts of the race that make it what it is. While disappointed myself, my disappointment is tempered by the fact that I have no reason to expect anything more than the opportunity to apply.

Regards,
Jonathan

Scott Dunlap said...

Anton -

All this aside, I hope you might consider running Miwok or AR50 to win a slot for WS. You are certainly fast enough, and we would love to have you out in Cali.

Cheers, SD

olga said...

Anton, Lisa S-B from teton 100 is interested in hosting an idea of "championship". She asked me to email who I know - what I did, but I don't have a few emails on hand. if you're interested, email her or me at olgav100@gmail.com. I like this idea so much, I'd like to push it happen:)