December 3, 2016

Western States Lottery - I'm not Bitter

  Western States Lottery Stats:

4,246 applicants 

369 runners “permitted” by US Forest Service

less 119 “automatic” entries “granted” by WS board of trustees

=          250 slots available
=          2.5% chance of being selected (based on ticket system)
=          Genius marketing. But what are the motives?

I’m not bitter. Just a little frustrated. Submitting my application to the Western States lottery, anymore, is getting a bit futile. Outside of the “automatic” selections, which includes a list of categories that would make any politician blush, the remnants are getting kind of skimpy. And the “automatic” list, frankly, seems to be multiplying like cancer cells, gobbling up spaces the average hard working trail runner would otherwise have. What are the “automatic” entries you ask? Here’s the latest menu:

30 spaces for “Race Admin.” Trail crew etc.
24 spaces for “Golden Ticket Races”
20 “sponsor” slots
19 Top Ten Runner Slots
10 “raffle” winners
6 UTWT “elite” foreign athletes
3 “special considerations”
2 runners going for 10th finish
1 “trustee”
1 “silver legend”
1 entry for Gordy

Again, I’m not bitter. But I’m wondering if the direction this is going is away from the culture of the sport. Ultra running is about hard work, suffering, paying your dues, putting you time in on trail, sacrificing time with family, etc. In this light, does putting your time in mean elbowing your way into an aid station for three years? Does sacrifice mean locking in every “raffle” date in your outlook calendar? Shit, I’m beginning to feel like I should dress up like an Oompa Loompa so I can have the inside track to a “golden ticket.”

What the hell is a “Golden Ticket” race anyway? Well it’s a list of races, sponsored by the Western States “Presenting” sponsor, that provide entry to the top finishers in those races. Not a bad idea, but it gets a bit grey when I look at the motives here – attract more runners to races sponsored by the “presenting sponsor” so said sponsor can reap more marketing juice from their sponsorship of said races in a build up to Western States. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for profit motivated enterprises, but Western States is a non-profit organization entrusted by the Forest Service to administer a fair event per the course's legislative mandate.

Why, then, do sponsors – presumably profit motivated sponsors – control 12% of the entries to Western States? Is it because the event needs capital? From what I can find the race organization does not need money. It’s sitting on $149,209 in cash, after bringing in $382,587 in revenue and spending $425,228 in expenses in 2014 (the latest year I could find on record).

So, what…then…am…I…saying? I’m not saying as much as I’m starting to question the cozy relationship between the board of trustees and sponsors looking to maximize brand. All at the expense of the hard working runner who just wants a chance to “toe the line” at an event that bills itself as “the world’s preeminent 100-mile trail run”.

So I leave you with this. Why do I feel like I need to dress up as an oompa loompa when I know I’m going to be dressed down by a shoe company?

Really, I’m not bitter.



Jukka Kukkonen said...

I'm not bitter either since I decided to do only lottery-free races. Like 125-mile Swiss Irontrail, which has been moved to July in 2017 so the weather might be as hot and sunny as in WS100. As a bonus they offer plenty of elevation. Registration opens 12/12. See you there!

Will Cooper said...

TP...this is where I'm leaning too. Just signed up for Bighorn 100 miler in Wyoming. Hope your doing well and we need to find another race to run together! Europe? America? How about Asia?

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Great idea! I haven't signed up for any races yet so I'm open for suggestions. In Europe Irontrail is my fav, but there are others. After my 6-day running adventure in Malaysian jungle I sort of had enough of Asia. I'd like to run something in America for sure. Hey, maybe I could run Bighorn as well?

Will Cooper said...

TP - let me know if you do. I would be good to meet in Wyoming to follow our last meeting in Chamonix!

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Will I'd love a wild & scenic run like that, but after checking out the travel options I'm not so sure. If you can fly to Venice (Italy) in July we could explore the Dolomites.

Anonymous said...

Quit whining. Want into WS? Keep finishing qualifiers every year and stack up the tickets until your name is pulled from the hat. After 4 years tickets start to double. Short of true luck, getting into WS isn't easy and requires patience and persistence. Took me quite a while to finally get my shot.

Anonymous said...

Although I have never run WS, I'm sure its not as great as they claim it to be. There are plenty of low key races that would be thrilled to have you. I stay away from these big races since, in my humble opinion, they are antithetical to what trail and ultra running are all about.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2, actually, it's better than claimed. Until you have crossed that track in Auburn, it's hard to fully grasp the experience. Unreal. Life-changing.