Are you feeling lucky; Are lotteries in ultras the best way to manage growing interest?

My first ever ultra was Uwharrie Mountain Run in 2012.  Sign up began at 7 am, and was online.  Several of my training partners were hoping to run it as well, so I was thrilled to run my first ultra with friends.  I set my alarm to make sure I was up, knowing it filled up fast.  I pushed back my morning run so I could hover around my computer waiting for 7 am, my fingers itching.
Lottery Test
7am came and I immediately jumped onto my did everyone else apparently.  The screen froze…NO!  Suddenly my inbox notification started chiming with new emails.  It was several friends on our trail running listserv, also panicking.  Questions like, “did I get in?  Did it accept my credit card twice?” were coming in from several other people sharing in my confusion.
It turns out we crashed the server, I did get in, and the next year the race switched from first-come-first-serve to a lottery system.
The growing number of ultra participants in a blessing and a curse.  It is really inspiring to see so many people take the leap from marathoning to ultra-marathoning.  According to in 2013 that number was 69,573.

What that means for races, however, is that while new ones are popping up everywhere,  tried and true races are having to deal with how to include everyone.


So the question becomes, whats the best way to deal with this?   How can RDs make sure everyone is included?  How about a lottery?
I believe that lotteries are on of the most fair ways of trying to include both newbies and veterans.  One of the oldest 100 mile races does it best.  The Western States Endurance run.  For lack of a better comparison, its the Boston Marathon of the ultra community.  Its been around the longest, it has made names for several individuals, it draws people back every year.  Not only for the competition, but for the camaraderie, the community, the scenery, and its exceptional organization.The details for the Western States lottery can be found here, the RD and board of directors work really hard to make their lottery as fair as they can.  If you look through their history they have tweaked their lottery processes several times.

First come first serve race entry is becoming harder to find.  Another popular race that I have run, in the mid atlantic, is Bull Run Run organized by the Virgina Happy Trails.  This was my first encounter with a lottery system, and I have to say it was much easier than rushing to my computer and panicking while trying to hit refresh on my computer.  Their system is similar to WESR, however, rather than random names pulled they use the DOW in an interesting way.  During the period that their application is open, each person who fills out an application will be given a unique, randomly-generated number from 0 to 999. Once a number is issued, it will not be used again. The starting number is determined by using the least three significant digits of the closing Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW) as it is normally displayed. The date of the DOW will be specified before entry begins.
I know the lottery system isn’t always perfect for everyone.  I have friends who have put in for WESR several years in a row, and still have never gotten in, while others get in on their first try.
If you are still unconvinced that races are trying their best to make sure people are included, many will allow people to volunteer one year, for entry in the next.
Of course, if you are just unlucky in lotteries from time to time, fat-asses and smaller low key races that don’t fill can still be found around the country.
As for me, fingers crossed…this is my first year putting in for the WSER lottery!

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