Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Glimpse Behind the Hardrock

A Glimpse Behind the Hardrock
By Ian Torrence

Note: I gathered my statistics for this piece from both the Hardrock 100 website and this Tom Caughlan iRunFar.com article.

As Emily Harrison and I pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico, the setting for the annual December Hardrock Hundred Run lottery, a light dusting of snow and an invigorating nip in the air welcomed us — appropriate weather when deliberating an epic event like Hardrock. For the sake of transparency, the race’s Board of Directors requested, for the first time in the event’s 24-year history, that outside witnesses be present during the 2017 drawing. Emily and I were asked to serve as two of these independent observers. Heather Sackett, a freelance writer from Telluride, was the third.  Here’s her write-up on how she perceived the day.
For those unfamiliar with this 100.5-mile high altitude ultramarathon, the race starts and finishes in the small southwestern Colorado town of Silverton. This mountain hamlet, with an elevation (9,308’) 14 times greater than its population (roughly 650), would set the stage for one of the world’s most “wild and tough” endurance events. The run, aptly described as “graduate level” by event management, earns its scholarly reputation with 33,050’ of elevation gain, 13 mountainous crossings higher than 12,000’, an ascent of 14,048’ Handies Peak and the participant’s need to negotiate snow, lightning, off-trail route finding, river crossings, altitude sickness, sheer and exposed slopes and remote wilderness spaces where aid is infrequent.
Those outside of the ultrarunning sport might assume that a race of such difficulty would have trouble filling its roster. However, this isn’t the reality. Drawn by Hardrock’s unique adversity, scenery and life-altering experience 1,966 ultrarunners qualified and registered for the 2017 lottery, almost 600 more lotto entrants than 2016.
Ken and Margaret Gordon hosted the lottery at their home nestled at the base of the prominent Sandia Mountains. Ken’s a five-time Hardrock finisher, Board member and race director of the Mt. Taylor 50K. Margaret, who finished Hardrock in 2015, welcomed us with her homemade scones and frittatas. Then, as the clock ticked closer to the gathering’s 8am start, a who’s who of Hardrock arrived.

·      Betsy Kalmeyer – Board member, course flag pulling director, 17-time HRH finisher, 5-time winner
·      Roch Horton – Board member, Kroger’s Canteen Aid Station Captain, 10-time HRH finisher
·      Blake Wood – Vice-President, 20-time HRH finisher and previous winner
·      Dave Coblentz – Treasurer, 9-time HRH finisher
·      Charlie Thorn – Board member, course coordinator, 10-time HRH finisher
·      Ricky Denesik – Board member, 7-time HRH finisher and previous winner
·      Andrea Feucht – Secretary, 3-time HRH finisher
·      Dale Garland – Race Director
·      Kris Kern – President, 14-time HRH finisher

What followed was more than I anticipated. My original impressions were that I’d be simply pulling tickets for an hour or so. Instead, this became an opportunity to get deep within the engine of a wildly popular and successful ultramarathon.

Emily cutting tickets.

The day began when Blake handed Emily and me a pile of uncut ticket sheets. Charlie handed us scissors. Like the others, we began the arduous and old school practice of cutting out each individual voucher. Roch provided occasional quality control by making rounds and checking trash scraps and the floor for misplaced tickets. The process took more than hour with more than a dozen people on task. Almost 8,500 tickets were cut and divided into three bowls.
    1. Veterans – Those who have finished 5 or more Hardrock runs.
    2. Never Started – Registrants who have never started Hardrock.
    3. Everybody Else – Runners who don’t fall into either of the above categories.
Before the greatly anticipated lottery drawing began, the fourth of four annual Hardrock Run Board meetings was held. I sat in the background and listened to the group converse, debate, motion and refer to bylaws on several different topics including:
  •     A debrief from Andrea about what she learned from her guest appearance at a recent Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Board meeting
  •     A discussion on how to handle past and future Hardrock lottery registrations (their statement is announced here)
  •     Dialogue on the Joel Zucker Memorial Scholarship
  •     Voting of new Board members (this announcement will come soon as well)
Once the Board meeting adjourned, it was time for the lottery. Here’s how it went down.

Pulling the first ticket.

The Hardrock Board realizes that the event is in a unique, but difficult situation —145 starters must be chosen from 1,966 entrants (a number that continues to grow yearly). They have “wrestled a lot with how to strike the proper balance between rewarding long-time supporters, getting in new blood, maintaining Hardrock's ‘small run’ feel, and making it an interesting run.” Per their website, they feel “that our ideal mix of runners would be about 30% first-time Hardrockers, one-quarter or so veterans (i.e. >= 5-time finishers), and up to 50% everyone else.” Instead of one, three lotteries (one for each category) would be held. Other factors that affected the lottery’s outcome included:
  1. Previous year’s winners are automatic entrants. For 2017, this included Kilian Jornet, Jason Schlarb and Anna Frost. They counted against the Everyone Else lottery pool.
  2. Hardrock may bypass the lottery by selecting up to five runners “that has tried for many years to enter, or who has given exceptional service to the HRH, or that Hardrock thinks will bring added interest to the run.” These runners must have entered the lottery and must also have qualified. Hardrock reserves the right not to disclose the names of the runners selected in this fashion.
The lottery in action.

We began with the Veterans drawing. Each of these applicants received one ticket for each previous Hardrock finish, plus additional “service tickets” as described here. 404 tickets from 43 Veterans were placed in a plastic, tape covered tub, shaken and pulled one at a time. I pulled the first ticket of the day and the jug was subsequently passed around the table — each person pulling one ticket at a time. Those in attendance, that had a ticket in the lotto, did not participate until their name was pulled. Andrea tweeted “live” results, Margaret taped acceptance tickets to a large white display board and Blake documented the names digitally. In all, 33 Veterans were selected. The remainder ended up on a separate Veterans specific wait list — their chances of getting in reliant on drops (or those who neglect to perform their service requirement) from the Veterans acceptance list.
The Everyone Else drawing took place next. 201 applicants with 747 tickets (determined this way) were passed around the room until their 67 slots were filled and an additional 50 Everyone Else selections were drawn and placed on this category’s specific wait list.
Finally, the Never Started lottery was held. 1,722 applicants with 7,339 tickets (determined in this manner) were poured into a large bowl (along with small pieces of dryer sheet to eliminate static cling), 45 were selected and 50 additional names added to the Never Started specific wait list.

The white boards showing accepted and wait listed runners.

The final lottery white boards were photographed and transferred to a digital version, which now lives on the event’s website.  Here are the 2017 HRH entrants and wait lists. Remaining tickets from each grouping were bagged and labeled for future reference purposes. The lottery was done at 2:00pm.

The author kissing the Hardrock in 2005.

It was both an honor and appreciated learning experience to participate in the 2017 Hardrock lottery. The Hardrock Board and race committee are passionate about their run and care deeply how the race is perceived globally. They believe strongly in tradition, retaining the event’s timelessness and maintaining a fair registration process for those that volunteer, qualify and participate with the hopes of one day kissing the Hardrock.