Lottery Season

Nov 15, 2012 – This was originally published in December 2009, but I think it is still an interesting topic. Definitely read the story referenced below if you haven’t before. And the comments are pretty good, too.

It is lottery season. Ultra lottery season, that is. With the biggies WS, Massanutten, and Miwok already done and Way Too Cool, Wasatch, CCC, Hardrock, and others still to come, there have been some very happy people and many more disappointed people. This whole lottery business is fascinating. Some races still do first-come, first-served, but there seems to be a common belief that lotteries are somehow more fair. For example, whereas getting into Way Too Cool used to favor those with some technical savvy and a fast internet connection as you had to be on the computer at 8:00am (or 7:53am a few years back when it opened early, uh oh) and get all your info entered and credit card approved within minutes, the new lottery levels the playing field. Or at least that’s what race organizers think. If you get selected, then you probably think the lottery is fair. However, if you’re one of the many who don’t get selected, you might think otherwise.

Not all ultra lotteries are the same. Some like Hardrock and Wasatch are weighted, so people with more finishes or presumably a better chance of finishing, have volunteered at the race, or have lost in previous lotteries, have a greater chance of being selected. Others like WS (until next year), Miwok, and Way Too Cool give equal weight to all entries (whether qualified or serious about entering or not, but I digress). But, regardless of whether it is weighted or not, the lottery process must be trusted. Participants need to believe that the process is not rigged or otherwise pre-determined. When WS used to pull names out of a GUBrew bucket it was clear that the selection process was not rigged. People would go up and draw names. The person drawing couldn’t see the names on the sheets of paper, and no names were ever pulled twice. However, we couldn’t know for sure that our name was in the bucket.  With their new process, that issue still remains, plus now they are reliant on a random selection algorithm on a computer in some machine room in sky daddy knows where.  Transparent and open?  Not so much.  Fair?  Depends on whether you think lotteries should be weighted.

Massanutten uses a very creative, open, transparent, and random process. As entries come in, they are assigned a random number between 0 and 999. 180 names are drawn from those entrants. The seed is based on the last three digits of the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the close of lottery day. The person with that number is selected, and if the DOW closes up, the next 179 people on the list get selected. If the DOW closes down, the previous 179 people get selected (see process here). Creative, transparent, and open? Absolutely. Fair?  Again, only if you think lotteries shouldn’t be weighted.

My wife recently forwarded me a short story written by Shirley Jackson in 1948 for The New Yorker magazine, appropriately titled The Lottery. She had first read it in high school, but not being very literary or someone who went to the same school as President Barack Obama, I had never read this story before. It’s good. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you take a few minutes and read it first before coming back to this post (link here).

So what do you think? Pretty dark story, huh? Obviously in this lottery, unlike our race lotteries, you do not want to get selected. But similar to our lotteries, it’s easy to think there is nothing wrong until you are (or aren’t) the chosen one. Poor Mrs Hutchison grew up in this small town and had most likely participated in many lotteries, presumably never complaining until she is selected in the lottery. I can hear her cries of, “It’s not fair.” echoing across the land as this ultra lottery season continues.

I would never suggest there is only one right way to select a field for races, but open and transparent are characteristics I believe must be considered important. Fair is much more difficult to define.

What say you?


  1. Aside from Western States, I may slide through lottery season without buying many entries. I want to run Miwok, Wasatch, and Hardrock… but not this year. I think I’ll wait to sign up for one of the 100s I can sign up for whenever I get around to it with little fear of being shut out. There really are still plenty of them. Folks really are still in control of their destiny!

  2. I’m with you Craig. Give me transparency and low tech.

    I’m not sure I like Hardrock’s weighting system. It just seems to heavily favor people that have run it a number of times. If you believe the marginal value of something goes down over time (wasn’t your first WS the most memorable?), the weighting keeps many newbies out. In a way I liked the two time loser rule, especially if it were to be combined with higher qualifying requirements. Gets more people to experience the race.

    Let’s see, other weighting systems that I’d like. How about RDs have an improved chance of, oh, say 10X. Or how about multiplying your trail work hours by eight, rounding the result and having that as your entry chance.

    Just kidding. I’m sure there isn’t any right way to handle this. My expectations are this increase in demand is cyclic and will diminish in a few years. Unfortunately, by the time the pendulum swings, I might be sufficiently crippled that it doesn’t do me any good. That being said, I’m still buying green bananas.

    • @SLF, You are correct in that my first WS was different than the rest – it was memorable. Nothing like the first time going up Squaw not knowing what’s in store for you, how you’ll do in the Canyons, on Cal St, etc. What crossing the river is going to feel like. Great stuff and I wouldn’t want to take that experience away from people. But, it doesn’t mean that my 10th won’t be as memorable. Weren’t you there when Twiet finished for the 25th time. Pretty memorable? And I do have a couple of recollections of first time WS runners that didn’t finish because they weren’t prepared. So, yeah, they have the potential to have a great experience, but only if they prepare. If someone signs up and doesn’t really respect all that is involved in preparing and executing then they’re going to “waste” a spot. A veteran, theoretically, won’t do that. And veterans can help the race. Does Gordy give WS character? If it is always a bunch of first-timers, well, that might not be as interesting.

      I hope you’re right about cyclic demand. This is nuts right now. How about making a trail work reguirement just to sign up for the lotteries? Think about how much we could get accomplished 🙂

      • @Craig, in terms of spots being wasted by underprepared “couch-potatoes”, it seems to me as an outsider (no 100 milers, just one 50 miler run) that the qualifying standards at States should be higher. I know last year I followed the web cast and saw a number of people I know have beaten me (handily) in shorter ultras drop at Foresthill and earlier.

        In contrast, I ran my first 50-miler, painfully (~10:40 at MMTR 50) – and theoretically I now have a qualifying time for WS. So based on the evidence, I am pretty sure anybody able to run just an 11 hour 50-miler is woefully, woefully underprepared for WS.

        With the demand as high as it is, I think it would be better for the race to enhance the quality of its lottery entrants by setting more demanding standards that both WS-rookies and WS-veterans can attain – but not by weighting towards WS-veterans for no other reason than that they are veterans.

        • @Michael, I agree with you on what you suggest above. But it’s all relative. I bet there are many less speedy folks that would not want this to happen. They still want their chance to be in “the big dance” as AJW and others refer to it. I’m glad I am not the one that has to make the decision to shut them out.

          • @Robert Blair, I agree that you shouldn’t shut anybody out. “Speed” doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with endurance. Perhaps a solution would be to qualify those with ANY 100-mile finish, but increase the difficulty for qualifying with just 50 mile or 100km times. That way, even the slowest runner on earth could get into WS – if he made it through another 100-miler first.

            There’s no easy answer, but leaving things as they are right now seems sub-optimal as well.

            • @Michael, I like that idea a lot. I wonder what the RDs and the top 20 type runners would think about this one.

              It meets AJWs wish, that runners who are in WS would have already run a 100. It does not discriminate against slower runners, as long as they do indeed complete a 100 mile race within the race’s cut off time limit. And it tightens up the qualifying times for WS when qualifying with only a 50 mile or 100K distance.

              I truly wonder if the RDs would take a look at this suggestion of yours and respond.

              Michael, if you have not been contacted yet by President Obama, or either house of Congress, please contact them. Perhaps you can help them all in their efforts to find a civil and just solution to the healthcare reform issue that helps provide affordable health insurance for all! 🙂

              Last thing, all you ultrarunners out there who have not yet seen the movie, AVATAR, go see it, soon. Tonight! 🙂

              It is awesome! As I watched the fitness of the Na’vi people I could not help but think of many of the ultrarunners (sans tails) I have been privileged to run with on the trails this year.

              Happy holidays to you all, runners and RDs and race volunteers. Thank you, truly, for being an inspiration to me throughout this entire year.

            • @Michael, You’re basically offering the status quo with harder requirements for 50mi and 100km. Would be very easy to implement. Remember that the other way slower runners can qualify for WS is to finish three 50 milers within the allowed time limit for each race in the qualifying period. Not necessarily easy to do but doesn’t require speed. Is this what you’re thinking (from the WS site):

              a) 50 miles in under 11 hours (change this to 8?)

              b) 100 kilometers in under 14 hours (change this to 11?)

              c) completion of any OFFICIAL 100-mile trail race

              d) completion of three 50-mile runs, completed within the cutoff times of those races, but in not more than 12 hours, and during the qualifying period.

  3. Is the Wasatch lottery really weighted? I thought it only had automatic entries for 6-time finishers, and double tickets for certain volunteers and people who didn’t get in the previous year. But maybe I’m wrong.

  4. Of course that is a dark story! Sad and dark. Reminds me of that old Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man”, in a way.

    As for the current 100 miler lotteries, whether I am ever picked or not I will think they have an element of unfairness in them, because many who are “deserving” will always be left out, and some who end up not even finishing (be they first timeers OR veterans) will always be selected). It is what it is, and there’s unfortunately no crystal ball.

    But what are the alternatives? The only one I have not heard mentioned yet is the old first come first accepted by application and a money order through regular snail mail!

    And then there would still be unhappy folks if that one was employed.

    Cries by the unchosen that selective favoritism had been employed, and how can anyone really know whose qualified application was received first. I can hear the cries now.

    Bryon Powell is so right when he writes, “I think I’ll wait to sign up for one of the 100s I can sign up for whenever I get around to it, with little fear of being shut out. There really are still plenty of them. Folks really are still in control of their destiny!”

    That thought, that reality, right there is what keeps me from being too bummed out that I do not get chosen for this lottery or that one re: a 100 mile race.

    Not only are there really still pelnty of 100s, but there are plenty of beautiful and challenging ones out there.

    New ones are being added each and every year. Not to take away from the specialness of any one 100 like WS that so many want to get into.

      • @Craig, Funny, yes, if you are in on the joke, and not one of the humans being stuffed into the plane before they discover that the book “To Serve Man” refers to a cookbook and not some altruistic venture.

        I guess it was not the best analogy. The lottery story was pretty painful to read, because from the beginning, and with your preview comment in your post, you kind of know where that lottery is going.

        There is an interesting resemblance to the head Kanamit and whom? Lost me on that one.

        • @Robert Blair, I’m impressed that you remembered that episode. But, those humans weren’t stuffed into – they were lining up to get on! As for the resemblence, well, it’s probably just in my whacked out head. Nevermind.

          My wife wouldn’t clue me in on what the lottery story was about. She just told me that everytime the WS lottery comes around she thinks of this story she read in high school. First few times I looked at it I didn’t read it all the way through. She’d ask me if I’d read it and I’d say not yet. And when I finally did read it a few days ago, I did not have a clue how it was going to end so it wasn’t painful until the very end.

  5. I must admit that there is a certain amount of faith placed in the new high-tech UltraSignUp system that is a bit disconcerting. In the end you just need to trust the system and that is not always easy to do especially when runners who do not even have qualifiers can be selected in the lottery!

  6. First come first serve is a lottery upon itself. If you want in you had better be quick on the keyboard. This breaks down like in the case of Umstead where many people attempted to register right when it opened up but where shut out by the pure volume of people. I guess there is no real fair way to do this. Good thing there are more 100 milers each year.

  7. i think the VHTRC has done it well with their system. the initial lottery is not weighted, but the wait list is weighted, thus past winners and those loyal folks that have run it several times or volunteered for a few years at club events are pretty much guaranteed a spot and those that have lost out in the lottery in previous years have a better shot than the first time entrant. but in the initial lottery, everyone has the same chance.

  8. What sort of bothers me about the Miwok and Way Too Cool lotteries is that I can’t find the cost of the entry fee on either site. The Miwok lottery has passed but last week I could not find the race fee on the Miwok website nor at the UltraSignup site. The same goes for the Way Too Cool race which is in the lottery sign up phase right now.

    On the subject of transparency both races may give the appearence to someone that the lottery is being used to quantify demand and then set the price of the entry fee. Of course this isn’t the case but it come off that way.

    Maybe I’m blind, maybe the fee is stated plain as day on the website.

  9. The lottery itself is fine. What bothers me is the few runners that are not welling to give it there goddamn all in preparation for the race. I’m talking the “oh! it’s already March. Guess I better start supplementing my couch time with some long runs” types. For some reason this really gets my goat. If I knew that every entrant, to WS or other lottery type ultra, was going into the process with every intention of trying to maximize their ability for race day then I’d feel much more content with the lotterys.

    Of course the case here in Oregon where most of us WS entrants are already knocking out the big weeks. Right?

  10. Actually, I think that $95 is a reasonable entry fee for WTC. I’ve heard that the county is now charging $10 to park your car in the parking lot next to the fire station and I would think that the county will charge the race some fee this year for parking.

  11. “The Lottery” is one on my all time favorite short stories. When I first read your post, I figured it had just come up because Dec.14 is Shirley Jackson’s birthday and NPR had done a story about it. I didn’t bother to read the story at the time.

    “The Lottery” came up in a family conversation last night – we used to live in a small, quintessential New England town that always reminded me of the story. I could definitely imagine “It’s not fair” being screamed across that towns’ commons.

    Anyway so this AM I actually go to read the story again and notice that the story is set on June 27 – very similar date to typical Western States, which brought me back to thinking of this post.

    Just a weird set of coincidences – No lotteries for me for a while – just in case I enter the wrong one.

  12. For anyone to suggest I created a system that is being manipulated behind the scenes or there is some special algorithm that I created that can be molded somehow, is just ridiculous. Does it make sense that I would contribute 100’s of volunteer hours, to the sport I love, to build a system that could blacklist me from every race for the rest of my life? No.

    When I hear comments of technological fears, I’m embarrassed for the person making the comment. Randomly selecting names from a database is as straightforward and simple as hitting the random key on a calculator. Simple as that. Fair, simple and statistically random. If anyone would like to research the accuracy of the built-in function that Bill Gates and his team developed, you are more than welcome, but your time would be better served on the trails.

    Arguments should not be directed at the technology, but rather all the other decisions that are made outside of the actual drawings.

    As for the pricing of the events (both WTC and Miwok), I know that both events were battling with the parks to the very end to get a better price for participants. I have to admit though, it was really an oversight on my part that there wasn’t mention of the price on Ultra Signup. This is our sport and Ultra Signup is my attempt at bringing control back to the registration process and getting better prices for RD’s and participants. If there is a suggestion or comment that can help improve the process, I want to know. If there’s and idea that is out there that can help Runners and RD’s, let me know.

    This is not my career, it’s my hobby. I want it to be enjoyable and rewarding. When people question my intention or my goodwill, it stops being fun.

    Mark Gilligan
    Ultra Signup

    • @Mark Gilligan, My suggestions to UltraSignup: Be as open and transparent as possible. Don’t joke about having control of who gets selected in your lotteries or not as it weakens your credibility (what you write on Facebook and the ultralist is seen by many). Don’t oversell technology. Just because we can do something with a computer doesn’t mean it is the best way to do it. Look at the whole process from other people’s perspectives.

      Finally, if you’d like to discuss random (or pseudo-random) number generators I’d welcome that discussion. Have you read anything from Knuth?

      • @Craig, I agree, people who don’t know me could take it the wrong way and I should refrain from commenting. However, if someone were to interpret the jokes that people were putting on my facebook page and my responses, seriously, then they are in the wrong sport. This is not a sport of high stakes and big dollars. In general people are treated as family on the trails and the tone is light hearted.

        Like I said before, there’s really not much technology to it. Furthermore, I’m not trying to sell anything. I built the system for RD’s to use so they can save weeks of data entry, result validation and verification. The time RD’s saved can be spent making a better event for everyone. It’s hard to argue the return of the gatoraid barrel when you weight the benefits that occur from the RD’s standpoint.

        I think my point about the random generation was missed. It’s not worth a discussion because it’s a solved problem. No need to read Knuth.

        • @Mark Gilligan, These races are important to many people and to expect everybody to feel the same way is not realistic. I’m as big a joker as the rest, but when it comes to the selection process for races that I love, that I’m passionate about, that I grew up around, that I’ve developed life-long goals around, don’t expect me to be joking about it if I see what I think are problems with it.

          As for you not selling anything, how are we to reconcile the fact that there are top ultrarunners running races with the Ultra Signup logo on their chests? Also, it would have gone a long way towards transparency, openness and gaining the trust of the community if someone were to have explained what the $12 fee that was tacked onto the WS entry was for.

          As for the random number generator, I’m not sure I’d agree it is a “solved problem” just because one calls a function that was provided by Microsoft, but I’ll let it go.

          • @Craig, Craig, the Team that I formed was nothing more than a group of friends looking for a way to self support ourselves in a cash poor sport. The team’s attitude and talent attracted sponsors.

            I am very surprised to hear an RD question Ultra Signup’s intent or profit model. On the website, I thought I made it clear that I started this to help reduce to costs for everyone and provide services that other online registration sites don’t provide to ultras.

            Businesses pay on average 3% to credit card companies to process transactions, ultra signup is no different. The $12 that was charged to process the $295 fee for Western, grossed Ultra Signup $3. After paying all the expenses associated with the lottery I made 0. would have charged $20+ for the fee and everyone would have had to mail in an application with proof of their qualifier. Don’t question my intent.

            If you are still not conviced, feel free to talk to the 50+ RD’s currently using the website for their online registration.

            • @Mark Gilligan, Mark, I appreciate the fact that you’ve volunteered so much time to make this thing go, but I find your desire to stomp out criticism of Ultra Signup a bit bewildering. Because you volunteer your time does not mean the technology is beyond reproach. Shouldn’t we be debating the decisions that affect our sport? I hope Ultra Signup proves to be successful, but until then we should be talking about how well it’s working. And I don’t believe anyone ever suggested you were rigging the results, they were merely raising the point that technology solves some issues and creates new ones. If you feel sorry for those who question the validity of technological methods of tabulation, there are tens of millions of people (many of them not stupid) who deserve your sympathy for questioning whether electronic voting machines are a good idea. Again, I hope Ultra Signup proves to be successful, but I think it’s premature to say, “The system works, don’t question it.”
              Lewis Taylor

              • @lowercase, Agreed, I’m being too sensitive to the critism. I want EVERYONE to benefit from the site and don’t want to alienate or upset people. I think most people are frustrated with many points of the lottery and take it out on the visible targets. The benefit of the system is getting everyone to enter their own contact info so the RD doesn’t have to. If Greg and the Board decided to return to the old way of drawing, we would still have an online way of adding yourself to the Bucket. Selecting the names is merely one line of code in the entire process of 1000’s. I have enjoyed reading the various posts and opinions on what needs to be addressed for next year. Many of the popular opinions will be addressed. For example, I will require people to enter their CC for pre-auth and all runners will be required to have their qualifier prior to entering. I will also continue to display entrant types to shed light on the various means of getting in the race. However, my hands are tied when it comes to the big decisions such as capacity count, the “other” category, international runners, etc..


                • @Mark Gilligan, Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mark. And although I’m telling you to suck it up, I’m mindful of the fact that you’re getting it from all sides, here. In the interest of not just shooting holes in the system you created, I’ll say there are a lot of things I like about Ultra Signup, including all the data we have at our fingertips, the list of applicants, the list of accepted runners, the ease of use and the fact that I don’t have to reenter my name every time I sign up for something. I know there will never be a system that works for everyone and it’s possible that lotteries may be like voting machines or mouse traps and we’ll never really make a better one but I appreciate the fact that you and other people are trying.

  13. I’d argue that Ultrasignup has added somewhat to the transparancy for WS. It’s not perfect, but you can finally look at the list of entrants and WS and have an idea of how most of them got in. I think also the use of technology in broadcasting the lottery, really gave remote folks a better view into the process. Several folks did not know about the drawing of names from the local audience before seeing the broadcast. I suspect the cafeteria will be more crowded next year 😉

    • @Steve, I agree that the live video was a good step toward transparency for WS. Monkeyboy and I had a camera and were prepared to document the lottery but it wasn’t needed. I also agree that having the lottery list on UltraSignup which provided information on how many people got in was a good move towards transparency. I applaud both of those added aspects.

  14. Boys,boys ! Common now. I think that maybe the word “lottery” makes one associate with the word “fair”, when this is not really the case. These lottery lists are for the leftovers. That being, all the people left that did not get in under special consideration, friend of the RD/race organization, etc. Hell, States couldn’t even stick to their rules a week after their own lottery! Let’s take the most current example, WTC. The RD belongs to a certain brand name team. All the runner’s of this brand name team that entered the lottery were “selected”. Random? I don’t think so.
    Perhaps the conspiracy finger is being pointed at Mark unfairly. I think he hit the nail on the head when he stated that he just generated the names that the computer picks and then what happens prior and following he has no control over. If you want to look at deceit or whatever you want to call it, look there, if it’s worth it to you. I think we would all be better served to just look at this process for what it is. There is always going to be back door deals being done. It’s just like anything else in life. It’s who you know, your name and how much influence/money you have that might appeal to who is doing the choosing. And it will never change. Afterall, these events are privately “owned” so they can do anything they want. And that, I think, is the bottom line.
    I am a bit dismayed that next year the States lottery entry is going to require a CC# up front. I was looking at many years of tossing my name into the hat (I have never, ever, once been selected in any lottery running, or otherwise), perhaps getting picked, then telling them to shove it. There goes my chance to “stick’it to the man”!
    Now I suggest you both go have a beer!

    • @Grae Van Hooser, I’m cutting back on beer and drinking red wine like SLF, the skinny little f… I have to get fit so I don’t lose too badly in all my bets.

      It sucks that the whole process of selection has made you feel as you do. The good thing is that we as a community are talking about it and the RDs and boards are reading (hopefully soon they’ll feel comfortable discussing with us).

  15. I can’t believe I read all 44 comments on this. Shouldn’t I be making cookies, or shopping or something like that?

    Anyway my 2 cents worth:
    No one ever said life is fair.
    Thanks for the story (I read that too)something to ponder during long runs
    Maybe in 2010 I can change my name, and then I can put my name in the GU bucket and enjoy the drama 1st hand

  16. Here’s another topic to stir up the hornet’s nest. How about once you run it, there’s a 3 year cooling off period to give others a chance? This seems like a “fair” way to lower the number of applicants and give people the opportunity. The exception would be Top 10 runners. I’m always surprised to hear people on the training camp bus talk about their good fortune with the lottery. I should run some numbers on the entrants list to see how many people have already run the race and how many are first timers. Maybe another stat that could help people’s argument would be to see how many slots could be freed up if a 100m is required.

    • @Mark Gilligan, If we go to the “cooling off” period, this all but eliminates the 10 year and 20 year buckles in the future. It’s already gotten hard enough as it is.

      I like the idea of toughened and age graded standards. If your 60, you shouldn’t have to meet the same standards as I do. I do think WS is an excellent first timers race. Some would argue the topography of the Boston Marathon merits the same argument. At some point, they had to make changes to accommodate the demand. Perhaps a 100 mile requirement allows one of the other 65 scheduled 100 milers for 2010 to grow and fill their fields.

      UTMB assigns points based off the difficulty and distance of the qualifying race. Maybe that is worth exploring. Folks who run 11:30 for the Diablo 50 certainly show far better pedigree towards completion of a 100 miler than 10 hour Helen Klein finishers, i’d say.

      • @MonkeyBoy, One new qualifier change that has not been anounced but has been decided on already is the elimination of the 50 mile split for timed events. It was a pain to manually verify all the folks using 12 and 24 hour events but only running 50 miles. Many timed events don’t publish splits. Also, the fact that they are flat and relatively easy does not properly indicate ones ability to complete a challenging 100. If they finish 100+ miles, they will still qualify.

        Working on one rule at a time to lower that 1500 applicant count.

    • @Mark Gilligan, The three-year cooling off period is an interesting idea to ponder. Would a field full of first-timers or people that haven’t run WS very many times be a sustainable model for the race? The passion for WS develops in many people because they’ve run it many times. This passion then spills over into many communities and it spreads. How and would this passion develop if people can’t run the race but every three years at the most (unless you’re top ten). The race in the future would be lacking the Scott Mills, Gary Wangs, Dan Williams, Dave Terrys (RIP) etc. My gut tells me that would hurt the race, but maybe it wouldn’t. And, as MonkeyBoy said, the 10 and 20 year buckles would not be awarded except to the rare individual (like Twiet and Trason) who can run top-ten year after year after year. Maybe that isn’t a big deal?

  17. I’ve got an idea!
    At the start of each year, each person will pick the day that they think others will start complaining about the lottery process, the (un)fairness of “other” entrants, and whether or not DK is a “real” runner or not.
    Whoever is closest on all three gets an automatic entry into the race of his/her choosing.

    (all this coming from a guy who went 3/3 in the lotteries this year)

  18. I’ve been off the computer lately so just got around to reading all these posts. My only concern is that WS tends to be the “standard” other 100s compare themselves to. That said, if WS requires completion of a 100 mile race as a qualifier, then other races will too. At some point, no one will qualify for any 100 mile race, unless they choose the loop-course, timed events and are actually able to run 100 miles within 24 hours. Maybe some have a longer cut-off, but I thought most were 24 hour events.

    All I can say is my two-time loser entry for 2011 is pretty coveted at this point, and I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy and plan every race and training run over the next year and a half!!

    Love your blog Craig — it really conducts my juices 🙂

  19. The flawed lottery system for the Western States Endurance Run remains in place for the 2012 event. To learn how two recently conducted mock lotteries demonstrate that the group of three-ticket holders has worse odds than either the group of two-ticket holders or the group of one-ticket holders, follow this link:

    • Itps625, thank you very much for the link and the detailed explanation on the WS lottery odds. I hear you on the transparency and the built-in incentive to apply year after year even if you don’t really want to run in a given year.

    • ltps625,
      I confess I didn’t run your excel spreadsheet mock lottery, but I have a slightly different take on your conclusion, which I’ve pasted below:

      “Perhaps most telling are the overall chances that these mock lotteries
      reveal. For the second mock lottery, based on 300 selected among 2017
      entrants, we have overall chances of 14.87 percent, or between 1 in 6 and 1
      in 7, broken down by group as follows (figures rounded):

      Group A: 6.35 percent (128 in 2017, or between 1 in 15 and 1 in 16) Group B:
      4.91 percent (99 in 2017, or between 1 in 20 and 1 in 21) Group C: 3.62
      percent (73 in 2017, or between 1 in 27 and 1 in 28)”

      The way I look at it is as follows. If I’m to believe that in the mock lottery 128 one ticket people will be drawn (out of 1037 that have one ticket), then any one individual with one ticket has a 12.34% chance, because the 128/1037 implies 100% certainty that 128 people with one ticket will get chosen. two ticket holders then would, assuming there’s a 100% certainty that 99 of the 428 get chosen, have a 23.13% chance. three ticket holders, assuming there’s a 100% certainty that 73 of the 239 get chosen, would have a 30.5% chance. I think the flaw came in by using the 2017 denominator throughout.

      So, I think your overall premise is correct that increasing numbers of tickets don’t linearly increase your odds, because your competition (others wanting to get in) can be getting more tickets as well. But, more tickets do give you a greater chance, this year from 12.3% to 23.1% to 30.5%.

      That’s my thoughts- I welcome the feedback.

      • And to add, using current info from ultrasignup:
        1227 one ticket holders
        461 two ticket holders
        257 three ticket holders

        The following percentages will be off because, as ltps625 mentioned in his blog, for convenience I’m doing this “with replacement,” rather than decreasing the total population by one after each drawing.

        there are 2920 total tickets 1227 + 2 x 461 + 3 x 257.
        Any individual one ticket holder has 2919/2920 to the “X” power chance of not getting picked on every drawing, where X is the number of entrants they’ll draw. If you think they’ll be drawing 300 people (I think it’ll be closer to 250) then its 2919/2920 to the 300th power, which equals a 90.23% chance that a one ticket person will not be drawn 300 times in a row.

        For two ticket holders, its 2918/2920 to the 300th power which equals an 81.42% chance of not being drawn 300 times in a row.

        For three ticket holders, its 2917/2920 to the 300th, which equals a 73.46% chance of not being drawn 300 times in a row.

        So, roughly (again, I’m off because I’m lazy and doing it with replacement so I can just use a calculator), a ticket holder has a 9.77% chance, two tickets gets you an 18.58% chance, and three gets you 26.54%. Not quite linear.

        If this arrangement continues year after year, the problem perpetuates because you get an overall population with 4, 5, 6 tickets, plus an unknown number of one ticket holders that jump in at the back end. A population of 2920 tickets this year of a total of 1800ish applicants means next year would have an additional population of 1500 tickets just from this years folks that didn’t get picked.

        Again, comments welcomed. I don’t claim to be a statistical genius.

    • The Western States 2012 lottery is complete. Of the 1940 people entered in the lottery, 267 were selected prior to the few spots reserved for a drawing among people who attended the lottery.

      The results are so skewed against what would be expected in a random selection as to suggest either a bug in the selection algorithm, lack of sophistication in the algorithm, or even manipulation of the lottery.

      Of the 267 people selected, 154 had one ticket in the lottery, 71 had two tickets, and 42 had three tickets. This means that 57.68% of the selected had one of the 2926 tickets, 26.59% had two of the 2926 tickets, and 15.73% of the selected had three of the 2926 tickets. In comparison: Among the 1940 applicants, 41.88% had one ticket, 31.60% percent had two tickets, and 26.53% had three tickets. Statistically, this is a very large discrepancy and suggests a selection process that is not adequately or fairly random (to put it objectively).

      The odds within each group broke out like this: 12.60% of the one-ticket holders were selected, 15.43% of the two-ticket holders, and 16.28% percent of the three-ticket holders.

      Clearly, having multiple tickets does not represent a significant advantage. The nearly 84% of the three-ticket holders who were not selected today should be upset by this inadequate and unfair system.

      In the spirit of transparency, since it is unlikely that we will see a breakout of selected by ticket counts on Ultra Signup or anywhere else, I will then explain how I came up with these numbers. (I was not entered in the lottery.)

      1) At the close of the selection process, I copied the table of names from the feed into an Excel spreadsheet where I already had a list of all applicants and their ticket counts.

      2) I used an Excel function called VLOOKUP to match the name of an applicant with a name of an entrant and return the number of tickets that the applicant held in the lottery. I performed a sanity check on the names, making sure that every exact name in the list of selected exactly matched a name in the list of applicants.

      3) Among the selected, I counted the number of people who started with one ticket, two tickets, or three tickets. After that, I could do the percentages.

      • My numbers above are wrong. I am eating some crow now. There’s an interesting discussion and explanation on the Ultra Signup forum, but here is the gist:

        The numbers from yesterday’s lottery closely match the results of the mock lotteries mentioned in this thread. Yesterday, 43.45% of the selected runners had one ticket, 34.83% had two tickets, and 21.72% had three tickets. Compare this to the result of the mock lottery (link above): 43,67, 33.00, and 24.83. That is close. Whether or not the result is fair to the multi-ticket holders I think is a matter for a different discussion. Mainly I want to say that yesterday’s results show no signs of manipulation but rather closely reflect what we would predict from a random selection.

        Especially interesting in this discussion is the publication of the selection algorithm. One small step for transparency! I am sure happy about that. Now if we could only get means of entry published (lottery, raffle, Montrail, top ten, going for tenth, board member, aid station, sponsor, special consideration, and whatever others).

        Here is the forum link:

  20. Just read the story and as I read I wondered if that was where it was going….grim. Guess, no matter how the names are selected it’s just the luck of the draw.I have friends here in Cool that said to me they have put their name in the lottery sooooo many times and have never once been selected. What comes of that is they become very discouraged and say no more! Maybe there will be some changes made in 2013???Your blog Craig is awesome, by the way. This topic allows people to really express their feelings and opinions. See you in a few days.

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