A Hypothetical Conversation

FastDude: I wasn’t selected in your lottery and I am calling to ask you to let me in your race.

RD: Sorry, FastDude, but we only have a limited number of available spots as permitted by the land managers.  Many runners want those limited entry spots and we have determined the most fair way to allocate those is via a lottery.  Our selection process is clearly spelled out on our web site.  One way to experience the race is to volunteer at an aid station or to be a sweep, etc.  Would you like to volunteer?

FastDude: I realize a lot of people want those spots, but I’ve been running over 100 miles a week for many months.  I’m a legitimate runner and can greatly add to the competitiveness of your race.  I think I can win it.

RD: I’m sorry, FastDude, but there are many people who are in your same position.  I’ve been getting calls and emails from people who all think they are deserving of a spot.   I wish I could accept everybody that wants in the race but that is just not possible.  The sport of ultrarunning is booming and we’ve experienced, on average, about a 25% increase in the number of applicants per year while the number of spots allowed by the land manager has not increased.   Would you like to volunteer on the safety patrol?  That is a great way to see some of the beauty of the course yet give back to the race.

FastDude: I am a RACER. I think I can break the course record. Obviously, I will add to the competitiveness of your race.  Don’t you want that?

RD: FastDude, I’m sorry, but we only have a limited number of spots.  After years of tweaking, we have developed a selection process that we think is fair. Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t give any weighting to how fast one thinks they will run.  There are a couple of ways to increase your chances of getting in the race in the future.  For instance, if you are on the board of directors you can run anytime you want.  Have you studied our selection process on our website?  We pride ourselves on the egalitarian nature of our lottery.  We want to provide an opportunity for anybody to run our race, whether they have run our race before or if they’ve just quit smoking, lost 150 pounds, and are attempting their first long ultra.  Inevitably, we will have disappointed people.  We cannot please everyone.

FastDude: I ran 161 miles last week, including 143,000 feet of climbing and a lifetime PR on the Deer Mtn climb: 56:34.  How many of those others that want in your race ran that many miles?  Think any of them have run faster on the Deer?  Based on that alone I should be allowed in your race.  And, don’t give me this egalitarian BS, I watched your entrants list last year and many people appeared on the list after the lottery.  And, most weren’t legitimate runners.  Give me a break. Why did you let them in?

RD: That is impressive weekly mileage and elevation.  But, I get lots of emails and calls.  I even got an email from a runner who has volunteered at the race for 10 years and I couldn’t let him in.  He is going to work as a ham radio operator at the finish this year.  Do you have your ham radio license?  If so, you could help with communication at the race.

FastDude: Are you not listening to me?  I am a sponsored athlete.  I am very fit and very fast.  I, along with my other fast buddies, would like to race each other at your event.  We will bring exposure and attention to your race.  That attention and exposure will make your race more valuable to sponsors.  You do want maximum exposure for your sponsors, don’t you?  That increased exposure will increase the revenue of your event.  Don’t the proceeds of your event go to help Toys for Tots?  You’d be able to give them a bigger donation.  Lots of kids would get toys this Christmas and you can all feel better about yourselves by making it happen.  Your race is out of touch with reality and missing out on the revenue that my fast buddies and I are bringing to this sport.

RD: Actually, our proceeds go to support the trail we run on and we’re very proud of the contributions we’ve made to the trails community.   We also have a scholarship fund which helps young people attend college.  And, our sponsors are very happy with the exposure they get, thank you very much.   I wish you whiny elites would give it a rest.  What have you done for the sport of ultrarunning?  You all think you are entitled to spots just because you are fast.  I’ve been in the sport for 20 years and I have never seen any of you fast guys working at any of the races I’ve been involved with.  You are all a bunch of takers.  You expect us to give you spots in our races just because you are fast.  Well, let me tell you, FastDude, I respect the guy who finishes in 30 hours just as much or more than the guy who runs 13 hours.

FastDude: You don’t get it.

RD: No, you don’t get it.


  1. A hypothetical runner such as the one in the above conversation would be almost as annoying as someone who only gets into popular, sold-out races through special dispensations from a sponsor of the race. In other words, someone who neither qualified through a “fair” lottery system, such as one alluded to by the hypothetical race director in the above hypothetical conversation, nor through any merit, such as actually winning a spot through a qualifying race. Yes, a hypothetical person like that probably shouldn’t be the standard-bearer for criticizing “FastDude” in your really funny story.

    • Chris, read it again, this time from the perspective that FastDude is the one who understands the changes in the sport and the value he/she can add while the RD (and his race) is the annoying “egalitarian.” And, let’s keep it impersonal if you don’t mind.

  2. Hey, FastDude –

    Tell your sponsor to make a three-year $$$ commitment to the race, so they can have a handful of guaranteed entries for your team and completely skip the ‘egalitarian’ lottery process. Fast or not, money talks.

    I’m pretty sure Craig knows a thing or two about those kinds of programs. 😉

  3. Love it. Thought it lately rather a lot. Thanks for speaking up. I am going to volunteer at a few hypothetical races this year, just as I did last year – and every year since I’ve been around. Oh, wait, I am a Fast Dude, so who cares, my place IS to volunteer and not to run!

  4. That was freakin’ funny, especially after reading some of the latest blog posts regarding a certain lottery that just took place and the one who didn’t get chosen. Read the first line and instantly thought of a particular “fast dude”. I’m laughing out loud – but he probably won’t get it!

  5. LB, nice writing! You should write a book someday. It could turn out to be an ultra runner version of “Once A Runner”. The best running book ever published, in my opinion. And your “hypothetical” conversation doesn’t sound all that hypothetical to me.

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        • Sam, from the WS website:

          “In addition, the Board of Trustees reserves the right to grant admission to runners whose contributions to the sport of ultrarunning or to the organization of the WS event have been unusual and substantial. While this “special consideration” definition is broadly drafted, it is narrowly applied. For example, no special consideration is given to athletes who would greatly enhance the competitive aspect of the race. Such athletes have the opportunity to gain entry into WS via the Montrail Ultra Cup Series.”

  7. Certainly respect the sentiment behind this post. As someone much closer to the 30-hour world than the 13-hour one, the egalitarian, “old school” ethos of the sport is important. For this reason, I volunteer a good chunk of time working at local races. Co-captained an aid station at last weekend’s track meet down in Texas – hard, gratifying work. As a long-time follower of your blog, I know you care deeply about the sport. But I wonder if instead of a clearly biased “hypothetical” dialogue, your passion might not be better directed to an actual dialogue. Here’s one: http://akrunning.blogspot.com/2011/02/western-states-it-is.html Would love to see you weigh in there. Finally, your response to one commenter to “keep it impersonal” seems a little unfair in light of lines such as: “I ran 161 miles last week, including 143,000 feet of climbing and a lifetime PR on the Green, er, Deer Mtn climb: 56:34.” That said, keep stirring the pot!

    • Miles, many runners and RDs, including myself (both as a runner and an RD), can identify with these characters in my hypothetical. I am not singling out any particular RD, race, or runner, although admittedly there are similarities to many.

  8. Great post Craig. I’m newer to ultra running but love the egalitarian nature of the sport. It’s a shame to see it start to move away from that as more people start to run more trail ultras. Appreciate the thoughts here – great post.

    • Jeff, it’s still a very egalitarian sport. The sense of community is very alive and well and is one of the things that makes our sport unique. Did you see my post before this one? That’s some cool stuff. Pretty much any ultra aid station you go to is unlike any aid station you’ll find at road races. We’re just experiencing some growing pains through a huge increase in participation and no increase in spots in the most established races.

  9. Interesting. I like how this post takes on different elements of perception within ultra running.

    Something worth noting is that “fast dudes” in ultra aren’t actually fast from the perspective of runners who get paid to run.

    When someone gets paid to run, it is fair for them to assume entry into competitive races – this is one of the ways the make a living.

    A transparent, professional dynamic is something that ultra running doesn’t yet have to deal with – at least not with the same clarity as marathons and or professional track races.

    • Peter, actually, some ultrarunners are getting paid to run. Maybe not enough to live like a Headmaster in a hoity toity mountain town, but they are getting stipends from sponsors, prize money, book sales (oh, nevermind), pictures in magazines, ads, etc. Many Fastdudes (except cherry pickers) want to go where the best competition is, and, if they beat them, eventually that increases their value to sponsors. But, one of the many motivations for this post was some of my friends trying to get into Montrail Ultra Cup races that are lotteries so they can try to win the $5000 first place MUC prize money. They can’t get the money if they can’t run the races.

  10. Well written, Craig. This hits close to home. Luckily, this dialog is only played out a couple times each year, although it’s getting more common as the most sought-after runs further increase in popularity – we had a 50% increase in applications to our run this year (the “…certain lottery that just took place…” referred to in an earlier comment) and had more than five applicants for each slot in our lottery.

    • I would suspect that said race will become even more challenging in future lotteries. There’s another race in the state with a huge start list (~647) this past year. The number of finishers at that race has almost doubled in the last three years. 360+ finishers contributes a large number of potential qualifying runners to the lottery. With most mountain hundreds having permit limitations on the number of starters, I don’t see any improvement in the odds when there’s a race out there with what seems to be an unlimited number of entries. I’m not suggesting increasing the permitted number of starters for the other qualifying races, but just pointing out that LT may contribute and will continue, due to the number of runners, possibly add disproportionately to the already limited number of spots. It would be interesting information to know which race was used as a qualifier for HR. Eventually, something will have to give. Maybe finishing just one mountain hundo within a given timefram isn’t enough anymore to qualify. I hope one day to make it through the lottery and will keep trying. In the meantime, I’ll just keep showing up in July to enjoy the mountains (Wolf Creek Pass to Silverton this July!). Hopefully, the number of starters doesn’t increase since the overall aura of the race and atmosphere would be jeopardized, in my humble opinion. Plus, there’s a lot of terrain covering sensitive alpine tundra on the xc sections. It’s a truly unique venue and one that I consider the epitome of what ultras are all about.

      • I can tell you that, at least for entries received by Jan 15:

        Hardrock: 159
        Leadville: 93
        Wasatch: 44
        Bear: 35
        Western: 33
        Bighorn: 24
        MMT: 20
        Cascade Cr: 14
        Grindstone: 10
        UTMB: 9
        AC100: 7
        HURT: 5
        Tahoe Rim: 5
        Superior: 5
        Plain: 3

  11. What was the point of this post? This is probably funny only to those on the inside looking out. Personally, I’d like to see RDs of these lottery races to get rid of the “Club”. No more auto entry for those close to and gunning for 1000 mile buckles. Designate those aid station (“Club”) runners *before* the lottery and remove them from the bloated hat. And make the lottery results the final call. Werd.

    • Ultraunlucky, if I have to explain my humor, well, then it probably won’t be funny to you. But, no matter who you are or what your role is in the sport, you could take offense to this post. I do suggest you read it three or four or more times and try to take different perspectives. If you still don’t get it, then, well, we’ll have to go for a run sometime and talk about it. I’ll be in California for Way Too Cool. Maybe then you’ll tell me your name.

      • Hiya Craig. No need to defend yourself here. I see the humor but thought it wasn’t balanced enough between FastDude and RD. It touched a nerve, and I suppose I got a tad offended reading it from you, a runner who runs WSER year after year. I’m not one runner with a name. I’m one of hundreds of aspiring, dedicated, and frustrated runners who are starting to wonder if we’ll ever get a shot at hitting the Placer HS track. We’re cool. Train on and I’ll try to bust yer a** both at WTC and LS. -UU

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