I had a busy morning.
Waldo is a race I’ve been meaning to run for a couple years but I set the thought aside since I had to get to work. By the time I had made it into the office and had a minute to check back, much to my surprise — the race was full!
In 2011, Waldo filled to capacity in around 32 days.
This year, it filled in five hours and forty-seven mintues.
What. The. Hell.
I get it. Ultrarunning is popular now. I have no problem with that.
What I do have a problem with, though, is the overwhelming evidence that the path we’re on as an ultrarunning community is totally unsustainable.
Just as a mental exercise, imagine what would happen if the current growth continued into 2013. Simple napkin math tells us that the race would sell out not in a few days or a few hours, but in just under two minutes and forty-five seconds.
Friends, that ain’t gonna work.
To be clear, I’m not here to criticize race directors. They do amazing work and they’re absolutely doing the best they can under huge demand for little (or no) pay and sometimes hordes of cranky runners. We should all be grateful for what they do.
So, this isn’t really news to anybody. We’ve had lotteries for races like the Wasatch 100 and Western States for years now. In Europe, classics like UTMB have a points system which require that a prospective runner race a certain number of qualifying races to accumulate enough points to be able to enter the lottery.
Much talk has centered around implementing other mechanisms to limit the prospective field for popular races.
Some favor increasing race pricing to limit the number of prospective applicants. I don’t think the ethos of trail running really jives very well with this strategy, nor do I even think it would be particularly effective.
Others favor implementing a qualifying system for major races whereby a runner would have to had to run a particular time at a particular distance in order to qualify ala the famous Boston Marathon. This approach seems on the surface be more merit based but doesn’t provide equal access to beginners and elites and I think a lot of people find the mix of grizzled vetrans alongside fresh newbies to be a highlight of our sport.
Some races, such as the Wasatch 100 and the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, require that a runner complete some number of hours of trail work or volunteer work before being accepted. Usually this amounts to a single day of work. I’m not aware of any race that requires more than 8 hours in order to qualify.
So, here’s my proposal:
I believe that popular races should dramatically increase the number of volunteer hour required in order to apply for registration. The most popular should require multiple days of trail or volunteer work in order to even be able to apply for entry. (Working as an RD or Asst. RD should also qualify.)
If runners have thousands of hours a year and hundreds of dollars to register for a particular race, I don’t believe for a second that they can’t give up some of those training hours to go out and serve others by volunteering or invest several days working on their local trails.
If the worst that happens is that this approach doesn’t significantly reduce demand and our trail systems get thousands of hours of free manpower as a result, is that really so bad?
So, friends, that’s pretty much it. What do you think? Is this an idea that warrants further attention by race directors and race committees around the country? If you think it is, kindly drop a link to this post on your own blog and, if you like, leave a comment below.