Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hardrock Lottery, Prep, and Gear

I'm just a few days out from my first Hardrock. It's probably the hardest non-Barkley 100-miler, with 33,000 feet of climbing. Wasatch used to have 26 or 27,000, I think, before a private property issue forced them to get rid of a climb towards the end. Most other hard 100's I've done have from 18-21,000. They also aren't at 11,000 feet elevation. Tahoe 200 only had 34,000 over 200 miles, so Hardrock is definitely hard.

The Lottery
It's also very difficult to get into because 70% of the fewer than 150 spots are reserved for people who have already run it. (Lottery system described here--basically, there's a never bucket, a 5-time veteran bucket, and everyone else.) I'm biased since I haven't run it before, but I think this system is absurd. Obviously the race directors can do whatever they want, as evidenced by the fact that they are, but the more important question is whether they should. Should a race on public land be largely limited to the same people who have already run the race? Why? Aren't they just older and/or luckier than those who haven't run it yet?
 
As someone who works on statistical reproducibility for a living, I think the lottery has serious flaws. If I had more time, I'd run some simulations myself, but the simple point I want to make was already made by Chris Roberts on his blog: the lottery rewards previous runs of the race, rather than previous attempts to enter. This means that anyone who is lucky once stays lucky for the rest of their life. As explained by Chris for the 2016 race:
"This means those 4 individuals started their first Hardrock race in 2015 but DNF'd ... and they all have an 11.7% chance of toeing the line again in 2016.  Contrast that with the Never pool, where someone has to get rejected 4 consecutive years before eclipsing those odds.  And for folks who started their first Hardrock race in 2015 and actually finished, their odds for making it in again in 2016 jumps to 22% ... a "Never" has to suffer through 5 consecutive rejections before achieving those kind of odds."
Imagine two people who both have entered the lottery every year since 2010.  The one who gets lucky first will have forever have better odds than the one who first gets picked later. (Actually, since a Never's tickets increase exponentially, it is possible the Never may eventually have better odds than the early-picked who DNF's, but in expectation, I believe they'll have much worse odds.) Why is the person who is luckier earlier forever deserving of better odds? This is similar, but distinct from, the issue of why repeat runners are more valuable at all. I understand rewarding people who give back to the race by volunteering, maintaining trail, marking the course, or running an aid station, but it seems like that ought to be rewarded on equal grounds, and on a per-year basis rather than a lifetime cumulative basis. Sure, if I we're 20 years older, I'd have done a lot for this race, too. It feels a lot like a group of families who all rent the same vacation cabins every year and get mad when other people they don't know want to rent. Except it's all on public land.

I've found just as much, if not more, community at other races without veteran preferences (particularly IMTUF and Bighorn, which are also remote or in small towns that greatly appreciate the influx of visitors, but also at Western States, at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of crowds and competitiveness.) Completely selfishly: if the community is so great, someone please offer to watch my dog rather than telling me to drive to the kennel in Durango. Despite this blog post, I'm a nice guy, and my dog is even nicer.



Also, couple that without some outright misrepresentation of the odds over the past few years--the race director has used five automatic picks for people who were in qualified for the lottery, but this fact was not disclosed until Aaron Denberg threatened a lawsuit in 2016. His claims (blog post, news story) seems a little far-fetched, but the response was that the race publicly acknowledged the existence of the five automatic picks for the first time, cancelled the non-refundable lottery entry fee, and refunded it for years past.

How were these five slots not publicly known? Because the lottery was held in private until this year, when two or three observers were invited. Contrast that with the Western States 100 lottery which is open to the public (I think people are actually rewarded with tickets for attending). If you're not going to do the lottery in public, then for God's sake, do it on the computer! I actually discussed this point via e-mail with one of the race board members, who said that cutting up strips of paper in private left a better paper trail than a computer program which could be gamed, which is patently incorrect. If the board (which consists of nuclear engineers from Los Alamos) wrote some R or Python, put it on Github, and then just livestream themselves rolling dice (or using random.org at a predetermined time) to set the seed for the random number generator in their script, there's no way anyone is gaming the lottery.

There's also the serious issue of gender inequality, since the fraction of female applicants to the race is higher than the fraction of female entrants. This URP podcast with a former board member addresses that a little. The board seems unperturbed by this fact, but to no one's surprise, the board is mostly male.

Enough already--I'm in the race after five (actually six--that's a whole other issue) applications, and I'll be luckier than similar friends forever. I'm a better human being. How did this fundamentally more worthy person prepare, and what type of gear is this better human being going to use? 

Prep
I got to Silverton July 2 and tried to run as much of the difficult and/or nighttime section of the course as possible. The course is a loop that alternates direction every year, so this year we head out of Silverton toward (but not through) Lake City, over Handies, over Engineer Pass, down to Ouray, up Camp Bird Road over Virginius "Pass," to Telluride, over Oscars Pass, down Chapman Gulch, over Swamp-Grant Pass, down to South Mineral, and over (I think) one last pass. I honestly don't know how many passes there are. Would counting help? I'd probably lose count during the race anyway, so I don't know that I care. I do know the average elevation is 11,000 feet.

I still haven't seen much of the early miles, but I since that's daylight I'm less concerned. I also haven't seen the last pass, but that will be daylight (and hopefully not another night) so I'm also less worried about that. I did run that section four years ago, lose a shoe in the mud, and George got a porcupine, so maybe it will destroy me.

Yuch is meeting me at mile 42, after the descent off Handies. That may be close to dark already. I'm hoping for a 3mph race, which would actually be fairly fast, but I think is possible because of my relative strength on stupidly difficult stuff. Two miles per hour on the climb, fast on the descents.

I did 70+ miles and 27,000 feet of climbing last week. That's the most vert in a training week in years, second only to doing R2R2R and Cactus to Clouds a day apart a few years ago.

Gear
Mostly the same: Ultimate Direction PB vest, RaceReady shorts, whatever shirt I feel like, trusty blue Brooks running hat, and big ass (Smith PivLock V90 Max) sunglasses. The last has actually been not dark enough on snow in direct sunlight, but the forecast calls for showers, so it's fine.

The differences are shoes and trekking poles. This route is so rocky it demands beefy shoes. I love Altra's wide toe box for comfort, and for flatter stuff, but they feel very sloppy on technical or downhill. I like Hokas for descending (I'd rather rub a little skin off my pinky toe in a narrow shoe than jam my big toe into the front with every stride in a wide Altra). But the trails here are so rocky that, even though my ankles are strong, and seem to roll without repercussion, the sheer frequency of it happening from the elevated position of a Hoka seems scary. I think I'll start with La Sportiva Ultra Raptors (narrow, but they have a serious toe bumper, as well as a tougher material all around the foot). They're not maximal, so if the pounding starts getting to me, I'll put Altra Olympus in a dropbag for later.

I'm also bringing trekking poles. I hate them on the downhills, but I love them on the long steep climbs. I'm just using the Cascade Mountain Tech ones you can get at Amazon or Costco, with the straps cut off. (Don't buy the twist-lock version, the flip lock is a tiny bit heavier but much more durable.) They're carbon fiber, so they'll break eventually, but the tips break on my old aluminum Black Diamond set, so it's a wash.

Side note: sadly, Altra Olympus 2.0 was a vast tread improvement over the 1.5, but the uppers don't last.
Altra gave me a 25% discount
Brooks stood by its product a little more (granted, I'd run fewer miles and the model 10 had a very obvious defect that happened to everyone I know) and gave me a free replacement.
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