A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Leadville and Massanutten 100 for 2011!!!

Although I was unfortunate in the Western States lottery, last Wednesday was the Massanutten lottery, my nagic number was 544 and was eagerly awaiting what the Dow Industrial Average closing number was at 4PM.

The market ended at 11,372.48. And went up that day. So the lucky number was 248 and they counted UP due to the rise in the market.

With about 500 or so people entered into the lottery, I was close. Real close. It wasn't until I got home later that day that I really checked if I had won. The organizers were counting 205 people from 248. Upon manual inspection, I was 118th on this list. I had won!

There's nothing like winning a chance to kill yourself by running 100 miles in Virginia on May 14 at Massanutten, right?

I quickly registered last Friday and am good to go there, still, the big question that was up in the air was Leadville. I still wanted to take a trip west, and Leadville was open. Since the Leadville race, the Race Across the Sky, was mostly above 10,000 ft. in altitude, I made a deal with myself to train like a demon if I registered for it.

And I did. I am now currently registered for Leadville!

I will be busy planning an overall training plan for 2011 with these 2 races in mind. The first thing I will develop is a training framework, an overall picture of what my ideal training plan will be like. All good coaches and athletes will develop this framework before their season starts so that they can easily keep their eye on the long term goal while they are busy preparing their day-to-day schedules. It is this plan that distinguishes the great athletes from the good athletes and is absolultely critical in getting the best results for the season.

I'll be posting my overall training framework in 2 days.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not in Western States, Contemplating Leadville

December 5 morning comes. Western States 100 lottery day is here, or rather the day they post results onto their website on who was accepted into the race. Knowing that I only had a 15% chance to get in, I surf my way over to the website and checked out the list...

I didn't make it.

Ah, oh well. I knew the odds were against me to begin with, but the flat rejection still shocks me a little. I think it's the effort made to qualify for the lottery to begin with. I ran 100 miles in Vermont partly to qualify for this lottery, and that is a lot to ask of one person. To be rejected by that, well, does come with a shock.

I already had a Plan B ready to go...the Canadian Death Race. This is a beautiful 125 km race in the middle of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta that I longed to do. But the date of that race falls on August 1 this year, which might pose a problem. You see, the Vermont 100 this year falls on July 16-17, which is only 2 weeks before the Death Race and I am entertaining the thought of going back, even though I haven't made a choice yet. So it would either be Vermont, or Death Race, but not both.

Real tough decision to make. But I have to start firming up my schedule now.

Enter the Leadville 100 race. The Race Across The Sky. Lowest altitude of the course is 9,200 feet with the highest being around 12,500 feet. One of the very extreme races that I had those crazy thoughts of doing maybe 3 years down the road when I establish myself fully in ultras. You know, one of those things that you always dream of that you keep pushing several years into the future but never comes. 

Well, on a lark, I went to their website, and...

Date is August 20-21. Great timing. Keeps the Vermont race an option, and...

REGISTRATION IS OPEN. (oh, crap...)

Yep. No lotteries, just a straight up registration for the race. Just give the $250 and you're in.

(Aw crap...the temptation!)

I finished at Vermont a tad over 28 hours. Now, statistics show that people at sea level suffer a 10-20% of performance loss when they climb up to 10,000 feet, and more if I go above 12,000 feet. The Leadville course itself is a tad hillier than Vermont also, with a total altitude change of 19,000 feet from start to finish. Given the shape I was in last year, that would put me slower than the 30 hour cutoff to finish the race.

"Ahhh, but you're still capable of getting into top shape Pete.", my evil conscience says.

Good Conscience: "Couldn't you just want to settle down and lead a normal life for once?"

Evil Conscience: "And miss this opportunity? Come on. Think about how exciting it is to complete another 100 mile race, this time without oxygen."

Good Conscience: "Oh great. Why don't you just try to hold your breath for 100 miles in a local race? Why do we have to do this race?"

Evil Conscience: "Because it's Leadville!!! It's another leg of the Grand Slam of Ultras. Plus, it's an opportunity to get away from the daily grind of NY and NJ."

Good Conscience: "Remember we did 28 hours in Vermont, and that is with oxygen. We have the same 30 hour cutoff in Leadville, and we can't do it with last year's fitness. We'll really need to ramp it up to compensate for altitude."

Evil Conscience: "So a little more training. OK, let's do it"

Good Conscience: "NOT SO FAST!!! Here's the deal. The only way that I'll go along with this is that we have to train like we never did before. And that means a great diet too. You press that "Register" button ONLY after I have your word that we will commit FULLY to training for the 8 months, shedding weight, and fully immersing ourselves in the ultra lifestyle. Only then, when I have your word, will I accept going into the race."

So here I am. It would mean a lot of tough sacrifices, but necessary if I am to complete this race.

The decision will be made in two or three days.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Thanksgiving Day Marathon - A Great Format, A Great Race

It was only about a week and a half before Thanksgiving that I got the news for this race through one of the clubs I'm in. And I instantly decided to go to it.

My developing ultramarathon intuition just gave me a friendly tug that day. And I heeded the call to come. And I was glad I did.

The race was held at Van Cortlandt Park (VCP) in the Bronx, just about Mecca for runners everywhere in NYC from high school to Masters runners. During the course of a year, they hold so many races at VCP it would be hard to count. And the park has so much of a storied history with running that you can deem it legendary.

There was also one other thing about this race that made me go. It was a Fat-Ass event.

What the heck is a "Fat Ass" event, you might say?

Well, it comes from the ultramarathon circles, and it started with a person named Joe Oakes. As the Cool Running website states:

"The term 'FAT ASS' was coined by Joe Oakes, who founded the original 'Recover from the Holidays Fat Ass 50' which was run from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay along the shoulder of Highway 1 just south of San Francisco, USA. The original event was a VERY low key post-Xmas run. Joe, being an organizer at heart, encouraged other folks across the country (and now the world) to do the same -- devise a course and invite their running buddies to share in a little post-holiday fun. Interestingly, the original run is no longer. The San Francisco Bay Area Fat Ass 50 is now run on trails in the Big Basin area starting and finishing at Saratoga Gap.

In recent years, the number of these runs has mushroomed and there are now many FAT ASS runs all over the USA and even Worldwide Fat Ass Events. The vast majority are in very early January, just after the Xmas/New Year break and are generally 50 miles or 50km. The purpose is to burn off all those extra calories you consumed from Thanksgiving to New Year's that contributed to you getting a Fat Ass."

 The bottom line is that these are not formal races at all, just free, informal group runs that can be competitive or not, with little in the way of frills. Some Fat-Ass races might have no support; runners need to bring their own support. Runners will probably not get any T-shirts or awards, and runners might have to time their own race. There is an honor system involved in whether or not you completed the course, and most people will be honest in their assessments. Plus the race is totally free to enter, although it is highly recommended that you donate a little to the organizers so that they are encouraged to put on the event for next year.

Pre-race speech by our organizers. Bunny costume required :-)

The only two things you can count on is that the course is probably accurately measured and marked, and that you will have ample competition to make a personal race out of the event. And that really is what is needed to host a successful race, doesn't it?

Fat Ass races have recently propagated in other parts of the US and is now recently starting to make its way to the Northeast. This event might actually be the first Fat-Ass within New York City alone, although I might be wrong with that assessment (let me know if there were others before this event).

My prediction is that the Fat-Ass format will continue to grow in support over the next several years, especially in hard economic times, when it now normally costs $30 to enter a formal 5k race ($10 per mile? You got to be kidding...). Anyone who wants to compete could now do so without going bankrupt.

As for the Thanksgiving Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 10k, the the numbers that turned out for this event was pleasantly surprising. There were perhaps about 100 people who participated, and for a race that only started advertising 2 weeks before the event, it turned out to be an instant success.

The course is basically one, two, or four 6.55 mile loops (for the 10k, half-marathon, and marathon respectively) starting at the turtle-and-hare trophy on the Broadway side of the park. There are several hills on the course, but there were also places where one can basically cruise without any difficulty, and the course wasn't too technical (not too many rocks or roots). There was minimal support at the start/finish line (water, bananas, and oranges). And they did give you a fork for a finishers award, which was really nice. The size of the fork did correspond to the distance one completed; small forks to the 10k people, medium forks to the half-marathon people, and giant forks to the marathoners.

Personally, I did run the race and ended up doing the half-marathon, although I was set to run the full marathon. A personal blunder destroyed any chance of completing the marathon as I unceremoniously locked my keys in the car, therefore cutting me off from my critical food and drink that would have helped me complete the marathon. And if it wasn't for a kind-hearted woman that I knew from one of the running clubs in the area that drove me back to Staten Island, I would probably be running to Staten Island to get my spare keys (my Metro Card was locked in the car along with my wallet), something I really didn't want to do after doing a half-marathon. As for my "official time", coming from my watch, I came across the line at about 2 hours and 2 minutes. Not bad for a trail half-marathon, eh?

So there you have it. I would love to see this race next Thanksgiving so that I can give the marathon another try. And this time, I intend to take public tranportation. :-)

The race's website is here for your reference: 

http://www.thethanksgivingmarathon.com

Please place this race on your calendars next year and come out to support this race.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Are You Lucky? Your Chances of Getting In To Your Favorite Race - Part 3

How Races Use Online Registration and Lottery Systems to Determine Who Gets In

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

In the first two posts I took a look at the registration process for your chances to get into the New York City Marathon, the Western States 100 Mile Ultramarathon, the Hawaii Ironman, and Ironman Lake Placid.

In this last segment, I'll start with the Boston Marathon's predicament, and how it can be easily remedied through a fair system. Then, I'll highlight what I think is the most open and fair registration process I've seen for a race.

Boston Marathon


OK, so the Boston Marathon had their registration process for years, and it served them well. The system was pretty straightforward. You needed to qualify under a certain time in another certified marathon within 18 months of the Boston Marathon, then send in the application with that time, and you're in! The qualifying times were based on your age and gender; your qualifying time can be easily searched on Google or on their website.

In previous years, it used to take the Boston Marathon months to fill. Last year, it took them two months. This year? A mere 8 hours. 26,000 entries in 8 hours. That's 54 entries per minute!

Ahhh, the wonder of online registration! When an old race such as the Boston Marathon hits new technology like online registration, interesting things happen. Such is the case here.

Luckily, they chose a pretty good period (18 months) for the shelf life of a qualifying time. Registration filled for the Boston Marathon in October, so this gives those who qualified in a fall marathon after Boston's registration closed (like NYC Marathon) a chance to get into the 2012 race. Some people are dismayed that they had to wait a year to qualify, but hey, they at least have the chance to do it.

So here are some suggestions that the organizers might want to do to try to remedy the situation: 

They can keep the present system going, making sure that anyone who did qualify have at least a chance to enter within the next 2 years. Now of course, there will always be complaints with this system. First come, first serve always seems to cause angst against those who procrastinate on getting in. Secondly, the sheer volume of people accessing a website to get into a race might cause those with slower internet connections to be locked out of the process entirely. I've unfortunately seen that with other races. I have no sympathy with procrastinators, but I do have sympathy for those who cannot lock on to a website to register for the race; their complaints are valid, in my opinion. The "first come, first serve" method might not be a good method for a race of this magnitude. After all, they have a reputation to uphold and don't want to have anything negative influencing it.

The second solution would be to drop all the qualifying times by at least 5 minutes. This would definitely thin the applicants a bit and gain some semblence of what they had before, when it took them a month or two to fill the race. But, this does have its drawbacks also. By lowering qualifying times, the race can develop a reputation as being very elitist, only allowing the faster runners into the race. They will have a higher number of quality runners on the field, but will lose out on a lot of the "regular Joes" that come to do the race to just finish. This option would definitely carry some risk as well.

The third option is to hold a lottery. Yeah, I know. A lot of people hate a lottery system. But I think it's the most fair, and perhaps the most civilized system out there. Everyone has a one month period to enter the lottery. The lottery is held soon afterwards, and the runners are picked. But there is no waiting until 12 midnight with lightning-quick reflexes and a supersonic internet connection to register ahead of the thousands of people. There is no change in their qualifying times that could cause the Boston Marathon to be accused of holding an elitist attitude. Just get your entry in during the one month window at your convenience, then patiently wait for the lottery results online.

What's is amazing about the lottery is that it is now totally digitized. A computer can pick out 26,000 names and automatically post the lucky winners online within seconds. Those days of "picking a name out of a hat" is over, thanks to technology.

But some people are still skeptical. Computers can be hacked, they say. And the organizers can program prejudices into the selection process, favoring some runners over others. How can they tell if the electronic process is clean? These questions are definitely valid.

Well, enter the Massanutten 100 and the Bull Run Run 50 Mile Ultras. Their lottery system is the most open and the most fascinating that, unless the organizers know huge Wall Street traders with big-time connections to Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, they themselves cannot influence the lottery process.

Bull Run Run 50 Mile Run and the Massanutten 100 Mile Run

The lotteries of both the above races are identical, although held on different days. This is the most open and transparent system that I've seen any race have.

The lottery goes as such...you have a 1 week window to send in your application to enter the lottery. The organizers then give you a number from 0-999. The lottery is then based on the DOW industrial average closing at the given date. The field is then picked based on the last 3 digits of the DOW industrial average on up.

For example, say if I'm entering the Bull Run Run and my number given is 245. The organizers will pick 350 people from the list, so let's say I avidly watch the DOW industrial average close at 12,150. The organizers will then pick the person numbered 150, the last 3 digits of the DOW, and count up 349 more people. In other words, people who have numbers 150-499 would be in, including me! On the other hand, if the DOW closed at 11, 250 and I hold 245, I would be out of luck as they would start counting from 250 on up.

This process takes the control of the lottery out of the organizers' hands and keeps the process open and honest.

Even if I do lose the lottery, there is still a good chance to get in. If I pay the organizers the race fee, they will put me on the waiting list in the order given by our numbers. Because of the extreme distance of these races, a lot of people do bow out of the race beforehand, leaving spots open for the race. In 2009, as a matter of fact, everyone who didn't withdraw from the waiting list were moved into the field, so there is still a good chance of getting in.

Conclusion

Every race has a different way of filling their races. Some have a lottery system, some are first come, first serve. If you really want to enter a race, you need to do your homework at least a year before the race. Find out what the important dates are, and follow their instructions to the letter. This is the best way to increase your chances of getting into your favorite race.

As for the Boston Marathon, I would suggest you check up on their website at least once per month if you're trying to get into the 2012 race. They "might" change their registration system, so you need to try to stay in the loop as much as possible.

And if you didn't get in, do not dispair. There is always another year. In the meantime, there are lots of other races you can do that don't fill as quickly. And who knows, you might get to love some of the smaller races. In my 20 years of participating in running and multisport races, I've been pleasantly surprised many times at the quality of the small races. I'm sure you would too.

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are You Lucky? Your Chances of Getting In To Your Favorite Race - Part 2

How Races Use Online Registration and Lottery Systems to Determine Who Gets In

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 3

In the last post I started to examine the registration process for many popular races and looked at how each race selected the participants in a given year. I started off with a very large race like the New York City Marathon, what their intentions were, and how it was manifested in their lottery system. I then looked at a race in the opposite end of the spectrum, the Western States 100, how they needed to cap their participants to a field close to 369 people, and how they handled their selection process.

In this post, I will deal with the ever popular Ironman races and how they handle their registration processes.

Ironman Hawai

Ironman Hawaii is just about the hardest popular race to get into in any endurance race to date. The organizers of this race, the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), officially call it the Ironman World Championship, so there is a reason behind why it is difficult to get in. The race is really meant for the creme-de-la-creme of long distance triathlon, or those who excelled at one of the only 22 Ironman qualifiers in the world. Each qualifier has an extremely limited number of qualifying slots available in each age group determined by the size of the field in each age group. The goal is to earn the coveted slot by winning the age group, or coming close to the top of the age group enough to grab one of the other slots OR, have a slot roll down to you. This roll down does happen rather frequently because either a) the person who originally one the slot already qualified for Ironman in another qualifier, or b) declined the Hawaii invitation altogether. The slots keep rolling down until someone accepts it.

Since there are only 22 Ironman qualifiers in the world, these qualifiers attract the Best of the Best from the far corners of the world. Unless you are at the top of your game and one of the best amateurs out there, the chances are that you will not get an Ironman slot this way.

For some people, there is another option, although the odds here favor you getting struck by lightning over gaining entry. But there is always hope for the everyday average triathlete. The Ironman does hold a general lottery. There are 200 slots in this lottery and the cost to enter this lottery is $40 non-refundable. If you want, you can add a second entry into this lottery via the Ironman Passport Club for an extra $50.

Granted there are thousands of triathletes all over the world entering this lottery for those precious 200 slots, so the odds are definitely not in your favor. But, as one state lottery says, "Hey, you never know." I do know a couple of people who gained entry this way, so it might be worth a shot.

And if you happen to actually win a slot, you might not be in just yet. Since Ironman is an extreme sport, you will need to prove your fitness to the WTC by finishing at least a half-ironman race within one year of Ironman Hawaii. That might just actually be the easy part for most of these lucky people!

If you think that this lottery just isn't worth it, have no fear. Ironman started to expand its races in the late 90s to a multitude of venues to get your Ironman fix in. And although the entry process is still a hassle, you can definitely get in to these races with the proper motivation. I'll do Ironman Lake Placid as an example, although most of these other Ironman Triathlons go by a similar process.

Ironman Lake Placid

This race was the first official Ironman Triathlon in the US other than Hawaii. Soon after, other race venues for Ironman started popping up in response to the desires of triathletes who want to test themselves against this distance. This race continues to be so popular that entry usually fills mere minutes after opening. But never fear, a diligent triathlete can get into this race easily if he/she works at it.

First off, I need to remind everyone that next year's race is sold out. Booo! But if you really want to get into the race for 2012, you'll need to be very vigilant and be very mindful of certain dates next year. For these Ironman races, there is no lottery here. It is first-come first-serve. The first thing you need to do to enter Ironman Lake Placid, or any other Ironman in the US for that matter, is to know EXACTLY when the date is for next year's race. In this case, Lake Placid is on July 24 next year. Likewise, if you want to get into Ironman Wisconsin, note that date as well. All the dates for the Ironman races can be found here.

Once you have the date, remember that the VERY NEXT DAY, in this case July 25, registration will be open for next year's race. Now you have a big choice here. The BEST situation, and one where you will assure yourself of entry, is to PERSONALLY go down to the venue and register in on-site. If you really, really want to get into the race, be prepared to work for it, because they will make on-site registration entries top priority. Whatever is left (and it isn't much) will defer to online registration, where you will need quick fingers, a super-fast Internet connection, and a lot of luck to get in ahead of everyone else trying to enter online. If you do intend to go to Lake Placid, make a nice weekend of it, help volunteer in the race, do some nice training up there and get to know the course. I volunteered the first 2 years of the race and I absolutely enjoyed it! But the day after the race, make sure you know when and where registration is, and get on the line. You'll definitely get in to 2012's race that way.

There is also another way to get in. It avoids the lengthy hassle of going down there yourself, but it is also the most expensive. All Ironman Triathlons in the US (except for Hawaii, I think) have Ironman Foundation slots available. Since these are charity slots, you'll need to part with a cool $1,150 to enter Ironman Lake Placid this way. The slots don't close out for days after registration opens, so you do have ample time to register this way. But they DO close out, so be mindful of time if deciding whether or not to enter this way. But hey, since the money is going to a charity, you can deduct this off of your taxes.

Bottom line is this, if you're willing to go out of your way to get into this race, you will make it in.

My third and last segment will examine one more race, the Massanutten 100. It is a very fascinating lottery process, and in my opinion, the most fair. Then I'll look at where the Boston Marathon might try to do for next year's registration.

Until then, happy trails!

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 3


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Are You Lucky? Your Chances of Getting In To Your Favorite Race - Part 1

How Races Use Online Registration and Lottery Systems to Determine Who Gets In

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3


Getting to this start line in the Western States 100 can be more difficult than getting to the finish line.

This year, the Boston Marathon entry process had something unprecedented happen to them. The field closed only 8 hours after they started accepting applications for their 2011 race.

What took months to fill now took mere hours. A lot of runners who wanted to do this race who qualified now couldn't get in to the venerable race and felt slighted in the process. Running clubs and running forums around the country lit up at what had transpired.

The Boston Marathon is seeing a surge of runners that they have never seen in its much fabled history. And it's that "problem with success" that will certainly need to be addressed with next year's registration process.

As for the individual runner, sometimes scheduling next year's racing season includes one or more of these popular races. And if you want to get in, you're going to have to do some homework on how they select their field on order to get the best chance of getting in.

Around this time, the autumn, I start to determine which races I'll be doing next season. For this year, I've taken a liking to a couple of very popular ultramarathons that have a lottery process to select their fields. What I've found out is that there are so many different lotteries and selection processes that I had to list them down in my organizer so that I make the deadlines on each of the races I try to enter.

As a consequence of "doing my homework" on some of these, I've taken the time to look at several races' methods of determining who gets into their race. I've found that each race has a totally different set of circumstances that determine their method of selection. I'll be examining several endurance races, the circumstances they face, and the selection process they use in response.

One of the givens in most races is that they allow automatic entry for those elite runners who placed high in their standings last year. Race organizers would definitely want the people who won their race to have a chance at defending their title against his/her worthy opponents. In other words, the organizers want the best of the best in their race.

But since most of us are average Joes who are either just looking to finish the race or set a new PR, we would have to go through what is usually the lottery process.

Since the New York City Marathon was on the minds of many this week, I might as well start here.

New York City Marathon

The NYC Marathon is the largest marathon in the world, and it actually looks to get even larger. This year alone, 45,000 people started this year's race. The organizers, the New York Road Runners (NYRR), are publicly saying that they want to eventually start 60,000 people. So they are one of few races where they are pretty much open-ended in attendence. The organizers go out of the way to attract international runners to its race, guaranteeing entry to those who submit their athletes through their Official International Travel Partners program, which is understandable because this race is one of the tourism industry's biggest events and the city tends to make millions of dollars of tourism dollars off this event alone. The small amount of spots that are left are then drawn through their lottery program.

Still, it's the open-ended nature of the race that allows their next option to be available...and to get the support and money for other NYRR races that they put on. There is a guaranteed entry to all those who support the NYRR by completing 9 of their races and volunteering in one of them in the same year as the NYC Marathon. It's quite a committment to undertake, and it costs a lot of money, but if someone from the NYC area really wants to do this race, they can.

Lastly, there is the guaranteed entry for those "losers" who are just plain unlucky in the lottery. If a runner doesn't win the lottery in 2 consecutive years, they are guaranteed entry in the third year. Several races I know do have these. But for one of the races below, this process has its drawbacks and had to be phased out. That would be the Western States 100 Mile Ultramarathon.

Western States 100 Mile Ultramarathon

For those who don't know about the world beyond 26.2 miles, this race is THE original 100 mile ultramarathon. This was originally a horse race, but in 1974 one of the participants, Gordon Ansleigh, had his horse pull up lame before the race. So he decided to run the entire 100 miles on foot, finishing under 24 hours. And that started the 100 mile run phenomenon.

That reason alone makes Western States the "Boston Marathon" of ultramarathons (Boston Marathon is one of the oldest marathons in the US) and a desire for all ultra runners to do.

But a lot of trail races are run through parks, and most parks nowadays either ban organized events or cap the limit of people running in the race to protect sensitive areas. In this case, the organizers were faced with both. As their website states:

"Our permit with the U.S. Forest Service limits us to 369 runners. Why this odd number? In 1984, Congress enacted the California Wilderness Act, which created the Granite Chief Wilderness. The Western States Trail crosses the Granite Chief Wilderness, at about miles 6-10. Normally, organized events are not permitted in wilderness areas but, as Western States pre-existed the wilderness designation, we were able to get the race "grandfathered" into the legislation, with the proviso that we have no more runners than we had prior to the passage of the act. In 1984, it happened that there were 369 starters and that has been the magic number ever since."

Unlike the New York City Marathon, which has an open-ended policy, the Western States has to regulate and cap the number of people who enter their race. So their selection process would be a bit different.

Guaranteed entry of course will go to the top males and females of the race, as well as other notables for elite runners.

The rest will go into a lottery that is usually picked on the first of December. But because a) this is an extreme race and b) the number of entrants is severely limited, the organizers want to limit the number of people entering the lottery as well. Unlike the marathon, which is long in its own right, the organizers really want to know that the people entering the lottery are fit enough to enter their race. So they set the standards that only people who have done a 50 mile ultra in under 9 hours (or 10 hours with difficult 50 milers) and those who have completed a 100 mile race under the cutoff time specified be qualified to enter their lottery. Still, over 1700 people entered last year's Western States lottery. so the chances of getting in are around 20%. Projections are that they might have over 2000 lottery entrants this year.

The lottery entry is online, and they do take your credit card information but do not charge anything unless you win the lottery, which is fair (I'm very partial against "processing fees" some races take out when entering some lotteries; if you lose you only get some of the payment back). The actual lottery is the old tried and true one, with names thrown into a "hat", in a public forum in the first week of December. The names picked would then be placed on a list on a website. 

As for the "Two Time Loser" option in which people who failed to make the lottery in two consecutive years can be automatically guaranteed in this year's lottery, they will be discontinuing that option starting next year because the sheer number of people that have signed up for the lottery has dramatically increased the past couple of years. Think about it. If 1700 people sign up for the lottery for the next 2 years and in each year there are 350 winners, that would be over 1000 "Two Time Losers" ready to run the race in 2013. This puts them way over the mandated 369 runner mark set by the US Forest Service Law. It turned out to be untenable, so they discontinued it.

In the second segment, I'll be describing other races lottery, like the Massanutten 100, Ironman Hawaii's lottery, and Ironman Lake Placid's entry process. I will also mention what happened with the unprecedented turn of events that happened with the 2011 Boston Marathon's entry process and what they might do to help mitigate their situation.

Click here for part 2

Click here for Part 3

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Proposed New Course for the NYC Marathon? Very, Very Risky

This has been the hot topic with various running clubs in the area when the article provided at the link below appeared in the press. The proposed course starts at Coney Island first, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, then hitting major landmarks in Manhattan before finishing on the West Side. 

Here is the article: Is Bigger and Faster Better for Marathon?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704635704575604541891533832.html

And the map of the present and proposed courses:

The organizers seem to want:

1) 60,000 people total for the race,
2) More elites in the race,
3) A flatter course for faster times,
4) A course that can accommodate 60,000 runners easily,
5) Better access to public transportation for spectators, and  
6) A course that goes by NYC's more famous landmarks.

Can they pull this off? Yeah, maybe. With the right resources, I'm sure they can, but there is a huge risk involved. Would they risk the considerations of thousands of amateurs to do the race in order to attract the tens of elite runners they crave? The present course does have numerous lures that attract the amateur runner. These include the Verrazano Bridge and a 5 borough run that successfully attracted 45,000 to this year's race.

The new course would be more convenient as it would be a quick subway ride to Coney Island from Manhattan so that they can eliminate some buses to the start. And, except for the Brooklyn Bridge, the course would be flat as a pancake, giving elites the opportunity to set records in the process. But would the course attract their main source of revenue, the amateur runner, to a course only based in Brooklyn and Manhattan? I don't know. That's a huge risk that I would be reserved to take, in my opinion.  

And those pesky hills that they want to get rid of? Well, they do often define the race. Does Heartbreak Hill ring a bell with the Boston Marathon crowd? Sure does! Everybody who talks about Boston always involve Heartbreak Hill in their discussions. Can you imagine a Boston Marathon without Heartbreak Hill, or all the hills in Newton for that matter? 

By eliminating the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the NYC Marathon, they will be eliminating the biggest hill on the course...and eliminate those breathtaking aerial images of a "sea of humanity" crossing that bridge. The organizers use those aerial shots of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as a promotional to lure people to the race, right? They sure use it a lot in their promotional material. I'm not sure if that "sea of humanity" going down Ocean Parkway on the new course would have the same effect.

An official NYC Marathon promotional picture of the Verrazano Bridge. Can Ocean Parkway beat this?

One of the mottoes that might apply here is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The New York City Marathon is enjoying life at the top of the heap, bringing in millions of dollars to the city in the process. Why try to radically change the race by designing a different course? Today's course is one of the main reasons why so many people come from afar to run this race. To the race organizers: tread very carefully here. What is probably only needed is a tweaking of the present course to fulfill all of your goals. A wholesale change would be extremely risky, and some risks can carry huge consequences. 

Remember New Coke? That blunder was so bad that Coca-Cola lost millions of dollars and had to go back to the Classic Formula to get their fans back. I'm thinking along those lines here.

That being said, they have every right to try changing the course if they want to. But they have every right to accept the huge risks involved in such an endeavor. Meaning that we as runners should not tolerate a blame game if this endeavor fails; they should only have themselves to blame.

But, if they are willing to take that risk, then I wish them luck. They are going to need it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Please, Please, PLEASE Prepare for Race Day!

You've trained all year for your big race, you put in the necessary hours of hard work, and sacrificed a lot to get to race day ready to have the race of your life, and then...

...you arrive late for your big race.

That is exactly what I saw when volunteering for the NYC Marathon this morning. I was assigned with the Staten Island Athletic Club to run the starting corrals that organize runners according to their seeded times. Since the race was very large (45,000 runners estimated), we needed 3 waves to organize the runners into their respective groups. And there were exact times to open up the gates to allow the runners into the corrals and there were exact times to close the gates so that the wave can be led onto the starting line on the bridge. 

Although I wasn't surprised at having our share of people who try to sneak or barge into our corral with the wrong bib numbers that I had to send away, I was really shocked at the number of people who come to the gates after they were supposed to be closed. The gates closed with the first wave at 8:55 AM. The runners are well aware through their instructions that this was the case. Yet the crush of runners trying to get through AFTER that time was amazing to behold. Of course, being human, I allowed many of them to get in, but c'mon...10 minutes after closing time you want to get in, while the wave was moving out? Sorry Charlie. Wait until the next wave. This is really no way to start your race day.

The second wave was even worse. At least 20 people were trying to get in at one time at one point. We had to close the gates fast because the flood of people trying to get in was going to throw the whole operation into chaos.

Our volunteer group had numerous people trying to cajole us to open the gates. We had to turn them down and even threatened one with disqualification for trying to barge through the gate. All because they arrived extremely late.

Believe it or not you do not go on the clock at the moment the race starts. Your timer really starts at least the day before your race, when you receive your final instructions on when and where you go before the race starts. Read those instructions and find out when you are supposed to report to your bus to transport you to the start, or when the transition area opens for your big triathlon, where to park your car, etc. Develop your itinerary on what you need to do at certain times. This is to assure yourself the peace of mind that comes when you are not late. 

The race itself is going to be stressful enough, why put further stress on yourself by showing up late?

The night before the big race I set up no less than 3 alarms, set about 10 minutes apart for race day. If I'm at a hotel, I ask the hotel to give me a wake-up call on top of that. I also make sure that my gear is out and ready to use before I go to sleep; why fumble around for missing clothes on race morning? For a triathlon, if the transition area is open at 5:30AM, I make sure that I'm there at 5:00AM. It's the little things like these that are the difference between a stress free race start and a stressful race start. And if everything goes so well that I can wait around for 40 minutes or more, I take a nice quick nap to sharpen the mind. And those naps are wonderful; I'm at the race, everything is prepared, and I'm now waiting for the race gun to go off. It's a nice, relaxing feeling.

Folks, you've done all the hard work leading up to the race. You need to follow through for just one more day. Preparing your race morning the day before your race is as critical as your training leading up to your race. A stress-free start to your race will go a long way toward fulfilling your race day goals.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Look, New Design, New Season (2011!!!)

Welcome to my new blog! My name is Peter Priolo. Yes, for those who have been following me the past year on another blog, yes, this is my real name.

After a year of reorganizing a lot of things in my life I can honestly say that I am ready for an active 2011. In 2010, I trained for one race, and one race only, the Vermont 100 Mile Ultramarathon, and succeeded in finishing the thing. For those who haven't seen my race report, it was here on my Joe Gold blog.

I took about 3 months active rest afterwards, for some recovery but mainly to finish my other tasks in life. Now that is done, I am ready to go again. I have officially started training again with a big goal in mind. I mean, how do I go about topping a 100 mile finish? Well, I do have big ideas. You need to stay tuned here as I will be posting a 2011 schedule of ultras, um, races that I will be doing.

On the right, I have already posted my first two races of 2011. They are the Watchung Winter Ultras in January and the Holiday Lake 50k in Virginia in February. I will confirm the first one this week. The second one will be confirmed as soon as registration opens up (should be easy to enter).

I will also post my weekly workout blog on my original blog. Most workouts will be posted there (not all) as well as an explanation why I did the workout in the overall scheme of things. I spent 2 years designing an ultra schedule as it has a vastly different approach than marathon or triathlon training. I still use periodization to a large extent, but there are methods that are quite unorthodox to runners and coaches of these two realms but have been tested by me to be the most proven to tackle ultramarathons 50 miles or longer. If you are interested in ultra running, or are a coach who is interested in how an ultra training schedule is put together, then these pages could be a very important resource to your approach. Don't hesitate to ask questions; that's what the workout blog is there for.

Anyway, good luck in all your training and racing.