Slots, craps, black jack, road race lotteries: they’re all the same. At the outset, they fill you with hope and anticipation. The thoughts of winning and being able to toe that starting line are exhilarating. You begin to plan your life around your winnings. In your mind, you know luck is on your side this time. Sure, logically, nothing is a sure shot, but for whatever reason, you feel that deep down inside, this time, that jackpot is yours.
A few months ago, this was my state of mind. My fall race plans revolved around the Medtronic TC 10 Mile, the sister race to the Twin Cities Marathon. The 10-mile option is wildly popular, as runners can experience the race day excitement and the phenomenal fall colors of an October day in Minnesota, without the added burden of an additional 16.2 miles. Having run a full marathon in the spring, I decided months ago that the TC 10 would be my fall goal race.
I know! How could I plan to be in a race that I wasn’t guaranteed entry? Well, part of the reason is that I’m spoiled. Last year was my first time entering the lottery, and I did get in. I assumed I had the magic touch. I mean, how could I not get picked?
I wasn’t picked. Lottery selection day dawned with a groggy check of my email. Nada. Obsessive and relentless as I’m known to be, I opened my inbox and hit refresh no less than 100 times that day. I stalked the race’s Twitter and Facebook accounts and I looked nervously at the clock, seeing my fall race slipping further away.
My TC 10 Mile story ends before I even got to do my first training run. And I’m still bummed.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Why do runners put the fate of their race plans in the hands of some robo-selection system and pay for the privilege no less? I can’t answer this for sure, but I’d venture to guess playing the odds makes it a little more thrilling than signing up for a sure thing. After all, we tend to be a competitive lot who always up for a challenge, and when we are told we might not be able to have something, we feel even more driven to win.
The thrill of gambling can be fun, and entering a race lottery is generally low risk, with the potential of great reward. If you get chosen, it can make that race and that training cycle even more exciting and meaningful. It’s like you were meant to run that race. The flip side of this is when you find yourself on the other end and out of luck.
So what do you do if you don’t get into your goal race?
Hopefully you had a backup race in mind. Sure, it’s not the magical, sought-after race you wanted, but you probably had a B or C race in mind. It’s time to embrace the new race goal and try to convince yourself that perhaps fate is pushing you to run the backup race for a reason.
Remind yourself that there is always next year.
Sure, you’re sad you weren’t selected … but won’t it be an even greater, more intriguing challenge to enter the lottery next time around?
Maybe there’s another way!
If you really are desperate to run that goal race, there may be other ways to get in the race beyond the traditional lottery system. I received an email the day after the lottery that indicated I could run the race as a charity runner or purchase a registration through several non-profits who are partnered with the race organizers. This is an attractive option to people who may have some extra cash to pay for that registration or who feel passionate about fundraising for a worthy cause. The caveat is this may require an added level of commitment, both financial and time-wise, that might not work for you.
Just because you aren’t running the race, you can still be a part of the action. We are all so grateful for those who work along the race course during our own races, that this could be a great opportunity for you to provide that same service to other runners. It feels good to give back, you can still soak in the excitement and atmosphere of race day, AND some races give guaranteed entry to volunteers the following year. You’ll have to check with the race director to know that for sure.
Race lotteries are a shot in the dark, but sometimes the mystery of the unknown draws us to try anyway. I won’t mope too long about my missed chance to run TC 10 Mile this year, because there are a lot of fall races to choose from. Will I enter a lottery again? Absolutely! Next time I’m sure I’ll get in.
What are your feelings about race lotteries?