Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A30 Interview: Aaron Kissler

As we continue to get closer to this years Adventure 30 Expedition (Slickrock 100), we thought it would be fun to interview a different kind of ultra-person this time around. It's very seldom in our sport that you read interviews with people other than the front-runners; and it's even more seldom to read an interview with the race director. As we head into this years inaugural Slickrock 100, Human Potential took a moment to talk with race director Aaron Kissler about the upcoming event and a little bit about the current/changing culture of Ultra-Running.

Sherpa John (SJ): Aaron, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about the upcoming Slickrock 100 in Moab , UT. We know that as race day approaches, your free time is becoming more and more limited so again, thanks for the time and we're really looking forward to the race.
Aaron Kissler (AK): Thank you for your awesome idea to interview race directors, it has been done before, but not often.

SJ: So tell us a little more about you first. How many years have you been associated with ultra-running and what does it mean to you to be putting on this event in Moab?
AK: This is actually our inaugural event in Moab and our first event being race directors. My professional background is in emergency response providing food, water and health care to individuals in disaster situations. I think strangely enough that the similarities in this controlled environment of an ultra mimic these situations. Jenna, my wife, has been able to provide a women’s running perspective that many of us male race directors sometimes miss.

SJ: With what this event means to you in mind, why did you folks choose to offer pre-race camping (for FREE) at the start/finish line? How does that affect your event as a whole?
AK: We did what many great ultra-marathons have done in the past: follow the horse endurance races. This is the spot where the Moab Canyons Endurance Ride sets up camp in late October.

Hotel rooms can make the affordability of an ultra just out of reach. We are also hoping that it will encourage people to stick around for the “back of the packers” (like ourselves) to cheer them on. I think it will offer a summer camp atmosphere that will be tons of fun. We want to offer an opportunity for the runners and their friends/family to enjoy a sense of camaraderie and the chance for us to get to know the runners on a personal level.

Finding a location where we could offer camping for hundreds of people clinched this location for us.
SJ: So the race is coming up on October 8-9, how many runners do you expect to have at the races? What distances are offered and are there any spaces open?
AK: We expect 230 runners this year and we have some space open as I am writing this. We had to make a limit about a week ago to make sure that we had enough supplies for everyone. I am hoping that we can accommodate everyone who wants to sign up.

SJ: Desert Rats, Moab Red Hot, 24 Hours of Moab , Alpine to Slickrock(No longer running) and now.. the Slickrock races. There are plenty of Ultra-Options in Moab, what sets your event apart and what makes it unique from all the other options out there?
AK: We wanted a single loop course that would not sell out until a month before the event and that would end with a big camp party at the finish. We also wanted to have an end of the season redemption race so that people would not have to go through the winter haunted by that summer DNF or to extend their successful summer season.

The above mentioned races are all awesome races that are great training prep for Slickrock. They all happen in the spring and are a different format.

SJ: There is no doubt that ultra-running has seen a surge in population growth, how does the Slickrock 100 hope to entertain the newcomers to the sport and how do you plan to maintain some of the more traditional ultra running principles into your event?
AK: We will have a suggestion box at our race to make things better and find out what people like. We also hope to never sell out until the month before our race. We also plan to keep our race at a low price in order to attract veterans (who may be running several large races) and beginners.

SJ: Tell us a little bit about the Slickrock course. What should runners expect and what do you really feel will give your event that WOW factor for runners?
AK: The 50K course offers a nice beginners intro, with minimal technicality, rolling hills, and beautiful monuments. For the 50 milers, I think the signature feature is the Sand Dunes, while this is a short section it is brutal and beautiful at the same time. For the 100 milers, the full moon-lit climb at Mile 81 up 2000 ft into Long Canyon is going to be amazing and tough.

SJ: Your race benefits a charitable organization, where do the proceeds from the event go and how much do you anticipate donating?
AK: This year all money will either be donated, or go into operating costs. The donations should total several thousand dollars, but we will not have the final numbers until race day. They will go to a variety of groups: Outward Bound, Girl Scouts, American Cancer Society, Friends 4 Wheelin’s reclamation efforts, and the Community Resource Center. A portion of the fees will also go to cover EMS, Search and Rescue, and BLM.

SJ: There was a pre-race vote for 100 mile runners to choose between a beer stein and a buckle for finishers medals. Where did the idea for the beer stein come from and how did the vote turn out?
AK: Some people love the buckle, some people were looking for something they could use on a daily bases. The runners who comprise our focus group, are veterans of the sport, and have tons of buckles and medals and they suggested the beer steins. If there had been an even split between the two awards, we had planned to offer finishers the choice of buckle or beer stein, but the buckle was by far the popular vote. We will offer the vote again next year and see if we can introduce the beer stein as well. We will also be taking runner’s suggestions into consideration for next year’s awards vote.

SJ: Is the Slickrock 100 an event you would run barefoot?
AK: There are sections that are barefoot heaven with slightly crunchy sand, but you would have to have the experience in order to run the more rocky sections.

SJ: So as a race director thus far, mainly because we've yet to interview an RD for the blog, but as we head into race weekend, what has been the hardest part of race direction thus far?
AK: Things are constantly changing in setting things up. It is a bit of a juggling act. We are extremely excited to have awesome volunteers bringing tons of experience to the table. It has been extremely valuable to have my wife’s opinion as a race directing team and our focus group of veterans.

SJ: Would you direct this event again in the future? Regardless of your answer, how many years do you foresee your event taking place inMoab?
AK: This will be an annual event. We may base our event on the full moon. The scenery is so spectacular, and we don’t want runners to miss any of it in the dark.

SJ: Aaron, thanks again for taking the time to talk to us as we head into the Slickrock 100. We look forward to seeing you out there. We'll have the cameras ready and hope to really catch a few aspects of the race and ultra-culture while in camp. Thanks again.
AK: Thank you, Sherpa John; we are very excited to see everyone there! We definitely want this to be a great experience that deserves to be documented!

For more on Octobers Slickrock 100 and for information on how to sign up, please visit: