Friday, August 15, 2014

The RD: Your Course

Either you've decided to become a Race Director or you discovered an amazing place that would work well for a race. One of the two happened first and it depends greatly on the individual. I believe that deciding to be the RD is a much easier decision, than is where to have a run. Coming up with an idea for an Ultra is easy, making sure it can actually happen.. are the pieces of the puzzle that are often overlooked. In this post, I'm going to lay out all of the things one should consider before diving too far in to the race directing process, as pertains to determining your course.

I hear it all the time, "This would be a great place for a race!" It's not as simple as finding an amazing place for a race, decide to be the RD, and have a race. Many of the areas we'd all love to have a race are not, what I call, permitable. For instance, if your amazing course goes through a federally designated wilderness area.. and I mean, if it so far as touches it for all of 1 inch... you can kiss the idea goodbye. On that same note, if your course crosses any Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, it is possible you can get a permit but it all depends on what the BLM is protecting on that given parcel of land. We'll get into permitting more in our next post. These are just two important things to consider before you get all head over heels for your race idea.

There are many other things to consider in regards to your course. For instance:


How many people can the roads and trails on your course handle in a day? This will come up again in permitting. It's good to have an idea of how many runners you think you can have, and ensure that it is a number responsible to the resource. If your area goes through a United States Forest Service area, they actually have a certain number of "user days" that are allotted to certain areas. You'll want to be careful not to go over, or use all, of the user days because that number also includes regular trail users. Want an example? Leadville Trail 100 in 2013. Their permit allows for 850 runners and they allowed almost 1000 to start. This number did not include spectators and pacers out on the course as well. The result? A nightmare. The race is too crowded (opinion) and after their special use permit expires in 2015, there is loud chatter that their permit will be knocked down to 500. So be responsible.

Where is everyone going to park? Just because you managed to find a parking spot at a trailhead last weekend on your perfect course, doesn't mean it's an appropriate place to have all of your runners park. Most trailheads are not designed to handle parking for a trail race for 200 people. And even if they are, the trails are still open while your race takes place so it is unlikely you'll even be allowed by land managers to use that trailhead lot for event parking. You need to allow other trail users adequate access to the trails even while your race is going on. In Colorado, the Golden Gate Dirty 30 takes place in Golden Gate State Park. There's no place to park the 1000+ runners that attend the race. It used to be that runners were encouraged to carpool up from the Front Range below. Now, you park at the local fairgrounds and runners are bussed in. As a race director, you may be charged to have cars park at the fairgrounds and then charged again for the buses. Parking is a HUGE consideration when it comes to planning an event. Just another reason why "This would be a great place for a race!" may not always be a true statement.

Is there a race here already? Just because you think it's a great place for a race, doesn't mean someone else hasn't already thought of that. Do your due diligence and scour the internet for races in your area. If you're looking at putting on an ultra, go as far down the line as 5Ks. Search! Do the work. If you find a race that shares the same proposed course, and it's shorter than an ultra.. call the race director. Ask them if it's ok to share the area. Ask them if they wouldn't mind you putting an ultra out in the same area. Then LISTEN. Most times, your call will be appreciated and the answer will be sure. Ultimately, if someone else already has a race there, you two are now working together whether you like it or not. Why? Because everything you do (or don't do) will effect the other RD. Everything the other RD does, will effect you as well. This is mostly as it pertains to permitting. If the other RD screws up, it's a very good possibility that the both of you will lose your permits as the land manager says "that's it, no more races in this area."

If there is already another ultra that uses the trails you want to use, go away. Forget about it. It's just common courtesy to take your idea and go home. If you and another RD are looking to put on a race in the same area on some of the same trails, and you both are making money off of your races, it's just bad form to move your race in on someone else's turf. On the popular show, Deadliest Catch.. this is called "potting down." In ultra running, I call it a "dick move." Best example? The 2011 Slickrock 100 in Moab. A portion of this course piggy backed on top of the Red Hot 55K course. Word is that the two RD's got into a heated discussion about the new race sharing some of the same course. Race weekend, course markings were taken down (course vandalism) essentially sabotaging the event. There is much discussion, mostly speculative, that the course was vandalized by the competing RD. Bottom line, if a race already exists on that track of land, reroute your course and/or move on. Should you decide to stay, give the other RD a call and ask them if it's OK for you to put on a race in the same area. Be a good neighbor.. you're working together now.

When should I have the race? That depends on the ultra-market in your area. There are so many ultras now that it's nearly impossible to keep track of all the new ones that spring up. So do a thorough search of all the ultras in your immediate area, and the region, before deciding on an approximate date. You're not going to want to put your race on the same weekend as the Vermont 100 up in New England. Let's face it.. most of the community will be at the VT100 and your race may struggle for a few years to get off the ground. UNLESS... you make a conscientious decision to have your ultra on the same weekend as another local ultra to "offer something different."

Also know that sometimes you have no control over the date you get. A great example is the race series I'm directing in Fairplay, CO in 2015. Upon meeting with the town and county up there, we sat down and looked at a calendar of the already existent events in the area. These events are weekend long concerts and festivals, bike races, motorcycle rides, pack burro racing, chili cook-offs, etc.. they wanted to make sure that my dates didn't interfere with any of the larger events. Essentially, the dates of my 2015 races in Fairplay were chosen for me. So be open to the possibility that the event is going to take place on the weekend after or before the one you ultimately wanted. If you really want to have the race, you'll play along.

Choosing when to have your race is a big decision. Our Tommyknocker Ultras is in September. UROC is on the same day as our race (they used to be in October), Devil on the Divide 50K is the same day, and then there is The Bear Chase and Run Rabbit Run. September is crowded in Colorado. In 2015, I'll be moving Tommy to October. With that in mind, it's also important to consider the weather for the date you have in mind!

Ultimately, does my area need this race? What are you offering that someone else already doesn't? It's important to answer all of the questions above when answering this one. What are you offering that's different? Why is what you're offering something that fills a void or a niche in your market? Don't just make a race to "make a race." Just as you shouldn't become an RD simply because you want to make money being an RD. Have a passion for this stuff. Want it. Understand the sport of ultra running from the top down. Consider it's history. Where it's been and where it's going. Play a role in the sport by being a responsible steward of the community. What is your message and your vision and how will your course convey that message? Don't just have a race to have a race. Don't just have a race because it would be an awesome place to have a race. All of that already exists in copious amounts. Have the race because your area NEEDS this race.

Here in Colorado, there are so many beautiful areas to have a race. When designing a course, I like to consider what else is out there. I'm known for challenging courses with ominous elevation profiles. I want my runners to have as close a wilderness experience as possible without actually being out in wilderness areas. I don't want to assemble another boring multi-loop course. I don't want to have a course in an area where another offering already exists. I want to challenge my runners mentally and/or physically in an area where the beauty will stamp an impression in their minds and in their souls. I also want every runner who runs my race to feel like a front runner. My intention is to treat all runners as equals and celebrate the community as a whole. That's the niche I'm filling and my courses are top notch.

Sherpa John is the owner and race director of Human Potential LLC and the Human Potential Running Series. Registration is now open for their first two offerings. To read his previous entry "The Decision" Click HERE.