First off, no this is not going to be some political or economic rant, rather its my take on something that I think makes Ultrarunning and Trailrunning unique amongst all the other outdoors sports, the small local race.
Recent years have seen a huge boom in the sports of Ultrarunning and Trailrunning, but the relative number of participants is still minuscule compared to the numbers that compete in marathons or triathlons each year. Even though the numbers of Ultrarunners is relatively small, many races, especially the well known ones, have seen their popularity expand beyond what they can handle. To accommodate this boom, most races have devised their own unique set of qualifying criteria and/or lottery system in order to handle the plethora of runners for the paucity of spots. Those of you who know me are aware of my dislike for race lotteries, mostly due to my terrible luck in them (1 for 10), but I’ll save that rant for another day.
Races like WesternStates and Leadville will always have their appeal and the throngs of entrants clamoring to enter, but in the past several years I’ve found myself drawn more toward the smaller local races. These are races that have sprung up to accommodate people like me who keep losing out on lotteries for the big boys, for those who want to experience some new trails they might not otherwise and for those who simply like something really low key. I’m going to use my running of the 2012 IMTUF100 (inaugural) in McCall, ID as an example. For those interested, there was a nice article in the Washington Post about the growth of the sport so I won’t touch on that here.
After several email exchanges with the IMTUF100 RDs (Ben & Jeremy) I felt really comfortable that these guys had their act together and no doubts they would put on a fantastic race. Note, that with any new race their will be some kinks to work out, so make sure to do a little homework to ensure the race is being well planned as to minimize possible issues. I arrived in Idaho, knowing no one and very much being an outsider, as most of the race was made up from the local Boise trail running group. But, as with most ultra communities, they were very welcoming and so easy going I had no trouble fitting right in. The start/finish was at Burgdorf Hot Springs, a rustic set of cabins just outside McCall, ID in the Payette NF. No fancy 5-star hotels, no vegan locally sourced restaurants; just some log cabins, heated by wood stoves and a home cooked pasta dinner with all the runners.
When we assembled race morning a grand total of 30 of us toed the line. As we started off down the trail we strung out very quickly, and I soon realized that I would have a lot of alone time in the next 24-30 hours. I had no crew and no pacers, I’d come simply to run and hike and explore a new set of trails and some new mountains that I’d never seen before. This is not to say support crew and pacers are not huge aids during a 100mile event, but when you remove them from the equation it does greatly simplify things.
For a first time race the course was fantastically marked, aid stations were well stocked, and both Ben and Jeremy, along with their families, put in a huge amount of time and effort to help each and every runner succeed. As I cruised down the Idaho trails enjoying the scenery I realized this is what I love about trail running, the peace, the quiet, and mostly the wonderful support and camaraderie that are present within the ultrarunning community regardless of who you are. The
race had its standard highs and lows for me, but when I rolled into Burgdorf around 9a on Sunday, there was no fanfare, no big crowds, just a few friends and crews milling around with a “congratulations”.
So if you’re looking for the big hyped event, with lots of runners, streets lined with supporters, big awards ceremonies and high level competition these types of races are not what you’re looking for. But if what’s important to you is beautiful scenery, friendly racers/crew/support teams, well stocked aid stations, a race focused on helping the runner succeed and a nice quite day in the woods, well then I urge you to give one of these new small races a shot.
This year has found me entered in several of the big boys (Hardrock and UTMB) and definitely very bummed that I won’t be able to run the IMTUF100 this year (registration just opened!) as it overlaps with UTMB. Thankfully, after having run their inaugural event I am fairly certain it will succeed and be around for many years to come. Run strong, run fast, but mostly run happy.