Third Annual Wildcat Ultras

When we were up in Vermont, I somehow managed to put on a couple of races. There was the Twin State 50 that kind of morphed into something else as it was decided that New Hampshire was just to risky. There was another Fat Ass that kind of failed in an attempt to raise money and sent runners on a snow covered loop during muzzle loader season.

After a couple of these, I decided to try directing a real race. Everything was setup, permits in place, sanctioning paid for, port-a-john rented, people registered, and then a job in Dublin, Georgia popped up and it was moving time. I was pretty close to canceling the event, but my brother – who was co-rd’ing with me – stepped up and made it happen. It sounded like everyone had fun and it made me glad, but not being able to be there and see it unfold was difficult.

So here I am in Georgia trying to figure out routes to run, potential loops or point to points, when I got an email from the RD of the Wildcat Ultras wondering if I had any interest in helping out with third running of the event. Of course I was interested, but there were a few people I had to talk to first. Well, one, anyway. I got her blessing and hopped on board. The dream is not dead!

So this coming Labor Day, I’ll be in Pensacola, Florida at the fine Escambia Equine Center helping to make sure everything runs smoothly as a bunch of yahoos attempt to run from a 50k to 100 miles. Not only did it get me back into rd’ing, it got me fired up to start some things in Dublin. Sure they might be a year out, but the wheels are turning.

wcu

Also, you should sign up here.

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Twin State 50: The RD Post

I remember my parents – probably my mother – chastising me as a child to “think before I act.” Generally speaking, I do. However, I have a bit of a problem thinking about long-term effects of my decisions. It’s easy enough to think about a month out, or maybe two, but go beyond that and things start getting fuzzy. Usually, this is a good thing; if I actually thought about the long-term impact of half the things I’ve decided to do in my life, I probably wouldn’t have done them out of fear and “rational” thinking. So it was that I decided to create a Fat Ass event and try my hand at Race Directing. As it would turn out, it was a grand learning experience, it just so happened (and I feel rather poorly about it) that a number of folks unfamiliar in my long-term planning skills would join me on this venture.

Having no experience in this race organization sort of thing, I reached out to a few friends who RD’ed before for a bit of advice. In hindsight, I think most of it was sound, and I’m glad I asked because it gave me somewhere to jump from. The big hurdle – and the obvious thing – is permits. I wasn’t planning on taking this run on anything other than public roads, but it’s nice to give the heads up to local governments (and then there’s the whole ‘public assembly’ permit thing…).

Once permits were done, it was time for some course figuring. I know these roads well – they are what I run everyday – but looping them together into a  50 kilometer or a 50 mile course, took some time on the computer. At night I would spend my time linking loops together then head out the next morning and make sure they worked. A few times, I found my path washed away and impassable, or barricaded with chain and “No Trespassing” signs.

Finally, with the course mapped out – for the most part – and the town’s blessing, it was time to see who might show up for this thing. So I went out, took some pictures of the nicer views and talked to the guys at Ultrasignup.com. (As it was a Fat Ass and free of charge – they would host sign-up, for free.) I figured I might get five or six people, mostly friends, to sign-up, but slowly the registrations started coming in, and as the winter months dragged, the registrations kept coming. Sometime in January/February, I decided to cap things at 150 people as the reality of my choice to do this was creeping into my brain and giving me cold sweats at night. With 150 people signed up, there was no backing out. Runners can always opt for a DNS, Race Directors cannot. (It should be mentioned here that of 150 signed up, we had 67 actually show up on race day.)

Winter progressed and I tried to prepare myself for the certain impending doom that awaited me in April. I sent out some e-mails to shoe companies trying to get free shoe vouchers to raffle off as prizes (Skora and Newton came through). Luckily, I had received a couple of emails from people looking for volunteer hours, and willing to help me out on race day – I hadn’t planned on this, and it turned out to be one of the most helpful things I received for this event.

As the day of the run approached, I started to scramble trying to make sure I had everything sorted – course marked, water coolers mixed, tables secured. The problem is, none of these things can be done in advance; when race day approaches it’s a flurry of last minute preparations.  (Again, I was able to procure help marking the course from a couple of runners who came out early.)

To this point, I wasn’t entirely sure why I had decided to embark on this, adventure. While I did enjoy communicating with runners via email, the enjoyment wasn’t enough to balance the stress of the last minute setup. Despite the stress race day provided, once I started seeing people on the course, and crossing the line, I began to understand why some people do this. There is something gratifying seeing the smiles as they cross the line, and knowing you helped do that; hearing ultra-virgins lament about the difficulty of what they just did, but grinning because they just accomplished something grand. I was also able to meet some wonderful people, and some legends as well (so maybe not like nationally recognized heroes, but certainly regional and local legends). In the end, it is something I would like to attempt again (given my wife’s graces, and assuming anyone would return to an event I put on…). There are also a number of things I learned, both as a race director and a runner.

1. RD’ing is like parenting. As a teenager, you may hate your parents at times and not understand their reasons or rationale, but once you become a parent, it all makes sense.

2. When marking a course, get someone unfamiliar with it to make sure your markings are clear and visible. What is obvious to you will undoubtedly be obscure to some.

3. You can’t keep everyone happy.

4. Over the course of 50 miles, even in the back woods of NH, someone – knowingly or not – will take down a sign.

5. No matter how many times you tell people they cannot rely solely on your course markings, and should bring their own map and directions (that you provided), someone will rely solely on your course markings.

6. You can tell yourself it’s just a Fat Ass, and since no one paid for anything expectations should be lowered, so it’s okay if things suck, but at the end of the day, you know you’re just lying to yourself.

7. It’s a really crappy feeling knowing people got lost.

8. Ultra-runners are a decidedly unhealthy bunch. They will bring food to aid stops, half of it will be eaten, and then as RD you will be left with a pantry full of Oreo’s and candy; tasty, but not exactly healthy or enjoyable when you have two small children constantly trying to steal cookies. (Canada produces some fine Jujubes, by the way.)

9. When a race closes, join the wait list. And when an RD says no, don’t beg. This was a Fat Ass, so all were welcome – sort of – but I can only imagine the difficulty a real RD goes through having to turn people down.

10. People are more than willing to help when given the chance. This may not be 100% true of a paid race, but when things are free, people will pitch in.

11. As an RD you really get to know and appreciate the ultra community, more so than as just a runner.

12. Everyone should put on a FA, or help put one on.

Twin State 50: The Run

No one but my mother ever called me a genius, and even then, I think she was referring to my brother. Back in November I made one of those genius decisions: to go for a 50 mile run. Ultra’s – especially 50ks and 50ms aren’t really hard to come by, but I don’t like to travel and I don’t like to pay ridiculous sums so I decided to cook one up myself, throw it out there into cyber space and see what suckers I could catch. I caught a few, and we had a blast (I’ll throw up an RD’ing post later.)

I had planned the race for early April to give everyone a taste of Vermont during Mud Season. Lots of snow melt and run off, cool mornings, warm afternoons, and muddy back roads. As April 6th approached, I was a little worried my plans would be way-laid by the tortuous winter we expierenced, but as luck would have it, spring finally came. There was still snow on the ground and the course had to be rerouted to avoid a mile and a half of post-holing through a foot of snow, but spring came. The morning started at a brisk 26 degrees but once the sun came out the southern slopes started to warm nicely. Of course, that was probably only half the time I was out there as the course is built on hills. After all it is Vermont, and some of the course coincides with the VT50 and the fabled VT100, so the flats were minimal. Fortunately, the course was 80% hard pack dirt road and only 20% asphalt, so while it is technically a road ultra, it’s not.  (A link to the course; it might take a bit to load).

Going into this thing, I had some ideas of what to expect, after all, I’ve run a couple of marathons, a handful of halves and did a fair bit of talking/reading before I decided to have a go at it. Some of my expectations came to fruition and others were left a bit wanting.

tsLeg Strength

It may sound presumptuous, but I was fairly confident I could run the 50 miles in its entirety – no walking up hills – even if it was atrociously slow. The Twin State course proved this tragically wrong. I managed to make it through the first 35 without walking, but by Gap Hill (about 325 feet up over half-a-mile), I was walking. I’m not really sure how much it saved me, but I was still able to go strong on the flats – though they were few – and hobble the downhills. One thing no one tells you when you ask how to take on an ultra: The Down Hills Will Kill You. Maybe this is a rule kept secret to punish ultra virgins, but by the end, I preferred a little incline to a little decline.

Nutrition

I was also fairly confident I would blow up. Since most of my long runs this winter can’t really be termed as ‘long,’ and I neglected toying with nutrition on the run, I was sure this would be my downfall. I have been training with HoneyMaxx, and am very comfortable with how I react to it, so I knew it was my drink of choice, but food, well forget it. It was a pretty big crap shoot, but I think I crapped it pretty well. I ended up mashing a baked sweet potato with two tablespoons of coconut oil, a dollop of honey, and two tablespoons of dried ground rabbit meat (I raise rabbits). I packaged them in five sandwich bags and stuffed them in my HydraQuiver, which had plenty of room for more. I started sucking them down about 1.5 hours in, and consumed about one bag in an hour. It seemed to work, though I think I might need to find a way to boost the calories per serving for longer runs. By 45 miles I could tell I was hungry and started to want food.

Shoes

I’ve been running in my Skora Phase for a while now, but nothing close to this far. Being zero drop and having an 11mm stack – I put the insoles in for this – I wasn’t sure how my feet would feel afterwards, as I’ve heard you need more cushion for these long events. Thankfully, and as I had anticipated, this wasn’t a problem. My feet were quite comfortable in terms of my shoes.  I did, however,  get some grit in there that gave me a few raw spots, but that’s a gaiter/sock thing, and I’m not sure I really want to go that route.

The Pain

Having run a couple marathons, I was ready for some pain. My marathons have left me totally wiped. A puddle of unrecognizable humanity. My legs are fried. My upper body is tired. My brain is mush. I expected this to be no different – it was. Somewhere around 33/38 miles, my legs started getting really tired and sore. To be precise it was mostly my quads. As I took in the discomfort and took mental note of the rest of my body, I was pleasantly surprised to see I could still think remotely clear and even whistle a few bars of Dr. Hook’s Queen of the Silver Dollar – it was in my head the whole time… I’m not sure if this is normal 50 mile feeling: sore legs, but otherwise okay, or if this is my legs not being fit enough to keep up with what my brains and cardiovascular system could pull.

Miscellaneous

A lot of race recaps are really long – and I tried to avoid that, but here I am at near 800 words like the verbose bastard I am. Apologies. I’ll save all my ramblings of how gorgeous and hilly the course is, my complaints about the jack-hole RD that marked it, and the praises of the ultra community for my RD post to come later… I also managed to take one of those snappy pre-race photos of all my get up – I even wrote the post. Unfortunately, when I went to upload the picture, I buggered it up and lost it, so you’ll have to pretend you can imagine me in my white and brown cotton gloves, camouflage bandanna, orange tech-t, bright orange HydraQuiver, massively short shorts, and fluorescent orange and blue Skoras gingerly slogging downhill (or don’t, it’s probably better if you don’t).

In Short,

(You could have just skipped down here, and no one would have known the difference. Hell, you probably did you cheeky monkeys…) I managed to keep my pace fairly consistent until I started to walk a bit on the uphills. I did a bit of course maintenance mid-run because some d-bag decided to pull down my surveyor tape. I even fielded a phone call from a lost runner around mile 43. But I had a great time, and things went well. My goal at the beginning of the year was to be somewhere in the 8:00 hour range for this, and in the 7:00 range for VT50. I ended up running 6:58:16, just nipping under 7:00 on what I’m gathering is a fairly rugged course. Pretty stoked with that.

Why Race Directors Are Wrong

Or

Why We Need to Ask Why People Bandit

Earlier today, I was perusing twitter, and I caught a link to an article in Runners World entitled Why Banditing Is Wrong. If you have any familiarity with running, you’ve undoubtedly heard of these vile bandits who show up on race day without a number, contaminate the port-o-potty’s meant for registered runners with their unsavory body functions, enslave volunteers at aid stations until they are adequately fed and ready to assault the next aid station, or even keep one of those highly regarded and hard to earn finishers medals. It’s true, these monsters exist, sucking up valuable resources and making everyone have a miserable time.

I have never bandited a race before – though I thought really hard about it once – and I have some friends that have bandited races, and there’s a couple of things in common, both missed by the RW article. Most bandits I know are aware of what they are doing. They are aware they are putting an extra stress on a race in terms of food, facilities, awards, etc, and guess what, they don’t use them. If the race is long enough they need fuel of some sort, they bring their own. Port-o-potty? How about port-o-tree. And most bandits I know will pull up before the finish and not even cross it, let alone keep one of those medals that end up becoming child’s toys, put in the rubbish bin before the days up, or scavenged from the corral floor.

Now I’m sure there are bandits who are less scrupulous and actually take advantage of races and what they offer beyond adrenaline, but I feel it’s a minority, and I think some of the points (most) brought up by RW lead to one thing: money. Fifteen years ago, I remember signing up for 5ks for $15 or less. Try to find a $15 5k now. Forget it; they don’t exist. I know, inflation has been rough, which is why the cost of your average 5k is around 66% more than it was 15 years ago (it’s also why my salary has gone up 66% too…). For me, the reason I almost bandited a race was the cost. I could not justify forking over $25 to run 3.1 miles. (That’s $8.06/mile – think about that in terms of gas money…).

The cost of races has increased, and sure, so have the perks, but seriously race directors, give us the option. I have plenty of tech-tees with huge screen printed logos ready to chaff my nipples right off. I don’t need anymore crappy finishers medals covered with lead paint cluttering my house and making my kids sick. I’m okay without the great big schwag bag full of junk. And can we just forget expensive timing? The folks who are looking to compete for front of the pack places are on the front of the starting line. What’s wrong with a simple watch timer? Why does everyone need to know their “official chip time?” You can get your own $10 watch at Wal-Mart and get your own “chip time” when you cross the line if it’s that important. (Are we that self-important we need to have our exact 5k time documented in the local paper so we can gloat at work?)

But really, the biggest issue with the cost of races for me comes down to transparency. Most races out there are for some non-profit organization looking to raise money, and maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t trust them. They need to cover their ‘costs’ but really, how much are their costs? It’s tax season, I think we all know how to fluff numbers a little bit… I want to know that $40 of my $60 fee goes to said charity, not just ‘proceeds’ from the race.

So before RD’ers get out there and whinge on about bandits sucking up resources and costing money, let us ask why they bandit in the first place. Let us take running back to what it should be: sweat and good times. Keep the glitzy glam crap for little league baseball and beauty pageants and I’ll gladly donate to your cause, on my terms.

Finally Coming Together

Come April I’m not only running my first 50 miler, I’m also directing my first 50 miler. If you just said “what a moron,” you wouldn’t be the first. So while I can kind of throw in the towel on my training and figure I can crawl, roll, hobble to the finish line, I can’t really do that with planning this race.

I’m still nervous, but as the day draws closer, all the little details are starting to fall into place. We have volunteers, a bit of food, some discounts from local companies and a group that seems excited to go out and give themselves a beating. (The 50m sees near 10,000 feet of elevation change. We still have near two feet of snow on the ground and the course is 80% dirt roads – needless to say it will be like running through a bog, if it thaws…)

I did a little written interview over at DFL Ultrarunning, and I’ll be doing a podcast with them later this week.

Totally ego stroking, I know, but I’m kind of getting excited.

A Cry For Help

Sort of, but not the kind of cry you are thinking of. For some reason, back in November, I thought it would be a good idea and an enjoyable occasion to put together a Fat Ass 50k/m race in my town.The town to the west of us hosts the Vermont 100 and the Vermont 50, so why should my town not have one? My town is also home to (sort of) longest two span covered bridge in the US that carries both pedestrians and autos, the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge. (We also have some super rare – only found ten places in the world – Ogden’s Pond Weed but it is kind of hard to build a race around that…)

Back to my cry… I figured this race would be about five friends and maybe a few locals to having a go at 50 miles. Instead I am up to 140 registrants and the numbers are climbing. Now the race is free, and I have explained to folks on multiple occasions that this is a self-supported race, though I will be providing one or three aid stations depending on volunteers (the number of folks willing to volunteer is also surprising). I will not be providing food.

So despite that this thing is free, and people hopefully have low expectations I am starting to get a little nervous. (Really though, what do you expect for a free event?) It’s essentially the same as a “Virtual Run” except you have some camaraderie and you are not donating any money.

My main concern is that people enjoy themselves and comeback next year. I am still toying with how to mark the course and it is between surveyor tape or printed arrow signs.

If you were going to participate in a free race, what would you expect? What would make you return next year? What would piss you off? Any advice on the surveyor tape/print out front?