Last month, I scared someone from forwarding the newsletter to a friend because they didn’t want to think the club is all about running ultras (so sue me; I write a lot of ultra articles/adventures). Therefore, I wanted to give a little shout-out to my last adventure, but touch on some of the foibles of race-directing for the first time.
After completing Miwok 100K in May, I was looking for an ultra this summer. Mt. Disappointment was out because it falls on the same weekend as my high school reunion. I happened to find an event near Santa Barbara (on June 6th – ack! Too close to my last race!), which reduced its entrance fees to $27.50 in order to entice runners to participate.
I touted the race to several of my friends, but only roped my friend Shaun Shue and AREC member Stacy Shourt into the shortest of the three distances (34M, 51M and 64M). I opted for the “middle distance.”
In terms of planning any kind of race, it is important to be very gung-ho about your event. The Blue Canyon Trail Race’s director, Robert, sent timely updates in the week preceding the race, and you could tell that he was very excited about the event.
Contrast that with the recent Summer Solstice event where the Race Director (RD) just goes through the motions.
I drove up to Santa Barbara on Friday afternoon to pick up my number and meet my cousin (who I would be staying with), and I met the Assistant RD. She was so-o excited about the race that she gave me my goody-bag, but not my number. When I came back later to get it, they had moved distribution locations, but no one at the first location knew where to go, so I spent an extra hour walking around SB trying to find this (10 miles away, had to drive instead) new location. Little did I know that it would have been no big deal to pick up my number race morning.
On race morning, I met Stacy and Shaun at the starting line (both the 34 and 51 started together and had the same time limit – 14 hours). At the pre-run announcement, they said that the correct way was marked with blue ribbon and the wrong way with red ribbon. This was fine for me, but if you happened to run by the red ribbon without noticing, there wasn’t further red ribbon to let you know you were off course… and the blue ribbon was sometimes ¼ mile away, so it was easy to wonder if you might be off course most of the race.
E-mails earlier in the week also told precisely where the aid stations were and what was available at each; however, at the manned stations, volunteers didn’t know where they were or how far to the next station. This proved to be a problem when some 34Mers got turned around 2 miles late, AND when the drop bags (supplies you can have delivered to the course) were at that wrong turn-around. (This worked well for the people that ran the extra 4 miles, but not so well for the people who were turned around at the correct spot – since they NEVER got their stuff!)
One comfort at any distance race is knowing where you are and how far you have to go. I guess I could have memorized the locations of the aid stations, but your mind plays tricks on you, the longer you are out there.
Stacy and I ended up staying together (mostly) until she turned around at mile 16 (the correct turnaround). The trails were beautiful, except for one minor fact – they were severely overgrown! A machete would have been helpful. Miles 4 – 10 were like running up Hill Street in Signal Hill (for 6 miles) and bushwhacking (without the machete)! We were so excited to see a fire road, let me tell you!
From the turnaround to the end, Stacy had a better time of it (especially because she was on the homestretch) and ended up finishing 5th overall, and the first female.
I continued on to more aid stations at certain distances, staffed by apathetic volunteers - “Where’s the water at?” I’d ask. They’d point and then sit back down to their book or IPod.
The time limit loomed, but there were no intermediate cutoffs to set as goals. (While being pulled from a race can be devastating, it is helpful to know whether you have to pick up the pace to make it in time.)
I started up the last wicked steep (but not overgrown) hill as it started to get dark. Two guys, that I had run with briefly earlier, headed down the hill (too dark, and they didn’t have flashlights) to finish in a different direction. I reached the top in 14 hours and 10 minutes (4 miles to go, minus 10 minutes to finish under the limit). I told the volunteer at the top that he better let me [expletive deleted]-ing finish because it had been a trying day.
This was the one informed volunteer of the day (who in fact, gave me his coat because it had gotten so cold (and in hindsight, allowed me to brush against poison oak and not get it)) who said that they were extending the time limit, because only 7 people had finished under the time limit.
I headed down into the darkness with my headlamp. I guess the RD hadn’t figured that people would be out so late and there were about 10 glowsticks in 4 miles. It was often difficult to decide where the trail went (switchbacks, creek crossings, etc.). Fortunately, a 100K runner had caught up to me and we nearly had a full brain between us.
When we got to the finish nearly 2 hours later, I had an earful for the RD. But, he listened very carefully and already had some ideas on how to make the race better.
Despite a difficult day with surly clueless volunteers, a masssively difficult course and numerous first-time event mistakes, everyone finished the race. And many of us may come back for another try, to see if a dedicated RD can do better the second time around.