Thursday, July 19, 2007

Race Directing & Quantum Mechanics...

Race directing an ultra-distance event is both extra-tough and extra-rewarding at the same time. But the planning, preparation, and execution, doesn't always roll-out in a linear fashion. Sometimes I think that Quantum Mechanics and Ultra race directing have a lot in common. Both have their own versions of inherrent randomness and that ever-present "uncertainty principle" lurking in the background.


Uncertainties creep into the picture throughout the whole process. Will the event shirts be finished on time? Did I order enough, since I had to guestimate the total number one-month prior, based upon 12 entries? Will the medals show up on time, and will they look great, crappy, or just so-so? Will we have Severe Weather during the event? Will someone get struck by lightning or have a tree fall on them? Will someone fall down and severely bust their ass, this time? Will someone get bit by a snake, get Lyme's Disease from a tick bite, have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, fall face-first into poison ivy, have a heart attack, or get heat stroke? Will we be prepared for all emergency contingencies? Will enough volunteers show up on race day? Will our timing devices work, or will both laptops crash beyond all retrieval? These are just a few of the uncertainties that creep into ultra race directors' little heads at night, when they should be sleeping. And forget breaking even with the money! With a first year ultra-distance event, you'll be lucky to not completely bust your race budget.

Well, along with the uncertainties, there is a lot of CERTAIN hard work that you'll have to do, also. Especially if it's an ultra run on trails. For this last little (combined) 50-kilometer and 15-mile trail race event, we had a 15.7-mile loop course in a very hilly park. Two miles of this course did not even exist four weeks prior to the event.

Yep, you guessed it. We hacked-out two miles of NEW TRAIL for this event, with the park's permission, of course. And eleven miles of the existing trail was so severely overgrown with poison ivy, stinging nettles, and branches of various trees and bushes, we had to trim those trails back with a vengeance, too.

You can't imagine the hard work that my Trail Nerds put into this race. Imagine going for a ten to fifteen mile training run on a weekend, and then sticking around to operate a weed-wacker for four or more straight hours! And while you're operating said weed-wacker, you're getting covered from head to toe with pieces and parts of poison ivy, stinging nettles, and their plant's juices, all while being eaten alive or stung by wasps, bees, mosquitos, ants, and gihugic horse flies! Basically, it was a blast.
A gaggle of Trail Nerds.
Gabe, Greg, Rick, Kyle, Josh, and Lance.

As the race date quickly approaches, there's even more work to be done. There's always the presorting of aid station and start/finish line equipment and supplies. This is based on pre-existing lists, estimated need, and wild-ass-guesses.

Right before the race, there's the job of course marking of the trail. Actually, this task is the most fun. Groups of hardy volunteers get to run with sticks, signs, marking tape, and hammers in their hands. Of course after the race, we get to take down all of this stuff. That's even more fun. We get to run on rough terrain grasping scissors and knives in our hands while carring sticks. Woo-hoo! Everything your mom told you not to do when you were a kid! I guess we could make it even more dangerous; we could be naked while doing this...hmmm. (Nah)!

Rick Mayo and Kyle Amos (Trail Marking Coordinator, course designer, and a lot of other stuff).

Gabe Bevan and his helpers.

How did this race get it's start? We kicked-around the original idea while on a trail run, of course. This is how we plan all of our races. We have a Winter version of this race in this same park, called the "Psycho WyCo Run Toto Run." That race started with just 43 runners the first year, and after three years had grown to 300. We had it in the back of our minds to do a Summer version with a radically altered course, and it finally gelled by March or so of this year, when Raul, Nancy, and I decided to personally fund the initial cost. We would call it the Psycho Psummer race (with a "P" in Summer, of course).

Kyle Amos and Shane Jones had ideas as to how we could make our (Winter) 3-loop 50K course into a two-loop 50K for our Summer event. Shane had scoped-out a section of woods that we would design and construct a trail in. Eventually this section was named "Shane's Debacle." There's a precedent for this naming procedure. My dog helped design a piece of single-track trail 3 years ago. I just followed my dog in the woods, and he took the best line up and down the hills all while using existing deer trails and favorable terrain. We built a trail there, and we call that section, "Fester's Wander." Some of our race participants would probably rather call it the "kick Bad Ben's dog" section.

Kyle is always the mastermind when it comes to the actual route and direction the course will take to end up with not only enough miles, but with enough gruesomely grueling miles, as well. Our Winter course has a lot of elevation change for a 50K held in Kansas. It tends to surprise a lot of people. The Summer 50K course ended up with even more elevation change. Yes, blame Kyle! At this point, I should lead a stirring rendition of South Park's "Blame Canada," using Kyle's name instead. But I won't. It's a beautiful course; a real keeper. It's also one of the toughest races that you'll run in the Midwest. And the Trail Nerds get to run on it all of the time!
Map of the Psycho Psummer course.

Course Profile.

There's a lot more to planning a race of this magnitude. I don't want to bore you with any more details, though. But I will let you know that our first year Psycho Psummer event lived up to it's name, and basically went off without a hitch.

All of our Trail Nerd volunteers were awesome. Prior to the race, we had out-of-towner Wynn Davis, the eventual winner of the 50K race helping to mark the course with Caleb Chatfield, champion and record holder of the Winter 50K event. In fact, many of the race's front runners helped mark the course. My buddy Pat Perry (that I paced at Western States) ran his own aid station with Caleb (and others') help. Cheri Sutton greeted all multi-loop runners with ice and cool bandanas and basically ran the main aid station. Mike Swords, James Barker, and many others performed multiple days' worth of help. People came out of the woodwork to help us, and many families of runners and volunteers were involved, too.
Caleb Chatfield and Wynn Davis

Yep, that's the kind of selfless volunteers that we always get. That's why I love trail running and ultra running. And we always have fun doing it!

Happy trails,
Bad Ben

Registration staffed by Melissa, Sue, Allison, and Mel.

Mark Jacquez using the chip reader on the finish line.
Raul and Allison keeping time in the background.

Pat Perry hauling equipment.

Mike (in yellow) and James (in blue) at their "Spillway" aid station.

Kyle and Stacy Amos are still marking the course right before the race.

Jesse Walden
Dr Jesse Walden works on a participant.

Main Aid
Cheri & Vicki prepare the main aid station food.

Cheri Sutton attaches an ice-filled bandana to cool a runner.

Some of the equipment needed for the race.