On October 30th, Gary Gellin and I will be co-directing a new trail race at Boggs Mountain State Forest, featuring 50k and 25k options. Boggs Mountain is located two hours north of San Francisco on a high ridge not far from the vineyards of Napa Valley. The forest contains a treasure trove of single track trails amidst ponderosa pine, fir, and oak woodland. In addition, free camping is available so participants can enjoy the weekend in the forest. We are busy planning for this event and are excited to share these beautiful trails with other runners.
As newbie race directors of an inaugural event we thought it would be interesting to share our thoughts on race directing both before and after the event. While our goal is provide a top notch event, we realize that this is also a learning experience. In the process of organizing this event, we have already gained an appreciation for the difficulty of race directing and event promotion, and I am sure we will learn much more!
The inspiration for directing this race originated from a visit to this park with Gary last March. We discovered an amazing network of trails traversing the forest. While Boggs is well known in the mountain biking community, we wondered why Boggs is virtually unknown in trail and ultra running circles. We found out that there was once a 50 mile trail race here in the mid 90s, but nothing since. We decided this would be a fantastic venue to host a new trail race, allowing Gary and myself to explore the intricacies of event promotion while sharing these wonderful trails with the running community.
Much of the challenge of being a first-time director of an inaugural event revolves around the uncertainty of how many people will sign up for the event. Everything from our post-race caterer to our sponsors to the technical t-shirt order requires knowing how many people we expect to be at the event. For example, our caterer needs a minimum number of participants to reconcile the long drive and preparation costs. Likewise, our sponsors are interested in getting brand name recognition, which requires a successful event with high turnout and potential for growth in the future. Finally, we have to place orders for many items well in advance, including technical race shirts, race bibs, and swag items. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to forecast participation for a new event and we are confined by deadlines. As a result, we have a picked a date, September 30th, to place many of our orders and will take the number of registrants on that date and add a percentage to that amount to determine actual participation and the size of the order. In a sense, we are reverse budgeting – planning expenses relative to the number of people who have already signed up and adding additional features as the budget allows.
While marketing an event is always important, it is especially critical for an inaugural race at a new venue. To help spread the word about our event, we first created an awesome video of our first trail run at Boggs with the help of our friend Brian Lucido. We also designed a simple website that hopefully describes everything you would ever want to know about the event in a simple and clear format. We have placed the event on several online running calendars and developed a logo and postcard to distribute at local running stores. Finally, we are constantly engaging in word of mouth marketing by talking abut the event to runners we meet on the trails and at other events.
There are inevitably issues regarding rules and regulations particular to the venue that require consideration and planning. Moreover, the concerns of other park users need to be addressed. In our case, Boggs is a State demonstration forest actively managed by Cal Fire. Every so often, a specific parcel of land is designated for thinning. In our case, an area of the forest we had hoped to incorporate into our course was logged over the summer resulting in substantial trail destruction. While a few sections of trail are being repaired, park staff has indicated that “the dust must settle” so we had to adjust our course accordingly. Rest assured, the change is fairly minor and we still have a great course with the vast majority single track! In addition, we have communicated with other park users to make them feel comfortable that our impact on the park will be minimal and the trails in the forest will remain open for their use before, after, and during our event. Finally, there are many logistical issues that need to be addressed including portable toilets, medical staff, and watering the entry road to limit dust and erosion. We have worked closely with Cal Fire to ensure that our course and event is compatible with the objectives of the forest and to ensure that all constituencies are pleased.
In designing our course, we aimed to avoid repetition and congestion as much as possible. We also hoped to maximize single track and give participants a thorough tour of the forest’s amazing trail system. After much thought and investigation, I believe we have designed a course that accomplishes these objectives.
Boggs contains a myriad of trails with dozens of complicated intersections so course marking has been a major topic of discussion. We also wanted to improve the quality of course marking as compared to other events which might have even a small amount of ambiguity as to the direction of travel. We’ve thought about flagging, arrows, ground stakes, chalk, flour, etc. Ultimately, we have decided to primarily use large arrows on yellow signs that are clearly visible. These arrows will be posted on trees when possible or on wooden stakes hammered into the ground. We will also use powdered gypsum to indicate where not to go.
Another challenge was to design a course that avoids any congestion within the race and between the 25k and 50k fields. Both events start on the fire roads and there is only a short section of single track where there is the possibility of head-on runner traffic.
A third major consideration was course accuracy. The course has been measured with multiple gps units and adjusted in order to be accurate within 1 or 2 percent. Finally, we had to think about placement of our remote aid stations and settled on aid every 5-6 miles. We will have to take into account the rough access roads to these aid stations to ensure that enough food and water is available at the aid stations.
Accurate and timely results are extremely important to Gary and me. We have waffled between hiring a professional timing service and doing it ourselves. Some race directors have told us that hiring a professional service was the best decision they have made while others contend that they have had no problems with their own systems, whether it be a simple excel spreadsheet or old fashioned pen and paper. Since our event will be relatively small, we came to the conclusion that a professional service is not necessary. We’re currently planning on using an excel spreadsheet along with a backup old fashioned system of writing down times and bib numbers.
Volunteers and Equipment:
A major element of successful race directing is organizing volunteers and accumulating the necessary supplies and equipment. The trail and ultra running communities are a great resource and we have had numerous people step forward offering to volunteer. Without these kind people dedicating their time this event would simply not be possible. One challenge is organizing the tasks and duties to ensure the help is utilized where we need it. We have also been fortunate to have several great sponsors step up to support our event, including Salomon, Nathan Sports, Hammer Nutrition, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Protech Skincare, and Plus3. These great sponsors will be donating a great selection of product to be used during the race, and for awards and prizes.
Other event promoters have been helpful in giving advice. These include Tia Bodington, RD of Miwok; Torsten Heycke, RD of Mt. Ashland Hillclimb; Pacific Coast Trail Runs; and the folks at Bike Monkey, a bike race promoter from Santa Rosa. Since Boggs is basically a one-off event for both Gary and I, we prefer to not have to buy all the equipment. We have been fortunate to be able to borrow or rent many necessary items like tents, finish line clock, and tables, but have also purchased tables, water containers, and supplies for marking the course.
It will be very interesting to compare notes after the event to find out what was successful and what didn’t work. I look forward to sharing my thoughts after the event. Regardless, Boggs will surely be a fun time and we look forward to seeing you there!
Call for Comments
We’d love to hear how other RDs have approached putting on their first race, be it road or trail, ultra or not. What worked? What didn’t?
Leor Pantilat is a Stanford-educated attorney whose quest for foot-based exploration knows few bounds. He’s an excellent mountain runner (i.e., course records at Ohlone 50k, Quicksilver 50k, and Skyline to the Sea 50k this year, along with winning Way Too Cool 50k for the second time) for La Sportiva when he’s not running through the wilderness to summit yet another mountain along the Pacific Crest. Read all about his adventures on his blog.
While we’re at it, Gary Gellin is Leor’s co-RD for Boggs Mountain. Gary is a mechanical engineer by trade and trail runner by passion. Just this year, he’s set the course record at the Quicksilver 25k, placed second at the Ohlone 50k, and was fourth at Way Too Cool and the San Juan Solstice 50. Previously, Gary concentrated on cycling, a sport he still enjoys.