In Praise Of Loop Courses

AJWs TaproomTomorrow morning at 5 a.m., the race I direct here in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson 100k, will start and over 60 runners will begin their journey around Albemarle County’s beautiful Walnut Creek Park. The TJ100k, now in its second year, is a multiple-loop-format race consisting of seven loops of 8.9 miles. For some, the thought of repeating seven trips around a park seems mind numbingly dull. However, for others, the multiple-loop format brings joy and contentment.

Modeled after the classic loop ultras, the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile and Javelina Jundred, the TJ100k provides runners and their crews with easy access and comfortable familiarity. Starting and finishing in a parking lot with a grassy area and two large picnic pavilions, the loop format allows runners to return every 90 to 150 minutes to the comfort of their own gear, perhaps in their vehicle but more often in their own custom-designed aid station. What the multiple-loop format lacks in variety, it makes up for in user-friendliness.

For me, having run both Rocky Raccoon and Javelina, I particularly enjoy how the courses change subtly through the day and night. While I am traversing the same trail multiple times, the different light, temperature, and environment that presents itself provides a unique connection to place that is more fleeting in typical, point-to-point or large-loop courses.

Then, there is the camaraderie that is built up over a day and night on a multiple-loop course. When runners encounter the same aid-station folks six or seven times throughout the day, they cannot help but strike up a bond. Furthermore, as the loops begin to blend together and some runners get lapped by other runners, relationships emerge across abilities and talents that can be quite meaningful and strong. At the TJ100k, I spend the day and night at the start/finish line with a PA system welcoming each runner back home after finishing their loops and encouraging them back out for another.

Certainly, the multiple-loop format is not for everyone. The tediousness and repetition can drive certain temperaments crazy. However, there is also a profound mental-training benefit to trudging out on another loop when you have just been sitting in your warm car or in your very own camp chair for five minutes. Many of the things we love so much about ultras–connection with place, communing with other like-minded people, and pushing through adversity–are profoundly on display in the loop format. For those of you who may doubt the fun of these type of events, I encourage you to give one a whirl sometime.

Bottoms up!

 AJW’s Beer of the Week

Earlier this week I finally got my hands on a beer I’ve been wanting to try for a while, the Duet IPA from Alpine, California’s Alpine Beer Company. A wonderfully balanced IPA, Duet has the classic West Coast hop front with a warming back end. The ABV seems just about right and a touch of malt smoothens out the hoppiness. If you can get your hands on this one, go for it!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you like to run looping ultramarathons? Why or why not?
  • For those who prefer looping courses, what of their attributes do you appreciate?
  • Who is running the TJ100k on Saturday? Or did you run the inaugural 2014 event?

There are 7 comments

  1. oneunity2009

    I totally get the loop format, where I live there is a 6 mile loop that starts and finishes at my front door it has a mixture of climbing, descending and some flat sections to really open up my stride, for training runs I absolutely love the lop format because I only have to carry enough water to last me another 6 miles every time I pass my house. I love the fact the if I am having a bad day, I am never to far away from home. Although I train in a loop format, I have yet to run a race in this type of format, they have either been point to point or out n back's, but I feel the mental toughness from running loops gives me the sense of freedom when I actually get to race day, and I feel unleashed, if that makes sense.

  2. E_C_C

    I don't have the mental toughness to thrive in a loop format. Yet.
    But I can definitely see the advantages of crewing a loop race!!

  3. nelsonprater

    Joe's Wild Hare 50-miler in November is also a great loop race. Every 7.5 miles or so you run through the middle of the barn and up to the ranchhouse to your drop bag on the front porch overlooking the herd of longhorns in the pasture out front.

  4. senelly

    Many years ago, I had the great pleasure of helping to create the HURT 100, a run that features five trips around a 20-mile loop that includes 3 way-over-the-top aid stations per loop. HURT guru John Salmonson and I ran portions of the loop (and more, much more) a few times every week and we joked about how folks would look down from their high-altitude and gnarly mainland 100's and dismiss our sea-level course two miles from (and in sight of) Waikiki's 25,000 hotel rooms as being "too easy"… Ha! Little did they know… and then they arrived… for fun in the sun on the beach… plus a piece-of-cake series of loops through the rainforest. What they found was a hellacious combination of roots, rocks, mud, heat, humidity, and whining (theirs). Soooo many ran a loop and quit, totally daunted by just the thought of going out again for another loop. Confession: I wanted the HURT 100 to be a point-to-point mountain journey on the Island of Hawaii (aka Big Island). It would be an heroic, epic trek from the boiling lava of Volcano National Park, over 11,000 ft. Mauna Loa, over 13,750 ft. Mauna Kea, and on to the green hills of Waimea. John prevailed with the incredibly successful 5-loop run on Oahu, which I have never run. That's right, never. I don't like loops, not on the track, not through the woods, heck, I don't even like NASCAR. That said, loop runs appeal to a very large percentage of ultra runners who want the physical + mental challenge but also enjoy the process of revisiting family, friends, and gear (as well as the course). Loops make it simply about the run, without the possible need to be airlifted from some spot 40 mile off course….

  5. @RunTrailsFar

    I have a love hate relationship with a loop timed race that I do every year – the Pickled Feet 6/12/24/48 hr, & 100 miler. What I don't like is that it's a flat course (I love hills and mountain running), but what I love is the organization of this event, and the amazing people running in it and volunteering for it. This race is coming up in just 2 weeks. I'll be doing the 24 hr, and really looking forward to seeing all my Idaho friends – I moved to Central Oregon last August, so this will be like a running reunion for me! :D

  6. robsargeant

    I've completed three 50 Mile loop style ultras and liked the fact that I could set up my own aid station on two of them. It gave me more fuel intake control and cut down on aid station delays (searching for a drop bag). I could also store spare socks and shoes, and a first aid kit there. Because of this it helped me achieve a PB time in the 50 Mile last year.

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