An Ode to Race Directors Everywhere

A look at how a race director’s personality shines through at his or her event.

By on May 24, 2013 | 35 comments

AJWs TaproomOver the past four months, I have had the good fortune of traveling to four ultramarathons around the country, none of which I had run before. I enjoyed each race immensely as they were, as is typical in our sport, all located in beautiful places with wonderful people and all featured a fair amount of what can be only called the ultra “vibe.” Additionally, as I have reflected back on these four events, one common theme emerged, that each had outstanding race directors!

Keira Henninger at Ray Miller, Clark Zealand at Terrapin, John Medinger at Sonoma, and David Horton at Promise Land each bring their own touch to their events and each succeed in pulling off something that looks so easy on the surface but is actually extraordinarily difficult, directing a trail ultramarathon. Another thing about this that struck me is that one might think there is one successful formula for race-directing success, one personality type that does it best, and one clear way of getting it done. Yet, these four race directors prove that there are many ways to skin a cat and, in so doing, lend credence to the fact that our sport truly is the ruggedly individualistic pursuit it’s always been.

To illuminate the point, allow me to profile these four outstanding race directors:

Keira Henninger – “The Cheerleader”
I don’t know if Keira ever was a cheerleader but if she wasn’t, she should have been. Throughout her event, she was constantly there smiling, laughing, hosting, and organizing. As a master delegator, she seemed to have everything under control all day and night and never lost sight of what was most important about the whole thing, having fun.

Clark Zealand – “The Professor”
Now, truth be told, Clark is a professor so this is not too much of a stretch. Nonetheless, he goes about his business as a race director in much the same way I would imagine him going about his academic life. He asks as many questions as he provides answers; he has an understanding of every aspect of his event without being overbearing; and his preparation and follow-through are impeccable.

John Medinger – “The Connector”
The Lake Sonoma 50 is, quite frankly, much more of a party than an ultra. Sure, there is always an incredibly deep field at this race but to be honest the race seems to be an excuse for a get-together. John, of course, knows everybody in the ultra world and uses this event to connect people, establish relationships, and grow goodwill across the generations. I know the purpose of the event is to have a race, but John succeeds in creating an event that is rooted on relationships and connections.

David Horton – “The General”
David has been directing races in the central-Virginia area since the early ’80s and he has consistently done them “his way.” As the years have gone by and his following has grown, his style has become one that is at once incorrigible and delightful. Perhaps the best two indicators of that are the following stories. One, during the prize drawing during the pre-race meeting the night before Promise Land, David pulls names out of a hat to give away prizes. When he pulls the names out, if he doesn’t feel like giving the named person a prize, he just folds the paper back up and puts it back in the hat. Then, the next day when everyone finishes, he personally and enthusiastically greets every finisher with kind exhortations like “You got chicked, Chicken Boy.” and “Pretty smart run for such a stupid girl.” Needless to say, there is only one Horty.

Truly, race directing is both a science and an art which requires a rare blend of skills and a great deal of patience. In addition, it is clear from my experience that organizing and carrying out an ultra event is a skill reserved for that rare person who can do it all while remaining true to who they are, what they want, and how much they care about others.

So, for all you race directors out there…

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
This Week’s Beer of the Week comes from a Taproom favorite, Bell’s Brewing Company in Michigan. Their summer seasonal Oberon Ale is a highly sessionable ale that blends a touch of hoppiness with smooth citrus tones and a nice crisp finish. Served cold on a hot day, Oberon hits the spot.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Let’s get some more shout outs going! Who is your favorite race director and why?
  • What, in your opinion, are the top qualities of the race directors you’ve met?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.