In Praise Of Loop Courses

AJW talks about the benefits of running loop courses, including the race he directs, the Thomas Jefferson 100k.

By on March 13, 2015 | Comments

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.