[Author’s Note: This is the sixth of an eight-part series in AJW’s Taproom called Race Director Chronicles, where we profile the unsung heroes who make our sport’s racing possible.]
Anyone who has run, crewed, paced, volunteered, or spectated at the Javelina 100 Mile or the Black Canyon Ultras in Arizona has crossed paths with Jubilee Paige. One of the most ebullient and fun-loving race directors out there, Paige is known for her extensive wardrobe of creative costumes, impeccable race organization, and a spirit of joy that is embedded into both of her high-volume events. I sat down with Paige recently as she was preparing to direct the Javelina 100 Mile later this month.
Andy Jones-Wilkins: How long have you been directing ultra/trail running events in Arizona?
Jubilee Paige: I joined Aravaipa Running in the spring of 2016 as an office manager and general administrator, and within a year was promoted to race director. This will be my seventh year as the race director for Javelina and Black Canyon.
AJW: What is the most satisfying aspect of your work as a race director?
Paige: As a general event planner, I love seeing all the pieces come together race week. It’s like working on a puzzle and having a general idea of the picture, but as the pieces fall into place, I get to see in real time months of planning come into focus, and it genuinely brings a smile to my face on race day. More than that, however, I think the best aspect of being a race director is knowing that all of the planning and coordination creates an environment where athletes can embrace possibility — however they define that for themselves. The possibility of running 100 miles, or the possibility of running the farthest or the fastest, the possibility of qualifying for Western States 100 — whatever their “why,” the possibility is there for them at the start line. And being able to facilitate that is extremely satisfying.
AJW: What makes running in the desert southwest so unique and special?
Paige: The Sonoran Desert is the world’s most biodiverse desert. In all of its extremes, there is an abundance of life. Of course, the southwest landscape is stunning — and I hardly have to sell it, with the Grand Canyon and red rocks of Sedona — but anyone running through a desert forest of towering saguaros for the first time will find a surreal experience. There’s no other place like it.
AJW: What are the biggest challenges you face as a race director?
Paige: I think it varies for each race. The logistical and safety challenges for Black Canyon vary from the environmental impact and participation challenges of Javelina. Ensuring the safety of each participant is paramount. For logistics-heavy races like Black Canyon, the weather can be unpredictable, causing rivers to rise and trails to become impassable within 24 hours. I’ve learned to have contingency plans in place up to and including on race day — which we’ve had to use! Black Canyon specifically is a great example of desert extremes and keeps the whole team on their toes.
Javelina, on the other hand, is just BIG! Space has been an ongoing challenge as participation grows. The race outgrew its original venue in 2015, so we moved it in 2016, and today we are again addressing the finite amount of space, for both the base of operations and on trail, with the increase in popularity. It’s a fun challenge for sure, but with increased participation, I am also careful to address the impact that 1,000-plus runners will have on a singletrack trail and surrounding environment.
I also want to create an overall positive experience for participants. With the growth of both events, I find a challenge in meeting the expectations of a diverse group of runners. From elites to first-time runners, front of the pack to the back — I want these races to be exceptional when it comes to support, aid, and experience.
AJW: What changes have you seen in the sport since you began directing events?
Paige: I’m excited to see the sport grow. There’s an overall growing awareness of the sport and its amazing athletes, which has led to an increase in participation in varied distances. The inclusion and advancement of livestreams at our events has increased visibility and hopefully inspired others to step onto the trails and explore the natural world around them. Over the years, one of the most inspiring and positive trends I’ve witnessed as a race director is the significant increase in women’s participation in ultrarunning events. When I first started as a race director, the ratio of participation was staggering, and in recent years I’m excited to see those numbers shift, as more women enter the sport.
I think one of the things that concerns me with the overall growth of the sport, however, is the strain on natural environments and the impact that the popularity of the sport can have on the remote places we love. I came to ultrarunning because of a love of the outdoors, and the authentic spirit of community, and I think preserving both is important as we navigate this growth. As ultrarunners, we have an opportunity to be stewards of the trails every time we come to a race — to practice Leave no Trace principles, to participate in cup-less races, and to encourage others to care for the natural landscapes that we love. As race directors, we will need to find a balance between providing access to these beautiful and remote places, while also finding ways to minimize the ecological footprint of the events.
AJW: What are you looking forward to most in the 2023 to 2024 event season?
Paige: Honestly, I don’t look too far ahead of the race I’m currently directing! Javelina and Black Canyon are fairly close to one another each season, so my focus narrows during this time. But every season is an adventure — I always look forward to the growing elite field at Black Canyon, and showcasing upcoming talent. And Javelina will always be a host of surprises each year, so I look forward to seeing what I can learn from the previous year to make that event better for the next.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s beer of the week comes from Uncle Bear’s Brewery in Gilbert, Arizona. Situated just a few miles from the Javelina 100 Mile course, Uncle Bear’s produces a diverse range of beers for every palate. Bear’s Beach Bum Tropical IPA is a balanced, fruity IPA, which successfully blends the traditional West Coast style with the newer New England style. An IPA that goes down smooth and is well suited to its beachy roots, Beach Bum is a great beer for any occasion.
Call for Comments
Have you encountered Jubilee Paige, or run any of her events? Tell us your memories of her!