[Author’s Note: This is the seventh 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.]
Libby Jones is the owner of and race director for The Active Joe, which produces six races annually in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex of Texas. The Active Joe, which is focused on the demographic of “the average joe” who gets active, was founded in 2010. The Active Joe has a strong focus on inclusivity and bringing diversity to race starting lines. Notably, The Active Joe is a longstanding sponsor of the Western States 100.
I recently sat down with Libby to talk about her work and races.
Andy Jones-Wilkins: How long have you been directing ultra/trail running events?
Libby Jones: I have been race directing for 17 years and started when I was just 26 years old, but those were all road races in the beginning. I started trail running myself in 2011, and in 2014, I decided I wanted to create a 100 miler at this beautiful trail system in Dallas. It was the first 100 miler in North Texas and after two years of tremendously unlucky torrential rain, I was struck with more bad luck – the venue came under a property dispute by multiple landowners only six weeks before the race.
I scrambled to find a course somewhere else that I could love and that’s how it became the Dinosaur Valley Endurance Run, which has a 100 miler, 100 kilometer, 50k, 25k, and 5 miler. I still produce road races, and I have a few other trail races too, but Dino Valley is my signature event in trail running.
AJW: What is the most satisfying aspect of your work as a race director?
Jones: Of course I want to say the smiles, the tears, and the pride of the runners at the finish line when they achieve some goal that I helped create the opportunity for them to pursue. But for me, I also do a lot of work in the field of inclusivity, diversity, and equity, and it feels wonderful hearing from people that the vibe at my races is all they hoped it could be. That they feel safe. That they feel like everyone truly wants them there. The trail running community as a whole is all about that, but we still have a lot of underrepresented groups in the trail world who want to feel like the space was created for them.
AJW: What makes running in Texas and the surrounding areas so unique and special?
Jones: People don’t expect us to have the beauty and vertical gain that we have at some of our trails here. I get surprised reactions each year since so many visit from out of state for the Dinosaur Valley races. “Texas is supposed to be flat.” They imagine prairie and ranch land. Instead, like I say on the website, the course is rolling hills, rocks, roots, and all together about 9,000 feet of elevation gain in the 100 miler!
We also have a large ultrarunning community, which I think at the national level still gets overlooked a lot. There are a lot of eyes on how big California and the U.S. Pacific Northwest are in ultrarunning and trail running, but there is a lot happening here. Dinosaur Valley wouldn’t be 600 runners if it wasn’t — and there are many Texas races put on by many race producers, and runners show up!
AJW: What are the three biggest challenges you face as a race director?
Jones: I think every race director should include in their list to answer the question of “expectation management.” I communicate a lot through the race websites, and I use our social media channels extensively. For Dinosaur Valley, I produce a 27-page runner manual with every diagram, map, and piece of information I can think of in one place. I’m big on personal responsibility for runners to know what they are getting into. I think as ultramarathon athletes, we are really good at strategizing, making plans, and having a plan B/C/D/E when things go awry, but that starts with knowing what to expect when you arrive at the race.
Misogyny and bigotry is another big challenge for me in particular. I am in a very conservative state, producing events where I am incredibly welcoming to diverse faces and experiences that can feel uncomfortable for some people. A lot of ultramarathons are produced by men with men in mind just naturally, because that’s their experience. Meanwhile, last year’s Dinosaur Valley 100 Mile finishers were 45% female, the 100k was 37% female, and the 50k was 42% female. In a world where most ultramarathons are about 20% female representation, this can create a very different feel at a race. I do encounter a lot of sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic comments, critiques, and pushback on a regular basis, but I feel strongly about the positive actions I take to bring underrepresented groups to the start line!
Finally, I would say the weather, of course! Over the years, I’ve dealt with hail, thunderstorms, flooding, drought conditions, record heat — we hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit in November for the 2017 Dino Valley — and tornado watches. You do the best you can, but ultimately that is one thing that is just out of our control!
AJW: What changes have you seen in the sport since you began directing events? Positive? Negative? Both?
Jones: On the positive side, there’s so much more awareness of trail running and of ultrarunning. Also, I was in the road world when we were still trying to get road half marathons to hit 50% female. And now we have more women showing up on trails, and it’s great to see that growth.
On the negative side, I’m uncomfortable with the increased large corporate ownership that companies like UTMB are bringing to race production. I feel like I watched this with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series on the road race directing side. And I have had a company come in and try to do my course at my venue six weeks before one of my road races. It feels like your hard work is swiped out from under you. I also don’t want us to lose the essence of the sport, which is about community and that personal touch. I also struggle to feel that the volume of runners I’m seeing put onto some singletrack trail by the largest corporate races can be good for that area’s trails and ecosystem.
AJW: What are you looking forward to most in the 2023 to 2024 event season?
Jones: Fingers crossed, I am hoping that the Dinosaur Valley Endurance Run will become a qualifying race for the Western States 100. I fell in love with the Western States 100 back in 2012 when I volunteered overnight in a wetsuit at Rucky Chucky, waist deep all night in the American River. So I got to see a high percentage of the runners that year, and I felt so inspired. My company, The Active Joe, came on as a Western States 100 sponsor in 2014, and I’ve now traveled from Dallas to attend the race for nine years. I’m also lucky enough to get to be one of the people onstage year after year at the lottery pulling names. So it would be a dream for the ultra I created and that I love to get to be a qualifier. The race has grown from 200 in all distances years ago to now 600 expected this year. We thought we were going to hit our goal last year, but we had unusually cold temperatures with overnight being below freezing, and it really hurt our finishers rate! Even if we meet the number of finishers we need, we won’t know until next September, but I am optimistic!
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lakewood Brewing Company in Dallas, Texas. Lakewood’s signature beer, The Temptress, a silky smooth Imperial Milk Stout, is a delicious chocolate and caramel flavor bomb that is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace on a chilly, late fall evening in the Texas Hill Country.
Call for Comments
You know what to do in the comments section! Leave your comments about your experiences with Libby Jones, The Active Joe, and Jones’ races.