Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another One in the Bag

Race directing a trail ultra is much more akin to producing and directing a movie, rather than race directing a typical pavement foot race. Especially a "longish"ultra, of 50 miles or more. Believe me; I've done both.

First of all, you have a much longer "race-day timeline" to deal with. The logistics of finding volunteers for each spot is critical to a race's success. And with a 18-hour time limit (in the case of the Free State trail runs), you will not find volunteers (for the most part) that will "go the distance," and be out there for 18 or 20 hours straight. Well, luckily, I had some help this year, regarding volunteer coordination and logistics planning. Sophia Wharton stepped up to the plate and excelled at the job of co-race director. She not only found and filled the open shifts for the volunteers, but she helped me to focus on what I should be focusing on (on race day)...the runners.

For the two weeks leading up to the race, Sophia did everything from cranking-out directional signs and helping to mark the trail, to communicating with and rallying the volunteers. She definitely got the birds-eye view of what goes into a successful ultra trail race. And the questions...she asked questions like "why do we do it this way, or who's job is it to do this?" Her questions helped me to reassess my whole race directing process, especially since she usually had solutions in mind, when asking the questions. The long and the short of it is, this year's race was better-organized, coordinated, and executed, because of her presence. With Sophia as a co-Race Director, one plus one (definitely) equals seven! And the fun went on and on, for up to a week after the race. Our smallish apartment was turned into a race equipment and 5-gallon-water-jug cleaning station, and a race schwag laundromat (because EVERYTHING that was put into the truck was wet from our tornado-and-rainstorm-soaked raceday). Yet another reason why I absolutely love this woman!

Race Directors: Sophia & Ben (Photo by Brad Trimble)

Then there's Greg Burger: the man in charge of marking the course so well. Why didn't our Free State participants get lost? Because he has an intuitive knack for knowing where a newbie trailrunner might 2nd-guess themselves, and take a wrong turn. Sophia gained some knowledge here too, by helping Greg and by lining up volunteers (such as John King) to help Greg mark (and de-mark) the course. The Trail Nerds Marksmen, she called them. And de-marking the course...a job that usually took the better part of a week (for the past two years), was complete by 2:30 p.m., the day after the race!!! In fact, it was finished prior to the next storm moving in. Thanks to all of the Trail Nerds involved...Kurt Schueler, Greg, Kevin, Shane, Adam, Gabe, Darin and several others. By the way, we also had the nightmarish problem of having many flags taken down the night before the race by unknowing and clueless hikers. Sophia called Andy "Speedy Brew" Henshaw into action...he gladly ran the course and put flags back into place, right before the race.

Oh, and about the "tornado" that I mentioned. Weather-related issues are always an "issue" in Kansas, or at least on our (doppler) radar screen. Luckily, the marathon was completely finished and most of the 40-milers were done, prior to the 5 sets of tornado sirens going off. Check out my short race report, results, and other race reports on the Trail Nerds' blog. So add "tornado evacuation scenario" to the list of race directing worries for a 27-mile long race course (in the woods)! We had to make the decision to halt the race and get the participants off of the course. We had up to 80-MPH gusts of wind, heavy rain, and a lot of lightning. Our wooded course always has inherent danger from high winds (that can drop a tree or limb on somebody), and it also has at least two impassible streams on the trail during heavy rains and subsequent flooding. Of course, the lightning can be very dangerous, as well. In fact, one person (not in the race) was hit by lightning, just a short distance from the course. So with the NOAA information given (that yet another wall-cloud and storm system was headed our way), we stopped the race. It was the right decision.

During the storm, we had some real heros. The remote aid stations, staffed by KUS volunteers and the Nerds, had to communicate back and forth and to the main aid station. Phil Sheridan (AKA Mister KUS) decided to risk life & limb to sweep 10 miles of the course during the storm (between his aid station and the Nerd aid station). Stacy Sheridan said it was "okay" for him to do this! We also had people step-up to help pull runners off of the course, like Scott and Shannan (and many others).

In the meantime, Kyle & Stacey Amos had their hands full at the Nerds' "Lands End" aid station. They had some great help, from the likes of Caleb Chatfield, Andy Henshaw, and Rick Mayo. They all had to not only figure-out who was coming and going to their (complex) aid station / trail crossing, but try to think of safe places to send them.

We have the best volunteers in the world, and they worked extremely hard to make sure that everybody who could get off of the trails, safely did so. Other volunteers went above and beyond for this run: For instance my wonderful son, Matt; who worked like a red-headed version of a Nike Factory Worker, (as he usually does for his ol' man). Thanks, Matt!

Matt, Exchanging "volunteer wound" stories with Sophia. (Brad Trimble photo).

There was also Brett Hodges. He showed-up just at the times we needed him most, and for the worst possible jobs, like: taking care of runners late in the race, loading the truck up during a tornado, unloading the truck the day after the race (and drying-off crap), hauling trash, etcetera. Thanks, Brett!

Brett, Matt, Me at unloading/drying session.

Shelly Flones was incredible, too. She was there for the duration of race day, and did everything from selling Trail Nerd schwag, to taking care of runners and cooking.

We also had the "Manhattan Project" Team...Sean & Dave...who volunteered for about 10 hours straight at the main aid station, and took care of runners with their ultra-race-knowledge. Mary Ann and Heide were both awesome main-aid-station workers, as well. Race Volunteer Extraordinaire, Rick Hoopes was quite the help, when we needed him most.

And we had the KUS aid station team. Stacy Sheridan, Phil Sheridan, Randy Albrecht and team...they kept the Far End Runners going in the right direction: toward a healthy race finish.

Sorry, there are many others that I didn't mention, that put forth a great effort for the race. Thanks again for a great Free State Trail Run!

Happy trails,


Dick Ross' Photos (

Brad Trimble's Photos


Hui-Qing Yin (Photo by Dick Ross)

Emily "Mud Doc" Horn (Photo by Dick Ross)

Sloppy Runner (Photo by Dick Ross)

Sam & John (Photo by Dick Ross)

Danny Dehlin, winner 100K (Photo by Dick Ross)

Co-Race Director Sophia Wharton...loves taking care of runners. (Photo by Brad Trimble)