Author Archives: jdonnell

Race Sponsors

As some of my previous posts have hopefully conveyed, the expenses for putting a race together, especially one for ultramarathon distances, can be an expensive proposition. Unless you’re independently wealthy (and I don’t see Donald Trump as the race director type), you’ll likely need some help in the form of race sponsors.

For the first Rim To Rim Trail Run, my primary focus was on obtaining local sponsors. I certainly wasn’t going to turn down any major companies, but since this was an inaugural event with a cap of 200 runners I knew it wasn’t realistic to expect a large amount of support from the big players. That was okay with me, as I really wanted to work on emphasizing the local appeal of the event. Chico already has a lot of personality, and Bidwell Park is a great place to host a trail race, so highlighting local companies as sponsors was a natural fit.

My background is not in sales, marketing, or any other area that has given me a ton of practice cold calling businesses and negotiating deals. For any of you in the same boat, I have some good news: you’ll get plenty of practice once you decide to put on a race. Fortunately, dealing with smaller, local businesses is easy enough. The owners are just people, and are generally open to at least a conversation about becoming a race sponsor. Putting yourself out there still takes some getting used to for those of us that are a little more introverted, but all I can say is persevere. I had several folks who weren’t interested, but I never had anyone who was even the slightest bit rude about saying no.

When approaching local companies to be a race sponsor, finding the right time can take some work. As a race director, I’m ready for folks to commit as soon as possible. I want to know as far in advance as I can, since it helps me plan and budget. However, some small businesses are not in a position to plan nine to twelve months out, and if you try to get a commitment too early they will default to a “no” when they might really mean “I’m not sure yet”. Try to be flexible; put out feelers and don’t be afraid to ask early, but if you encounter resistance it’s okay to back off and wait a couple months before reaching out again.

Another lesson learned was to be specific, but not rigid, about what you are asking for from your sponsors. When I approached my first few, I did not have anything written up for different levels of sponsorship and what they could expect if they came onboard. I soon realized this was hampering my recruitment efforts, so I drew up a list of sponsor packages and put it on my race website. I don’t treat it as carved in stone, but it serves as a starting point for negotiations and helps set expectations for potential sponsors.

While I keep my focus on local race sponsors, it still doesn’t hurt to explore larger, corporate sponsor opportunities. Most of the familiar brands have a process for requesting sponsorship that involves filling out a web form, sending an email, or mailing a letter. I went ahead with all of those methods, but it didn’t generate any interest the first time around. I will go through the same routine for 2016, and we’ll see how that plays out. As with anything involving larger organizations, the best path is probably to know someone who works there; the inside track always helps.

The good news for year two is that I’ve now got a starting point; a list of sponsors who were at least willing to come on board once. This helps take the pressure off, at least for now. Time to limber up the phone dialing fingers and start again for 2016!

Race Insurance and Emergency Medical Services

Race insurance and emergency medical services are definitely not on the glamorous side of race direction. Just as with regular life, paying money for insurance is the least rewarding form of gambling. The last thing you want to do is “win”, since that means someone got hurt. So you’re left having to hope for a best-case scenario: that all the money you spend goes to waste. The key here, like much of life, is to try and approach things with a healthy dose of acceptance. It’s the price of doing business in the racing world.

There are many ways to get event insurance, but when it comes to running races the I found the most popular providers to be the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) and USA Track & Field (USATF). In my informal research, the RRCA seemed to be the more popular, but I found their website difficult to navigate when all I wanted to do was apply for event insurance. The USATF website is a little clunky, but it was straightforward to apply for Event Sanctioning. This sanctioning process includes obtaining insurance and agreeing to abide by some basic standards for your event. The price varies by region, but for me it was $150 and that includes a badge to display on your website and a listing of your event on their calendar.

If all I needed to spend was $150 to have my event covered, I wouldn’t complain at all. Pay a one-time fee, and you’re all set. Of course, there is a bit of a catch. Any running event needs some amount of medical staff available in case of emergencies. In the case of USATF sanctioning, it’s actually required; they will not issue the sanction until they verify that you have EMS coverage.

Since this was my first time needing emergency services on standby, I searched around on the internet. In some areas there are several companies, in others, like Chico, there is only one company that provides services. They do contract for events, and were available for my race day. However, because I needed them for about 12 hours, this was not cheap. In the end, I agreed to pony up and have the two EMTs and ambulance on-site for the full event.

What might I do differently for 2016? I am going to look in to having EMTs available without necessarily using an EMS company. If I were paying private parties, there would be less overhead for them and, presumably, a lower cost to me. The potential downside to this is insurance. With the EMS company, all the liability insurance for their employees is completely covered. I need to make sure that I don’t assume any liability if I have independent EMTs treating my runners.

For the 2015 Rim To Rim Trail Run, I’m happy to report that I made very little use of the available EMTs. While there were several incidents of scrapes and bruises from falls, one dislocated finger, and several folks with mild heat exhaustion, the majority of the runners crossed the finish line without incident. Even though it was hard to pay for the help, I was happy to have medical backup. For a rough and rugged course on a hot, humid day, it was worth paying for peace of mind.

And we’re back!

Rim To Rim 2015 Event Poster

Wow, that was quite a hiatus. Nobody wants to read a long post about not-posting, so let’s just say that starting a new job, going through a divorce, and putting on an inaugural ultramarathon make for a busy year! Something had to give, and unfortunately it was my blogging.

The good news is that the first ever Rim To Rim Trail Run actually happened, on June 6th of this year. I may not have been writing about it, but I was still working hard and things finally came together in a successful race. As much as I learned in the lead-up to the event, I learned even more on race day, and I’m looking forward to sharing all of it with you.


There are plenty of topics still on deck, including:

  • Insurance
  • Timing services
  • Sponsors
  • Volunteers
  • Race-day supplies
  • Course design and marking
  • and more…

Hopefully, all of this may be of some use to the internet at large, but I’ll be focused on updating things for selfish reasons as well. Since the response to my foray into race directing was largely positive, I’m going to do it all over again for 2016. These lessons learned aren’t just for some anonymous internet readers, they will also serve as my own memory joggers as I work to recall the long ago days of 12 months ago.

So welcome back to Race to the Rim, and stay tuned for more to come!

Hectic Holidays and Race Registration

I, like many folks I know, am annually in denial about how busy and hectic the holiday season truly is. Travel, family visits, shopping trips, school vacations, and holiday parties all conspire to make for a crazy four to five week stint starting in late November. As usual, I did not accomplish everything I would have liked for the last month. But it’s not all doom and gloom because I did cross a major milestone: race registration is now open! Seeing as I have finally made it over the registration hurdle, I decided now would be a good time to write up some of the things I’ve learned.

Choosing an an online registration service

While there is no shortage of options for online registration companies, I was able to narrow down my choices early in the process. There were three major players that I considered: Ultrasignup, Active, and Raceplanner.

Ultrasignup was an easy choice for consideration. They are the big name in ultramarathon and trail racing registration. If I’m looking for an ultra, that’s the first place I go. They also have a feature that tracks your results across all the races that Ultrasignup has on record and shows your relative ranking and projected times for new races. It’s not scientific, and sometime contentious, but it’s certainly fun and engaging. A strong choice all around.

Active is an online registration behemoth. If you more than a couple races in a year, chances are at least one of them is on Active. They get plenty of traffic, and folks searching for events are likely to come there. They also have help for race directors, a ton of additional marketing info, webinars, and other goodies. These were all decent perks for an inaugural event and novice race director like me.

Raceplanner is one of several smaller players in the online registration space. They don’t have the name recognition of the other two, but they have a solid history in the business and good list of clients, including a couple nationwide events like Girls on the Run. They also have one big advantage: they’re located right here in Chico, CA just a short drive away. A big goal for me with this event was making it a showcase for local businesses, so that last item weighed heavily in their favor.

How much does it cost? And who pays?

An important factor I didn’t mention above is the fee charged for using the service. These companies expect to be compensated, and the way that’s done is through a fee based on the price of your event registration. Active has the highest fees, coming in at 6.75% plus $1.25 per registration. Ultrasignup is a straight 6.25%, and Raceplanner is the lowest at 3.5% + $1.25. These fees aren’t astronomical, but they can be a bit galling to a runner. Which led to one more decision: should I absorb the service fee or pass it on during registration? Neither are ideal, but in the end I went with what seems to be the most common approach of passing the fees on to the participants. My race budget is a work in progress, but money is likely to be tight and passing on that fee gives me a lot more wiggle room for other race goodies.

Decision made

In the end, I decided to get the best aspects of all three options. For solid software, the support of a local business, and the lowest fees I went with Raceplanner for my official event registration. Even though I’m not using the Active registration service, I can still have my event listed on Active and available in search. Similarly, Ultrasignup provides an option to list an event without using their service (though their “price” is a free race entry) so I will be front and center for any ultrarunners searching for races next summer.

As I write this, I’m still waiting for my first official registration to come through. It’s exciting (and a little nerve wracking) but I’m happy with the choices made and I think Raceplanner will serve me well. What do you think? Check out the event registration page, or the Rim To Rim website, and let me know in the comments.

November Update

I’ve got a few specific posts I want to write about everything from recruiting sponsors, to timing services, to event insurance, but it’s been too long since I’ve posted here so I decided to start with a more general post to keep everyone up to date.

Since I secured the permit for my race, my first task was an update of the website. There’s still plenty to do there, but I’m happy with how things turned out and it will be easy to fine tune as things progress. I’m an information junkie, and whenever I’m interested in a race I love to get every last detail that’s available. While there’s always a danger of information overload when potential runners visit the site, I tried to strike a balance and organize things so that no one is forced to read everything on the site if they want to be a little more selective.

One important thing that’s missing right now is the ability for folks to register for the race; not a minor detail! That’s not an oversight on my part, and for now I did add an email field so anyone who is interested can sign up to be notified when registration opens. As I’m learning, most decisions to be made in preparing to put on a race have dependencies on other decisions. So, for instance, opening registration depends on setting up a fee structure for the different events. But the fee structure influences the race budget (I’ll do a future post on race budgeting as well). But some items on the race budget depend on getting quotes and deciding on service providers. And so on…

As much as I like to pretend I can know everything ahead of time and plan perfectly, I’ve eased up on my inner control freak and made some best guesses that have allowed me to set the race fees. (Full disclosure: I still used a spreadsheet to run scenarios for different attendance levels and fee structures. My inner control freak wasn’t totally ignored.) With that done, I’m looking to get registration open by the end of November. Early birds, take note!

Once I had the permit, I also felt comfortable moving into an active phase of recruiting sponsors. This is completely virgin territory for me. My work and life experience to date has not involved sales, promotions, or anything that requires this flavor of networking and recruitment. Moving out of the comfort zone is always a great opportunity for growth. And a great chance to flounder around learning as I go. I’ve started conversations with several local sponsors, and filled out a few online requests for some larger corporate brands, so stay tuned and I’ll write up my adventures in that arena.

There’s been an array of other items that have been fighting for attention: additional emails with the city trying to figure out insurance requirements, getting quotes from companies who provide race timing services, looking into renting emergency medical personnel, and figuring out a marketing plan, and recruiting volunteers. My intention is to share it all with you, plus the inevitable 37 other things that arise over the next several months.

Questions? Suggestions? Things you’d like to read more about? Leave a comment and let me know.

Creating A Race Website

After my long-awaited victory in getting a permit for my race, I had a new mission: an updated race website. I had previously put up a quick and dirty placeholder website, but that said little more than “Hey, a race is coming!” Before I could move forward with telling more of the world (like potential sponsors, volunteers, and participants), I wanted a more “real” web presence.

With that in mind, I would like to unveil the newly revamped Rim To Rim Trail Run race website. There is still work to do and some content to add, but all the building blocks are in place and anyone visiting the site should be able to get the majority of their questions answered. Please look around, I’d love to hear any and all feedback. And don’t hesitate to point out any errors or oversights. The earlier I get those fixed, the easier it is to pretend they never existed!

For anyone thinking about putting on their own event, I’d like to spend a little time on the specifics of my choices for the website itself; what platform I used, who I’m using for hosting, and what I like and dislike about my choices so far.

The blog you are currently reading is a WordPress blog, hosted and managed on itself. For other web properties I created, I’ve used for domain registration, hosting and website management. They have a variety of options, and I’ve explored two: Website Builder and Managed WordPress. So far, I’ve found GoDaddy to be a great one-stop solution for basic website needs, though it’s not without its pain points.

My background includes software engineering and website development, so I was of course tempted to create my own full website solution, utilizing a 3rd party like GoDaddy just for domain registration and maybe server hosting. However, my primary aim with this blog, my trail run coaching business, and the race website was not to make them a technology showcase. I wanted to focus on the business itself: blogging, race directing, coaching. The best way to accomplish this was to focus on finding helpful tools to help me create the content and get it out on the web. As a race director, I want to direct a race, not spend half my time coding and supporting a website.

I first tried out Website Builder for my coaching website, and was basically pleased. It is a very basic WYSIWIG website creation tool, focused on starting with a theme and editing the components (images, text blocks, etc.) exactly as you want them to appear on your website. I would recommend this solution, especially for users with a small number of pages and/or little to no technical background. There are definite limitations to the tool, and you don’t have direct access to the HTML and CSS for your site. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you don’t have any experience with the technology side of the web. You can get started with a year of Website Builder (including a free domain registration) for only $12, so if you’re considering this at all the barrier to entry is very low. One warning: because it is so inexpensive there are a lot of a la carte additions for making your website mobile-friendly, SEO help, etc. It’s still a reasonable cost, just something to be aware of.

For those with a little more patience, I would also recommend the Managed WordPress option on GoDaddy. That is what I ended up using for the Race To The Rim website. Even though WordPress is a blogging platform, it works just fine for creating static web pages, and there is a fantastic array of WordPress themes available for a small fee. There are also countless plug-ins designed to provide additional functionality to the basic WordPress installation. A couple of caveats: this is a hosted installation of the WordPress software and database. You shouldn’t have to do much with this, but it’s not as invisible as it would be with a blog on Also, regardless of hosting, WordPress has a ridiculously large number of menus and options. There are tutorials and videos to help you along, but there is a certain level of technical sophistication required to get the most out of the platform. The upside of that is you actually have options for customizing CSS, working with the HTML on your pages, and doing other, more advanced things with your site. If this doesn’t sound too daunting, you can also get Managed WordPress and a free domain for $12 a year. Again, very low risk for anyone wanting to experiment.

GoDaddy and WordPress are far from the only options out there, and I encourage any race directors to look around and find one that fits with your technical experience. In the end, the website platform is just a tool. As race directors, we want to get the message about our event out to the world. In 2014, having a website is a mandatory part of getting that message out. Find a tool that let’s you do that with a minimum of friction so you can focus on the rest of your (very long!) to-do list.

Have any thoughts on good/bad/interesting website tools for race directors? Let me know in the comments.

Adventures in Permitting – Success!

So if you’ve been following my Adventures in Permitting for the last 4 months, you know it’s been a lot of waiting with some bouts of work trying to get the permit for the Rim To Rim Trail Run approved. As of Monday, October 27, 2014 I can finally say that process is (more or less) done! The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission (BPPC) met and approved my permit, with some normal conditions about getting insurance and following park rules. It is an amazingly huge relief to have that hurdle cleared.

I haven’t written much about the work I had to do over the last couple weeks, so I’ll give you the full run-down now. My permit application had come under scrutiny from the parks department here in Chico for a couple of reasons. I am a first time race director and this is an inaugural event, so it is bound to attract some attention. I was originally slated to have my permit reviewed back in August, but the Natural Resource Manager for Bidwell Park (where the event will take place) wanted to get some specific questions answered. His schedule is apparently pretty impacted, so even though I’d responded to the questions via email, he was not able to meet in person before the September BPPC meeting. We scheduled a meeting for early October, and I went back to the waiting game.

On October 7th I got a chance to meet with the Natural Resource Manager as well as two park rangers to discuss my event. After some discussion, it became clear their chief concern was around the trails I was planning to use for part of the race, and the difficulty in accessing those trails in case of emergency. For me, this was frustrating since I run on those trails frequently, and it would be just as much of a hassle to get to me if I was injured by myself or as part of a race. However, it was clear to me that there would not be support for my event if the trail access issues were not addressed. Compromise was in order.

I have had a very clear idea of the route I wanted to take for this race, even well before I began the process of getting a permit and making it an official event. Finding out I needed to alter the course, and in a fairly fundamental way, was more than a little frustrating. I tried to remain positive about it, and set to work rerouting the course. I had already made a change to the route based on road closures, and while this would be more significant, I knew I could make the adjustments and still keep the spirit and soul of the event.

The day after meeting with the representatives from the park, I went out for a run, mapping some routes and figuring out mileage. I returned home and poured over the route information, adding mileage totals and putting the pieces together. A day later, I had the modified route proposal put together and sent out.

Fast-forward another two weeks to today. I sat in the City Council chambers as my permit was discussed. I answered a couple of questions about the route. And then, in a 5-minute master stroke of anticlimax, my permit was approved. Success!

Tonight I am celebrating. But now, of course, the real work begins. Securing insurance, finding sponsors, and marketing the event so I can get some actual runners are all on deck. I’ll be documenting  it every step of the way, so stay tuned here, and keep an eye on the Rim To Rim Trail Run website. There will be so much more to come!

Adventures in Permitting – Not This Month

I’ve written about the permitting process a few times now, and my last update had me going in for the permit review on September 29th. Alas, things have been delayed one more time.

I finally got a reply from the local parks department, and they had some additional questions they wanted to discuss before the actual permit review meeting. They’re willing to meet with me in person to talk through them, which is great, but that meeting won’t happen until October 7th. So… back to the waiting game. I will have the meeting on the 7th and, from there, I can get on the agenda for the monthly permit review in October, which will happen on the 27th.

Just to recap the timeline, my permit was submitted on June 20th, so that will be four months since my initial application. I want to highlight how long this process takes, so that anyone considering their own race allows plenty of time for the wheels of government to turn and process permits.

The recent cancellation of the Boulder Marathon due to permitting issues highlights how crucial it is to allow the necessary time and to actually follow through on permitting before you start collecting money from runners. I’ll continue to keep everyone up to date on how the process goes for me, and what I learn after my meeting with the city officials on October 7th. Wish me luck!

Squaw Lake Trail - Pine To Palm 100 2014

Race Report – 2014 Pine To Palm 100

So it’s been quiet on the blog posting front the last week or so as I got ready for my big race of the year: the Pine To Palm 100. This was my second running of the race, and last year I wrote about my 2013 run in some detail. I had struggled last year, but I did hold it together and finish. This year, with course knowledge in my back pocket, I was hoping to significantly better last year’s run and turn in a solid performance. And with my new efforts on creating my own race, I’d be able to get another round of lessons in what works and what doesn’t when putting on an ultramarathon.

Shirt - Pine To Palm 100 2014

The elevation profile of the Pine To Palm 100, screened on the back of our race shirts (click to zoom)

Runner’s Report

At the start of the Pine To Palm 100

Awake and (apparently) ready to go

After a fitful night’s camping, I woke up bright and early and made it to the starting line, once again depending on the dedicated crewing efforts of my girlfriend, Cara. It was the same pre-dawn chaos as last year as drivers and runners attempted to negotiate the narrow road that leads to the race start, just outside of Williams, Oregon. With a final countdown to 6:00 am, I was off for another run at the course.

The course was the same as previous years, which starts the race out with a 10 mile climb up to the top of Grayback Mountain. The conditions were different than last year though, due to a long-burning wildfire not too far over the border into California. The orange sunrise and dry, smoky air made for a surreal morning climb.

My pace for the first part of the course was perfect, in that I happened to be trucking along just ahead of Scott Dunlap, blogger extraordinaire over at A Trail Runner’s Blog. This was the equivalent to running with a celebrity for me, so I was pretty excited. He is also a master at photographing his runs on the go, and my spot on the trail let me sneak into a couple shots.

Climbing the Grayback Mountain Trail at the Pine to Palm 100

The morning climb up Grayback Mountain (photo by Scott Dunlap)

While my pace was perfect for getting my picture taken, it was a trifle faster than I should have been going first thing in the morning. I rolled in to the first real aid station, O’Brien Creek at mile 15, and stopped to fuel up.

O'Brien Creek Aid Station - Pine to Palm 100

All smiles at the aid station (photo by Scott Dunlap)

Unfortunately, once you drop down off the mountain the lower elevation road miles are a bit of a hot, smoky grind. It’s true that the smoke kept the temperature down (more on that later), but the trade-off was irritated lungs. I was very thankful for being able to run a stretch of it with another runner; a little distraction goes a long way. One by one the miles ticked off (as they always do), and I rolled into Seattle Bar at mile 28.

Seattle Bar aid station at Pine to Palm 100

Fresh shirt and ready to go(?) at Seattle Bar

Seattle Bar is crew-accessible, so I got to see Cara as well as Scott Dakof, a new trail running friend who was helping Cara crew until he stepped in to pace for me later in the race. It’s always a boost to see your crew, no two ways about it. Unfortunately, I was flagging a little bit already. I was doing fine with drinking water, but I simply was not doing a good enough job on taking in calories on the trail. Spoiler alert: that leads to problems.

Everyone who talks about Pine To Palm (including me last year) has plenty to say about the climb out of Seattle Bar to Stein Butte, but all you really need to know is that it’s mid-day, exposed, and relentlessly uphill for 6-7 miles. The forecast for this year was even warmer than last year, so everyone was extra nervous about this section. Thankfully, the blazing heat didn’t come to pass. Oh, it was still miserably hot… but the heavy, choking smoke did everyone a favor by keeping the direct sunlight down and the temperature a few degrees cooler. Alas, the smoke could not make the climbing any less steep, so it was still a burly hike up to the top.

After another uphill section, less steep, but still cruel after Stein Butte, runners are finally treated to a bit of shade and a long descent into the Squaw Lake aid station.

Trail to Squaw Lake - Pine to Palm 100 2014

Descending into Squaw Lake (photo by Tom Riley)

Once more, I was greeted by my crew and given words of encouragement to get me out for the 3 mile loop around the lake and back to the aid station.

Squaw Lake aid station - Pine To Palm 100 2014

Cara sporting a hat from the 2013 race as she keeps me on my feet

I was already down on nutrition, and it took me longer than I wanted to get going again out of the aid station. I knew from experience that there was a long, tough climb in between Squaw Lake and the next full aid station at Hanley Gap. That knowledge didn’t save me from bottoming out, for the second year in a row, at the halfway mark.

Runners roll into Hanley Gap at mile 50, and the halfway point in a 100 miler has proven a tough spot for me. There is absolutely no way you can sugarcoat it for yourself; you’re most definitely not “almost there”. And both years I let myself get behind on nutrition, compounding the mental exhaustion with low physical energy. I was, without a doubt, saved from a DNF by my crew. Cara and Scott got me to eat, then eat some more. Clothes were changed, and I was pampered in a way that would make most luxury spa customers envious. Pacing and crewing plans were changed, so Scott had to work out a ride with another crew while Cara gave a ride to another runner who was calling it a night. All of this magic happened around me while I sat in a chair looking shellshocked.

Hanley Gap aid station - Pine to Palm 100 2014

I demonstrate that it’s a very fine line between smiling and just clenching your teeth

Thanks to the heroic efforts of those around me, I was finally ushered out of Hanley Gap and sent up the road; destination: Dutchman Peak.  The approximately 14 miles from Hanley Gap to the top of Dutchman took somewhere around 172361872639 hours. Or maybe four. Either way, it was subjectively a long, long time. Compounding my general “this is hard” feeling were two concerns: the cut-off time and my long-suffering pacer. Dutchman Peak aid station requires you to be out and on the trail by 2:00 am, and I was on pace to arrive there sometime around 1:30. I hadn’t been getting any faster over the miles, so I was nervous about running late. I also knew my pacer Scott, who had taken a ride from Hanley Gap, would have been there for hours at this point, wondering if and when I would arrive. At some point I decided it was just plain unacceptable to miss the cut-off, dug deep, and managed to maintain my pace and reach the peak at about 1:15 am.

Dutchman Peak aid station - Pine to Palm 100 2014

Me at the Dutchman Peak aid station (more or less)

I don’t have a picture from the Dutchman Peak aid station, but the above image does a pretty good job at capturing the moment. I arrived, exhausted and dimwitted, and plunked down in a chair. Scott leapt into action, getting me food, drink, and a blanket and trying to assess my condition. I could have easily stayed there waaaaay too long, so it was really a good thing that I was so close to the cut-off. With no choice, I hauled myself to my feet after a paltry 30 minutes and we started off down the hill, hoping that Another One Bites The Dust playing on the aid station stereo as we left (no joke) wasn’t a bad omen.

I have read other race reports where runners rally and turn things around late in a long ultra. This has always seemed impossible, but with that much time on the trail, nothing is impossible. With the diligent care and feeding from Cara at Hanley Gap, and the morale boost from picking up Scott at Dutchman Peak, I was primed for a turn-around.

This was my first ultra with a pacer, and I can say I am unbelievably thankful I had a good one. Scott was consistent with a positive attitude, encouraging me to go just that little bit faster than I would have on my own, but not pushing me into anything unsustainable. Just as importantly, he was able to compensate for my big, obvious failing: not taking in enough nutrition on the go. Gently, but relentlessly, he kept my calorie intake up and it slowly began to pay dividends.

The run from Dutchman Peak to Long John Saddle in the early morning hours was challenging, but almost relaxing compared to the work getting up to Dutchman. It also helped that both he and I had run some of that section of the course while doing the SOB 50 mile just two months back. By the time the section was done I hadn’t made up a lot of time, but I hadn’t slowed down any and I was actually feeling mostly human. The long gentle up, then down on the logging road out of Long John was tough simply because I’d been on my feet for 23 hours, but it wasn’t the death march it had felt like the previous year. The moon was up and bright enough to even allow us to run by moonlight for a while, until the slowly rising sun made the sky light enough to see clearly and guide us in to the aid station at the Wagner Butte Trailhead.

Wagner Butte Aid Station - Pine to Palm 100 2014

My direction for this picture was to “look strong”… totally nailed it

Wagner Butte Trailhead aid station is, not shockingly, at the start of the Wagner Butte Trail. This is the race’s last big climb, taking the runners from 5,000 feet to just above 7,000 feet in just a couple miles on very, very tired legs. Since I’d been eating/force fed and I knew exactly how long and grueling the climb was and the sun was now up, this wasn’t as demoralizing as it sounds. It was just a steady, steady climb. My right knee was twinging, so I just kept my steps short and continued my march. Before I knew it I was doing the final, rocky scramble and retrieving my flag, ready to start the long descent.

The race ends with about 15 miles of downhill running. That’s a lot of downhill miles for abused and misused legs. Last year I was reduced to near tears during the last 10 miles, as each step sent waves of pain from my foot through every part of my leg up to my hip. This year felt like a miracle in comparison. I took the first few miles at a slower, steady pace, negotiating the last of the singletrack as I descended Wagner Butte. I hit the last aid station at mile 90, still distracted by last year’s pain. With some pacer-encouragement I found a steady pace… then a slightly faster pace… and then I held it. Suddenly, it felt good to be moving along at a pace that an observer would actually label as “running” rather than “zombie shuffle”.

I rolled through the water station at mile 96 for the final, steep descent into Ashland. This is about 3 miles of trail, followed by a mile of pavement. I ramped up my pace even more, flinging myself down the trail and around the turns, passing 4 or 5 other runners in the process. It felt like the last push in a much shorter race, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There was only one significant downside to my (relatively speaking) blistering finish. Cara, watching my timing and knowing how last year’s race played out, had not yet arrived at the finish line when I crossed it. I can’t complain about a solid run, but I’m sorry I got in before she was there to see it. Her crewing and support through the race made the whole thing possible, and the finish was very much her success as well.

In the end, I finished a full hour faster than last year: 29:27 instead of 30:29. It was substantially slower than I was hoping to go, but noticeably faster than last year. More important than that, I learned (again) some very important lessons about fueling on the run. I also got a chance to experience the miracles that can be worked by a good team, dedicated to getting their runner across the finish line.

Many thanks to Hal Koerner, the Race Director, as well as the countless aid station workers and other volunteers. I’m glad I was able to participate again in the Pine to Palm 100!

After the finish - Pine to Palm 100 2014

Resting at the finish line with my pacer, Scott (He’s just blinking, he hasn’t passed out… yet)

That’s a wrap for the race report itself. For those interested in my perspective as a would-be Race Director, read on…


Director’s Report

Anyone who puts on a point-to-point 100 mile race, like anyone who runs 100 miles, has to be ready for a long, grueling ride. There are an amazing amount of moving parts that all need to come together for the 48 hours from pre-race briefing to awards ceremony, and I’m impressed by anyone (Hal in this case) with the dedication to make it all happen. Running this race for the second time in two years provided plenty of opportunities to observe race direction at a grand scale.

I really like the option provided to camp at the same location where they do the pre-race dinner and briefing on Friday night. It’s primitive camping, so it’s not for everyone, but it gives people the option to stay very close to the course start and, even better, stay there for free. I won’t be able to do anything like this for my race, unfortunately, but it’s still a nice touch.

For course route and markings, Pine To Palm is a great race. The course covers a huge area, but the markings are consistent and well-placed. Even last year, when I was new to the course, I did not get lost nor was I ever worried I was off route for more than a couple minutes.

One of the things that drove me a little bonkers both last year and this year is the stated aid station mileage. From the comments I’ve heard from runners both years, this was a common issue. For multiple aid stations the mileage given on the website doesn’t match the mileage shown on a “next aid station in X miles” sign, and neither of them match the actual mileage. This isn’t a “you said 5 my GPS said 5.2!” situation, but differences of 1-2 miles in some cases. For a run like this there should be no question as to the mileage, and it should be published and consistent across all sources.

An area where Pine To Palm shines is the post-race ceremony. The race winners finish in sub-20 hours and the final runners come through sometime after 33 hours. With a large discrepancy, Hal does the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, right after the 34 hour mark. This ensures that the blazing fast winners and gutting it out back of the pack runners all get a chance to be together at the end. Hal also does more than just praise 1st place and move on. He makes it an interactive event, having everyone stand up and say their name and answer a question about the race. It gives a personal touch to the proceedings, helping to make the race a shared experience even after the fact. For my event, even though it’s only 50 miles, I’ve still wondered how to handle things post-race. There could easily be six hours between first and last place, and I don’t want any finishers to feel like they aren’t a part of the event. I don’t know that I can replicate Pine To Palm, but it will certainly serve as an inspiration to be as inclusive as possible.

I’m lucky to have had another chance to see a huge ultra unfold first-hand. I can’t wait to take all I’ve learned and apply it next summer. Now if I can just get them to wrap up the permitting approval

Trail Run With Jason

While I wait for my permit application approval, I’m continuing to work on finding new ways to engage with the running community in Chico and worldwide. I also want to help others excel in the wonderful, rugged world of trial running. To that end, I am now offering trail run coaching services for local and clients alike. I offer coaching and training schedules for everything from a 5k to an ultramarathon, and everything in between. Come check out all I have to offer at Trail Run With Jason today!