05 March 2014

RD Thoughts - Addendum to H1 Race Report

Original logo or map of CM50

With the race finally over, I can't help but post this addendum to my 2014 race report. For purposes of this discussion, reference will be made to other popular 100-mile races like Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), Western States 100-mile Endurance Run (WS100), etc., both of which I was lucky to have participated in. The end goal of this post being to contribute to the further success of our local ultra trail races. So all constructive contributions here.
I have posted in FB why is it that UTMB is hugely popular among ultrarunners from all over the world given it has equally tough terrain and elevation to contend with like H1?   

The obvious answers are fantastic out-of-this-world views of Mont Blanc or alpine terrain, world-class organization and sponsors, ease of registration, impeccable trail markings, immense support of local community from France, Italy to Switzerland, good loot, accessibility, wide choices for accommodation, tourist-friendly, among others. Among these factors, the terrain (elevation, etc.) on which the race is held is more or less a fixed feature, and thus, a significant consideration when planning to hold a race. It is fixed simply because the organizer cannot alter or modify what Nature has created. For trail races, the terrain should offer a fantastic view of the surrounding vista, existing trail path (technical or not), varied flora and fauna and weather which are totally opposite of road races. Although, some road races do offer fantastic views as well.

The rest of the factors or elements listed above are some things on which significant improvements can be made by the race organizer. While ease of registration, trail markings and good loot are totally in the hands of the organizer, the other factors take time to develop. One of these is community support. I have personally witnessed how locals go out of their way to volunteer whether individually or as a group (mostly runners) year after year in a race, cheer on the runners even in the dead of the night, to offer their medical services, security or other technical expertise relevant to the race and beneficial to the runners. Even local leaders I reckon take interest in these races because of the huge economic impact to their constituents. Imagine hundreds or even thousands of runners flocking to a small town or locality to participate in a race! This phenomenon creates a domino effect from food, transportation to hotel establishments. It is tourism at its best. For instance, Chamonix, France is just a small local ski resort and yet during UTMB, it attracts 5,000 or more runners whose needs the community must support and sustain. Those are just runners. You have to account also their family members, friends, supporters and/or teammates. Also, hugely popular marathon races like New York, Boston, etc. which attract 50,000 or more runners! Wow, I can't even begin to imagine. Normally, when a runner plans to travel abroad for a race, she or he normally plans to extend her/his stay so she/he can spend more days to recover and check out the place. It only makes sense and thus, further contributes economically to the locality.

Another consideration is the "tourist-friendly" factor. If I were to travel for several hundreds or even thousands of miles across the globe for a hard ultra race (100 miles for instance), I'd want some of my basic needs to be met satisfactorily. I mean, if I were to spend several hard-earned money, I would want to spend it wisely on stuff that will cater to my needs as a runner. Facilities like hotels or low-cost but comfortable accommodations must be in place. Restaurants that cater to the needs of athletes and thus should offer healthy yet reasonably-priced food. If it is a mecca destination race, you might want sports stores to be in there as well to take care of the gear and technical needs of the runners. These facilities take time to develop because they require investment and the prospect of good ROI for business peeps. In fine, the psychology for me here is that the the difficulty of the actual race itself must somehow be compensated or offset by the comfort or ease of race-related facilities, before and after the race. Sort of a reward for the hard effort one puts in for the race. So the misery is offset by the beauty of the place or community perhaps or the tourism the country offers. Being able to roam around post-race to check out other interesting places is indeed a bonus.

Having raced in both ends of the spectrum, there seems to be a direct correlation between races held in developed and developing countries in terms of how well organized they are. In developed countries, you will hardly hear reports of trail markers being removed by the locals, who seem to have passion for, take interest in and have a stake in the race itself. In other words, they take pride in it. Transportation is not a problem. These countries offer varied and cheap, public transportation  which in fact help to contribute to the level of comfort and peace of mind of the runners. Inexpensive hotels and restaurants, security and other hosts of desirable amenities are evidently in place as well.

Areas in which I think our local race organizers need to focus on is not just on the conduct of the race itself. The pre-race and post-race stages as well are very important. We need to be attentive to the needs of runners. Unfortunately, to a certain degree, these are the areas in which we are almost entirely dependent on what the local community or our country, in general, offers. As organizers, we cannot build infrastructures like roads, highways, bridges, additional airports or supports facilities or services like hotels, restaurants, groceries, cheap public transportation, sports shops, etc, etc.

different color
Instead of lamenting or pre-occupying our minds on things that we do not have yet to further cater to the needs of the runners, we might as well focus on the things we have control of. To begin with, our local ultra trails races like H1 or CM50 are small races. Our primary advantage is that we, as organizers, have the opportunity to get to know more of each runner whether from overseas or local. This is so because we are involved in every aspect of the race starting from race-related inquiries months before the event, promotion, registration, pre-race briefing, during race itself and post-race. We are hands-on. We are not only close to runners but to a certain extent, with sponsors as well. In sum, we provide a certain level of comfort or attention to runners unlike in other big popular races abroad where, for instance, you don't know who you are talking to at the other end of the e-line (which is of course not at all entirely wrong). Personally, I answer each and every email or SMS or phone inquiry of every runner even where or how busy I am. Truth be told, I find a distinct satisfaction in that. We are of course not deluded into thinking that our local races cannot accommodate further improvement. On the contrary. We still have a long way to go and we are getting there gradually. Our local ultras are still in its infancy stage if one compares it to other ultras abroad that have been around for more than 30 years!     

At the end of the day, we, as race organizers, offer not just race experience to runners. In its most basic concept, we provide the "trail" to share the same PASSION for running with them. That my friend is the bottom line.

While I have a natural propensity to join races abroad because of their popularity, scenery, difficulty (or opposite of it) or opportunity (because the race happens to coincide with work, seminar or business meeting abroad), I will still be drawn to local ultra races. The obvious reasons are economic and local comfort. Personally, they offer the most basic, primal challenges to runners. Hardcore 100 Miles Ultramarathon (H1) is a stand-out example. That race will test every fiber of any ultrarunner. It is like going through a pilgrimage or baptism of fire  where your belief in oneself should be solid and pure, your self-sufficiency is well-developed, have enough experience (ergo, the term "post-graduate" race), and your desire to conquer the ruggedness and rawness of the course and terrain is unwavering. To think and admittedly Kayapa does not have or offer world-class facilities to add another level of comfort to runners unlike in other ultras abroad where they are being held. Simple amenities. Another factor that adds to the primal appeal and experience of H1 is the remoteness of the course where one needs to be very very comfortable running alone for several hours on end even in the darkness and coldness of the night. That takes a higher level of maturity, patience, focus and independence. In UTMB, I found it amusing that you will always be running with another runner. You'd always have a company who could be your fellow Pinoy, and after several hours, a Japanese and then later on a Brazilian or Italian. This is not the case during H1 where one has to be prepared and comfy to be alone and in a way, should be able to learn to fend for himself. H1, in a way, is a reflection of life in its challenging stages. So you want an ultra race that will challenge you like no other and take you to another level? Take on H1 then but I cannot guarantee the outcome. But from a purist point of view, H1 is the local race to gauge oneself. The term "Sparta(n)" seems apt.

This should not be construed as a way of unduly patronizing H1 because of the generosity of and I know the RD himself. Honestly, H1 and all other local trail ultras here (CM50 is not an exception) need to evolve and incorporate some improvements. We have still a big job to do.

When all things are said and done, I just hope the local ultrarunning community will continue to support each other and local races and be an active participants in races whether as runners or volunteers. Also, to call the attention of the RDs to what they think and feel should be done. In return, the RDs to listen and feel the pulse of the ultra community because that is the only way to move forward. Come to think of it, we are not doing this for the present generation. We are in fact gradually but steadily laying the foundation for the next ultra generation (hopefully our kids!).

Jon (preparing for CM50 race series as early as now)


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