At No Cost
What it takes to host an unsanctioned trail race
Illustration by Meg Bisharat
A chunk of discontents look at today’s race fees with disgust. $25 for a 5K? A $300 marathon? I get it: insurance, course markings and, for all that’s holy, GU. But the spirit of racing has been thrust to the margin, pricing folks like me away. Now what? Do what I did: host your own.
I had two days.
Friday the 13th, I scrambled. I wondered if I should use Pearl Izumi’s site for my race because they harbor the same spirit: “Running. What was once a bona fide sport now more closely resembles a corporate-sponsored exercise class.”
Pearl Izumi’s Cassie King said, “At Pearl, we’re big supporters of real runners and racing. With the growth of 5Ks and Turkey Trots a lot of people are frustrated. Some people want to avoid race fees and get back to what racing is about and that’s racing.”
Even Strava.com hopped aboard. Using their GPS-driven training tracking software, you post times to leader boards thus enabling users to “race.” They largely accommodate cyclists, but have since recruited runners.
While both apps look inviting, I chose to do it alone, much like Neal Beidleman did in 1984 when he started the Basic Boulder Mountain Marathon in Boulder, Colorado. It didn’t take long before a couple dozen runners blew up to a couple hundred.
“I wanted to get out of bed, start at my front door and end at my front door,” Beidleman said of his idea to start the race.
This rebellion embeds itself into the fabric of the trails. “Fact is, trail running is an extension of free will,” said Beidleman. “It’s anti-establishment, you and the trail. The nature of unsanctioned racing is in line with the spirit of trail running.”
I live near a gnarly trail network in Saratoga Springs, New York. The rocks and roots would challenge Lolo Jones.
I leaned on the runners I knew from the local specialty running shops. I texted, I called and I created a Facebook event. I received a “Mmmaybe,” which meant no, and then Ken Little replied. ... Ken looks like Michelangelo’s David in split shorts and hungers for competition (he once challenged me to see how fast we could screw spikes into a pair of Nike Victories).
I contacted Alex Paley, a string bean who wins road races all over the Capital Region. He shared the race on Facebook.
I messaged Renee Tolan, a zipster who promised to bring company.
In 24 hours, nine committed. Now to map a course.