Too Many Runners on the Trails? - Page 2
Think About Next Year
Fortunately, I don't think we’re powerless against the overcrowding problem. The solution isn’t a particularly complicated one, and it helps overcome other potential overcrowding issues beyond just the impact on obtaining land use permits (including the quality of the racing experience):
“When planning for this year’s race, think about next year’s race too.”
That’s it. Just think beyond today and act accordingly.
Small local race directors probably have this notion as one of their primary focuses already. The public permitting process is often a tough one, so a new race RD will certainly keep the participation numbers modest and reasonable, and seek to involve the local community in a positive way (perhaps through fundraising or other connections), in order to make it easier to get a permit again next year.
More established mid-tier races might have an easier time when it comes to permitting since they’ve been through it before and they’ve made the personal connections with land managers, but the RDs must still consider next year’s race. Remember that overcrowding isn’t just runners on the trails; there are also issues with how spectators and crews will impact the trail resources. For example, how are parking and traffic issues being handled? (It might only take a handful of complaints from other trail users that they were turned away from a trailhead for lack of parking before the permitting process becomes more difficult next year.) Would a shuttle system help keep some parking spots open for other trail users on the day of the race?
Finally, what about the top-tier race organizations that appear to value event profits above all else? Even they’d be smart to look towards future year’s races when planning this year’s event. If a race director’s primary motivation is making money, it’d be silly to milk their cash cow dry this year if it comes at the expense of significant future income. Their race might be particularly profitable this year, but if it puts an acute stress on the host town then the town might decide that it’s not worth supporting next year. Every host community has its breaking point; push things beyond that point with overcrowding and the permitting process next year might be contentious—and the cash flow suffers.
The Real Overcrowding Problem Isn’t Just What We Runners Experience
It’s easy to think of the overcrowding issue in terms of how it affects our own individual race experiences. Tales of depleted aid stations, impossible crew access, general race-day confusion and disorganization and inconsistent application of race rules and cutoff times can be extremely frustrating, and quickly have us all shouting “something’s got to change!”
But focusing on how race crowding impacts us racers ignores the bigger issue of overcrowding—namely, how it affects the other trail users and surrounding communities. If races aren’t sensitive to these issues then it’s quite possible that future race permits won’t be issued. And then we won’t have to worry about the quality of our race experience because there won’t be a race to run.
Jake Wyatt is a recovering attorney currently studying to become a massage therapist. He resides with his family (and pug Charlie) in Longmont, Colorado. Find his blog, Sometimes I Run, here.