Author Alison Gittelman runs the BYB. Photo by Brian Knight
Three minutes before the race is due to start, Backyard Burn Race Director Jim Harman jumps on the back of a pickup truck parked in front of 350 runners, bullhorn in hand. Having run the course that morning, he reports on the trail conditions—which might be “gnarly” or “sick,” but are always “awesome.”
Spring 2013 marks the 10th Anniversary of EX2 Adventures’ Backyard Burn (BYB) Trail Race Series. Ten years ago, looking to reach a new group of athletes and expand a calendar consisting of one adventure race and three mountain bike races, Harman created the BYB. Despite EX2 doing very little advertising, every race has sold out for the past five years—and for good reason.
Each spring and fall, the BYB offers 5- and 10-mile races in five Northern Virginia parks—Wakefield in Annandale, Hemlock in Clifton, Prince William Forest in Triangle, Fountainhead in Fairfax Station (arguably the most challenging course) and Laurel Hill in Lorton. The courses, with their stream-crossings, hills, natural obstacles (usually fallen trees) and twisty singletrack, offer a variety of challenges for seasoned trail runners as well as first timers looking for shorter trail distances on which to test themselves.
How does Harman explain the success of the BYB? In an area with no shortage of races, both on road and trail, he believes that “people come back because we’re consistent. Returning racers know they are going to get a challenging, fun, friendly and professionally produced race, every time.” Harman and his crew pay close attention to the details, including creating a much-appreciated “prologue” loop. Wider than the rest of the course, it allows runners to organize themselves by pace before the singletrack begins and passing becomes more difficult.
The format of the BYB hasn’t changed much in 10 years: the courses, which comprise approximate five-mile loops (what your Garmin says doesn’t matter), are thoughtfully laid out and well marked. Volunteers earn discounts on future EX2 races. A fabulous post-race party typically includes pizza, massage and an awards ceremony where fun and humor take center stage—always worth sticking around for.
The top-five finishers in 10-year age categories receive pint glass awards but no cash, because, says Harman, “This would attract racers looking to cash in and would change the vibe of EX2 races.” He values recognition and prides his series on offering uncharacteristic podium spots to fourth- and fifth-place finishers, too. Friendly contests (pushups, sprint races, guess a number) also allow participants compete to win random prizes: sponsor giveaways, iPods or even a $100 bill. Fun, as always, is at the heart of it all.
For more information about the BYB and EX2 Adventures’ mountain-bike and adventure races and off-road triathlons/duathlons, visit www.ex2adventures.com.
Alison Gittelman is a freelance writer and editor and an RRCA-certified coach from South Riding, Virginia. She is a huge fan of mud, singletrack and water crossings and writes about running and triathlon on her website: http://racingtales.com.