Putting a Cap on Trail Races
I will never forget the day that I found out about ultra marathons. It was a summer day in 2010 and I felt like I had discovered something that was unknown to everyone else.
I remember the process clearly – signing up online, buying my first pair of trail shoes and finally, the day when I picked up my race package and laid my gear out in preparation for the next day.
I remember being shocked by the amount of people racing the chilly morning of the event and even more shocked when I experienced a bottle neck at the trail head in the first 5 to 10 minutes of the race. It didn’t last long, but it was irritating and uncomfortable to me, especially as the main reason why I switched from road racing to trail ultras was to compete with less people.
Since my ultra debut in 2010, the ultra-marathoning sport has boomed and there are more people on the trail than ever before. Part of me wishes I could keep the sport contained, like an athletic hipster claiming I loved it before it was cool, but then there is always the other side – remembering the absolute joy I felt crossing the finish line of my first ultra and wishing it upon everyone who wants to try!
The reality is, a sport this incredible will only continue to grow, which leaves race directors tackling questions of whether or not they will put limits on races to prevent over crowding. And then the question becomes how to implement those limits – A lottery? First come first serve? A mixture of the two?
I am seeing more and more races instigating a cap on their event and I think this is the best route to go. From a marketing side, it helps to keep the race relevant and add a sense of urgency to the event. From an event management side, it keeps people signing up in decent time. From an environmental side, it ensures that fewer people trample the trail and cause less damage on surrounding plants and wild life.Implementing the limits comes from personal preference of mine – I like the first come, first serve mentality. This mentality allows first timers to ensure that they can run the race the first time if they sign up within the timeline and helps bring in a crop of new racers year after year.
I think it is important to understand the amount of traffic that a trail can safely handle without making it an uncomfortable run for racers and to ensure that environmental pressures are at a minimum. I would be content waiting an extra year for a race that I was not able to get into, rather than racing in a too-crowded environment.
It will be interesting to watch as the sport evolves to see how the races handle an increase of traffic to the more popular events. I, for one, will continue on my quest to find the more obscure, extreme and unusual races in the mix to keep traffic low and insanity high.
Do you think there should be a cap for trail races?