Four things that make a great trail race

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

I did a trail race last weekend, one of my favorites that’s right in town. It’s the Snake Run, a unique race where you run as many miles as you can for either three or six hours. Winners are based on who covers the most ground on a winding loop through some of the mellower single track on Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Some people come out and really grind out a lot of miles (the gamesmanship with these folks is something to behold), while others grab a few loops, say hey to friends and have a mellower good time. All types are welcomed.

The passage of time sometimes makes it easy to forget why these smaller trail races are so great. I took some stock on that subject during this one. And after running for almost six hours, I had plenty of time to contemplate it. So here are some thoughts…

The race has to be interesting. People will come back to races that go through fantastic scenery, provide a great challenge or attract excellent competition. If you’re the type who wants — and finds — all three, you’ll probably mark that event on your calendar every year.

It has to be well-run. Problems with timing, course management, etc. are sure-fire ways to have people not return. If you have a race director who runs a tight ship, everyone is happy, the race gets a good reputation and more people come back year after year.

You have to have good aid stations. The best trail running aid stations are a sight to behold. Trail runners and ultra runners know what competitors want and need. You won’t see aid stations with only water, sports drinks and power gels. You’re going to see all kinds of salty, or sweet, and definitely tasty food choices to keep you powered through your run on a good trail race aid station. You might even see some beer or liquor, just to keep things interesting. At one aid station this weekend, a volunteer saw the salt lines on my tech shirt, snagged a salt tablet and made sure I downed it with some water. My friends, that’s how an aid station is done.

You’ve got to feel the love. This one is harder to nail down. But it starts at the top, from the RD to the volunteers, and to the runners themselves. Friendliness, encouragement, high-fives and good times when it’s over are what get people coming back for more. I’ve always got that at the Snake Run (runners, fast and slow, saying “good job!” or “nice going!” to each other as they passed by was frequent). On my last loop, me and a runner from Missouri chatted it up, and it made the pain subside for awhile. The trail running community is pretty awesome, and if you run the type of race that attracts these kind of folks, you’ll only build onto the sport.

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

So those are some of my ideas, and I can tell you that the Snake Run checks all the boxes for me. That’s why I’ve run it four years straight.

What makes a great trail race for you? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Bob Doucette

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