Thursday, November 12, 2015

Official Bigfoot 200 Mile Endurance Run Race Trailer

As the weather turns cold, wet and snowy in the Pacific Northwest, we can sit back and enjoy this new trailer for the Bigfoot 200! Happy trails!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why 200 mile Athletes Do Not Quit

Koichi Takeshi is greeted enthusiastically at the finish of the 2015 Bigfoot 200. His 2nd Destination Trail
200miler, he has the notoriety of being the last finisher (making the final cut off time by just 4 seconds!) of
the inaugural Tahoe 200 (2014). Photo by Howie Stern. 
Here I attempt to answer the question that so many ask when they hear how high our finish rates are as well as going in depth into why I think some races have low finish rates. First I will explain why I think we have a high finish rate. Second, I will explain what I feel are the common causes of a low finish rate in ultra marathons.
Kerry Winston Ward insisted we do a yoga pose at the finish of the
2015 BF200. That's after running 203.8 miles. 
200 mile runners bond during the year through social media and then
on their long journey during the race. When you feel connected, you
have more fun and are less likely to quit. Photo by Howie Stern
Are 200s harder than 100s? This is impossible to say for sure, but my experience is that 200s are harder. There are more variables and more things that can go wrong. Like any distance when compared in toughness to another distance - it really depends on the athlete's approach to the race, preparation and abilities in regards to said race, and less about the race itself, assuming the event is well organized. That being said, some races have obvious and gaping problems that will create artificially low finish rates despite athlete's preparations.

Why do Destination Trail​ 200 milers have such a high finish rate? We have a 77% finisher rate for Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run​ and an 85% finisher rate for the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run​.

1. Commitment: Athletes who have committed to this distance commit overall more than any other distance of shorter length. Let me explain: In general, these athletes put more into training, train longer in general, invest more money into gear, entry fees, training races, travel expenses and even coaching, in some cases than 100 mile racers.
Koichi Takeishi, finisher of the Bigfoot 200 2015, traveled all the way from Japan!
2. Finishing a 200 is a Big Freaking Deal: Many of us have finished a 100, but how many have finished a 200? 200s are still at their inception. When someone signs up for one, it's so new and epic that there is extra reason to finish, to distinguish oneself, to not let down crew/family/friends who have also invested more time and funds into the event. You have more to lose if you quit the longer the race, and more to win, if you finish.
Geoff Quick coming down the final stretch of the Bigfoot 200, 2015 by Howie Stern
3. A Different Kind of Athlete, the Risk Taker: The kind of athlete who signs up for a 200 right now is unique even in the sport of ultra running. They are willing to put adventure ahead of competing in a more historical or commonplace ultra like Western States or another iconic race. Not to say that the runner who signs up for a 200 doesn't want to run one of these more established races, but they are willing to take a risk on a new adventure, rather than a tried and true one. So when things come up in the race as they always do, they don't easily quit, after all they have proven themselves to be bigger risk takers than other ultra runners by signing up in the first place.
Bull Dozier running the inaugural Tahoe 200 (2014). Dozier is in the running for the
world record this year for the most 200 mile events completed in one year.
Photo by Scott Rokis.
4. Good Race Organization & Markings: We have impeccable course markings (except for a few cases of vandalism), excellent aid & lots of real food, amazing volunteers, and great organization. I have an entire team of people that help me organize from Logistics,to Volunteers to Communication to Medical. Details are important to us. We design the race to get as many finishers as we can by having a 28+ page runner's manual, providing all the aid we promised and having good medical support. One more thing to add: when the course is all original, no multiple loops or major out-and -backs, runners (no matter how tired & sore) still want to see the rest of the course, it's that cool! When you are required to repeat parts of a course you've already done, it's much harder mentally to continue on.
Tina Ure holds a Bigfoot finisher glass after her 3rd place finish, 2015.
Photo by Howie Stern
5. Fair Cut off Times & Time to Sleep: When you have to rush to make cut off times, your will to finish will slowly dwindle away or you may miss a cut off time and have to drop out. The Tahoe 200 & Bigfoot 200 rarely have to cut runners off. We have sleep stations. Sleeping really rejuvenates your body and mind. Sleeping is not so much an option for most runners in a 100 mile race as there just isn't as much time and rarely, if ever are their accommodations to sleep in a 100.

Photo Howie Stern
6. Community Feel: 200 mile runners bond during the year through social media and at training races they do in preparation for the 200. Many of these athletes do multiple 200s and meet other people doing the same. During the event, many athletes end up teaming up and running large sections together (even the entire race in some cases!). This sense of community keeps runners going. When you have fun and support you are less likely to quit.
Bigfoot 200, 2015, Photo: Howie Stern
Now we have an idea of why some 200s have a higher than average finish rate. Why do some races have such low finish rates? I'm going to go over a few of the main factors I see in low finish rates in 100 mile and longer events:

1. Extreme Weather: Extreme hot, cold, wet, mud... any of these things can cause a low finish rate as they tend to be unexpected and difficult to train for. These factors can also make a race dangerous...fatally so. So quitting may be the best option.

2. Poor Course Markings: You all know the feeling of getting off course, running a couple extra miles (or more!) and your spirit is crushed. Sure, you're running an ultra, but you didn't expect to get off course. If you are afraid markings are going to be bad later on too, you might just quit fearing that you will continue to get lost.

3. Bad Race Organization: Serious danger can arise when a race does not provide what they said they would provide, whether it is a lack of aid stations, missing water stations, certain kind of course markings, or if the distance of the race is longer than advertised. This is unfortunately more common that one might expect. All Race Directors make mistakes, and sometimes trucks break down and aid stations cannot be delivered or other hard to control circumstances, however emergencies should happen few and far between and race's should have controls in place so that major problems are minimized.

4. Race Courses with a multi-loop layout or many out and backs: It's easier to keep going in a race when you're excited about what is coming up, when the adventure of new terrain is there. HURT 100 is a very well organized event. They have a low finish rate I'd attribute to the brutal nature of the five 20 mile loop set up. It's mentally really tough to keep doing these loops when you know how hard they are and you have already experienced them.

5. Lack of Qualification Standards: I see nothing wrong with this necessarily, but when runners have fewer experiences that match what they are coming up to in a race, they may be less prepared. This is debatable, as I see many runners who even finish my 200s that wouldn't be traditionally qualified. The difference is that I still require the "non-traditionally qualified applicants" to send me an essay explaining why they feel that they are qualified. This task in itself I'm sure weeds out many folks who aren't totally committed to the race, so it serves its purpose.

6. Tough Cut Off Times: Speaks for itself. Some races have cut off times more geared for the faster runners. These races will have lower finish rates, inevitably.

* Note on DNFing, quitting, and missing cut offs: There is a time to continue on and finish and suck it up. There is a time to quit. Either way, I respect each runner's decision to DNF. We must all follow our heart and make the best decision we can. A DNF does not mean we failed. It is a unique experience and deserves to be recognized as such. I have DNF'd my fair share of times... for good reasons and for poor ones. No judgement here. Read my humorous write up on 10 Reasons to DNF an Ultra Marathon if you need a laugh.

Comments: Please add what you thing helps or hinders finish rates in 100s and 200s. Do you know of any resources that document finish rates of various ultra distance events? Please comment and let me know what you think!
The ecstasy of the finish, celebrating with family and crew, Tahoe 200, 2014.
Photo Scott Rokis
Last finisher in the BF200 this year was escorted through the finish by Bigfoot himself.
Photo Howie Stern
Photo: Howie Stern

Buckles are all handmade and each one is unique. Photo: Howie Stern
Photo: Howie Stern

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What company do you work for?

I get asked this question all the time. As many of you know, I am the race director of the first two non-repetitive 200s in the US, the Bigfoot 200 & the Tahoe 200. These races are such an extreme distance that many people are understandably shocked. Usually when people hear the distance, they want to know, What company do I work for? At first, I found this question amusing and enjoying the surprise I saw on their face when I told them, "My own," it did not bother me to be asked. As time has passed, however, the novelty of giving my answer has worn off. I wonder why people would be surprised that I would be the one to create these races? Is it that I am a girl? Or that I seem more like a trail running dirtbag than a CEO? Or is it that the distance of these races is so great that it must take an entire Board of Directors & company to create and execute them?
Fastpacking the Bigfoot 200 course
Truth is, I've always worked for myself. I just happen to be someone who makes my own work. Part of this comes from a desire to set my own schedule, the other part comes from an inability to do anything I am not passionate about. The latter of which has caused me some pain and suffering despite its idealistic sound. Shouldn't we all aspire to only doing what we are passionate about? When you cannot tolerate doing normal, everyday kind of shit, it's hard to feel settled. When passion must fuel your work, it's difficult to fit in, impossible to work for anyone else, and it is hard to even do the monotonous work you need to do on daily basis.

To illustrate how my passion fuels my work, let me explain how I created the Bigfoot 200 in less than a month. Last year (September 2014) I had never run or explored any of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where the Bigfoot 200 is located. Less than a month after visiting Mt. St. Helens for the first time, I turned in a 15 page permit application for the 2015 Bigfoot 200, a point-to-point 200 mile footrace that would be the first of it's kind in the world. During that time I fast packed 200 miles of the course (part of which would change as the permit was finalized), mapped the route and created a 28 page Runner's Manual for the event. It was a whirlwind of excitement and things moved very quickly as they do when an idea is supposed to become reality.
Mt. Adams, one of the many volcanos on the Bigfoot 200 course
Less than a year later, my crew of organizers and I were organizing the first point to point 200 mile footrace in the USA. It was also the biggest one in 2015 with 79 runners at the start line. Amazingly, we had a 77% finish rate and 69 of those 79 runners finished. I can only thank my numerous volunteers, my volunteer & logistics Coordinator, my medical team, finish line coordinator and many more key people who together created quite the incredible, fun, and challenging event. See photos from the event.

The Tahoe 200, a single loop that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe was also created almost identically to the Bigfoot 200: a gust of inspiration made me believe I could map out this dream race course, get permits, and pull it off. The difference with Tahoe was that I was familiar with many of those trails ahead of time, it just took a couple years to realize I could actually pull the race off. In an almost identical timeframe to the Bigfoot 200's creation I mapped the route, made the Runner's Manual, and presented the event to the world. In January of 2014 when registration for the first Tahoe 200 opened, I had almost 200 applicants. The race hosted runners from 10 countries and 28 states. It was an exciting time!
Last minute words of encouragement for the runners before they embarked on the inaugural Tahoe 200.
When people ask me who I work for, I really should say I work for you. The person who dreams big, who wants an adventure of epic proportions, who wants to move into the extraordinary. I believe an event can do this if it's created right, if within its framework the artistry of nature and weather is highlighted, with all the support promised, more information that you'd care to ever read, and a desire by the race management to improve each year. This is what I promise to bring to the table.

I'd like to at this point to highlight some of the differences between my two 200 mile races. They are so different, it's hard to explain in a short summary, but I'll try! Oh and before I close, do stay tuned, I have many more adventures up my sleeve. Or maybe they are blowing in the wind on their way to me!
Photo: Howie Stern Photography
Description: Terrain varies considerably in this point to point adventure in the Cascade Mountains: volcano desolation zone, mountain ridges, thick canopied rainforests, exposed cliffs, cross country off trail travel, log hopping, all the while enjoying views of Washington's largest and most active volcanoes: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and even Oregon's Mt. Hood. This 200 has the most climbing of any 200 miler in the USA and runs through storied Bigfoot territory.

Distance: 203.8 miles


Dates: August 12th-16th

Style: Point to point

Cut off: 105 hours, 4 days 9hrs

Closest City: Cougar, WA and Randle, WA

Number of Entrants: 150

2015 Finisher Rate: 77% of runners that started the race also finished!

Elevation: ~50,000 feet of ascent and 46,000 feet of descent

Terrain: Single track: 184.8 miles single track, 4x4 road/dirt
Roads: 6 miles, Paved 13 miles 


Description: The Tahoe 200 was the first non-repetitive 200 in the USA in 2014. The route circumnavigates iconic Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail exploring the alpine environment that makes Lake Tahoe such a world class destination. Participants will trek through rock gardens of giants, past countless sparkling alpine lakes, explore the dusty Rubicon, all the while circling the largest alpine lake in the US on trail.

Distance: 202.5 miles


Dates: Sept. 9th - 13th, 2016 (100 hour cutoff)

Style: Single loop course

Closest City (start location): Homewood, California

Number of Entrants: 140

2015 Finisher Rate: 85% of runners finished. That's higher than most 100s!

Elevation: 39,800 ascent and 39,800 descent

Terrain: Single track: 170 miles/ 273.6km of 
single track (84%), Paved Road: 11 miles/17.7km 
(5%), 4×4 dirt roads: 21 miles/33.8km (10%)