Trail Run Conference: The Directors’ Cut

What is the collective noun for a gathering of trail running race directors? Is it a mob? A gaggle? A herd? A gang? A horde? A rabble? A misery? Dan Lewis looks for the answer as trail race directors from across Australia and New Zealand congregated at day one of the first National Trail Running Conference being held in the Blue Mountains this week in conjunction with The North Face 100.

Whatever the collective noun of trail run race directors is (and we would love to hear your suggestions), there was one in Katoomba this week for the opening of the first ever Australian National Trail Running Conference.

The conference is part of the week-long festival of trail running associated with this weekend’s staging of the iconic The North Face 100 across the stunning Blue Mountains landscape.
It is the creation of Blue Mountains adventurer and TNF100 safety director Lucas Trihey along with emergency medicine and outdoor event safety expert Dr Ursula King.

Day one was Race Director’s Day and it attracted race directors from across Australia and New Zealand to discuss the issues surrounding their roles.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

Conference speakers included TNF100 race director Tom Landon-Smith and US endurance event medical expert Dr Marty Hoffman. Delegates discussed everything from trail marking, mandatory gear and using volunteers to the planning needed to make a trail running race successful and safe.

Trihey, who provides the safety services on a number of trail running events, told delegates that trail running was booming across the globe, but not every event was booming because some were struggling to adapt to change and growing complexities and regulations.
“It’s a shake-out period as well as a period of growth,” Trihey said.

From fewer than 200 runners when it started in 2008 to more than 2000 at this year’s North Face weekend, Landon-Smith said it was vital to assemble a great team if the directors of big races were to avoid burning out.

Back in 2008 he and partner Alina did nearly everything themselves – “it was madness and I can’t do that now” – but in 2015 just marking the course will employ four people for about six days to get it done properly, Landon-Smith said.

Blue Mountains-based race director Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports, which puts on races like the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Marathon and the Buffalo Stampede, said the secrets to a successful trail running event included a “superstar finish” that left people energised and talking long afterwards (think Jenolan Caves at the end of the Six Foot Track Marathon), a location within three hours of a major population centre (think TNF100, two hours from Sydney), or at an established tourist destination (think Rotorua in NZ).

Greenhill also said race directors should adopt tactics like limiting the number of landholders they have to deal with to save time and money with negotiations and access fees.

There was also debate about medical exclusions and making people do qualifiers to obtain race entry.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

Some race directors said they relied on the “scare factor” to discourage unprepared people from entering their events while others at the conference said they didn’t like to see any limits on public participation in trail running events. It was so important for the health of society generally to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to engage in the sport, they said.

There were also plenty of laughs at the conference as delegates recalled the many crazy things that inevitably happen at trail running races, like runners going missing despite supposedly bomb-proof course marking and marshalling.

Andy Hewat, race director of the unmarked Bogong to Hotham trail run, said he would like to see a grading system so runners knew what level of trail marking they could expect at different races.

Trihey said the one thing all race directors needed to remember when course marking is that “runners lose a lot of brain function”.

They are “tired, oxygen-deprived, brain-addled”, he said, and “you have got to expect that they are going to be stupid. Flagging tape is cheap and there’s no such thing as too much course marking.”

Tomorrow at the conference is Runner’s Day and will feature talks from the likes of elite athletes Hanny Allston, Brendan Davies and Jo Brischetto.

POSTSCRIPT: The National Trail Running Conference is set to become an annual feature of the North Face trail running festival in the Blue Mountains each year. And if you are already in the Blue Mountains for TNF100 this week don’t miss the Banff Film Festival of outdoor adventure flicks on in Katoomba over the next two nights plus the Trails in Motion trail running film festival screening on Thursday night.