9 Mar 12 by James Elson

Behind the Scenes: Top 5 Highs and Lows from a Race Directing Perspective

As I sit here just finishing manually editing 1400 split times the fog is lifting a little and the real highs and lows of the race are a bit more clear. So much happens behind the scenes by the volunteers and race construction crew that I thought it would be good to share a few of those things and highlight some of the stuff that happened in my weekend. 

I've said it before but directing a 100 is as hard as running it, I feel just as tired this week as I did post Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, just minus the leg pain which is nice. 

So here some highs and lows from behind the scenes:


1. Reversing the truck containing all of the aid station construction equipment, hard into a wall down a very long private drive as we took a wrong turn on route to Little Wittenham.  The runners might be aware that the Little Wit aid station was extremely remote and everything had to be carried in about 500 yards over two bridges at the end of a very narrow lane. Time was catching up at that point and putting the truck into a wall was quite bad. 

2. Awaiting Craig for the win, three of us went out and heavily glowsticked/ taped/ marked the final miles of the course. When we got back to the finish line and received Craig and Robbie, our first two runners, it became apparent that somebody had decided to chuck all of our markings into the Thames. Undeterred, I ran back down the course with bundles of stuff and repeated the process. On my way back to the finish a second time, I saw some lights coming down the river towards me and stood in the centre of the path as 20 glowticks drifted silently by. My thoughts at that time are unrepeatable. I also saw another bunch of glowsticks over the other side of the river in bushes. Alas I couldn't see the culprit, but grabbed the downed sticks and re-hung them. Thankfully they seemed to stay there the third time. 

3. Having to cancel the race has to be the lowest moment of any race director weekend. I have spoken to quite a few people about other races forced into doing the same, Badwater in 2009 with the fires stopped at 122 instead of 135. West Highland Way stopped a few years ago at mile 90 just before the final 5 miles. Six Foot Track in Australia abandoned this weekend also. It isn't something I hope I ever have to decide to do again. I am confident as I was at the time that we made the right call however and the response subsequent to the race has been overwhelming in supporting that decision. Still seeing the look of disappointment on the face of a few runners including good friends at mile 95 when they learned of the decision was not a highlight. 

4. Once we had packed all the aid station kit into the two large vans, we head down the motorway late on Friday for our final stop at Costco, to buy the remaining 500 bananas and 250 bottles of coke. When we lifted up the back shutter to the truck, we discovered that everything had fallen in on the narrow corridor we had left to get access to stuff and completely destroyed quite a number of items. Re-arranging it took us hours in Costco car park - luckily it all stayed put after that. 

5. We narrowly avoided a crisis before we'd even begun when we parked one of the trucks on the hotel forecourt in richmond - and watched it rolling slowly towards the front of the building as the handbrake buckled under the strain of the load and hill. I jumped in the truck and managed to engage reverse just before it cruised through the front window. Hobart Hall would not have been the same place if it had continued on its journey. 


1. Seeing runners make that finish line. Good friends, first time 100 milers, emotional finishes, happy finishers it's what we do it for. You can't put on these races unless you love running, it's just too time consuming, stressful and downright hard to continue if you don't really want to. I know lots of race directors in ultra land who are thinking 'should I just bin the race I can't carry on like this'. They make up their minds to do it and have one last go round, then they see the finishers faces and say.... 'Oh well just one more year then'. One old friend Paul Brackett cross the line in just under 24 hours. Years and years ago Paul and I were strolling around an LDWA event called Valleys and Views and he mentioned that one day he might try a 100. We spoke about a few different ones but at that time Centurion wasn't even a twinkle in my eye. Paul didn't get around to it and I was shocked to see him at the start line in Richmond as I had totally overlooked his name on the entrant list. Being able to hand him a 100 Miles - One Day buckle was a great feeling. 

2. Seeing all the friends and family ammassed on the banks of the Thames for the start. It was great to finally get the race underway and obviously it was a moment we had been envisioning for over a year. It turned out to be a great starting point and one we will definitely use again.

3. People who I had never met before and who had volunteered only last minute going totally above and beyond the call of duty, running around in the freezing cold and driving rain to do things like pick litter up, build the finish line marquee, move drop bags around to ensure they were kept dry, wander out on the course to help runners in to safety, the list goes on and on. It's totally heartwarming to see someone show up out of their own good will and just say 'what can i do to help'. Imagine the world was full of people from the ultrarunning community - the stuff that'd get done!!!!!

4. Seeing Batman and Robin emerge out onto the final field. It was so good to see all the runners make the turn and climpse the finish line for the first time, but watching the caped pair appear one after the other, a few minutes between them, out of the worsening conditions was awesome. 

5. Finally parking the vans back in the timber yard where I do my day job and getting the stuff unloaded. Sitting down with a drink and finally being able to relax after 40 hours of going pedal to the metal with no sleep. However great a race is it is nice when it is in the can!