What Makes an Event EPIC?

DSC_9349_s_jpgDo you have that one race event that just really sticks in your mind as the best you have ever experienced?  You know that ONE race that you always use as a basis of comparison for every other race?  Every ultrarunner I know says things like, “Saturday’s race was pretty amazing… but compared to “X-Race” it was about a 3.”  or “That course kicked my ass, but ‘X-race’ was way better overall”.  But why is that?  What is it about the one race made it such a badass experience?

Here are the top 5 things that I feel can really set an event apart and make it truly Epic.

1. Communication

It is stressful enough to know that you are running 50 miles in the morning without wondering if you are going to be able to find the staging area because a lazy RD didn’t bother to give a good map.  Not bringing any GU gels because website information about aid stations was inaccurate or incomplete is always a frustrating thing, especially if it contributes to an early exit and a DNF.  Critical is not a strong enough word when describing the importance of communication from the organizers of the race to the participants well before the starting pistol is fired.

2. Quality

When I say quality I am referring to the quality of “stuff”.  Shirts, race bibs, food, beverages, goodie bags.  Most of these events cost a decent amount of cash.  The least they can do is to provide something better than an undershirt with an iron-on decal to wear and a few leftover Sonic ketchup packages to eat.  Some of my best race memories consist of chugging down a cup of hot, tasty chicken soup or shoveling in some pancakes drowned in maple syrup.  Some tasty food can be a huge pick-me-up when you are struggling.  Not to mention, I will wear your shirt about once a week for all my friends to see assuming it doesn’t make me look any more fashion inept than I already know that I am.  So from custom bibs to custom medals, quality stuff is a must.

3. Course

Course is a big one for me.  Please don’t make me cross 8 lanes of traffic being monitored by a 12 year old volunteer!  Personally I prefer a scenic course in woods, but not if it mean running parallel to a hog farm for 15 miles.  Hog shit stinks.  If an event course is not marked well and I have to search and continuously wonder if I am adding bonus miles I am gonna be pissed.  Random shambling  through the woods is only fun if you are a zombie, or orienteering – in which case I would personally rather be a zombie.  Everyone has different preferences on course types, terrain, and difficulty levels so I understand this one is pretty subjective, but in my opinion a good, diverse, and fun course should be the first consideration of the race director.

4. Volunteers

A great race has to have great volunteers and lots of them.  Period.  It is an awesome feeling to have strangers cheering you in and out of aid stations when you are questioning your own will to continue.  It is equally disheartening to get apathetic looks from a bored-to-death worker who was volunteered because Dad is the RD or because Mom is running the 50K.  I think the right combination of volunteers and runners really makes the atmosphere of an awesome race.  I don’t know how you keep the volunteers motivated and upbeat, but you do it if you want an outstanding experience for your runners.

5. Medals/Awards

Listen closely race organizers:  PLEASE DO NOT give me some boring, below average, lame-ass finisher medal attached to a red/white/blue ribbon.  I might have mentioned in a previous blog that I have attention whorish tendencies.  I display every medal I earn on my wall for everyone to see.  If yours suck, chances are I will not be coming back to an event you host.  Don’t downgrade my accomplishment by giving me a crappy medal you were able to buy in bulk online to save a few hundred bucks.  I would say spend more, the more unique finisher award the better,  as it will be the physical embodiment of my memory of your race.  Make it awesome and event and date specific.  I want people who see it to ask about it.

While the above items are important attributes of an awesome event, it is the intangible things that can really transform an ordinary event into one that you would describe as an “experience of a lifetime”.  Great courses, aid stations, swag, shirts, medals, and all that other stuff is important but do not by themselves set the event apart.  That is when it struck me!  This is a case where the whole is ABSOLUTELY greater than the sum of all the parts.  The recipe to cook up an amazing race experience is a hell of a lot like that of making a gourmet dish… not everyone can do it.  Give the manager of your local KFC and famous chef Gordon Ramsay the same exact ingredients, cooking utensils, equipment, and recipe and I guarantee the outcome would NOT be the same dish.  It is about experience.  It is about having the experience and attitude to pull all the ingredients together, mixing them in the right proportion and using them to make one another better.  This is what makes a great event!

This brings me to MY all-time favorite and best experience.  I can’t choose one.  I can narrow it down to two events, yes, but choosing the ‘best’ is hard.  Why?  My previous experiences have mostly all been pretty good, but when it comes down to it two really stick in my mind.  Both happen to be Epic Ultra events and I can’t choose one over the other.  They were by far the best.  They were both electric, with a feeling in the air like lightning about to strike!  Both times I was challenged and supported in equal amounts.  Both times I have made friends and heard stories.  Something about they way Eric and his crew pull off an event just makes you want to stay and hang out – not just because your legs have nothing left.  It doesn’t matter if you finish first or last, there are sirens and cheering and plenty of pictures of you running on the trail.  There is just something more, some kind of energy in the external environment  that matches that same nervous energy in your gut!   Epic Ultras is like Gordon Ramsey, they not only have the recipe, but have spent enough time in the kitchen to serve up a meal fit for a king.

What makes an event unforgettable for you?  I’d love to hear about it.   In all ways… BE EPIC!


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