Trail racing is known for running long distances over technical trails with lots of elevation. This sounds daunting to a lot of runners. A timed trail event is a brilliant option for those who may be intimidated by spending hours alone in the forest.
Why run a timed event?
“Timed events are usually in some sort of loop or repeating route, so everyone has multiple opportunities to see their or others’ crew and race volunteers, as well as stay in the pack of runners (versus getting strung out and running alone),” exclaims Renee Janssen of Go Beyond Racing. Go Beyond directs the Elijah Bristow 6, 12 and 24-hour race outside Eugene, OR. “There is great camaraderie and community where everyone is cheering for everyone. In a lot of races, you can end up running by yourself for long stretches of time, and it can get lonely or even scary or discouraging. At Bristow, you’ve got fellow racers around you the whole time. It’s a great opportunity to meet new friends. Additionally, there isn’t the stress or pressure of a cutoff. Runners who often are chasing cutoffs are free to run whatever pace they want without that hanging over their heads.”
“Runners, crew, volunteers, and the RD get really loopy together!” declares Gretchen Walla of Walla Trails. Walla Trails has four timed events, the women’s only Walla Walla 6-hour, Golden 6-hour, Twilight 12-hour, and Hamster Endurance Run 6/12/24/32 hour event. “At Walla Trails races and many timed events, there’s only one aid station which serves as the home base for everyone. Volunteers get to know most of the runners really well, to the point they are basically crewing for runners. Personally, I have run many ultras, and when I roll into aid stations, volunteers are amazing! But don’t necessarily know my name, how my race is going, know what foods I like, what motivates me, etc. Volunteers at time events have the opportunity to learn about runners, which typically increases the positive vibes.”
Charley Boynton started running again after the birth of his twin grandsons. “I realized that I needed to get healthier and drop some weight if I wanted to be a part of these two children’s lives,” says Boynton. “I started running again first on roads and gradually began adding a weekend run in Forest Park. I quickly realized that running on trails was everything I was looking for – endless miles of beautiful landscapes – unlimited trail combinations, and an amazing community of like-minded people just outside doing what they love to do and supporting each other along the way.”
“Timed events are perfect for me being an ultra-slow back-of-the-pack runner,” articulates Boynton. “I don’t have to stress about meeting any type of cutoffs or mileage requirements, and I can still participate as part of the group. Everyone is racing against the same opponent – the ticking down of the clock.”
The biggest difference in timed events is that there aren’t cutoffs or a pre-set distance. Instead, you get whatever time to run as far as you want. “You don’t have to maintain a certain pace or reach a specific distance within a set time, with the consequence of getting cut from the race if you don’t,” says Janssen. “You just run and stop when you want or when the race is over. This can be less stressful for many people. One of the most common myths about Bristow 24/12 (and now 6-hour) is that you’ll get bored running a 1-mile loop. It’s true that you’ll get tired, but you don’t necessarily get bored as there is a good variety to the course (it’s not like running on a track) and you’re passing through areas at different times of the day and night, so they look different, and though you are going through different mindsets. You’ll be surprised how not boring it can be.”
“Timed races allow runners to set their own distance goals vs. having a distance set for them that could result in a DNF if they don’t finish in the allotted time given,” imparts Walla. “The repetitive course also allows volunteers and runners to get to know one another well which can create more of a camaraderie.”
“Runners with anxiety about cut-offs can relax more knowing that everyone is an official finisher no matter how far they go,” tells Walla. “It’s hard to tell who is in what place, which takes the pressure off of being in the back of the pack with sweepers. Because of the repetitive nature of timed events, it also helps lessen any anxiety about the unknown. Runners get to know the course and aid station well, so if the race goes through the night, it is easier to picture what to expect vs. a mountain race. Time events are also great for runners looking for a distance PR. With a predictable course, runners can push their limits beyond set-distance races. For instance, runners going for their 100-mile belt buckle in the Hamster Endurance Runs 32-hour don’t just stop at 100 miles – they push.”
Another difference is that timed races are often loops instead of point-to-point formats and are also usually less technical and/or with less climbing.
Janssen summarizes a timed race is a great type of race for many runners:
- Those who are concerned about making cutoffs
- Those wanting to see just how far they can run, push new limits
- Anyone wanting to try out running at night or overnight can do so in a safe and supported way
- Runners trying for a new distance or time PR
- Friends who want to run a race with a group and be able to stay together and support each other throughout
- Along with the friends, it is a great format for a crew to participate or practice for another race
Timed Event Training
Boynton has currently run eight 24-hour races and has three more on his schedule for 2023. Each one has been a memorable learning experience. “I try my best not to worry about the final distance obtained but to be open and to learn new things about myself.”
“For me, it’s all about having experience with lots of time on my feet and being out at different times of the day. I tend to put in a fair amount of weekly miles on a consistent basis, but building up to a race, I will try to add a few longer runs into my schedule and vary the time of day that I run, being comfortable with running in the late evening and very early in the morning. I know some runners that will add some extra runs in the dark to get accustomed to running with headlamps, but for me running in the dark is where the magic happens – just move carefully and let your imagination carry you.”
“I also try to nail down ahead of time what I plan on using for nutrition and hydration during the event and also have several backup plans if and when everything falls apart, and nothing seems to work,” suggests Boynton. “The number one rule is that you must eat and drink in order to complete the event.”
As for race day, Boynton discloses his strategy is simple: “Believe that I belong here, talk to everyone, and just keep moving- no matter what. I can easily get caught up in the “imposter syndrome” trap, so I always come up with a mantra (usually several) that I will repeat to myself throughout the event to help keep that in check. It helps me to have a rehearsed little bit of positive self-talk in my mind to help limit that negative self-talk which almost always rears its ugly self.”
“The most important thing for me is that I need to simply just keep moving,” adds Boynton. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow; I just need to complete the loop. There always is an aid station at the beginning of the loop, so I use that as a motivator – I plan what I am going to do when I reach that station and how I am going to spend that precious time trying to find a balance of when to rest and when to get back out and do it all again. Lots of runners will sleep for a few hours during the night, but I have never had good results. For me, the energy required to restart my tired body after sleeping is greater than if I just keep moving throughout the event.”
Boynton highlights his key thoughts on strategy:
- Believe and trust that you CAN do this.
- Be open and willing to solve each and every problem as they arise. Have a solid plan and be willing and flexible to change that plan as you need. Remember: THIS IS YOUR RUN – IT BELONGS TO NO ONE ELSE!
- Bring extra shoes and socks and change them often. Sometimes just having a change of socks and or shoes can make the world of difference to your sore and tired feet.
- Do not ignore any hot spots that come up. Pay very close attention to each and every one of them. Have a first aid kit loaded with blister pads and supplies that you may possibly need. I always bring a simple foot washing station with me, and that has saved my ass several times. Bring lots of lube, and don’t be afraid to use it!
- Bring extra changes of clothes – more than you really need. You never really know what the weather is going to so be like. You can guarantee that in any timed race in the Pacific Northwest, you will have multiple types of weather patterns to deal with.
- Try to limit your stops at the aid station to a minimum early on. Plan on banking as many miles in the beginning when your body feels strong and save the aid station “rest stops” for when you absolutely need them later on.
- Have a plan in place or someone there to support you that will help you out with the negative self-talk that WILL happen.
- Always remember that you are doing this for fun, so remember to have fun. We can all do hard things, and the pain and discomfort you are feeling are only temporary. You are not alone.
“A couple of key things that I have witnessed for solid timed race efforts/runs: runners who reach their distance goals don’t always stop at the aid station; they pass time and time again,” discloses Walla. “It’s tempting to stop (especially if it’s a fun, friendly environment with lots of yummy options!), but runners who have it dialed in setting up their own crewing spot and take from the aid station only when needed. Also, pace yourself! If a timed event course is runnable, it’s super easy to go out too fast. Many runners who sign-up for the 24 and 32-hour Hamster Endurance Runs races think they’ll easily earn their 100-mile belt buckle (vs. a mountain 100) and then burn themselves out around the 100k mark. Runnable does not always translate to easier!”
“From what we’ve seen, for someone looking to win or go pretty fast, they don’t want to stop too much,” pronounces Janssen. “We all know how hard it is to get moving again normally, and in a timed/loop race where you pass the aid station or your crew or your own car many times, it can be too easy to stop more than you need to. At Bristow, the course is 1.05 miles long, with one aid station at the start/finish area. Do you really need aid every mile in a race? Nope. But when you run right past the aid station each lap, you can get tempted to stop more than you need.”
“Another strategy or tip is to NOT set a distance goal,” states Janssen. “We’ve seen runners stop when they reach the 50K or 50M mark when really, they could have kept going, but because they had set a number in their mind, they stop when they reach it.”
Race Day Community
“I absolutely love directing timed events,” cries Walla. “Personally, I have always done mountain ultramarathon races because that’s what I was introduced to, and love being in the backcountry. I also enjoy seeing new trails and like my solo miles. However, I have fallen in love with the camaraderie of the timed, looped events to a point where I am considering racing one in 2023…we’ll see!”
“There is something magical about the community that forms during these events,” adds Boynton. “I always try to learn everyone’s name and talk to everyone as they pass by me on the endless loops throughout the hours. We are all doing our own thing, just at different speeds. As the hours pass, we all get to know each other and support one another. Everyone out there will, at some point, hit a low spot, and it’s incredible to watch everyone step up and support each other to ensure that the runner who is struggling is able to complete that loop and regroup. I have personally made some of my closest and dearest friendships during timed events. We all have each other’s back. The bonds that form throughout the hours are quite special.”
Timed Trail Running Events in the Pacific Northwest
Little Backyard Adventure; 6-hour; Olympia, WA
Pulse Endurance Runs; 48, 12, 6-hour; Eagle, ID
Pacific Rim One Day Run; 24-hour; Longview, WA
Walla Walla; 6-hour; Walla Walla, WA
Wandering Idiot Festival Of Hills; 24, 12, 6-hour Elk Creek, CA
Twilight; 12-hour; Cle Elum, WA
Sri Chinmoy; 7, 13-hour; Seattle, WA
Squak In The Dark; 8-hour; Issaquah, WA
Bristow; 24, 12, 6-hour; Dexter, OR
Volcanic Legacy; 24, 12, 6, 3-hour; Medford, OR
SISU 24 Ultra PNW; 24-hour; Enumclaw, WA
Hamster Endurance Runs; 32, 24, 12, 6-hour; Bellingham, WA
The Tempest Endurance Runs; 24, 12, 6, 3-hour; Ashland, OR
The Golden; 6-hour; Cle Elum, WA
DDLM Endurance Run; 48, 24, 12, 6-hour; South Beach, OR
The Krrbrrr; 8-hour; Palmer, AK
Alaska Endurance Trail Run; 24, 12, 6-hour; Fairbanks, AK