Ahhh, I remember the days before social media and the internet was a thing. Just like the rest of society, social media has brought an immediacy to the ultrarunning world. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Here’s how it was when I signed up for my first ultra.
Way back in the dark ages (1993) I was living in southern Arkansas, I subscribed to Runners World magazine and they had a calendar in the back few pages of races listed by region. Well, there was this race called the Ouachita Trail 50 mile. This race has been going on since 1989. Anyway, I saw the listing and thought that it looked like a challenge. So I mailed away for an entry form (self addressed stamped envelope required). A few days later an entry form showed up in the mail. I filled it out, wrote a check, and put it back in the mail.
There was no website, no information on the race that was readily accessible, no online map, no list of aid stations, no list of who else was signed up, none of that stuff. OMG, how did we survive?
Now days, I have signed up for multiple races in one day, indeed I’ve done that in the space of one hour. If I want information about the race, I just visit the race website. Maps, not a problem, course info, just look on the website or Google for previous race reports. Want to know what food will be served on course? Just check, or email the RD and ask.
When I RD’d my first race back in 2004 (Rock Cut Hobo Run), all my signups were by mail. There was no electronic sign up. I think Active.com was around, but I didn’t use them. Yep, all entries were entered into a spreadsheet by hand, checks taken to the bank.
Even the first couple of years of the Buffalo Run, entries were entered by hand. At least I had a rudimentary website that you could download an entry form from. Needless to say, entering 150-300 entries by hand got old really quick.
Now, all of my races have electronic entry only. Go to ultrasignup.com and sign up. Makes things a whole lot easier from my standpoint and from a runner standpoint as well.
So, above I asked if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Here’s my take.
I think it’s a good thing for the biggest part. Social media and the internet has allowed a lot more people to become familiar with our lunatic-fringe-element sport. Maybe it’s not quite the lunatic sport anymore (just kidding, it still is). There are obviously a lot more races to choose from (1500 ultras just in North America now). You now have at your disposal a crap ton of information on which to make your decisions about running particular race. Race signups are easy to do, and easy to manage from an RD perspective. You type all your info in, I don’t have to, plus I get my money every couple of weeks deposited directly into the race account. From there I can order race bibs, supplies, etc. online and have that money disappear just as fast from said account ☺ Additionally, social media allows runners to connect quickly, learn about a particular race from those that have run it before. Think the Wasatch Wranglers FB page as an example.
Are there downsides to all this information? I can think of a few from an RD point of view. First, everyone wants questions answered immediately, if not sooner. You would not believe how many emails I get asking questions that are very clearly answered on the race website. It’s soooooo much easier to just email the RD and ask your question than to take a few minutes of time and read the website. Drives me batty. If you don’t have internet or wifi at your race, people will ding you for it. And since timing is electronic now, results must be immediately posted, along with aid station splits and online tracking so friends and family can follow you on your merry way.
Another downside is that with communication between runners happening so fast, things can get lost in translation, or misconstrued.
But, the good thing is, those downsides are minor as far as I’m concerned. The pluses far outweigh the minuses. Through social media I have been able to get information on my events out to the world. I get runners from not only all over the country, but a few other countries as well. That’s always a good thing in my book.
Here’s another plus that I just thought of. I was going through the results from that Ouachita Trail race I ran. Some of those names are still out there running, just like me.
So, keep sending me those emails, questions, comments, etc.
Oooh, here’s a thought. Maybe I should put together an old school ultra. Paper entries only, no maps or other info until you get to the race site. You must wear a cotton shirt, no hydration vests allowed, you can take a water bottle. Gatorade at the aid stations, no gels. Hmmm, the creative juices are flowing a bit.
Race director for Buffalo Run, Logan Peak, and Antelope Island Fall Classic.