Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Creemore Vertical Challenge: Race Director Report

Reader's Digest version:  I've never seen so many happy runners!

Not to say that everyone was happy.  We had 8 people go off course, most due to a sign malfunction.  Thanks to Jack Kilislian, for righting the sign after running 50K!  I cringe at the thought of asking even more people to volunteer, but that is what it would take to place marshals at every potential misdirection site.  Thankfully, it is no longer the trails that are generating lost runners, but the roads.  Trails are easier.  Rule of thumb:  When you run by a flag, you should be able to see the next flag, or there should be no doubt as to where the trail goes.  Example:  6 foot tall grass on either side of a mowed trail.  Easy!  Roads are not so easy.  No matter how much signage, exhausted runners have the propensity to continue running in the direction they are going.  And it takes some effort to scan for signage, especially on a new course.  I put 4 red flags around the corner of each turn along with a lime green sign with blue arrows.  After every corner, if you are on the correct road, you will see 2 red flags 100 meters from the turn and 2 red flags every 400 meters thereon.  Nevertheless, every year runners go off course.  I don't want to get cynical and declare that no matter what I do, there will always be lost souls, but sometimes I wonder!

At the start of the race we had a lot of regulars walking around muttering "What the hell is this!".  The temperature was 18 degrees with little humidity.  You could tell that they were getting nervous, thinking 'what diabolical natural disaster is he going to hit us with?'.  Some of the regulars believe that I control the weather and take perverse pleasure in throwing a mixture of high heat and hills at the unsuspecting CVC virgins and veterans.  Nothing could be further from the truth - I don't control the weather.  But every year, runners don't so much race "Screamore" as survive it...

For whatever reason, the weather gods showed a tangible lapse in creating horrific conditions.  Running was actually enjoyable!  Especially the 25K, as the temperature stayed below 25C until most runners had finished.  Even the 50K runners enjoyed a nominally warm finish, hovering around the 27 degree mark.  So, the hills provided most of the "Challenge" during the race, allowing runners to focus on the terrain instead of their core temperature.

Enfield Chip Timing was a huge help.  Rather than struggling with my homegrown timing system, I could simply walk up to Jeff or his wife (yes, my memory has not improved) and ask for the 25K awards printout.  No complicated processing of data, worrying about a runner's time not being registered because I was printing...  Their "Finish" line was awe inspiring.  So was the Results tent, where runners could look up their stats or view printouts of how they fared against the field.  I believe there was also a Twitter going on.

By the way, it is raining cats and dogs as I type (13:56 on Tuesday).

Many runners made an effort to tell me how much they had enjoyed the race and how much they were enjoying the pizza and beer, while sitting in the Mad river!  After hundreds of hours of work, to get the race ready, it was wonderful to see people having a good time.  Worth the effort!  I expect that Creemore Springs Brewery, the main sponsor, was a pivotal reason in the post-race success.  Nothing like 190 thirsty runners enjoying themselves after a hard race.

Mike Tickner is dabbling with the longer distances this year.  Mike has the CVC 25K record (1:42:46) and is no stranger to the course.  I expect he was eyeing the 50K record and came oh so close to bagging it!  Less than 2 minutes off the record, Mike rocketed the course in 4:03:41.  Christian Otto (4:46:07) and Ben Compton (4:50:18) rounded out the podium.

Amongst the 50K women, a real battle raged almost to the bitter end.  Melanie Boultbee was able to hang onto her pace a bit longer, posting the victory in a time of 5:01:18.  Shortly behind her were Lisa Van Wolde (5:05:08) and Inge Boerma in a time of 5:08:18.

In the 25K, Kevin Beatty clocked an amazing 1:45:31 for the victory.  Right behind him was Robert Bruillette in 1:47:03 and Brendan Neely in 1:55:56.  Posting a sub-2 hour time takes some serious effort, so I would also like to mention Dave Rutherford, who at 49 years of age (just a youngster!) posted an astonishing 1:58:44!

It appears that the 25K women also had a battle going.  Jessica Kuepfer won in a time of 2:20:20, with Vicki Zandbergen only 40 seconds behind, in 2:21:00.  Third place was taken by Deanne McDoom in 2:28:48.

Well done to all that toed the line in what is regarded as one of Ontario's toughest races.  For those doing the math, the 50K has 1.75 kilometres of vertical gain!  About 8 trips up the Niagara Escarpment, anyone?  Preliminary results can be found at Enfield chip timing:


A huge thanks to all the volunteers, without whom the race could not take place.  Since there is no running club in Creemore, volunteers are sourced from friends, neighbours and family.  Many have vollied for several years, which helps as they get to know the course, runners and how to support those in distress.  Running an aid station is quite exciting and rewarding.  If you cannot make it to the starting line one year, consider helping out.

As mentioned, Creemore Springs Brewery provides post-race refreshments free of charge.  The race is challenging and the reward for finishing is to sit in the Mad river with a slice of pizza from Perfect Pizza and a beer.  Runners tend to stick around for a while at Creemore, discussing their plans with other runners.  Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for providing HEED (High Energy Electrolyte Drink), a key component when running long.  Road ID provides bibs, pins and spot prizes.

Putting on the Creemore Vertical Challenge is in itself a challenge.  If I was intelligent (stop laughing) I would outsource the prizes, finishing medals, early-bird prize, race set-up and trail prep.  I said stop laughing...  But then it would not be the Creemore Vertical Challenge.  I spend 100 hours making maple syrup for the race.  My wife Lee Anne spends about the same amount of time making the age category award pottery.  I spend about 60 hours making 250 medals.  Notice I have not yet mentioned the 100+ tasks associated with being a race director?  Lee Anne takes care of food purchases and acquiring and juggling the volunteers.  She also puts up with me during those rare stressful moments (picture the last month before the race).  A big thanks to Lee Anne!

Going Forward

In about a month I will have a reflection meeting with Lee Anne.  This is when we discuss how to fix what went wrong and any other improvements we can make.  One big change is that I am no longer working.  While working, if the race lost money, no big deal.  I could afford to pitch in $1000.  Not so any more.  Due to various reasons, including the new North Face race at Blue Mountain next weekend, attendance at CVC was down.  Last year I reached the cap of 250 runners.  This year, only 193 people signed up.  The race posted a loss of $314.94.  This aligns with the current break-even point of about 200 runners.  Problem:  I can no longer afford to lose money on the race.

There are several alternatives to cancelling the race, such as moving it to a different date, or advertising more.  There are also several other reasons for NOT holding the CVC.  I stage the CVC in part so that I can donate the profit to the Canadian Ultra teams.  If the race is not making a profit, there goes a key reason for holding the race!  Also, the effort to stage the race is considerable and must be factored in.  I have spent 400+ hours in each of the last 8 years.  The risk and potential liability is another.  Something must (and will) change in 2015.

So, overall the race was a success, although there are items that will need to be addressed.  I retired on May 1, 2014, but view the CVC as a project, so in essence, I am only now a man of leisure.  I wonder how it will feel to have no agenda?  Wait a minute!  I owe Lee Anne about 312 favours...  Disregard the "no agenda" above!

Dig Deep!