Thursday, February 26, 2004

Who’s the Best Trail Run Race Promoter in San Francisco?

There are three major trail running race promoters in the San Francisco area – Envirosports (www.envirosports.com), Pacific Coast Trails (www.pctrails.com), and Redwood Trails (www.redwoodtrails.com). All of them do a good job, but I’ve noticed they each have their own style. Here’s how I would compare them:

Envirosports – One of the original race promoters, these guys have been around for nearly two decades. But that doesn’t mean they are the most polished. Of the few races I’ve been to by Envirosports, they seem to prefer running their races “survivalist style”, ie, minimum trail markings, minimal aid stations, and over the craziest terrain. It’s not out of the question for them to have only one aid station for a 14 mile race. Even their version of “aid station” can be minimal – one time it was just five gallon jugs of water under a tree - and on one occasion, I stopped by the only aid station to see it had already been cleaned out by the shorter course racers. Still, Envirosports seems to attract the most competitive field in the SF area and the audience/volunteers are always friendly. If you don’t mind a little risk and throwing a few elbows in the front pack, this may be your race promoter.

Pacific Coast Trails – Wendell and the PCTrails crew promote the most ultra runs in the area, and because of that, their races have that laid back ultra vibe. Their motto is “no races, just runs” and they like to promote a welcome environment that is more about participating than winning. Oddly enough, however, they have the best prizes for the top male and female finishers! For you ultra runners, PCTrails is one of the few who will regularly tack on a 50k or 50m length to their races and they tend to have one every month of so. Be sure to check out the course descriptions first - they are not afraid to put 10,000+ vertical feet in a single run. Aid stations are typically well stocked, usually every 4-5 miles for the short races, and every 7-8 miles for the longer ones. Expect fruit, water, Cytomax, granola bars, and lots of chili and soup at the end. I have gotten lost at a few of their races (not a marking problem, but a "somebody remarked it" problem), but as fellow participants will tell you, that’s supposed to be part of the fun! I would recommend these guys for any race, particularly your first foray into the ultra distances.

Redwood Trails – Redwood Trails (RWT) races are very well organized, and I would consider them the safest and best marked of the three promoters. Eric Gould of RWT used to work for Envirosports, but split off to start his own thing in early 2000. RWT runs a mix of loop and out-and-back courses, and is usually the first to try out a new location (for example, the Bizz Johnson Marathon, which is considered the fastest trail marathon course in the nation, or their recent race at Red Rocks in Las Vegas). Their courses aren't always the easiest, but are definitely the most scenic ways through the parks. Eric and his crew obsess about trail markings and aid stations, and if you complete one of their races, you’ll feel the comfort that comes with such detail. Most often you can always see the next trail marking while you’re standing at one, meaning you never have those "oh my gosh, I must be lost...oh wait, there it is" moments. Aid stations are typically every 2-3 miles, and all of them are fully stocked with fruit, mini clif bars, Gatorade, Hammer gels, and soup and sandwiches (and sometimes homemade cookies) at the end. I've often passed an aid station before I finished digesting the food at the previous one - you won't run out! RWT attracts a great range of racers, with usually a dozen fast folks up front, and people of every speed lining the remainder of the course. Ribbons and medals are often three people deep in each age group, so lots of people get to take home a souvenir for a job well done. But even if you don't get a ribbon, the RWT t-shirts are hands down the best designs. Maybe this is why the finish line at RWT races is one of the happiest places around on a Saturday morning (not quite Team-In-Training-cult-happy, but certainly more optimistic than most). A great place for your first trail race, or for trying out a new location. For some variety, 2005 will also include trail triathlons.

Last year I ran the Woodside Half Marathon put on by each promoter, just a few weeks apart. Here's a quick comparison:

Envirosports - The steepest route (about 2/3 loop), one aid station (no volunteers on the trail), 110 participants, winning time - 1:14:04. Yes, 1:14. He was insanely fast, and talked trash the whole way. ;oP
PC Trails - An out and back course, two aid stations (no volunteers on the trail), 70 participants, winning time - 1:24:44. Note that they also had a 50k run with about 40 participants too.
Redwood Trails - A loop course, three aid stations (four volunteers on the trail), 130 participants, winning time - 1:26:12. RWT had more walkers than the other two, but since it was a loop course, it didn't really matter.

Let me know if your experiences with these guys are different. Overall, we’re pretty lucky in SF. Between these three promoters, you can race year ‘round.

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