Friday, December 02, 2005

Julia’s Senior Project – Organize and Direct A Trail Race (An Interview with Julia Tellman)

When high school senior Julia Tellman was looking for a challenge for her “senior project” at Brevard High School in Brevard, NC, she went big time – she organized and directed her first trail race to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. On Nov 12, 2005, the First Annual Singletrack Slapdown 5k hosted 80 happy runners in the trails near Camp Carolina. I caught up with one happy (and exhausted) race director soon after over e-mail.

(Racers head past Camp Carolina Lake towards the single track)

First, congratulations! I hope you had a good time putting this together.

I’ve repressed all the difficult stuff so, in my mind, the whole thing was a blast.

How did you decide on organizing and running a trail run as your senior project? There are certainly easier things you could have done.

Actually I had a few ideas shot down before I came up with a 5K. The senior project involves at least 30 hours of some kind of enriching experience, along with a related research paper, portfolio, and presentation, so I didn’t want to get sucked into doing something I wasn’t into. It was actually a suggestion from my cross country coach but after I started the process it became a lot bigger and more involved than expected.

Was it harder than you thought?

Absolutely. I went into it thinking that, while I was taking the harder way out than some of my colleagues (those who whittled forks or learned to play piano), it wouldn’t be too much of a stress. But once I started making lists of all the stuff I needed to accomplish in a month and a half, the task started to look a bit daunting. Somehow I managed though.

(Race Director-extraordinaire Julia Tellman works the phone)

What parts about organizing a race were more challenging than you expected?

Well, it was intimidating that all the web sites advised starting about six months in advance when I had less than two. And cross country took up so much time. When practice went until 5:30 and I really needed to talk to a business that closes at 5, it’s a little disheartening. After the season ended, I had the chance to work all afternoon everyday. Another difficulty was the number of people I had to contact. It seemed like every time I checked someone off the list, two more popped up. Do you know how hard it is to find a bullhorn? E-mail is about the best invention ever because playing phone tag gets really old.

Did you have enough volunteers? How did you find them and get them organized?

I had just the right number. I rounded them up by asking regulars at Bracken Mountain Bakery (my parents’ shop). About half my volunteers were friends from school, who I convinced through threats, bribery, and charm. No, really they were quite willing and I appreciate it. Most of the cross country team was dreading the run because once the season ends, our fitness...decreases a bit. So I told them I’d let them off the hook if they’d just volunteer instead. I also had two experienced (bike) race planners to work the registration table: Jay Coan and Wes Dickson. Lydia O’Dell, a local business owner, was a big help too; I walked the course with her the day before and told her where I wanted people directing runners. On race day she took a lot of pressure off me by showing volunteers where they should hang out.

Did you have t-shirts?

Yeah, and they were sweet. Shout out to Possumdog Productions: Dave Bradford made my shirts free of printing charges and he did a good job.

Did you manage to raise much for Lance?

To my surprise, yes. The races was a lot more expensive than I predicted, with insurance coverage, porta-potties, t-shirts, and random stuff. I had a few sponsors helping me out (mostly by providing gear for door prizes) and in the end I made $175. It’s not much, but I have it from reliable sources that first time races often make less than that. So I’m proud of myself.

Would you do it again? Is this the "first annual"?

Well, since I’ll be doing the college thing next year, I probably won’t be very involved BUT my dad and several interested members of the running community are already talking about the Second Annual Singletrack Slapdown. Brevard is one of the biggest summer-camp towns around, so they had the idea of a different camp hosting the race each year.

Now that you are a Race Director, what advice would you give to other Race Directors to make it all go as smooth as possible?

Um. Make lots of lists. And just remember that as long as the participants get to run, and maybe have a few prizes thrown their way, they won’t notice the behind-the-scenes screw-ups.

What’s Brevard, NC like?

We have acres of sick trails. I go out in the woods and the options are endless. Within a fifteen minute drive are a good twenty to thirty trails I could run. And they’re all beautiful and interesting and really technical. But the weird thing is that I could count on one hand how many trail races there are in the area. Hmmm...I can think of three off the bat. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do a trail race. I love trail-running and why would anyone choose the road over the woods? There’s also a solid running community with a few big names, like Scott Wolfe, who was a huge asset.

What's next for you?

Senioritis, I suppose. Although I will be burdened with a heavy course-load next semester, so I can’t slack off and party too much. Acceptance letters in January and if I don’t make it to UNC Chapel Hill I just don’t know what I’ll do. Soccer in the spring. And then...the world?

We hope to see you on the trails, Julia. Thanks for a great interview!



  1. YEESSS!!! Way to go, Julia!

  2. Despite the license plates you see running around our streets in the summer time, Brevard is actually a small town in NORTH CAROLINA! Though it can be confused with the county in Florida.

    Very proud of you Julia, and thank you, Scott for doing such a great interview.

  3. nice post....kudos to julia

  4. bad on the FL/NC thing. All changed.


  5. Very impressive...being a race promoter is not for everyone, it take skills in conflict management, time management, and emotional management! It's easy to see the future of trail racing is in good hands!


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