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When it comes to running long distance, keep it small

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Welcome Ryan Pifer to the Hikeclimbsurfrun writing crew. He’s one of those Naval Academy grads and some sort of physics specialist. I just know he knows a lot about underwater warfare and lasers.­­ And he tends to run a lot.

Since March, I have completed seven organized races of marathon distance or longer. When it comes to running events, a conclusion that I have come to that the smaller the event, the better experience I had.

Take the Bishop High Sierra Ultramarathon 50 miler held in the very small town of Bishop (pop. 3575) nestled in the absurdly scenic Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. About 100 people competed in both the 50-mile and 100-km events.

Since the event benefited the town’s hospital, the city was more than enthusiastic in running the event and manning the aid stations. (As most ultra runners understand, high calorie food spreads and places to sit down between mileage segments pretty much make this demented sport feasible.)

After the race, the event coordinator spoke with every person who finished, presented hand crafted medals and personalized awards and, like a Vegas street peddler but with much more class, offered us all cheap massages.

I encountered a similar experience at the Nisene Marks trail marathon in Aptos, California, run by the Santa Cruz Track Club. This race had only 70 participants.

One of the best characteristics of small distance events is that they often come with small price tags, too.

In contrast, I give you the Big Sur International Marathon. While a must run for any distance enthusiast, it does come with a price to match its scenery.

It all starts at 3:45 a.m. with a one-hour bus ride. Upon disembarkation, the next stage includes sitting on cold pavement for over an hour before gun, waiting in long port-a-potty lines, scrambling to get your sweats in a flimsy plastic bag with sure-to-fail ties and hoping level of care of the race coordinators corresponds with the entrance fee. Oh, and the finish area is packed.

These sorts of characteristics are pretty common in the big races and for me, make for less than ideal race experiences, regardless of scenery. Run in Boston, New York, or Chicago and you better kiss those outer layers goodbye at the start, as there are no sweat bags. Now, throw in the almost $150 fees now associated with running them. So I say, why not the smaller races?

That’s not to say I won’t aim to run Boston someday. And yes, I know some may comment that the issues I have with larger races are “part of the package.” That’s fine. I don’t have to run them. But why not support a small town or track club, save some money, and have a more intimate running experience?

Editor’s note: Part of what Ryan is talking about is directly related to the tremendous increase in the number of Americans participating in marathons over the last decade. (Odd, because we’re all still so fat.) Unfortunately, ultra running is on the rise as well. Let’s hope runs like Bishop and Nisene stay true to their routes. (Sorry … roots.)

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