Back when I was a budding trail-runner, races were the main goal and highlight of each season. I ran my first race, my first marathon, my first ultra, and my first 50 miler with obsessive anticipation. The shininess has worn off a bit since. Racing is fun, but the thrill and jitters from “gosh, can I actually run for N miles?!” is largely gone. With a few exceptions, my favorite runs in each of the last four or five years were the ambitious, exploratory, mountain link-ups I did in preparation for the main event; sometimes solo, sometimes with a like-minded group of people. By the time the race came, it was a little anticlimactic.
The rules surrounding federal wilderness lands and National Parks generally don’t allow organized races, so the races are squeezed in amongst the peripheral public (and sometimes private) land. There are a lot of beautiful places out there, but the top-shelf spectacular areas are usually gobbled as part of one Park or Wilderness or another and thus off-limits for organized trail races.
Put another way, it’s getting harder and harder for me to find a really compelling race. I know I can run 30-50 miles with sufficient training and the idea of shelling out significant cash for the race and logistics to run a long distance in something which isn’t the most spectacular of areas is less and less appealing to me. The support and camaraderie of a race is, of course, wonderful, but oftentimes what really sets my heart aflutter is devising a Big Stupid Mountain Run with my friends. Unlike a race, the date is also flexible to get optimal weather.