The week after this year’s inaugural Alaska Endurance Trail Run, I sent out a survey to get feedback about the race to guide its future direction. Huge thanks to the 18 of you who took the time to respond, especially those of you who took the time to include your comments.
I’m happy that you all validated some of the ideas behind the race, while providing great feedback about what we did right and wrong. I also learned that I’m a bit rusty in my survey-building skills!
Here at last is the promised summary of the results. I provide only a summary of the salient points made in the comments to not go on too long here. But I really appreciate all the nice things many of you said. Which proves yet again, that the major reason this year was such a great event was, because of the great people, both runners and volunteers.
Q1: The first weekend of June is pretty early in the summer running season for an ultra. Does that fit into your training and race schedule? Or would you prefer to move the date?
This is reassuring, for the most part. Scheduling running events in Interior Alaska is a challenge because there there are so many great events. In particular, I didn’t want to step on the toes of George Berry’s Dusk to Dawn Run closer to Solstice, nor the Angel Creek 50 Miler in July that is turning into a great destination race. So there aren’t many great dates that don’t impinge on those events.
I know a number of the runners this year used this event as a training race for events later in the summer, and the result here seem to validate that.
Our scheduling is dependent on UAF, but it looks like we’ll stick to early June for the time being. The one caveat here is the potential 24-hour race; more on that below at that question.
The comments mostly emphasized the above conclusions.
- Good date, but would be okay on a weekend later when there are only short races scheduled.
- No earlier! [I hear ya.]
- Worked well as a long run at this point in the summer.
- Would be great as an alternate to the Santa Claus Half Marathon. [I don’t think I want to go there, but it does point to some flexibility.]
Q2: Did you like the UAF West Ridge Trails as the event venue? Or should we look for a different venue next year?
Message received! We’ll keep it at the UAF West Ridge as long as they’ll have us.
The comments mostly raved about the trails, reinforcing just how fortunate we are in Fairbanks to have the West Ridge both for summer and winter activities.
- Perfect mix of uphills and downhills, and different running surfaces.
- Mix it up on different trails, but keep the start/finish in the same place. [It certainly worked out well all around.]
- Great having it “in town,” easy to get to.
- A few people suggested Birch Hill as another option, but without a strong recommendation. I had thought about there, but it would be way hillier. And probably soggier, as one person commented.
Q3: This years long loop was about 6 miles, which is quite a bit longer than what is typical for a timed run. Should we change the length?
This one surprised me a bit. I was leery of a 6-ish mile loop, since events like this in the Lower 48 tend to be much shorter loops, around a mile or two. And some do them on the track, but we won’t go there! A shorter loop has you visiting the main aid station more frequently, eliminating the need for a water-only aid station, and probably saving all but the most constant energy drink sippers from having to carry anything.
The comments mostly reinforced that the length was good, particularly since at a 10-minute pace it took an hour to make it around. Most people felt like the 6-mile loop kept them engaged without being too repetitive. From the comments:
- Longer would be good but only if it’s on dirt and doesn’t cross any roads. [Doable on the West Ridge, but it would be a more convoluted course.]
- Include an optional longer loop to make it less boring. [Hmm. My main concern with this is making the timers’ job more complicated than it already is. On the other hand, they rocked with the two loop sizes.]
- Include an optional mid-length loop to give more flexibility. [Ditto on my concerns for the timers.]
- Having the long and short loops worked well.
- A couple of people commented that they’d prefer loops exactly 6 miles and a half mile. The problem here is that it is impossible to precisely measure trail courses; that’s why courses that have anything more than a trivial amount of non-paved surfaces can’t be certified by USATF. But one commenter implied that they were so close, we should have just called it 6 and 0.5 miles. I’m not comfortable with that, but maybe it’s something to consider for the purpose of calculating results.
So the consensus is 6 miles (and a half mile). But some food for thought.
Q4: The Skarland trail on the UAF Web Ridge is fairly hilly, but not extreme. Should the course be more or less hilly, or was it good?
Okay, you have spoken loudly and clearly, between this and Q3! I was fairly confident that most people wouldn’t consider the hills to be extreme, but wasn’t sure if over the course of the day it would be too much.
Most of the comments said that the amount of vertical was good, with a couple saying a bit flatter and a couple saying more hills. I’m not sure how we could make it flatter (maybe by skipping the cut over into the Potato Field). But we could certainly make it hillier by adding Big Whizzy or Midnight Express or the like, but that would add considerable distance to the large loop. I had also run a few other small changes by a couple of people who nixed them, so I think the trail will be the same in 2017 since most people were happy with them.
One commenter suggested allowing the loops to be run in either direction, and I’ve heard that from a few other people as well. So that is something we’re considering. I think that will add to the social nature of the event, since you’re more likely to see a few more people over the course of the day. But most people will have plenty of solitude mixed in, so I think everyone will be well served.
Q5: Should we add a 24 hour race? Would you enter it in the next year or two if we did?
This one ended up being an interesting set of results. One the one hand, each response was fairly evenly split between respondents. But the yeses dominated, with about 65%. On the other hand, people who would only be inclined to do a 24-hour race didn’t respond, since they didn’t participate in 2016 and so didn’t do the survey. So overall, I think there is strong interest in a 24-hour race. One thing I was concerned about was volunteer support for those extra 12 hours, particularly since those hours will be overnight. But I’ve gotten a good initial response for help, so that makes it feasible.
In the comments, people were varied quite a bit, mostly positive about the 24-hour race, whether or not they’d be interested in it, and a few saying that it would make more people interested in the event. One commenter said that it seems like 24-hours would be too long for a 6-mile course, but I think that is countered by the number of 24-hour races on much shorter courses, including tracks. Interestingly, a couple of people said it might encourage them to move to the 12-hour race from the 6 this year.
So, in 2017 we’ll do a 24-hour race! At the very least, it will be…interesting! I’ll have to train for sleep deprivation.
Q6: There have been calls for letting 6-hour runners start at either 8AM or 2PM (and if we add a 24 hour race, similar options for the 12 hour people). Should we make that change?
Well, hmm. I’m conflicted here because clearly there is a preponderance of people who participated in 2016 who enjoyed the grand finale finish, as challenging as it was for the timers! As a spectator at that point, I certainly enjoyed it.
But leading up to the 2016 event, I was contacted by several people–I’d say about a half dozen off the top of my head–who asked about an 8 A.M. start for the 6-hour race. When I said not this year, most didn’t sign up (but a couple ended up volunteering!). So I think there is some strong interest in an option for either an 8 A.M. or 2 P.M. start. I suppose we could offer the same sort of thing for the 12-hour race, but I’m not sure how much interest there would be for that option since it would be only overnight.
Most of the comments centered around with the fun of the group finish or concern about overwhelming the timing volunteers.
So, I’m conflicted between making the event more welcoming and accessible, and the fun of the big finish. I think we’ll give the 8 A.M. option a try for 6-hour folks, but not do an 8 P.M. option for 12-hour people (but will be open if I get interest when registration opens). It will be an experiment, and we’ll evaluate this again after the 2017 event.
Q7: The overall race this year was 8AM to 8PM. Should we start earlier, later, or is that good? (A change would affect a 24 hour race as well.)
You have spoken! The comments were mostly that 8 to 8 is within a good range, but a couple of people said they mildly preferred a bit later start. Since the consensus is generally that 8 to 8 works, we’ll stick with that. I’m a bit adverse to going too much later since that makes the end of the day later, an issue with the folks who pack and clean up after everything is done.
Q8: We tried to provide an aid station with typical ultra fare, with some special goodies. What should we not provide next year? What was missing that you would love to have for your best ever race? Was the water-only remote aid station adequate?
[This was a comment-only question, so there is no results chart.]
For the most part the comments were positive about the aid station and volunteers, and that the water-only aid station was adequate. A few observations from the comments:
- Having Ziploc bags available to take snacks on the trail worked well.
- Appreciated having spoons in the bowls and gloves for the volunteers. Sanitation counts!
- Suggestions for other things: peanut or PB M&Ms [I thought we had those?], and saltier chips.
- Transporting personal water bottles or cups from the start to the water-only aid station would be helpful. [We’ll definitely plan on this for 2017.]
- It was great not being wasteful with cups, but some, such as for Coke, would be great.
- Late in the race, salty soups would be nice. [We thought about warm foods if the day were rainy or cool, but they didn’t seem necessary this year.]
- More fruit options, maybe some basic food at the remote aid station. [I’m a bit reluctant to do the latter unless someone is out there, because of squirrels and other thieves. If we can get volunteers to do that, we’ll consider it.]
- More salty stuff, maybe pretzels.
- Aid station food was overkill, maybe have fewer things in each category.
Thanks for all the great comments!
Q9: Was the help from the volunteers at the start/finish aid station adequate for your needs? Or a distraction?
We love our volunteers, and I’m super happy to see that you seemed to as well! Nonetheless, it looks like we can improve a bit. From the comments:
- Grab-and-go cups of water, Coke, whatever, would be helpful. [Clearly, we need to think about our cups policy. I hate waste, but…]
- Number of volunteers was overkill. One person at the aid station would be sufficient, at least during the first six hours. [We normally had just one, but I and others sometimes jumped in when things got busy.]
- Loved the music!
Q10: Please share any other comments you have about how we can make the AETR the best ultra event ever.
[This was a comment-only question, so there is no results chart.]
Mostly the comments here were enthusiastic, with kind comments about all our efforts to bring another–unique–ultra to the Interior. I and the other volunteers deeply appreciate your kindness!
The suggestions included:
- Any chance of getting a temporary port-a-john somewhere else on the course? That might be nice. And can any strings be pulled to get the Ballaine Lake one emptied prior to the race? (It was clean, but the fill level was a little scary.)
This is definitely on our list of things to look into, particularly since UAF has moved the one near the starting area about twice as far away. We may need to have a temporary toilet near the start area, and we may try to work with UAF to get theirs serviced in the days before the event. Sorry for scaring you!
- I only hope it doesn’t get too big because as it was this year it felt just about perfect. Maybe it could double in size to 50 people, but I wouldn’t want it to get too big so that it’s crowded.
Yep, we understand. I think we’re a ways from it becoming too big, but we’ll keep an eye on that over time as things develop.
- I would be interested in signing up for a two-person team option if there was enough interest.
We’ve gotten some requests to do relay teams. I’m looking into how that would work, since it seems like it would open up the event to more people who might start by doing the relay and then later move on to an individual event. I’d love to do this in 2017, but am still evaluating how it would work and impact the event. Stay tuned!
- I think the name is a little awkward. I would always have to stop and think about what I was saying when people would ask about it. Even something like Fairbanks Endurance Race would be good or something short and sweet that explains it, but not verbose. (or Fairbanks Endurance Alaska Race—FEAR ha ha)
I hear you on this, and FEAR is tempting. At this point, we’re in the statewide calendar as AETR so I’m leery of making a change at this point, but we’ll certainly think about it. We agonized over the name last year, but are happy to revisit it.
- Lots of people sort of stumbled over the name as they were referencing it around town and some people even resorted to simply calling it ‘Don’s Race’. Perhaps tying in some history and referencing Ivar Skarland (i.e. The Skarland Endurance Trail Run? The very trails we were on were likely cut by Skarland himself.
Yikes. I definitely don’t want it to be known as Don’s Race; there are way too many other people involved. I’m leery of naming it after the trails, since we’re at UAF as their guests and they can decline to host us any time they want. Honoring Ivar would be nice, but I think that if we had to move to other trails it would be confusing since his name is so closely associated with that trail system. Nonetheless, more food for thought.
- I would also consider using a different color flagging. The green flagging did sort of blend in the brush in certain locations. I didn’t hear of anyone getting lost so perhaps this isn’t a priority.
Hmm. The only course marking problem I heard about was getting around the downed tree on the T-Field Road, right before turning onto the Potato Field. If we have obstacles like that next year I’ll definitely mark it better. I wanted flagging that was a different color than others used by other events, and the greenish-yellow flags were the option. Since this seems to have been a fairly mild concern, we’ll probably use the same next year, but I may add a discrete sign or two where necessary.
- I think continuing to use the same UAF trail system though changing the course up on an annual basis would provide some incentive for those who ran it this year to come and run it again next year. It would also generate some discussion leading up to the race regarding ‘what Don will come up with this year’ and allow some flexibility if and when certain sections of the trail system are closed.
As noted above, I did consider a few changes, and like the idea of changing it up a bit. We probably won’t change it for 2017, unless UAF requests us to for some reason, but in the future we’ll mix it up. One thing we’ll probably do in 2017 is to allow running the big loop in either direction; there seems to be interest in that.
- Maybe just ask for a shirt size when people sign up, and possibly offer a women’s option. Plus unisex shirts are basically men’s shirts.
I hear you. The only problem is that we have to order the shirts well before the event, but yes, we can certainly ask for shirt sizes for people signing up early. With this small a race, it’s hard and expensive to get too granular with shirt sizes, but I’ll do my best to figure this out.
- I really enjoyed the event, but my biggest criticism is that it was overpriced. I would rather see less amenities and a lower price tag.
We’re definitely going to think about pricing for next year. I tried to base the cost on other events, since I had no idea how the financials would work out for the first year. Now I have a handle on that. Another thing to look at is the relative prices of the different races as well. I’m not sure I want to reduce amenities, but it’s something to consider. Stay tuned on this.
- Would be fun to be able to switch directions of the loop.
Yep, something we’re considering and will almost certainly do. I think we can make it work to not overwhelm the timers.
GREAT comments! Thanks so much for taking the time to complete the survey and share your thoughts. We’re definitely going to make some changes as a result. Please, please, let me know any other thoughts or concerns you have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next year!