Yes, the 2012 Ridge Run took place more than 4 months ago, but given its era shifting nature, it is worth looking back before we look forward to 2013.
End of One Era, Beginning of Another
What is most memorable from 2012 is the sheer speed of the winner, Mike Wolfe, and the fact that not just one but two people broke the old course record. Sure nature cooperated with a recently rain moistened course and nearly perfect weather conditions for racing, but 2012 will be remembered as a pivotal year. It makes one wonder, what will be in store for the 2013 Bridger Ridge Run?
The End of the Age of Creel
Does 2012 mark the end of Scott Creel’s dozen-year long total dominance of the Ridge Run? Undefeated with 10 victories in 10 races over the span of a dozen or so years, no one has owned the race like Scott Creel has. In 2012, not just one but two people ran faster than Scott ever has. Or ever will, given Scott’s age. It is foolish to underestimate Scott, he is tough and fast, but there is a certain limited reality that comes with being over 50 years old and Scott’s Ridge Run PR is probably behind him.
Scott may no longer hold the overall course record, but he still has the 40 year old age group record and will likely hold onto that for quite some time. If he decides to do the Ridge Run again, he is certainly capable of winning again. And when he does run again, the 50 year old age group record is his for the plucking. He could easily lop 20 minutes off Matt Lavin’s 50 year old age group record of 3:43. Matt’s record is very stout for 50 year olds, with the sole exception of a 50 year old Scott Creel.
The Beginning of the Age of the… The Next Generation
Looking forward, will someone dominate the Ridge Run like Scott did racking up 10 wins and being undefeated? Not likely. During Scott’s reign, he chose to not participate a few years and each of those years, the field was wide open and someone different won each of those non Creel years. That trend will likely continue. The future of the Ridge Run will probably NOT be dominated by a single runner. There are just so many fast young trail runners these days. It will be hard for someone to duplicate Scott’s accomplishments and dedication.
How 2012 Played Out
If you read the surprisingly prescient pre-race blog post “A Brief Look at Who is Running the 2012 Bridger Ridge Run”, the race played out nearly to script as predicted. Mike Wolfe certainly did challenge the course record and lurking in the list of first time men that had projected a fast time for themselves, Daniel Kraft was the one that turned out to be a potential next Scott Creel. 50 plus year old Mike Carey did notch another sub 4 hour finish and was the master’s age champ.
Perhaps as a harbinger to the future, there were rumors of a world class female trail runner entering the race. The pre-race forecast, did not mention that possibility. The blog writer/prognosticator saw that possibility as low probability and did not have enough confidence in that happening to mention it in the pre-race post.
Maybe 2012’s rumor indicates that soon, the Ridge Run will host another woman of Nikki Kimball’s talent and they will challenge Nikki’s course record. We will see.
What went Wrong
Not everything turned out perfect with the 2012 Ridge Run. Races seldom are flawless. There were a few screw-ups on the Race organizers side of things. Not to dwell on the mistakes, but they are worth mentioning as learning points to prevent such things from happening again. With the goal of a better future, we roll out the dirty laundry…
One mess up was mainly just a nuisance, but two mistakes arguably may have affected how the race unfolded. These are the things that I wish I could roll back the recording tape of life and have the race organizers do things differently.
Course Marking Omissions
Over the years, the Ridge Run has experimented with different degrees of course markings. Strategies have ranged from nearly painting a stripe across the entire Ridge, to ribbons every so often, to no markings at all.
With the exception of around aid stations (where they are not really needed), 2012 employed the no course markings approach. As the years go on, the course gets more worn in and obvious. So course markings are not as critical as they use to be to keep people on track. Nevertheless, 2012 saw more than a few people go off course. From what I heard, it was all at one particular location.
Minde Erickson the woman’s leader was one of those that went off course just past Bridger Bowl. As the trail traverses along just to the west of the Ridge, the course takes an abrupt left turn going steeply back up to the Ridge. This course turn is not obvious. The most worn and visible trail continues straight – traversing below the Ridge. Someone who is not familiar with the course has no way of knowing that they need to leave the most visibly obvious trail by taking a sharp left turn and then head up a steep hill to regain the Ridge. Even those familiar with the course such as Minde can get seduced into going straight, missing the turn.
Speculating on What Could Have Been…
Was Minde’s race affected by going off course? We can only speculate. What we do know is that she lost some time and from her account expended extra energy to get back on course. She got passed when off course and did not regain the lead till right before the finish.
Maybe the course mishap fueled her fire to overcome and race well? Humans do respond courageously when challenged with adversity. And conversely when given a life of ease and a predictable safety net, people become complacent and accomplish little.
Or did the time and energy Minde lost cost her the chance to be the second woman to ever break 4 hours on the Ridge? We will never know what could have been. We will have to gaze to a future race to see if cracking 4 hours is within her grasp.
Granted it is the runner’s responsibility to know the course. An experienced runner such as Minde should have known better and not gone off course. But this is one place where it makes sense to mark the course and give the runners some direction. It is not that far from the Bridge Bowl Aid Station and it could be added to the task list of those setting up the aid station to go down the trail and mark this turn.
Regardless of the current minimalist marking philosophy, I think this is a place on the course that deserves to be well marked.
An even more serious mistake, and one that was entirely the race organizers fault, was not putting Daniel Kraft the eventual second place finisher in the first wave.
This screw up inspires the questions: If Daniel and Mike Wolfe had started together, would it have inspired them to even faster finishes? Or would the added competition cause them to crash and burn and not break the course record? Would having someone near him have pushed Mike to the first sub 3 hour Ridge Run in history? Again we will never know and it is just pure speculation of what could have been. What is done, is done.
Assigning waves to runners is a time consuming and tedious project for the race organizers. There are always people that do not get into the wave they want or the wave they should be in. We’ve had more than one first time participant enter the Ridge Run with very impressive credentials (such as a marathon PR well under 3 hours) end up taking way longer than they thought they would. So it has been a policy of the registration gal to keep all first time runners out of the first wave. In the past and in 2012, there have been many exceptions to this rule and most of the time we get it right of who should be in the first wave.
Unfortunately in the case of Daniel Kraft, this was a major screw up and one I feel bad about. Before the race, I was aware of Daniel’s predicted time and his story about running the course while training in well under 4 hours. When I wrote up the preview of the competition, I included Daniel in the list of first timers with fast sub 4 hour predicted finishing times. As I scrutinized the list of participants and wrote up the pre-race blog post, I should have double checked to make sure all those potential fast people were in the first wave. Being on the race committee, I do have some input (not the final say so) of who is in what wave. So I’d like to personally apologize to Daniel and Mike and to everyone for this mistake.
The Infamous “Fairly Lake Road is BAD” Email
A couple days before the race, registration sent an email to all participants espousing the terrible conditions of the road and to plan on taking twice as long as usual to drive up to the start. This caused a bit of stress and consternation in some participants.
The warning email based on second hand information, turned out to be false and a bit of an embarrassing mistake. The road conditions were some of the best they’ve been – certainly better than most years. I doubt the email significantly affected anyone’s race. But it would have been better to have avoided all the unnecessary reaction, questions, communications, reassurances and hand holding the email stirred up. Especially when coupled with a poorly timed Forest Service announcement in the local paper regarding closing the road up to Fairy Lake because of fire danger.
The needless panic did inspire participants to skip a bit of sleep in the morning. Everyone got up to the start very early. All runners checked in at the start faster than any year I can remember. Never underestimate the power of fear and panic.
Bulk or Mass EMails are a powerful tool when used sparingly and only when necessary. We will try and keep it that way.
On to next year – 2013.