Written by Bethany Boll - Head of Operations, Team Impact
When we chat to race directors around the world - particularly when back home - we are always asked how we go about creating and executing in extreme places. Everything from bureaucracy to risk management to the actual finding of a great trail. We have become so comfortable with this side of our operations, we look at the races back at home and regularly think “oh, that looks much harder!”.
After 5 years of creating our systems and building our methods, we thought we would share with you our key system for creating an Impact Marathon Race.
When designing an Impact Marathon racecourse, three core questions are asked. Each carrying a different weight, these questions we keep coming back to as our guides when making key decisions about for instance the amount of total ground covered, loop (or, loops!) versus out-and-back versus point-to-point, and seemingly weird veer-offs or turns along the way.
First, is it safe?
Of course, it’s almost a cliche to say but it is true: Safety is our number one priority. Without this, we do not have a race. That is our baseline. We take great care to review each and every hill, turn, water crossing and landslide for a reasonable balance of challenge, fun and safety - take the Nepal 2019 course, for example: Our first route scouting expedition through Shivapuri National Park took us 15km through a densely overgrown park trail with confusing turns and, about 8km in, a three-meter portion where the trail that had bottomed out leaving a slippery, muddy, vertical traverse that was precarious at best for the savviest trail runners among us. It was simply not an acceptable risk for us to take. Fortunately, thanks to our strong ties to the community and support from the army, we were able to work with the National Park to repair the trail and make it useable for race day. Even then, these sorts of relationships take time to build, and event longer to see the impact of, but when we consider how to make a race safe, there is no better way to secure a race than be completely in-sync with the community.
Trail running is, by nature, a sport that involves risk. Trails are trails - root and rock covered, winding through trees, up steep hills (or mountains, or active volcanos!) and down scree slopes… in-and-out of fields, parks and forests where wild animals roam... It’s all part of it, and it’s all part of the fun. But it’s important that our runners understand the risks involved which is why we hold a mandatory race briefing where we outline the course-specific risks to be aware of and provide emergency contact numbers. No briefing - no race.
Second, is it great?
While we use the term “race”, ours are not races to target for a “win” - there’s no prize money, or a PB - unless it’s your first marathon, that is! The “race” is a victory lap. It’s a celebration of everything our runners have seen and done together with our charity partners and the local community. It’s an exemplification of the power of running to uplift lives and change the world. It’s a time to reflect and enjoy, running together with others for others.
We look for terrain that that tells that story - the story of the community through a physical journey around the countryside, through towns and villages and highlighting the unique features of the place. So, as we scout a route, we ‘deliberately’ get lost, when we see a new trail we head down it to see where it leads - this not only helps us to navigate quickly to any issues come race day, but also to find those places that elevate the race, that take it to a new level.
Third, is it AWESOME?
An Impact Marathon isn’t just a race - it’s a week-long life-changing experience. And we want our racecourse to reflect that - to be a race that is life-changing, that is AWESOME. It’s not always a guarantee and not something we prioritise when working through the first two, but, while we may be biased, we’re happy to say that all of the Impact Marathon racecourses are, truly, AWESOME. What does this mean? It’s the feeling you get when emerging above the treeline on Volcan Pacaya to see the rumbling active crater imposing in front of you. It’s the exhilarating adrenaline rush when you let go of all inhibition and let your legs fly down a scree slope leaving a dust cloud in your wake. It’s the breathtaking glimpses of the Himalayas and never-ending sand dunes that make you stop, snap a picture, and pinch yourself to remind yourself where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re capable of.
It’s how we design the medals for the finish line, or when we brought the biggest band in all of Nepal to open up our first ever race, or, our ill-fated attempt to serve volcano cooked pizza at the summit of the climb in Guatemala.
Is it safe? Yes.
Is it great? Yes.
Is it AWESOME?...