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Friday, July 15, 2016

Not On My Race Weekend!

This post is straying from my normal, hey this is what I'm doing for running format, and delves into the political landscape of the local running scene. This blog has always been about a place to voice my goals and opinions, and that won't stop in this case. I welcome discussion on the following topic, as the discussion will help find the solutions. Keep in mind, I have friends on both sides of this conflict, and I do not place any of my observations or points below on them.

These opinions are my own.

Photo Cred: Brie Hemingway

Without further ado, here goes.

A week ago, the KneeKnacker Ultra, a storied and vital part of the local ultra running scene in Vancouver took place. The race starts in Horseshoe Bay and travels 30 miles along the Baden Powell (BP) to Deep Cove.
To say that it has gained popularity over the years is an understatement. The race is host to a lottery now, and gaining entry has become the holy grail for both local and international runners. KneeKnacker is a big supporter for trail maintenance, North Shore Search and Rescue and other very positive elements of the trail community. I know many of the key people, and they are amazing individuals who go above and beyond. This is part of what makes what happened a bit touchy.

KneeKnacker Facebook Banner

Many friends and local runners didn't make the lottery this year. So, doing what most Ultra and trail runners do, they support the race and its racers. Some ran aid stations, others crewed racers, and many were course marshals on what turned out to be one of the worst weather days of the year. They arrived early, did their thing, got soaked, and had a fabulous time.

Photo Cred: KK Lottery Losers Consolation Run Runners

As a consolation to the losers, two of my friends set up a private Facebook event called "KK Lottery Losers Consolation Run" the next day. It's unofficial, used no flagging, didn't get promoted outside of Facebook, and was basically a chance for some friends to run the Baden Powell and help each other out along a classic and well used trail system on the day following the race.
The popularity of this small event saw just over 20 people make the attempt. A few more decided to run bits and pieces depending on their time commitments and physical capacity. It was a fun run. The weather was perfect, and the group set off. A few racers from the official KneeKnacker race the day before decided to return the favour and crew their friends with supply drops and camaraderie.

Photo Cred: Kenzie A.

Then the pics starting coming in. The official race day pics and the unofficial next day group run started streaming everyone's social media feeds at the same time. The race pics looked like hell. Joyous, wet, and sluggish hell. The unofficial consolation run pics looked like glorious mountain horizon, sun and clear skies frolicking. So down comes the hammer.

Photo Cred: Solana K.
The Knee Knacker RD and planning committee send out the equivalent of "cease and desist". They state the following in a Facebook post:

"Please do not schedule an event on the BP trail on that weekend. And yes, that includes the day immediately after, as the perception is that it could be affiliated with our event. That could then affect our future ability to obtain permits and insurance.
- Do not use the “Knee Knacker” name/brand as part of your event’s name.
- Do not use our logos or likeness in any of your advertising or awards.

Okay, fine, the last two points are a given. So, renaming the run without KneeKnacker in it is easy. Instead, it can be called, "Consolation Run for the Race That Shall Not Be Named."

Also, a crafty person separate from the KneeKnacker made a (as in one to share) tongue in cheek trophy for the people who made it the whole 30 miles. Its likeness to the official Knee Knacker logo is clear, and in hindsight was a poor call, albeit in homage to the race versus competition.

The Trophy That Shall Not Be Named 

The demand not to run on the BP on the same weekend is atrocious!
When did a race committee or RD have the right to stop people from using the trail on the whole weekend? What about a local hiking group or a dog walking group? If they set up a Facebook event would they get the same message from the official race? Please don't walk your dogs on the BP trail, because we have a race that doesn't allow dogs and we don't want the permitting department to think we have dogs on the race. What about Mountain Bikes? The whole thing opens up a big can of worms.

I don't ever recall having to ask a race for permission to run on trails. 
Bandits, I can agree with. Illegal pacers, sure. 

Those all occur at the start time the race begins and end when the race officially finishes and the support is removed via cut off times or other logistics.

This overbearing (and in my opinion poorly directed) control was based on ego and fear, two things that have a tendency to inflame versus resolve situations.

Does past positive political capital in the way of history, trail support and SAR funding, that a smaller, less influential organizing body wouldn't have, allow for these actions and communications to take place? In my opinion, no.

What would have been a better way to handle the situation? How about this:

"Hey Guys, looks like you had a fun run on Sunday, and thank you for paying homage to the race that we all care about. I think it's great that you got a small group together and accomplished your goals and pushed each other to high achievements. At least the weather was better on your event day!
Having said that, can you please not use our logo and name in your event. It seems like a small thing, and I'm certain you meant no harm, but it does make our permitting tricky if the officials think our race and your Facebook event are related. Here's to hoping the lottery gods are in your favour for 2017! Enjoy the beer."

So what's the actual outcome? Well, everyone who ran on Sunday are guilted into feeling they are awful people. The same people who helped support KneeKnacker, who volunteer countless hours to trail awareness, who organize running based charities, who develop social development of the sport and outreach programs to help support the sport we love.

Why did this happen? The KneeKnacker are self professed "grassroots" and yet they took a very institutionalized approach to a grass roots social media based event. I see it as a disconnect of generations. Several years ago, the Sunday run only would have been made aware to the people who ran it, and their pictures would have been on Kodak rolls, taken to the pharmacy, and developed, put into an album and shared over a week later in a personal album. Now, those same pics hit the public airwaves WHILE the event was still happening, and flooded the social media feeds at the same time as the official race photos were being posted. It stepped on their toes. It stole their thunder in a manner and that hurts a bit when you spend a year planning a major race.

Despite our best wishes, after awhile, even grassroots events like the KneeKnacker become "institutions," and, as an institution, they must protect what they created, even if it means taking up arms versus the people who support their race.
An idea, formed by some runners to "console" the lottery losers and do a self supported, unofficial run the next day, became a threat. This event is allegedly not the only one that the KneeKnacker has taken issue with. What is their agenda? I would love to know, as it can not be solely based on the fear of permits.

The grassroots of yesterday is being overridden by the grassroots of tomorrow. It's going to happen more and more. That's the strength of Social Media and events based on individuals versus committees. Our running group We Run Mas has an anniversary run every November. Due to it's size, should I contact other running groups and tell them NOT to run on the same day as it detracts from our event? That's absurd, and what KneeKnacker did is likewise in my opinion absurd and unwarranted.

The fallout of this requires communication. One of the KK committee whom I know well, is an awesome dude, and whom I respect greatly has asked us to continue our discussion over a beer. I like that. Communication is always good, and is a key factor for this blog post. Opinions must be known, and I feel strongly that individuals and ideas that support the community are more important than institutions, regardless of where their roots started.

Giants of our Community
Photo Cred: Karen Samuelson

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