A lot of time and effort goes into selecting one of our courses. Above just finding 13.1 miles of running we take the following into consideration: Road surface, time of year, race logistics, event logistics, course design, and vehicle traffic.
Regarding course design, we like to rely on local knowledge as much as possible. Several of our courses, including Lake Powell and Grand Teton, have been made better because of local input.
While we take all of this into account and more, there are really 2 things that are more important to us (and our runners) than anything else: 1. Proximity to the park and 2. How pretty and scenic the course is.
If you haven’t seen the Yosemite Half course yet, click here.
PROXIMITY TO THE PARK
From the start, we were pretty sure we would be unable to operate our events in the main sections of the parks. In most instances we attempted to engage the park rangers to find potential solutions. In the instances where we were actually able to discuss things with a park ranger (in some cases a commercial event was a non-starter), we were universally denied.
Despite this I found that we could still manage some breathtaking courses just outside of the National Parks. When I asked runners if not being inside the park boundaries would be a deal breaker, here were the responses:
As you can see, while some runners lose interest in our races because of this, the overwhelming majority have told us it makes no difference to them. What we have found after two years of doing this series is that many people use our races as an excuse to visit these national parks. Because of this, we have tried to get our races as close as we can to the parks as we can. Most of the courses we have are literally a few feet from the park boundary. I held off launching Yosemite because I knew it would be a larger issue than most other top parks. Yosemite is a very big park. 1,169 square miles big. However, unlike another big park Yellowstone (3,472 square miles), nearly everyone focuses on a 7 square mile section in the middle called “Yosemite Valley”. Indicated by the section on the map on the left.
If you have ever been to the valley, you can understand why everyone focuses on it. It is beyond incredible. Having visited most of the top parks in the country, I have trouble thinking of a more impressive 3.5 mile stretch of land anywhere. It is hard to think of Yosemite without thinking about the valley.
The trouble is, Yosemite Valley is far away from everything. Even if you enter the park from El Portal it is still 20-30 minutes to get to the valley. Like Grand Canyon, we knew getting any sort of view into the park was not going to happen.
So we started looking at bedroom communities outside the park to stage the race. We first reached out to Mariposa and El Portal. I spent 3 days and drove nearly 400 miles in the area looking for options. El Portal is much too small to accommodate even a 500 person event and Mariposa didn’t remind me at all of Yosemite. While the tourism folks at Mariposa are beyond fantastic and were such a pleasure to work with, we just didn’t feel like the area had a “park-esque” feel to it. It is more rolling foothills and farmland than the Sierra Nevada mountains or the granite highlighted in Yosemite Valley.
That took us to Bass Lake. On my first visit to Yosemite I remember thinking how pretty the alpine lakes were as I drove over Tioga pass. While certainly not as pretty as Yosemite valley, we felt like Bass Lake gave a hint of the park. There are granite slabs in the mountains above the lake, and the community is pretty in its own right. We felt like the community of Bass Lake and nearby Oakhurst were going to be our best bet in terms of being near enough to the park. We realized we may lose interest from a lot of runners because the course is not in the park, much less in the valley. However, it follows our model. Bass Lake and Oakhurst, are going to deliver a beautiful venue for a run, and will offer a great place for people to have a home base to visit the park.
Our first course selection was to do a single loop around the lake. It was going to be perfect. However, PG&E who controls the new dam at the lake denied our permit to run across the dam. Without it, there is no way to make the mileage work. We looked at some other options near Nelder Grove, but again could not figure out a good start and finish line that we thought we could pull off well. We loved Recreation Point at Bass Lake as a finish line, but we needed to find a 13.1 mile course that would finish there.
We pay attention to overall elevation gain/loss when designing our courses. It’s not the most important thing though. While the running world seems to be in love with downhill qualifiers, 6 of our 7 other races are either a little uphill or a lot uphill. We care more about how pretty the course is. We settled on a run down Beasore Road. It’s steep. Very steep. Again, it might be too steep for some, but for others it just poses another challenge.
We take steps to make sure people are informed, so they can decide for themselves whether or not the race makes sense to them. Not only do we make sure the course is listed before announcing the race, we also make all runners acknowledge the course when they register, just so we don’t get anyone showing up expecting something different than they are getting.
HOW PRETTY AND SCENIC THE COURSE IS
Because we are unable to run inside park boundaries, we work very hard to try and make the races as pretty and interesting as we can. We have often traded races that might be easier to produce, or that might be less expensive, because it was nothing we could be proud of. Any race associate with a national park, better be super pretty. We think our course gets as pretty as possible without being inside the park. We work hard to try and make the course as representative of the park as we can. Sometimes we get it perfect the first time, sometimes we make improvements from year to year. In every case, you can be sure each race will be beautiful.
We fully understand that we exist as a company only to serve our runners. We take runner feedback very seriously and if we ever get something wrong, we will do our best to correct it. My cell phone number is 949-295-3302. Please feel free to call me if you have any input positive or negative.