Follow the roots of some of the D.C. area’s trail race directors

Pictured with Tracey Dahl is Furbutt, the VHTRC mascot, who she bought for the 25th Women’s Half Marathon in 2017.

Putting on a race is no small task.

Race directing usually involves hours (and hours) of prep work to scout course routes, secure permits, find and order materials on time, and coordinate an army of volunteers. Not to mention scrambling to make last-minute adjustments for terrible weather or missing volunteers.

Even with all the logistical gymnastics and giant drains on free time, most race directors certainly arent in the game to make money.

We talked with four local trail RDs about how they got started with their events, why they keep at it, and how every single one believes race directing is a team sport.

(Responses edited for length and clarity)

Tracy Dahl

Age: 39

Alexandria, Va.

Race: VHTRC Womens Half Marathon Sept. 7, 2019 Fairfax Station, Va.

How long have you been the race director of your race?

Since 2012

What were your motivations for becoming the RD? What keeps you in this role?

The Women’s Half Marathon was my first trail race, and I caught the bug. Within a few years, I was running ultras on far-flung trails in California and Mount Blanc, though I always had a soft spot for my first race back home. When I heard it needed a new RD, I jumped on the chance to give back. I wanted to revive old race traditions, like handing out stuffed animals on the course, and start new ones, like having smoothies at the finish line. Mostly, I wanted to continue the VHTRC’s commitment to providing a safe space for female runners curious about making the leap from roads to trails. I’ve kept at it because RD high is even better than runners high.

Whats your proudest RD moment?

I met a woman at one of our training runs a few years ago. She’d never run a half-marathon or anything on trails, and now she has a few 100-mile trail races under her belt. I’m honored that the half helped her discover her passion.

Are there any crazy stories from your race?

I was expecting a baby one week before last year’s race, but I wasn’t expecting him to come a few days early. While I was in labor, I spent several hours finalizing race hand-off details to my volunteer day-of RDs only to learn a few days later that we had to cancel the race because the park was concerned about recent rain. Talk about a labor of love!

What do you wish youd known as a new RD?

Your course isn’t yours alone. The trails belong to everyone, and sometimes they’re re-routed. Be flexible about distance.

Any tips for others who want to start or take over a race?

Volunteers can make or break your event. At the Women’s Half, there’s one RD and about 60 volunteers. Even more than the RD, the volunteers create the race atmosphere. If you’re thinking about starting a new event, be sure you have support from people who understand your vision.

Barry Hauptman runs the Stone Mill 50 Mile in 2013. Photo: Ken Trombatore

Barry Hauptman

Age: 56

Bethesda, Md.

Race: Stone Mill 50-Mile Endurance Run Nov. 9, 2019 Montgomery County, Maryland

How long have you been the race director of your race?

Since 2014

What were your motivations for becoming the RD? What keeps you in this role?

Giving back to our wonderful community of trail runners

Whats your proudest RD moment?

We were just named a National championship event for 2020 by the Road Runners Club of America, but also just seeing firsttime 50miler [finishers] get it done.

Are there any crazy stories from your race?

In 2016 the school representative never came to unlock the school, so there were no bathrooms available before the race.

What do you wish youd known as a new RD?

No matter how much you plan and prepare its impossible to pull off an ultra perfectly. Surround yourself with experience and give the key roles to people you fully trust to be there and do it right.

Any tips for others who want to start or take over a race?

On race day, the RD should merely be the conductor of the orchestra.

Rosaryville Veteran’s Day 50k Co-Race Director with 2018 winner Alexander Hetherington. Photo: John Valentine

Tom DeKornfeld

Age: 66

Annapolis, Md.

Race: Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K Nov. 9, 2019 Upper Marlboro, Md.

How long have you been the race director of your race?

Since 2010

What were your motivations for becoming the RD? What keeps you in this role?

The club president askedme to do it. I love the race and all the volunteers who make it happen.

Whats your proudest RD moment?

That so many volunteers return year after year. Also, I feel an irrational joy whenever I see someone wearing a Rosaryville hat, particularly in another state.

Are there any crazy stories from your race?

One year it was so cold that we wrapped the pavilion in plastic sheeting to have a warm place for runners and volunteers to hang out.

What do you wish youd known as a new RD?

I wish I knew how to operate the time machine, I still wish I knew how to do that.

Any tips for others who want to start or take over a race?

Be a good communicator! Make sure that everyone runner and volunteers knows whats going on, particularly if there are problems. Then do what you say you are going to do!

Toni Aurillo, with adrenaline coursing through her veins, shows off the registration tables before the Devil Dog Ultra runners show up.

Toni Aurilio

Age: 44

Stafford, Va.

Race: Devil Dog Ultras 100-miler and 100K Dec. 7-8, 2019 Prince William Forest Park, Va. 

Trail runner: 11 years

How long have you been the race director of your race?

2019 will be our fourth year 

What were your motivations for becoming the RD? What keeps you in this role?

The main motivation to create this race was to fill a void we saw in the 100-mile/100k races on the East Coast. There’s no lack of hard mountain races in our area, and we have fairly flat, beginner-friendly 100-milers, but there was nothing in-between. Prince William Forest Park seemed like the solution. This location tied in nicely with our desire to pay homage to the Marine Corps since it borders TBS (The Basic School) at Marine Corps Base Quantico where every Marine Corps Officer is trained. The reason I continue to be the RD for Devil Dog Ultras is the team. Our team, without whom the race wouldn’t exist, is everything. It’s a group of dedicated trail runners who love supporting fellow trail runners. The love of the sport through these people is infectious and shows in everything we do. 

Whats your proudest RD moment?

My proudest moment as RD isn’t just one moment. I’m filled with an intense amount of pride every year when I hear from runners, crew and pacers about how amazing they were treated by all the volunteers. Even the people who dont finish rave about how wellrun the race is and they gush about how incredibly kind and helpful our volunteers are. There’s nothing like that feeling knowing there are a group of people giving their time to these runners to make them achieve a goal. It’s just the best.

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