It’s a slightly sweeping statement… but there are two kinds of runners; those willing to embrace all the rules set out, and those hell bent on testing their elasticity. Trail running is a globally growing entity. This growth has resulted in race directors having to consider and apply changed thinking or revised rules. In many ways, rules tend to fly in the face of the spirit of trail running. We’re all out there for a sense of freedom, and many of the world’s top trail runners are true renegades in terms of character and life choices. But we aren’t all blessed equally when it comes to common sense, so rules have to be outlined and applied. A recent article in Ultra Running Magazine, written by Gary Cantrell, highlights some vital insight in to the flip side of rule application.

Step in to the heart of the race director (RD).  

Gary writes, “Running ultras is supposed to be fun. The last thing we want to deal with is having a bunch of rules to worry about. Unfortunately, ultrarunning is practiced by humans. And, without rules, some of those humans are bound to take liberties with what might seem innately obvious. Every race director would like to see rules kept to a minimum.”

Gary goes on to describe every race director’s nightmare. “Enforcement is unpleasant for everyone. A race director’s greatest pleasure is seeing the runners enjoy themselves. Runners in the course of being disqualified do not enjoy themselves. RDs start not enjoying themselves at the first report of a rules infraction, and the un-enjoyment of the day only intensifies through the fact finding, and deliberations. The actual disqualification itself is only icing on the cake.”

Any race director worth his salt will tell you that the moment a rule infringement is identified, a time penalty or DQ has to be handed down, or a runner cut from their race for whatever reason, he or she would rather be anywhere else but there; transformed suddenly to the grim reaper of the mountain, spouting doom and gloom. 

There is a grand futility attached to the deliberations and arbitration that sometimes follow a tough race ruling. But as we weren’t all created equal in terms of common sense, nor were we all created equal in terms of our moral fibre.

“Most people start out by thinking that the only rule necessary is that you must travel the entire distance on foot. Experience teaches the RD that such simplification is filled with loopholes (real or perceived). Someone will ride on the tailgate of a truck, dragging their feet the entire way, and argue that they were “on my feet.” The problem is that rules are written by people who are focused in the intent of the rule, but are often read by those who believe that they were intended as word parsing riddles, which, by being solved, can open up easier ways of achieving the desired end result”, says Gary.

In short, research is key. Know the rules upfront and work with the organisers, rather than against them.