In February of 2015 I sent out a Facebook message to a small group of friends I knew were either runners or otherwise involved in the running community. The message was basically a call to form a grassroots group to begin putting on trail races in Kentucky- something the state severely lacked at the time given its massive network of wilderness trails. After sending that message to my running friends I tried on several occasions to organize meetups and group runs to get things off the ground. No one showed. Distraught, I got down on myself and began wallowing in my own failings until Brandy said simply, “Why don’t we just do it ourselves?”
Next Opportunity Events was born. Fast forward and this week we have just closed out the third annual Hot Hot Hundred trail races which has become one of the most popular trail running events in the region. The event that changed everything for us personally and professionally has grown over 300% in its three years in existence. Directing this race has been an adventure in itself that involves elation, exhaustion, stress, and great emotion.
What makes it special?
Just one of the reasons I love the Hot Hot Hundred so much is that we are able to hold the race on private land which opens up all kinds of possibilities for us as Race Directors. When it comes to race day we can have beer at the race, we can play our music as loud as we want, and we basically get to make the rules when it comes to camping. When it comes to the course, we can make it whatever we want it to be. We are not restricted to only certain trails. If we want to run straight up a hill, we do it. Oh, do we ever! This is the race that we specifically design to be as hard as possible. We intentionally positioned it in August to make the heat as much of a challenge as the course itself. When it comes to the trail, I’m always thinking about how I can make it harder.
Am I sadistic? Of course not. I actually want people to succeed. I want people to have fun. I know, however, that incredible feeling of looking at something you think might be more than you can handle and conquering that obstacle. The Hot Hot Hundred is meant to be the ultimate badge of trail running honor. If it was easy, you wouldn’t feel the pride that you feel when you complete something that you thought was bigger than you.
Another thing that sets this race apart for us at Next Opportunity is that we get a unique opportunity to really get to know our runners. Many competitors arrive on Friday and camp with us until Sunday. Those who arrive on race morning set up their tents, lay out their team sites, and hang out with us all day. Brandy and I have formed lasting friendships with individuals that showed up to run the Hot Hot Hundred. Runners get to know me. They get to know Brandy. They get to know our children. We get to know them. That is truly rewarding because we all become part of the Bluegrass trail running family.
Race week for the Hot Hot Hundred is essentially several days of quiet preparation followed by the three most exhausting and fast paced days of the year. Monday through Thursday are little more than review and final preparations. Brandy and I will meet several times to go over final details. We’ll go shopping. We’ll confirm that the awards are done, the shirts are on schedule to be delivered on time, the timing system works, and more. I’ll go out to the farm and mark the course (usually on Wednesday).
Even Thursday is pretty low key. Registration closes on Wednesday night at midnight. So on Thursday we’ll download our final registrant data, print all of our documents needed for packet pickup, run a final test of the timing system with live data, and generally make sure that everything is ready to go.
Then it’s Friday. And it’s go time.
We are usually up around 4am or so on Friday before the race. It’s then time to start carrying all of our gear out to the trailer and loading everything up. Basically what I’m saying is that when we pull out to head to the race site at about 9am we are already exhausted!
Luckily we’ve done this race enough that we know exactly what needs to happen when we get to the farm. So set up of the race area is a pretty well-organized series of tasks that roll from one to the next pretty efficiently. Runners started rolling in right around 4pm on Friday. It’s always a very emotional feeling to see that first car pull up to any race. All the work we put into planning is now coming to fruition, and we are getting ready to see the reward of all of our hard work.
I really don’t know how to describe Friday night at the Hot Hot Hundred this year. I think back to 2015 and we had maybe 3 or 4 tents set up in the field. There were maybe 10 people including us that were camping. It was a small, intimate group that sat around the campfire making small talk for most of the evening. This year the field was full of camp sites and packed with people playing frisbee, playing cornhole, laughing, and exploring the farm. There must have been close to 40 people camping out on Friday night this year. What a party!
In pretty typical fashion I got into my tent shortly after midnight. Brandy was up even later due to my screw up with the awards! Once again, she saved one of our races and took no credit for it whatsoever. Brandy doesn’t do any social media videos or make any public addresses on race morning, but she is the strategic brain behind what makes these races work.
I’m not a camper. So by the time I finally conked out I logged maybe 3 hours of sleep before my alarm when off at 3:30am on race morning. I made a quick run to Morehead to grab a truck load of ice and get back in time to do our race morning prep. Runners began rolling into the farm and the race was off closer to “on time” than any race we’ve ever done before!
I will take a break here and spare you from a detailed play by play of the day. Instead, I will just give my general takeaways from the weekend. If I were to publicly recognize all of the amazing performances of the day I would inevitably leave someone out. To be sure, just completing a single loop of that course in either direction is an incredible feat. I will just say that we saw so many amazing performances throughout the day.
We saw some fast runners running record breaking split. We saw several all-female teams take on the course and show some dudes that strength and will are not gender specific. We saw teams gut it out into the late late hours of the night and brave that tough course in the dark! We saw teams of three and four runners take on those hills for 3 or even 4 loops from a single runner. We saw heartbreak and frustration as some teams realized that they would not make the midnight cut off. We saw fear and relief from one team when their runner had to be pulled off the course for medical reasons (he was smiling when we found him!). I am honored to have had the privilege to witness all of it.
Runners: your hard work, determination, and courage in the face of fear and intimidation is inspiring.