Small But Mighty: Redbird Crest 100K Recap & Unstoppable Award Announcement

2017 Redbird Crest 100K Race Director’s Recap & Unstoppable Award Announcement

Redbird was weird.  We talked a little about the mystique of the area in our Running Redbird blog series.  From the moment we conceived of the race to the moment we pulled onto the highway at 5am on Sunday, the Redbird Crest experience was unlike any other race we have ever conducted.

The start line lights up the forest in the early hours of the morning.

The Redbird Crest Trail is more remote than any other race location in the Next Opportunity arsenal.  The local communities were new to us, and we were strangers there before this race came into existence.  Communications challenges were bigger than ever.  For runners, there are very few lodging options in the area.  There are limited stores and restaurants which is a challenge for crews, runners, volunteers, and organizers.  In total the Redbird Crest 100K is just one giant obstacle for anyone involved.  

That is why I’m so shocked that it went so well!  It is a credit to the local community, the runners, and the volunteers that we pulled it off and everyone had a great experience.  I will spare the boring details of a play-by-play breakdown of the weekend from my perspective.  Instead, I want to address a few key areas that really speak to the identity that this race has created for itself.

Base Camp

This race was originally conceived as an out-and-back course, and it basically was that on race day.  However, moving the start and finish line from the Peabody Trailhead to the  Sugar Creek Trailhead turned out to be the best possible decision we could have made.  There were five or six different reasons for making that change, but ultimately I loved it because the Sugar Creek really turned into a true “base camp.”  

Men's leader Nate Wenger comes through Sugar Creek at mile 20.

With the original course layout, the essential race operations along with the race organizers would have been stranded out at Peabody all day in seclusion while runners and crew were out along the rest of the course.  Having the base of operations at Sugar Creek, which is at a central point along the race course, really created a unique campout- and party-like experience for all of us.  It was great for organizers, volunteers, crew, and pacers to be able to set up their own little “sites” at Sugar Creek and wait for our runners to come through three separate times throughout the day.

We really got to see the race unfold. We got to watch as runners progressed both mentally and physically throughout the race.  Runners came through at mile 41 with new scratches, bruises, and stories to tell than what they had when they passed through Sugar Creek at mile 20.  I personally enjoyed getting to know crew members throughout the day.  I also got a chance to talk to runners at several points along their journey which is something I don’t get to experience in any other event.  The closest experience to that is at the Hot Hot Hundred.  At the Hot Hot Hundred, however, runners finish a loop and get to rest while a team member runs his or her laps.  At Redbird, no one is ever “off the clock.”  They need to turn around right away and head back out there!

I could not be happier with our Sugar Creek start and finish line, and look forward to taking that party zone to the next level in 2018!


Another cool result of changing up the course was that it really split the course into thirds.  First runners have a traditional out-and-back route along a 10 mile stretch of trail.  That is the first 20 miles.  Then runners, after coming back to the start line at Sugar Creek, have to run the loop section of the course twice - in opposite directions.  The loops make up the second and third 20-mile sections.  Okay, the loop is more like 21 (ish) miles.  

Have three 20-mile sections led to a lot of interesting conversations about how fast runners did one split versus another or how the first third compares to the last third and so on.  What a fun way to track a race and to give runners additional goals in years to come.  Who is up for improving their 2nd split next year?

Shawn Hawk closes out his 2nd split as the sun sets.  Shawn would go on to finish 3rd overall.

Where are all the runners?

Let’s state the obvious.  This was a small race.  We had 30 people sign up.  24 showed up to race.  18 finished.  There are a lot of reasons why this race was so small:  first year race, unknown area, remoteness and lack of amenities, short notice (we just launched the event in July), and others.  We got several “Only 30?” comments on race morning, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make us feel like a bit of a failure.  We’ve had small races before, but nothing like that.  One thing Brandy and I pride ourselves on is being able to promote a race and garner “buzz” for our events.  

But again.  Redbird is weird.

18 year old Allison Kossen is thrilled to see base camp!

As I gathered everyone into the starting chute at 6:55 am for the pre-race announcements I was struck by how silent everyone was.  The energy felt low.  I did my best to pump everyone up despite my awkward introverted discomfort in doing so.  Nonetheless, the group was quiet.  As I laid out my typical “follow the checkered ribbons” pre-race speech I thought inwardly that everyone seemed disappointed in the event.  Disappointed that we were not able to get a bigger crowd.  

Then the race started.  For the Race Director, there is always a moment of quiet after the start of the race.  Nine months of planning have now come to an end, and there is nothing you can do now but let the event unfold.  I stood at the trailhead and watched the lights from the headlamps disappear over the ridge and realized something.  I was wrong.  These runners weren’t disappointed.  The silence at the start line was not a reflection of their level of happiness with the event.  That silence was the dull stillness that surrounds someone who is about to do something bigger than themselves.  The runners were focused.  They may have even been a little intimidated.  No one really knew what was ahead.

I began to see this group of runners differently.  This group was not just the group of “only” 30 runners who we could coax into running the event.  This was a group of 30 of the bravest and most daring athletes that were willing to meet this extreme challenge head-on.  As the race unfolded and runners progressed along the course I began to see them not as “the only ones that would show up” but instead as the elite few who would meet the obstacles ahead with strength, courage, and determination.

If I could go back in time, I would assemble the same small group of daring individuals.  No hesitation.  Redbird Crest 100K runners are fully equipped to take on any race in the country.  They may be a small group, but they are mighty.

What’s Next

As with any first-year event, we must evaluate what worked, what needs to be improved, what needs to be eliminated, and what needs to be changed entirely.  Will the course be exactly the same next year?  Will we add distances? Will we add aid stations?  Who knows!  This all requires diligent review and analysis.  That is what is ahead for all of us here at Next Opportunity.  We cannot, however, consider the 2017 Redbird Crest 100K anything but a huge success.  

Unstoppable Award Recipient

At every event, we designate one runner as UNSTOPPABLE.  This is a runner that displays unmatched grit, perseverance, and strength.  The Unstoppable Award is given to someone who overcame enormous obstacles and did not quit despite being presented with numerous opportunities to do so.  Sometimes we choose the Unstoppable Award recipient based on our own observation of the athlete. Sometimes Unstoppable Award recipients are recommended to us by volunteers or other runners.  Regardless of how we choose the the Unstoppable runner at each event, that runner has proven themselves as battle-hardened and unwilling to accept defeat.

The Unstoppable Award for the 2017 Redbird Crest 100K is being presented to Marian Salmon!

Over the course of roughly 19 hours, we watched Marian battle through obstacle after obstacle.  A first time 100K runner, Marian’s obstacles began before the race even started when she realized she did bring any water bottles with her to the race!  This alone would have discouraged many runners to the point of failure.  Not Marian.  She solved that problem and moved on to the next one.  Running alone for much of the race Marian took her first 100K endeavor in stride and pushed onward despite the cold, despite the darkness, and despite the difficulty of the rugged eastern Kentucky mountains.  

Marian Salmon hanging tough with her new bottles at mile 41.  Photo by Mike Salmon.

Marian’s determination and bright attitude were inspiring to all of us who had the privilege to witness her journey.  Please join us in congratulating Marian on a fantastic and inspiring effort.  As with all Unstoppable Award recipients, Marian receives a free bid into next year's race.

Marian, you are UNSTOPPABLE.

Thanks to everyone involved in helping to make the 2017 Redbird Crest 100K a success!

Sunset as runners head off on their second "loop" and the final 20 miles.  Photo by Andrei Shliakhau.

Michael WhismanComment