Monday, March 2, 2015

The Benefits of Small Events


Often times I'll come home from an event and comment that while it was fun, it wasn't worthy of an article. However, after a good night's sleep the meaningfulness of that day would slowly sneak up on my consciousness and tap me on the shoulder. The truth is that there is always something to write about. There is always a story. You just have to look for it.

On March 1st, 2015 there was a unique event held at the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve in Venice, Florida. As many of my regular readers know, this is the park where I have worked with the Sarasota County Off Road Riders (SCORR) to build mountain bike trails over the last few years. Previous to this day, there had only been one race event held at the Carlton. Piggy's Revenge is our annual ride/race which raises money for SCORR and introduces people to the park. This year we had our biggest turnout with 160 riders. The elevated level of publicity sparked the desire for yet another event to be held on those same trails. This bring us to the Sasquatch 15K.


The Sasquatch 15K is the brainchild of lifelong runner and Sarasota resident Thierry Rouillard. Thierry greatly enjoyed Piggy's Revenge and thought it would be equally fun to have a trail run in the same location. Just to make it interesting he also included a mountain bike race. Having promoted other similar events like the Community Haven 10K and the Sun-n-Fun 5K, he was well prepared with excellent sponsors. The date was set.

Everything seemed to be ready, except for one important thing, the oxygen. Allow me to explain. Florida has become a Mecca for outdoor athletic events, especially in the winter months. On any given weekend there might be as many as 150 different competitions across the state. When too many of those events take place in the same region, on the same weekend it can shut the window on new developments. It is like sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.


I had signed up for the Sasquatch as soon as I saw the flyer online. Competing in a MTB race on the trails I helped build? Yes please! I thought it was a great idea so I shared the flyer on Facebook. Then I got caught up in my own projects and basically put it in the back of my mind until the night before the event. That evening I was talking to a new friend named Lisa who was looking for somewhere to train on Sunday. I told her about the Sasquatch and she agreed to come. That turned out to be a great decision.

Upon arriving at the pavilion there was only a smattering of runners and no riders except for me and Lisa. I immediately knew what had happened - no oxygen. Still, it didn't sour anyone's spirits. There were about 12 runners ready to go. This included a well known couple of local ultra-runners, Sally and John Libonati. The group was a bunch of happy, energetic people who were thrilled to get out there and explore the park. Their excitement was infectious. The weather was fantastic. This race was on!


Thierry gathered us together, placing myself and Lisa at the front as he started the clock. We took off at a high rate of speed. It was important for the riders to get some distance on the lead runners so they would have room to maneuver. Some of the trails can be narrow in areas and they were a little wet making it harder to keep a high cadence. Luckily adrenaline assisted in accomplishing that goal. We blazed up the red trail and took a left onto the south power lines.

One benefit of being in the front of a trail race is that you get to see the animals. There were 2 deer wandering on the first section of power lines and then 2 more after we crossed the road. On the second lap there was a bald eagle sitting atop the wires watching us pass by. The big attraction in this park is the animals. Very rarely do you miss out on seeing something beautiful.


I have to give praise to my riding partner. I had prepared for this event as if it were going to be epic so my desired speed was a bit high for Lisa. Halfway through the first lap she informed me that this was her first time riding off road. In addition she had a heavy Walmart bike. Plus, the gears didn't work so it was essentially a singlespeed. All of these disadvantages conspired to make her push really hard. When I finally realized what she was up against, we slowed down and started enjoying the sights a little more.

Another benefit of small races is that Lisa and I didn't have any pressure to perform. She was going to win overall female and I was going to win overall male just for being there. The ride became a tour of the Reserve. This included the first section of our singletrack trail - BoldlyGo. We slowed down enough so that the fastest runners, including Sally, could pass us on the way to the end. There was even one runner going the wrong way, on purpose. I understand that she went exploring and had a little adventure of her own.


While it didn't attract a big crowd this year the event was otherwise very organized. Due to flooding the day before, Thierry (With the help of SCORR Member Tim Reifschneider), put together a last minute race route that fixed the problem. In addition, there were water/Gatorade stops at two locations. The inflatable finish line was complete with a digital clock. The swag bags had fantastic gear including a summer hat and tech shirt. There was plenty of food and drinks for all. You got your money's worth plus all of the proceeds went to charity.

Back at the pavilion everyone raised their arms as they came through the finish line. We were all talking, laughing and cheering for the runners who were still pushing on. At an event this small you get to know everyone a little easier. You make jokes, you make friends. It's almost like your shared experience was heightened due to the unusual circumstances. At an event this small everyone walks away with an award, a smile and a story. The thing about events like this is that they never stay small for long.


Keep an eye out for Thierry's other events at his website:


If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out my new book Twisted Trails.


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