Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Racing the trails in Morris County NJ

My friends have a race company that puts on trail races in various counties in New Jersey - check them out at NJ Trail Series. They are the only company that offers these types of races in NJ and races can cover distances from 5k to 100 miles and even up to 72 hrs! As race directors there are many issues they have to deal with. Permits to use various parks or facilities are, of course, one of them. The Morris County Parks Commission recently decided to not give NJ Trail Series permits to run three of their races due to the mistaken assumption that races of distances greater than 25 km (15.5 miles) is too risky. Many people who have participated in these and other NJ Trail Series races are writing letters to protest this decision. Here is the letter that I am going to send:

Dear Ms. Biase and members of the Morris County Parks Commission,

I am writing to you in response to your recent decisions to not allow NJ Trail Series to host three of their races in Morris County Parks (NJ Ultrafest, Mahlon Mayhem, and the Muddy Marathon) and to significantly increase the registration and permit fees for their other races, especially the 5k cross country series held at Central Ave Park.

NJ Trail Series has been the only company in New Jersey that is making trail races open to everyone. Their offerings of distances from 5K up to 100 miles increases participation to a wider range of people. Their attention to course markings, the safety of participants, and their focus on the fun of running in the woods has attracted people from many counties in NJ, many states in the USA (22 at the 2010 NJ Ultrafest!), and countries around the world! The race directors, Jennifer and Rick McNulty, care about every runner on the course and will wait for every participant to finish, no matter how long it may take them. This is not true of many road races. Marathons close their course after a certain time period. If you are still on the course of these other races, you are left to your own devices to get to the finish and without aid. NJ Trail Series supplies aid the entire time runners are on the course and does not leave anyone or anything on the course. Volunteers for the NJ Trail Series races run the course at the end of the race to pick up every flag and ribbon used on the course.

Many people have the mistaken assumption that running longer distances (ie. the arbitrary 25 km limit set by Morris County Parks Commission) are detrimental to health and is considered risky behavior. This is far from true.  Yes there are instances of someone dying while running marathons or participating in triathalons. This can occur whether on the race course, while training, on the road or in the woods. All of us who are running the longer distances of some of the NJ Trail Series races, including the three races that were denied permits by the Morris County Parks Commission, have trained for these distances. We have undertaken months of running longer distances on the roads and on the trails, many on the trails in Morris County, to prepare for these races. As adults, we understand the risks of running long distances and running on trails.

The 5k cross country race at Central Ave Park exposes runners of all ages to the race environment. Runners as young as 7 yrs and as old as 74 yrs participate. This is a low key (and low entry fee) race that anyone can run. To charge a small, family-owned, company $150/race to utilize the course is outrageous. The park is rarely used on a Wednesday evening by Morris County residents who aren’t racing; the dodgeball participants have use of the upper parking lot since most runners park on the street; and those who are there aren’t restricted from using the site or the facilities. The county provides very little ammenities to justify this fee. There are portable toilets provided, along with the permanent bathroom facilities; however, the toilets were removed and not replaced for 3 weeks this year, and these are open for anyone that frequents the park Monday-Sunday, not just race participants.

What has running NJ Trail Series done for me? It has gotten me back into running more often and longer distances, encouraged me to see what my limits might be and allowed me to run my first ultramarathon (two 50 km races this year!). I have observed the strength and vitality of other runners who are running very long distances and setting records (US records have been set at NJ Trail Series races!), assisted other runners in achieving their goals through volunteer work and support and assistance of other runners on the course, and have met people and made new friends

“I run mostly to see things, to explore places I don't know. And the places I do know, like around here, then I get a sense of the weather, the shifting light, the seasonal changes; it can be pleasurable even when you hurl yourself into the teeth of nature. “
- Edward Koren, Artist/New Yorker cartoonist.
Everyone I know that runs trail races embrace this sentiment.
Please reinstate the permits for the NJ Trail Series races that were to be held in Morris County Parks in 2012 – NJ Ultrafest, Mahlon Mayhem, and the Muddy Marathon!
I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about my views on NJ Trail Series races – or trail running in general. I am very familiar with the races as I have run or volunteered at nearly every NJ Trail Series race and have participated in numerous other races.
Anne Pumfery


seangavor said...

That's too nice, Anne. Very well written but too nice. Mine will be rife with accusation and inuendo. What's their problem?

Anne said...

No idea what the Parks Commission problem is. Jen & Rick have tried working with them - including agreeing to have police presence there - but they still won't approve. Another example of people not understanding the sport of ultrarunning. They need to come out and see what happens here.

A bunch of people are meeting at Jessi's house on Sept 26 to run to the Parks Commission open meeting to protest the decision. Everyone will be sporting NJ Trail Series shirts!

Anne said...

Oh yeah - the "safety issue" - runners will be tired running more than a 25k and will be more likely to get hurt. Huh?!!?

Anne said...

Update on NJ Trail Series events in Morris County. Most (all?) races that were run in MC parks have been changed to alternate locations. The Winter Series will now be held at High Mountain Park in Wayne NJ (Bergen Co) and the NJ Ultrafest will be held at the NJ State Fairgrounds in Augusta NJ (Sussex Co).

Colin said...

I'm running a lot, but some of these events look scary! - Maybe I'll see you once I'm in better shape!
P.S. I've been trying to get in touch, hope all is well! If you have a moment, could you send me an email at Thanks!