This letter was written by Susan Reynolds in an email to the Ultra List in early February. I wanted to share it because I think that it is important to remember that the race director is there to take care of everybody, not just you. Enjoy what’s offered, give constructive feedback afterwards, and try not to be “that guy”…
It’s been a little more than two weeks since the 5th running of the Ghost Town 38.5. 2010 was not only the GT’s 5th, it is also the 400th anniversary for the founding of Santa Fe, and the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon. I love celebrations so planned a good many extras along a specific theme for race weekend.

The field limit was originally set at 75. The event sold out immediately and there was a large wait list right away. Right around the time one of those far back on the wait list announced that he was was buying his plane ticket anyway, I had reason to communicate with the Forest Service over something else and during the conversation was given permission to increase the field. Suddenly we were sold out at 100.

This is normally good news for an event. I was excited about the festivities planned for the year. Some of the extras included items for the packets (and the tote bags themselves) purchased through grants that I worked diligently to procure.

Ghost Town is held on my property. We use my kitchen for much of the food prep, Matt does the post-race bbq, I even feed runners who arrive early or who linger a bit on Mon. morning. It’s part of the weekend for me – I consider them to be GT runners, but also my friends and my guests. I want everyone to have a good time.

I paid the price for my attitude this year. There’s always been one person – could be a runner, could be a spouse of a runner – who is what we call in my family a “demanda” – that person who expects the rules to be bent just for him or her, sometimes who even expects other extras like “I won’t come if you don’t have potato chips at the aid station.” It’s to be expected, it’s part of the job of the RD.

But this year…there was behavior so rude by so many that even other runners were shocked. As sad as it was for me to see the 10-12. Some pitched snit fits loudly in the presence of others. One such fit was described to me by a witness as, “The ugliest nastiest thing I’ve ever seen at an ultra – and I’ve done a lot of events.” I guess the obnoxious person thought everyone would share the loudly expressed sentiments, but in fact, that person just shamed him- or herself.

Probably one of the less loud but somewhat equally irritating issue was over the packets. As I explained, they were full of items paid for through grants or donated by sponsors. I put together enough for the runners and the volunteers.

There was a day when runners wouldn’t wear a shirt from an event they didn’t attend or didn’t finish. There were at least three requests to take packets to runners who had not shown up for one reason or another. The requests ranged from mild suggestions to “well she paid for it!” to “he’s in a funk over his injury and it would mean the world to him.” It should have been easily taken care of with, “The packets are for those who are here…” but some people like to argue and don’t take “no” easily.

I felt like I was in a constant shoving match.

Two runners who missed registration arrived for the pasta party and even though they’d failed to purchase their tickets, I allowed them in line for food. They waited their turns complaining quite loudly that without their tickets they’d not win any door prizes…and then they complained about the registration hours.

Many of the volunteers are former GT runners, or runners who want to run GT some day. I receive nothing but compliments from most about the volunteers. This year, at least one aid station had at least one runner griping at them. That’s just appalling really.

Many of the volunteers were out on the course by 4:30a.m. in order to be set up in time for the first runners through. I will say this, those at the front – the more well-known who are racing hard – they are always gracious. They appear with smiles on their faces. Even those at the back of the pack who are suffering because the miles they are clearing the miles so slowly – they don’t give my volunteers any guff. For some reason, this year was different for a few in the middle of the pack. If the course was not what they expected, or if they weren’t having the run they hoped for – there was no need to be ugly to the volunteers.

You get the idea. I’ll skip the rest as it’s really tacky stuff.

Maybe this behavior is normal at events. It has not been this way at the GT in the past. Those who came to me afterward, as well as Matt and myself, commented that it seemed to be excessive “gimme gimme” and “you owe me, you owe me” going on.

Most runners had a great time. Most were gracious and happy and supportive – cheering others on, offering a hand every now and then, obeying the rules. But the 10-12 – what a bunch! The runners who’ve been at GT every year are affectionately dubbed “The Magnificent Seven.” This new group – “The Dirty Dozen” with a lot less affection.

For the last two weeks I’ve actually thought if I wanted to host GT any more. Then I’d read the comments from those who were here, and I was affirmed in that GT is something special. Thing is, it’s not for everyone. I don’t mind the runner who comes, registers, runs, and leaves…but that person does miss out on the social aspects of the event. As one runner put it, “It’s like a great reunion with 88 (89 took the start) best friends – only most of them I didn’t know until your event.”

That is an atmosphere I want to promote. I’m willing to work for weeks on end without pay, to apply for grants, to cook for days, to have no sleep, and to deal with the random crisis. To organize and organize again…to worry over every detail so that nothing that we can anticipate goes wrong. I love the event and those who “get it.”

So, instead of following my immediate inclination to shut it down because of 10-12 ill-mannered people, I borrowed a little bit from Laz. Ghost Town 2011 will be by invitation only.

Every year my charter members (those from the first running) and the runners returning from the previous year and volunteers who now want to run have received early registration. They also receive a discount. This will continue with the exception that now some alumni are not invited back.

I don’t want to stifle growth in the event, and I welcome those who haven’t been here before. For 2011, if a returning runner or volunteer has a running buddy or family member they want to vouch for – that person also receives early registration (but not the discount which is for alumni only).

So, if you’ve considered the Ghost Town as an event you want to run…check out who ran in ’10 and see if you know someone who’ll recommend you to me.

As for total strangers unfamiliar with anyone who has already been here or who is new to the sport…this is a good event especially for those new to ultra running. We have a good number of very experienced and well-known ultra runners, and a good number of newbies to the sport. This year Jason Taylor ran his first ultra at GT and came in fifth overall. There’s now an award named for him as he had a stellar performance – best ever by an ultra-newbie at GT – and this in a fast field of accomplished runners at the front.

So for those newbies, and for those with more experience who want to try out their first GT in 2011 – come October there will be a series of interview questions to answer and send to me via email. I’ll review all I receive and some or all applicants will receive invitations as long as we do not exceed a maximum field of 100. There may be a wait list, but I can’t predict that right now.

There may be those who read this and think it’s foolish. There may be those who read it and relate. There may even be those who wonder why I’m posting this. Well, enough runners and staff were shocked at the behavior of the dirty dozen that I think it’s worth mentioning. After a few years on this list, after seeing so many rants about race fees and what RDs should or should not provide, for the first time ever, I’m a little bit wary of runners. I am not expert nor am I in the position to make pronouncements about the sport changing…but I do have cause for concern.

My event – like many other events are to their RDs – is precious to me. I would rather it be smaller than have it larger with a bunch of rude ill-mannered nasty people.

I’m sure there will be many of you who think I am crazy for posting this. I could have done it quietly, not opening myself up for more baloney…but I decided to share for two reasons:

1. I think it’s important for people to know that how they behave at an event is observed by many. Those who demand special attention, privileges, bending of the rules…or are just bitter and loud…it doesn’t impress anyone. Mostly you shame yourselves, even as you irritate (or shock) those around you.

2. Even though the RD is there to give you a course to run on with an amenity or two for participating, she or he does a whole lot more behind the scenes. Every special request, every argument, every bending of the rules…it all adds up. The RD is not there to be your servant, your whipping boy or girl, or your mama. It’s not the RD’s job to teach you how to be respectful of others or to be well-mannered.

The invitations to the 2011 Ghost Town have already gone out to the 2010 group of runners and alumni. If you have run GT in a former year and would like to receive one, please email me. I’d be happy to have you back.

And if you’ve never been to Ghost Town…don’t worry…the interview process will not be painful and I hope to welcome most (maybe all?) of you who want to be here in 2011.

Laugh Freely, Walk Far,