Beaverhead 100k spectator review
This year was Jeremy's second time running the Beaverhead ultra - he ran the 55k in 2015 and the 100k this year. I can't write a race report of the course itself, but here is a little about my experience as a spectator.
(With the understanding that an ultramarathon spectator does not actually get to see much, if any, of the race itself, especially when the course runs through the mountains, like this one does. It's more about the start and the finish.)
The setting, Salmon (Idaho), is a great place for families and friends to spend time while someone is running the race. We have gone hiking to hot springs both years we've come to Salmon, and enjoyed staying in town and visiting the Sacajawea interpretive center there. This year, we also explored the nearby ghost town in Gilmore. Even if you just sit around and wait, the surroundings alone are so gorgeous that it will be worth the visit!
The timing of the race is ideal for spectators, too - the runners start early, but then they run all day and are finished by midnight at the latest (or possibly a bit later). Some ultramarathons span multiple days, and that always makes spectator logistics more complicated.
The finish line atmosphere is top-notch - by far the best I've experienced as an ultramarathon spectator. The organizers set up a big tent where they post the latest checkpoint rosters, serve food, announce incoming runners, give out awards, and welcome finishers to the finish line. People come and go as their runners finish, and after a few hours keeping vigil, you start to chat and make friends with other spectators.
And it's not only the spectators there with you in that tent - it's many of the organizers as well. I believe it is an extended family that puts this race on, and that makes the whole thing seem so personal and friendly. They make a point to know who you're cheering for and keep you updated on their status. They have a bunch of kids running around selling concessions and hats and just playing (including, this year, with my kids, which was GREAT). They take turns at the mic announcing the runners and include details like birthdays, anniversaries, or notable participant details (like the woman who finished the 55k on her 68th birthday!). They just seem like some really nice people who enjoy putting this thing on every year!
If I have one complaint about experiencing the Beaverhead ultra as a spectator, it would be the lack of access to real-time race results. Every ultra Jeremy has done in Finland has had real-time GPS tracking. Such a GPS system is a big help to us spectators, since there is quite a bit of guesswork involved in figuring out when your runner will finish an ultramarathon. Racing times are calculated in hours, not minutes - for the 100k, we figured that Jeremy would take between 12 and 19 hours to finish. That makes for a long , uncertain wait at that lovely finish line tent, especially for the kids. With GPS tracking, though, I can usually figure out what time Jeremy will finish within an hour or so, which really helps with planning.
Instead of GPS tracking (which may not be feasible; I don't know the ins and outs of infrastructure requirements for such a system to be put in place), Beaverhead posts physical, paper-based lists of the runners who check in at each aid station. But there is quite a delay (again, I'm sure this is for good reason - the area is remote and cell reception is spotty or nonexistent), which makes the wait even more agonizing.
On Saturday, we ended up heading to the finish line at 5pm, just in case Jeremy finished in 12 hours. As a spectator, it would be horrible to support your runner through all their training and come all the way to Salmon and then miss the big finish! So we erred on the side of caution and showed up early. He didn't end up finishing until 9.45pm. It was a long almost-5 hours to wait beyond 5pm...but at least we got to enjoy the fun atmosphere in the finish line tent!
And that's about as good as it gets for an ultramarathon spectator!