Many Firsts at the Playin’ Possum 50K
By Mark Carroll
Individuals or small groups can generate ideas and even implement them. But when a community embraces an idea special things can happen! Ohio is well known for our Ultra-running Community. We have some of the best runners, running clubs, and events in the nation. But most of those events have been hosted in the northeast or southwest parts of the state. In fact, as unlikely as it may seem, Columbus, the state capital, and its 1.8 million residents, had never hosted a stand-alone trail ultra marathon. This vacuum created a need; races and the training runs leading to them can be the best way to breathe life into a trail running community. Out of this need the Playin’ Possum 50K was born.
During the training runs leading to the main event friendships formed and goals and ideas for future adventures took shape on the first snowy, then muddy, then overgrown trails. Astonishingly, we had a 100% finisher rate; every single starter finished! This is a strikingly rare occurrence in ultra distance running. Furthermore, the event raised $4000 for Special Olympics of Delaware County Ohio. The money will be used to transport athletes to events, to purchase new uniforms, or to send additional athletes to the annual State Summer Games.
Several misperceptions were broken on race day! First, there are large numbers of trail runners in Central Ohio; the race sold out is advance of race day. Also, most runners were shocked at how beautiful and runnable the trails in Delaware State Park are! The course traverses an area dominated by a man-made lake that was formed by creating a dam in a river valley. Thus the course ran through woods, along trails that were dirt farming roads thirty years ago. Abandoned hedgerows, fences, and stone building foundations can be seen in the woods, but only if a runner pays close attention. This old farming valley is now home to a nationally renowned bird sanctuary. It is possible to see deer, beaver, osprey, blue heron, bald eagles, red fox, bobcats, coyotes, and yep, possums in an area only 20miles from Ohio’s largest city. The area is flatter and more runnable than other areas of the state but the runnable course created an opportunity for a newcomer to dip their toe into ultra-distance running waters. Fifty three individuals ran their first ultra at Playin’ Possum! They were joined by a truly elite group of local runners who set records that may last for years.
Ultimately what we will remember most about the race was the overwhelming generosity of spirit that we noted as the race evolved. We decided early in the planning process that we would not solicit sponsorship from any running shoe/apparel store. We wanted this event to belong to the entire running community and we felt that the best way to do that was to be an independent entity. With full knowledge of this policy, and knowing that no public recognition would be granted, several local running stores donated use of a finish line and clock, aid station supplies, and word-of-mouth advertising support. They simply care about their sport and recognized that we do too. It was pure, simple, generosity. The swag-bags were filled to overflowing because of similar generosity from well-wishers happy that trail ultramarathoning had come to Columbus. Similarly, Ohio has a number of races that are hosted by local running clubs or individuals, rather than corporations or professional race promoters. These races exist to raise funds for charity and to build community among trail runners. Several of these individual race directors are friends of ours and, sensing a shared value system, came to the aid of our new race, as did MANY individuals from the large and thriving Cleveland ultra running community who came down on race day to assist. These individuals simply wanted to make sure that runners new to trail running could see how cool it is when a community comes together for a “club-style” event that is not being run for profit, but, rather for the benefit of the runners.
The race was evidence that mountains aren’t needed for a successful ultra, nor are corporations or professionals. It was proof that trail running can exist in any place where there are people who want to meet and play in nature, and that events are best when they are the result of generosity and collaboration. Trail running is alive and well in Central Ohio. It turns out that it always was and always will be. It was just laying low, like some sort of animal that isn’t dead but simply acts that way…I won’t provide an example. But I think you get the idea!