Tia Bodington is an ultra runner and race director who started organizing Miwok 100k more than 10 years ago.
Miwok 100k is one of the most emblematic ultramarathons in the United States. The race includes lots of technical single tracks and happens right outside San Francisco, which allows runners to benefit from tremendous views over the Bay Area.
Tia Bodington has plenty of experience in running and organizing races. She has also been a Managing Editor for UltraRunning magazine and is even a finisher of Ironman Canada!
Rémi: What is your background? How did Tia Bodington end up being race director at Miwok 100K?
Tia Bodington: I’ve been a sprinter, an ultrarunner, a translator, print production supervisor at an ad agency, a world traveler, a business woman, and best of all, a dedicated mom to two amazing daughters. Certain aspects of each of those skills has really informed my approach to creating the best possible experience for runners, volunteers, and even the local community.
I’m really organized and thorough, and I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. I like taking existing events and thinking through optimization for the participants, staff, volunteers and, of course, the budget. When the Miwok 100K opportunity opened up, I jumped at it because I could see a lot of ways to enhance the race experience.
You ran your first ultra at Miwok back in 2000. Could you imagine at that time that you would organize the race 4 years later?
The Miwok 100K was my first ultra, and at the finish line I realized I’d found my tribe. I was quite surprised when I won my third ultra, the Headlands 50K, but that gave me the tiniest bit of name recognition in the small ultra community and I began to meet people who put on the events.
My brain is always thinking about how to do things better, and I can be pretty vocal. My pet peeve at that time was races handing out “unisex” shirts, which really means men’s shirts in size small. I am not a small man – I am a woman, and I want a shirt that fits ME, I told the race director. I suppose it was just desserts that I ultimately took over the race and got to put my ideas into action.
What is your most memorable day as a race director?
I’ve had a number of men cry when I put the medal around their neck and hug them at the finish line. Since that’s not really accepted yet in our culture, it demonstrates to me the depth of feeling and personal investment that the Miwok runners have, and I look to match that with my own investment in developing the event to honor that commitment in all the runners.
What makes Miwok 100K a truly unique event?
Other than our incredible views, beautiful trails, and amazing volunteers…
I think too many races employ hope as a strategy, i.e., they “hope” nothing goes wrong, so they have inadequate medical support, poor volunteer training, not enough supplies, lack of safety analysis, ignorance of trail stewardship. At Miwok, we’ve considered how to handle many possible scenarios, and although we can’t anticipate and prevent all problems, we do have systems in place.
This is something that runners need to look at and ask about when they are choosing which of the many, many ultras to sign up for. Of course, you don’t want to focus on what could go wrong, but what we’re doing out there – despite being somewhat normalized by media coverage and the growth in the sport – is still an extreme test for the human body.
You must have seen everything when it comes to race logistics, especially with such a long race! What are your best logistics tips for race directors?
Some logistics are obvious – parking, drop bags, DNF notification – but race directors should put thought into the things no one really talks about.
(1) Let’s say you’ve got 300 runners racing 50 miles; at some point about half of them are going to need to poop. In 2010, a ranger reported to me that 60 runners (yes, his job was to count the evidence) had done the deed about 100 yards from a lovely aid station that gets a lot of picnic-ers. That’s not good wilderness stewardship, and it’s my responsiblity to provide an alternative. We now deliver two portables to each aid station, which makes our volunteers really happy, too. It costs almost $2,000, but it is the right thing to do.
(2) If you’ve run an ultra, you know that your fingers might stop working about 40 miles in, so it is hard to get that used gel top into your pocket and it inadvertently drops on the trail. The best RDs will have mid-race sweeps picking up all the garbage so that public trail users can enjoy a pristine trail experience.
Race directors’ #1 challenge is promoting their race so that they can cover their fixed costs and offer a great experience on race day. How do you manage to make Miwok 100K so successful every year?
Oh, that is a trade secret! Come on out to volunteer or run the race and find out…
What is usually your biggest challenge overall when it comes to organizing running races?
The biggest challenge is permitting. I understand that park rangers’ mandate is to protect the parks, but if you “protect” a park so much that people are dissuaded from using the trails, people will not vote for funds to preserve these wild areas that we love so much. There has to be a balance, and also an understanding that how people use trails has changed. I think the GGNRA is starting to establish some good rules so that there are dedicated days for the trail-racing public and the leisure-hiking public.
The other challenge is finding parking adjacent to the optimal start location.
Anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Historically, ultrarunners have been a pretty self-sufficient bunch. That’s kind of the point of the sport! I don’t want to believe that newer ultrarunners have an expectation that race management will make things easy for them and do a lot of handholding, but I have heard that rumor.
Ultra is a microcosm of “real life”: when something difficult happens, you figure out how to get through it safely, you meet the challenge, you do the right thing and keep moving forward if possible, or you accept the limitation (DNF), change course and continue to make the most of your life. Coddling ultrarunners takes away their freedom to experience that, and can diminish their own sense of accomplishment when they cross the finish line.
Where can people find you and your races online?