Interview with David Hunter, Megatransect Race Director

When me and my crew did Mega, we had the good fortune of chatting up Dave Hunter on the Friday prior to the race. Dave is a great guy and made us feel really welcome, despite the fact that we were starry eyed n00bs from Florida :). Dave has been the race director for Megatransect for the last 3 years and he’s one of the original organizers of the event, which just completed it’s 9th year.

Originally a road racer, Dave eventually moved to marathon distance–his PR is 3:34. He ran eight marathons before finding new joy in training on trails.  To quote David:

I found that trail running is a totally different sport. Pace is impossible…. it is all about effort.

He plans on training for the 62 mile Oil Creek Race next fall and will use Megatransect, which happens the weekend before, as a training day.

Here’s an interview I did with him post-race.

Megatransect just finished it’s 9th year…what’s the history in a nutshell?

Jeff Stover was the founder of the Megatransect.  It was named after an epic journey across Africa.  I saw a small blurb in the newspaper that the City of Lock Haven approved a hike on Bald Eagle Mountain.  I called Jeff and asked if he had ever been a race director.  I had put on a few 5-K runs and had a following and wondered if he would consider adding some runners.  There was not enough time to do it that year since it was too little time to advertise so plans were made to form a committee and start promoting in the spring for the fall event.  It was a hard sell to Jeff to run it like a road race with support, shirts, medals, pre and post parties.  The pre-race party started at a packet pick up when a contestant came over to our table and started eating our cheese and drink our wine.  It was really for us but we ran out and bought more and the rest they say is history.  Jeff’s wife was the “Martha Stewart” of the food preparation.  She is the one that set the standards.  The next year we did the breakfast.

How has it evolved into the race it is now?

Originally it was all on existing woodland roads and was not very technical.  Each year we switched it around to spice it up and eventually started to go to single track.  Many of these trails were hand cut into the mountain.  It was always designed for hiking and running.  It has become sort of a mutant trail run because the trails are extreme at times.  The boulders came in on the 3rd or 4th year and I don’t think we could ever leave them out.  Runners started to show in greater numbers… Trail running started to grow in popularity and the Mega was ready for the new craze.

How would you describe the degree of difficulty of Mega to a newbie? Would you recommend it to a flatlander like me?

The real killers to the newbies are the vertical climbs.  Fast road marathoners are just that ….. fast.  They run efficiently on the flat.  Once they start to use their underdeveloped climbing muscles the playing field is leveled and they are soon hiking. Technical running on stone requires practice.  Wet, moving rocks will stop anyone that has not learned to read them. I have run down every section of the Megatransect as do  many others.  If you put the brakes on it becomes a fight against gravity.

Any flatlander can do the distance.  The terrain is another story.  You have to get off groomed rails to trail sections and head off into some unexplored areas where you live and train.  Often these journeys are more rewarding because you see things that others seldom do.  Lots of flatlanders do well.  I remember during the Escarpment Race in NY a person who lived on Cape Cod was passing me on all the ups and I would pass her on the downs.  She eventually beat me!  Only someone serious enough to devote time to training should register!

Talk about how the course gets designed, who works on it, and what the goals are when laying it out?

By changing the course each year you can’t compare your times year-to-year. We mix the course up to cycle hill sections with runnable sections. Eye candy is always taken into consideration. How can we wow someone that is being beaten up by the course to get to that point. The main goal is a runnable downhill and steep climbs. This year we had sort of the opposite of that and hence the slower times of most contestants. Safety is always a concern and we try to avoid going down the steep sections. The distance is always around 25-26 miles with about 5500 vertical feet gain. This seems to be the breaking point. By not sticking to exactly a marathon distance… we can design a course without constraints.

We have a crew of trail workers that put in time year round but the majority of the work happens two weeks out. The fallen trees are cut, the course is weed whacked and all small twiggs are removed to avoid tripping. We will go by and cut in a two foot trail where we had slick spots on the side of the mountain this year. Flagging occurs in the three days before the event. We try to have a flag at least every 100 feet.

How much work goes into putting on the race. How tough is it logistically to manage on race day?

The committee is about 12 strong and then come the volunteers that add up to at least 100. Some volunteers come in from out of town to help and watch their friends. You don’t have to do the event to be a big part of it. Nobody is paid except the businesses that supply the food, medals, shirts and supplies for the event. Any profit is returned 100% to groups and charities. In the last two years we have donated about $25,000 back to the community.

The logistics are all before the event.  After the gun goes off we can only  put out little fires.  If everything is addressed properly things go smoothly.  We have a procedure book with each aspect of the event laid out step by step.  We just delegate the pages.  This year the event was put on with a one hour trail crew meeting and one committee meeting.   We will have a post event meeting shortly.  We try to simplfiy each year to make it less work for everyone.

Why the 850 cap on runners? Have you considered opening it up to a larger group?

Working with the local forestry department we try to avoid any negative impact. They are always concerned that if the crowd gets too big the woods will suffer. The staging area can handle a lot more but we think that 600- 700 contestants feels about right. 925 were signed up and ~640 toed the line due to the weather and injury while training.

What can we look forward to for 2012?

New areas of the mountain are being considered along with a few nostalgic trails that have not been used for a few years. I think that shirt will be pretty cool next year.