The McHenry County Ultrarunning Dudes & Dudettes (M.U.D.D.) running club, the group of ultra enthusiasts who put together the first annual Frozen Gnome 50K and 10K in Crystal Lake, Illinois this morning, could probably write a book (okay maybe a pamphlet) on how to coordinate a successful inaugural run on a shoestring budget. But since they’re probably out running instead of writing down their secrets, I’ll give you a breakdown:

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  1. Cap your race at a size that you (and your course) can handle. The Frozen Gnome was capped at around 150, even though they were sold out well in advance of race day. Greed or arrogance could have kicked in at any time and caused race organizers to oversell on entries, but they resisted. This kept the field to a manageable minimum and allowed all the runners to have a good time without feeling crowded on the often single-track course.
  2. Design an interesting, well-marked and properly measured course. The 10K loop through Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods in Crystal Lake (repeated five times for those tough, or crazy, enough to tackle the 50K) offered a picturesque running experience through wooded, snow-packed trails, with a series of tough ups and downs (and fallen tree obstacles) that kept runners guessing. A large number of ribbons kept a winding, often complicated trail from ever being confusing.
  3. Be organized and keep participants informed. An informative email went out three days before the race, not only reminding participants about the race’s location and start time, but also giving clear information on packet pickup, parking and some tips on trail running in the snow. Announcements this morning were concise and easy to hear. Packet pickup was a snap.
  4. Don’t skimp on the awards/shirts/goodie bags. This shirt is a keeper. It’s a simple enough design, a dark blue running shirt with long sleeves and silver lettering, but the gnome in the center of the shirt makes it memorable. The “medals” were wooden squares with the race information burned into them.
  5. Put your heart into it. Post race food? Along with cookies, coffee and cider, there were several crock-pots filled with various homemade soups that you could ladle into a cup after finishing. The race banner was created by children and adults at a “painting party” organized by M.U.D.D. It would be hard for a mechanically produced banner can top that. The National Anthem was played on a trumpet by one volunteer while another volunteer held up the sheet music for him – it may have been stilted at times, but the do-it-yourself attitude beats a high quality recording.
  6. Have fun. Every volunteer was happy to be there and race coordinators walked the course smiling and offering encouragement.
  7. Keep the price reasonable. Sure everything’s more expensive in the city, but this Chicagoan thinks $35 for a 10K and $45 for a 50K is a sweet deal.
  8. Have a catchy name/theme. This race is called the Frozen Gnome, takes place in January and offers a 50K distance. Nuff said.

Though I (thankfully) can’t comment on the 50K, the Frozen Gnome 10K (which may or may not have been a way to lure in those runners interested in but leery of ultrarunning) was an exercise in well-meaning and well-managed race delivery. There was nothing fancy on offer this morning in Crystal Lake, and it could be argued that the runners who signed up for this race are the type that plan to have a good time running no matter what, but the grassroots competence of M.U.D.D. shown through here. Now I just hope it doesn’t sell out too quickly next year.

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