“Help yourself to anything, it’s going to be a long night!” This kind invite came from a woman with perfectly braided long brown hair, bundled in a blue puffy, flipping bacon at a grill under the aid station tent. The Bigfoot 120 had started a few hours ago, and it was beginning to get dark. Lead runners would be approaching the Lewis River Aid Station shortly, and would be looking for some warm grub to fill their bellies.
I hadn’t officially met Candice Burt in person before that day, but there is no better way getting to know someone than with an offer to snack on some bacon (unless you are a vegan or vegetarian)! All kidding aside, it was great to finally speak with Candice. We chatted about her personal running adventures along with new event additions to her race series company Destination Trail …and all while she was making cheese quesadillas and crispy bacon.
As a strong female within the sport with a progressive approach to trail and ultra running events, I wanted to interview Candice to get a deeper look into who she is, and what she does.
Gina: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who is Candice Burt outside of the running world… Where are you from, what was it like, what has made Candice, Candice?
Candice: I’m pretty much entrenched in the running world currently and have been since I started doing ultras in 2010. When I get into something I get obsessed about it. Many people think they may know me from my races or running but I have an introverted and personal life outside of my social media and race pursuits. I enjoy being creative through writing and drawing. I love spending long periods of time away from society and out in the woods and wild places. I enjoy my time with my children. I have two girls, 9 and 12 years old, and we explore and travel together. My girls have been helping at most my races as well, it’s a fun and challenging family endeavor! I’ve always been running wild through the woods, even since I was a child. I grew up on an island in the San Juans of Washington State (Whidbey Island) in a very rural small town. I was a child that played outdoors a lot. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV or play video games. We played outside or we were given chores. I had horses as a child and young adult and competed in horse shows in English, show jumping and bareback. That’s part of how I fell in love with trails: I’d explore the woods and trails with my horses. I loved competition.
Gina: Where did your love for running come from? How did you get into it?
Candice: Hard to answer that because it seems like it’s always been a part of my life, but I got into track and XC in high school to make friends and branch out. I enjoyed the team aspect of XC. I would go home and do my own workouts after XC workouts because I was so motivated. I enjoyed running in the woods near my house – just getting away from everything. I do think that some of us just have a drive that some other people don’t have. I have a very strong drive that gets me out the door every day. I can’t sit still. I need to move.
Gina: What made you decide to become a race director? Was there a distinct moment or experience that flipped the switch?
Candice: I was working as a massage therapist when I started running ultramarathons and I really loved the vibe at ultras: the people, the places, the pain and joy, the challenges, everything about them. I was volunteering for races pretty early on and got hired by Rainshadow Running, a company that organizes 50k and 25k races in the PNW, and ended up working there for over 3 years. It was during that time I realized RDing was something I was interested in doing, and on my own. I created a trail running series in Bellingham, WA, quit doing massage, quit working for Rainshadow and created the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run. It took off from there. Now I direct 11 events, 3 of which are over 200 miles long! It’s a very full time job and I have 3 employees.
Gina: What is your favorite part about the job? Least favorite part?
Candice: I really love creating routes for races and going out and exploring them. Course marking is also a part I enjoy, really any part of the job that gets me outside. I enjoy meeting new people and learning about them through the races. The logistics of 200 mile races is also fun and challenging.
My least favorite part is all the computer work, probably about 90% of my job. It includes permitting, spreadsheets, making lists and more lists, ordering supplies and merchandise, research. Oh and I dislike dealing with all the vehicles that I need to own to do what I do! Seems like something is constantly breaking down or broken down. We have two Ford 350s, Race RV, 26’ box truck, 35’ cargo trailer, and a 12’ cargo trailer. It’s a lot to maintain.
Gina: Within your races/race series, what is it that you hope runners have a chance to experience? What is it about your race series that separates it from the rest?
Candice: I always hope that people will experience the adventure of a lifetime. That certainly seems to be the case with my 200 milers. They can be life changing! I wouldn’t waste my time with anything I didn’t love. My race distances are from 10k, half marathons, marathons, to 50k to 100k to 240 miles! We have something for everyone. Mostly though what makes Destination Trail different from other series is our 200 + mile races. We have three and we call them the Triple Crown of 200s: Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240.
Gina: As a race director, you are aware of the differing participation numbers between men and women. From your perspective, what seems to be the resistance factor related to low female participation numbers?
Candice: I see a lot more female runners in the shorter distances: 10k, half marathons, 25k races, even 50k as compared to 100 mile and 200 mile distances. As far as the reason why, I’m sure there are many reasons including physiological and psychological. Women tend to have a lot of things they are balancing in their lives: work, family, home, societal expectations and obligations. For men running these long races – there’s sometimes a macho, perhaps even heroic, and I think that mindset appeals more to men. Women want the freedom of being in the outdoors and experiencing nature but I don’t think we do it as often as a right of passage or as an impressive feat of endurance. Perhaps we have slightly different reasons for running long races than men do? I think there is a certain way women are raised as compared to men and subtle (and not so subtle) societal expectations that play into what women think they want and therefore do want in life. Personally, the reason I haven’t raced much in the last few years is due to a crazy busy work schedule and choosing family time over race time.
Gina: As a race director, can you suggest ways to interest/excite women about trail racing?
Candice: Let’s just say you don’t need to put the words “princess” or “chocolate” or “wine.” I mean c’mon! I don’t have any good answers to this question because I’m already interested in trail racing and I don’t know why other women wouldn’t be?! One easy answer may be to continue to offer the more accessible shorter distance races because sometimes that’s all it takes, a taste of how much fun trail running is and then if you’re like the rest of us trail addicts, you just want more.
Gina: You have competed at many different race distances, but I’d guess your passion lies with the longer events. Where did the idea come from to create a 200 mile race, and why?
Candice: I didn’t set out to create a 200 mile race. I wanted to make a race that went all the way around Lake Tahoe and it just so happened it was about 200 miles. I wasn’t sure anyone would sign up but I was so in love with the course that I had to do it! Turns out, Tahoe is the second biggest 200 miler in the world. We had over 200 signups this year! After the first year organizing the Tahoe 200 I wanted to see if I could create another 200 mile race and that’s when I came up with the Bigfoot 200. This year we also added the Moab 200.
Gina: If you could create a 100 mile race any place in the world, where would it be (no permits necessary)?
Candice: Nothing comes to mind actually. I feel like I’m already creating all the races I love!
Gina: Have you ever considered putting on a female only trail race?
Candice: No I have not.
Gina: What is your most important gadget as a race director?
Candice: My Garmin 64st GPS device and /or my backpack I use for course marking! I’ve spend many wonderful and painful days with those two items. A laptop is pretty essential as well.
Gina: What is the craziest situation you have ever encountered during one of your races?
Candice: Rescue missions where I have to head out and find a lost runner. It’s happened more than a few times! At the Bigfoot 200 this year, I set out with the lost runner’s SPOT tracker GPS coordinates on my Garmin handheld and was able to find a lost (and hallucinating) runner. It was extremely satisfying, as I believe without the SPOT tracker (we require all participants to wear) he would not have been found. He was about 1 mile off trail down a very steep mountain in thick brush and heavy tree canopy. We do about 1 rescue mission per 200 mile race, but not all of them are this dire. We rely on our SPOT trackers and they cut down on rescue time because you know exactly where a runner is!
Gina: Do you have an inspirational message you say to your participants before they start their race?
Candice: Nothing specific, but I do like to express to my 200 mile runners that we’re really at the start of something special – that we are making history with these 200 mile races. I believe that. The runners are the pioneers of this new distance and I’m lucky to be a part of it!
Gina: How long have you been a race director for?
Candice: 6 years
Gina: What are some of your thoughts on the future of ultra trail running?
Candice: I realize this is over simplifying a bit, but I believe that the future of trail running seems to be going at least two ways: competition and adventure. On the competition side we are going to see faster and more talented runners who do trail running as their “job.” They will become minor celebrities to many in the community. Trail running is slowly becoming more mainstream. This will bring in more media, more sponsors, more PEDs, more regulation, more “themed” trail runs, more hype.
On the other side of things, I believe we will see more adventure based races like the 200 mile events or multi sport/extreme races or the Barkley’s of the world, where it’s not about how fast you run but about whether you can finish. These tend to be more old school with less focus on the money, fame and media and more on what the human spirit, regardless of its natural born talent, can accomplish. I know which future I’m rooting for and working toward!
Feature photo: Howie Stern Photography