How I Became a Full Time Race Director for Ironwood Adventure Works
Runners start the race at Black River Beatdown

My name is Will Robens. I am the founder of Ironwood Adventure Works, organizer of challenging adventure trail races in the Northeast. Our races to date include the Frost Town Trail Fest in the Finger lakes of NY, Black River Beatdown hosted by Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Smuggler’s Mountain Race, Trapp Mountain Marathon, 24 hours of the Northeast Kingdom at the Northwoods Stewardship Center, Paine Mountain Race in Northfield, and last but not least the Catamount Ultra hosted by Trapp Family Lodge.

Former Skirack employee, Karin Rand competes in the Catamount Ultra. Photo: Jeff Spring.
Former Skirack employee, Karin Rand competes during the Smugglers' Mountain Race. Photo: Jeff Spring.

Catamount Ultra was our first and flagship event, created in 2014. That year, I had some free time as a stay-at-home dad and trail running became more of a presence in my life and a healthy outlet for me. For most people, trail running is a pretty attainable sport; all you need is trails and a decent pair of shoes! I was surprised that there wasn’t already a long distance trail race going on in the immediate area. As a lifelong runner and in more recent years, an avid ultra-runner, Catamount Ultra was created out of personal desire to have a great trail ultra-race in my own backyard. For some reason, at the time it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t actually get to run this super fun race!

With an extensive background in operational logistics and event planning in the outdoor industry, creating the race seemed doable. After some extensive recon on some of my favorite area trails I approached the Trapp Family Lodge Outdoor Center team in an effort to put the race somewhere that also had a great facility. After many meetings and discussions, Trapps committed to my vision and gave me the go ahead for an ultra-distance trail race that summer. I reached out to the Catamount Trail Association to see if they would like to partner on the event and they agreed. To date, the race has been able to raise almost $7,000 dollars for the CTA and supports trail development and maintenance.

Race Directing is somewhat of a labor of love. When I started the Catamount Ultra I always assumed it would be something I did on the side because I love it, not as a career choice. That said, race directing is a lot of fun. I like to say that planning a race is just a matter of details, lots and lots of details. Generally speaking, none of those details are difficult, and when they all come together, the result is a blast for everyone involved. Unfortunately, like so many other things, the devil is in those details and therein lies the challenge.

The Ironwood Adventure Works Crew
The Ironwood Adventure Works Crew

First, the course has to be great. Not just good….great! Second, the event should be a full experience; giving time to reflect and relive the adventure with your friends after the race is just as important as the course and venue. Finally, good food and drink, gear, a great piece of memorabilia, are all keys to a great event. This is where working with great sponsors and partners like Salomon and Skirack comes in. These partnerships bring in additional value to the event in the form of pre-race course previews, community involvement, and of course, the runners favorite; the raffle give always!

Originally, I thought that if I could find 30-40 people to register for Catamount Ultra, I would call it a success. Amazingly, over 100 runners signed up the first year! If you haven’t spent time at Trapp Family Lodge in the summer, you are missing out. The place is incredible year round, even without an event going on. And with the start/finish and after party happening in what I believe is one of the most beautiful spots in Vermont, you won’t be disappointed. The

The author and founder of Ironwood Adventure Works, Will Robens
The author and founder of Ironwood Adventure Works, Will Robens

second year 200+ runners showed up and TFL asked me to help them put on another race in the fall. We roughed out a connector trail to the summit of Round Top Peak and Trapp Mountain Marathon, a burly mountain race was created and operated for the first time in 2016. That was when I started thinking that race directing might actually become a career for me. This year, with 500+ runners expected, Catamount Ultra is a 2019 Salomon Running Festival!

I feel incredibly lucky to be doing work that I love. I am very excited to see what the future holds for IWA and for trial/ultra running in general. Ironwood Adventure Works is continuing to develop new events and working to expand our current race series. I hope to see you out there!