September 17 2018
Determination and positivity have enabled 94-year-old runner Ann McGowan to find strength in challenging situations throughout her life.
Candice Burt loves to take the trail less traveled.
That fearless attitude inspired her in 2010 to make the amazing jump from running for fitness to training for ultramarathons. “I wanted something that was more of an adventure than traditional races would give me. When I heard about ultrarunning, immediately, I knew it was for me,” says the 36-year-old from Leavenworth, Wash.
An adventurous spirit is also what led Burt to start her own ultra trail running events and launch a race directing company called Destination Trail. As if operating her own business and competing in 50- and 100-mile races isn’t challenging enough, Burt is also the mother of two girls. “If there is anything I don’t like, it’s boredom—the everyday same old, same old,” Burt says.
So it’s no surprise that Burt has created races that are anything but the same old, same old. Take the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run, an astounding 200-mile trail race in California and Nevada that loops around Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. After spending a lot of time on the Tahoe Rim Trail as a guide for running tours, Burt had her lightbulb moment in 2013. “I thought, How come no one has a created a race around this lake?” she recalls.
Burt knew that organizing a point-to-point mountain race would require extraordinary planning and effort. “It was uncharted territory in the U.S.,” she says. “I had to figure out a blueprint for that distance.” So she became a literal trailblazer, setting out by herself on foot for several days to scout a mountainous 205-mile route around Lake Tahoe.
Her persistence paid off when she successfully directed the first Tahoe 200 in 2014. Ninety gritty competitors tackled the grueling course with dazzling views. Sixty finished. “It went great,” she recalls. “Part of me was surprised it went well.”
This August will mark the fifth year Burt is holding the historic event.
Encouraged and excited, Burt started two more 200-mile races, forming a series of ultra challenges called the “Triple Crown.” To achieve the prestigious “Triple Crown,” competitors must also be able to run the trio of 200s on very little rest. The Tahoe 200, the Bigfoot 200 in Washington and the Moab 240 in Utah are all held between mid-August and mid-October.
Including the 200s, Destination Trail is scheduled to host 10 trail events this year. Spread across remote places in Washington, California, Nevada and Utah, they range in distance from 10 kilometers to 240 miles. Some events offer multiple distances.
“It’s important to choose locations and races that you are passionate about,” she says. “You don’t sell out a race by focusing on trying to make money. You sell out a race, especially in the trail running world, when you have a course that is unique and means something to you.”
What started out as a solo operation for Burt now includes a team of professionals and volunteers to help with events. Ultrarunner Kristal Sager joined Destination Trail in 2016 after meeting Burt at her events. As the company’s assistant race director, she sees how hard Burt works to create top-notch races in some of the most beautiful and pristine places in the country. “She is so passionate about her work,” Sager says of Burt. “That shines through when she is designing and scouting a course, as well as when she is directing a race. She loves to challenge herself and enjoys creating special, tough challenges for her runners.”
Not only is Burt a pioneer in organizing one-of-a-kind trail races–she is also one of the few female race directors in the ultrarunning community.
“I think that women tend to be good at multi-tasking, [and are] well-organized and skilled communicators,” Burt says. “All three of these skills are essential to a well-organized event.” From setting up the race site weeks in advance to dealing with extreme weather, directing an ultrarun is its own endurance event.
The Bigfoot 120-mile and 100K in Washington’s Cascade Mountains in October 2016 was one race that truly tested them as organizers, Sager says. “It was freezing, poured down rain for six days straight. Zero sleep for far too long, and a lot of cold runners,” Sager recalls. “Amazingly, we had 80 finishers in the 100K and still to this day, we have people tell us it was their most memorable and favorite race. As directors, it was the most memorable, for sure, but not our favorite. We now hold the race in August.”
Destination Trail events are especially challenging to execute because many are non-stop over several days and on single-loop or point-to-point courses. These days, runners wear tracking devices that Burt and her team can see on a digital map, so if runners get off course, they can be located quickly. It’s common for extremely exhausted runners to get confused and lost, Burt explains. In addition to being carefully monitored, runners get a lot of support along the way. Destination Trail events have robust medical and volunteer teams along the course and food stations provide freshly cooked meals
Burt says her events are also about giving back to the trails, and she expects her running community to also be devoted to that mission. As part of their race entry, runners in some Destination Trail events are required to do eight hours of trail work in their local community. Destination Trail also contributes to and collects donations for a memorial scholarship fund set up in memory of Burt’s friend, Stephen Jones. Jones, who competed in Burt’s 200-mile races, was killed in an avalanche while skiing in 2016. Students studying recreation management at Utah State University will benefit from the fund.
When she’s not keeping up with her growing business, Burt is keeping up with her two daughters, ages 10 and 12. Not to mention her own training for 50- and 100-mile races. Sometimes that means skipping a run to take her girls ice skating or putting off a workout to go skiing with them.
Still, Burt manages to do 60 to 90 miles each week, and she recently got a treadmill desk so she can squeeze in miles while she works on her computer. “I am basically busy every minute of the day,” Burt says.