Swimrun NC sets the course for community outreach
SLM: Herbert, can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to create Swimrun NC?
HK: The idea for SwimRun NC came originally from Jan Kriska and Jeff Beckelhimer, but they brought me in to help with the course details and communication.
Jan had done ÖTILLÖ in 2014 and then Loch Gu Loch, with his son Matus Kriska, in 2015 and he fully fell in love with the swimrun sport and wanted to bring such an event to the US.
Jeff had organised many unique trail running events in this part of North Carolina, where we all reside, and liked what he’d heard from Jan about the sport. I meanwhile had already written for many years about ÖTILLÖ and other unique endurance events for the slowtwitch.com website and thus was also very intrigued, and now we are all in.
SLM: What’s the backstory to SwimRun NC and how would you say the sport is developing in the US?
HK: Our racecourse is very steep and the trails technical and scenic. Most of it is in Hanging Rock State Park, but the start and finish is at a very cool brew house called Green Heron Alehouse, a place that sits right outside the park.
Athletes get to climb through waterfalls and encounter stunning nature all along and most have described this race the hardest event they had done to date.
We had our first race on October 30th, 2016 and we managed to get 65 teams from all over the United States to register for it, with 52 teams showing up to race and with all but two teams finishing.
We got very positive feedback from the teams that finished the 2016 event and more than half of them registered for the 2017 race, which sold out by the end of January – we managed to attract 101 teams. As teams dropped out during the summer for various reasons we filled spots with teams from the wait list, but late in the game that was no longer possible.
So on October 29, 2017, we had our second race with 90 starting teams and despite cold and rainy conditions saw some very impressive performances and the course record was crushed by the team that finished 3rd the year prior.
As we speak we have 37 teams signed up for the October 28, 2018 race even though it is not yet open to the public. These 37 teams are all from 2017 and we allow teams who raced the previous year to get a priority path to register before everyone else does. For 2018 the field limit is 111 teams and the general registration and application for 2018 started on December 1. We are going to be very strict with the application process as we would rather have a solid race that is 80 percent full versus a sold out event with teams that may be a safety risk, and hold our volunteers on the course too long.
SLM: SwimRun NC is not-for-profit. Why did you decide to set it up this way?
HK: We are much aware that most races are not in a position to be fully non-profit and we all feel lucky that we can do this. And with non-profit we mean that none of us, the 3 race directors, take any salary or other money out of the race. What we collect from entry fees and sponsorships and what is not needed to pay for the event itself we put straight back into the race and back to the athletes, with great race swag, awesome unique awards, a $3,600 cash purse, plus great post-race food and excellent photography.
Plus we are able to really help out the state park here, without which we would not have the beautiful venue where our race takes place. If we wanted or had to make profit from the race we would likely have to cut many details from the race that our athletes seem to really like.
SLM: You are engaged with local school children, who write letters to all the teams. Tell us about this.
HK:I reached out to three elementary schools in the area and asked them to write personalised notes to all the teams in our SwimRun NC event. Once the teachers agreed, I basically gave them start lists of each division with bib numbers, team names and the names of the two athletes and the kids then really went to work and did a fantastic job.
In one of the schools I did a swimrun “Show and Tell” and the 40 or so third grade kids were very curious and asked lots of questions. It also felt good to introduce these kids to sports they might otherwise not have encountered yet. After the race we forwarded the results to the schools so they could see how the teams they wrote notes for did. The athletes also liked this very much and seemed very touched by these notes. We will surely do this initiative again next year.
SLM: Another SwimRun NC initiative is to support the State Park. This year you bought a mobile fire-fighting unit for an ATV.
HK:We can’t give the Hanging Rock State Park cash or a check, all such money goes to the NC State park office and they then redistribute it as they see fit. We are however able to purchase items that are needed for the park. Last year we bought Braille signs for their museum and this year we spent $7,300 on a mobile fire fighting system that fits on one of their ATVs. The park rangers received the unit about 10 days before the race and they brought it to the lake on race day so the athletes could see what their entry fee paid for. We also gave money to a group that maintains the trails.
SLM: What are your short and long-term projects for Swimrun NC in terms of community development and interaction?
HK:We want to introduce many people to the sport of swimrun and thus also work closely with other races here in North America, and actually try to help them out. Folks have asked us if we will create more races, but I am the one pushing against it. I want us to do our race really well, and help other people to create more races, but I personally don’t want us to spread ourselves out too thin.
The SwimRun NC event takes a lot of effort and energy already and such resources are not endless.
SLM: Why is giving back to the community essential, especially engaging with youth?
HK:The kids that we introduce to the sport will be even more digitally connected than we are, and thus it’s good to get them interested in nature and sports that are associated to it. Additionally, next year we will also try to get older youths to help out as volunteers, so they too can be inspired.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #5 (December 2017)