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Behind the Scenes: A Q&A with the Up & Over Trail Weekend Race Director

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May 22nd, 2023

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Ever wonder what it’s like to put on an epic trail race? We’re here to find out. Welcome to our Q&A with Daniel Vaughan, the Race Director for the Up & Over Trail Weekend in Taos, New Mexico! Discover the story behind the event, the unique challenges of trail running, and the unforgettable moments that make it special. Daniel shares his journey and offers a glimpse into the heart of this incredible race.

Got some questions of your own? Leave them in the comment section for Daniel to respond!

Q: What inspired the creation of your trail race, and how has it evolved over the years?

A: August 3rd, 2024, will mark the 18th edition of this race, and it was created as an event to showcase the beauty of the Taos Ski Valley alpine environment. Participation has grown to almost 400 runners from the first year when just 17 athletes ran the race. When I assumed the role of race director, we added a Vertical K up one of the steepest ski runs in TSV and then created the “Double Trouble” which challenges runners to do both races. This year, we’re hoping to add a short Kid’s trail run event on Sunday to get the whole family involved!

Q: What do runners find the hardest or at least most surprising part of the course?

A: The vertical climb and altitude. The race starts at 9,400 ft. and peaks out at almost 11,800 feet. The first 5k has 2600 ft. of climbing – and the air gets thinner the higher you go. Almost every runner I’ve spoken to after the race says the same thing: “That is a HARD race – but I’ll be back next year – I can do better than I did today.” The race requires an advanced strategy, and you learn a lot the first time you run it.

Q: Describe the location of your race. What makes it unique or particularly scenic for trail runners?

A: The Up & Over Trail Run Weekend takes place in Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico – a mountain hamlet high in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. It truly is a spectacular backdrop to what is a very challenging race. At the crest of the “Up” portion – runners can see Wheeler Peak, among others, as well as look down the entire valley.

Q: Who has had the most impressive performance at your race, and what made it memorable?

A: Perhaps it was 15-year-old Judah Daffron who placed 2nd overall last year. He’s competing against outstanding runners from across the southwest and beat the 2022 winner and a host of other seasoned 10k trail runners. It was very impressive, to say the least, and when I saw him flying down to the finish line, frankly, I was stunned at how young he looked. Judah has a bright future ahead of him in running.

Q: What sets the race apart?

A: I feel several aspects of the event set it apart, but mostly, it’s a combination of the ‘small-town race’ feel coupled with the incredible beauty of Taos Ski Valley in the summer. The weather is stunning and the views even more so!

Q: How do you ensure the safety of participants during the race, especially considering the challenging nature of trail running?

A: We work with the TAOS Ski Resort’s Ski Patrol staff to ensure on-course safety at every mile, and EMTs are a part of this group. The Village of TSV & County of Taos also volunteer their EMS resources to augment capacity.

Q: What’s your favorite photo from the race? A photo says a thousand words!

A: The group photo at the finish line at the top of the Vert K from 2023. This is a grueling effort, and you can see the elation on this group’s faces!

Q: Any special treats at the aid stations?

A: This year, each runner will receive a ‘cupless cup’ from HydraPak to carry with them and hydrate. We’ve addressed the sustainability of our event in various ways, and not having to drag hundreds of paper cups off the mountain is just one of our efforts.

Q: How do you engage with and give back to the local community through your race?

A: We need volunteers to pull this race off – so we work with several non-profits, including the Enchanted Circle Trails Association, Field Institute of Taos, and the National Forest Service, to help us staff our volunteer needs. In turn, we donate a portion of the proceeds to their organizations. The Taos Community Foundation has supported the race for the past 2 years, and this year – for the first time – the New Mexico Tourism Department and New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Department are both partners of the event weekend. This support helps us elevate the runner experience in ways we couldn’t before. They are great partners in our community.

Q: What’s the hardest part of being a race director?

A: Dealing with the administrative part of producing a race – waivers, insurance, permits, etc. But every race director experiences this – so I’m not playing the World’s smallest violin here.

Q: What do you like most about being a race director?

A: Talking to runners after the event and getting their feedback on what they liked, what they didn’t, and what we can do to improve the race every year.

Q: What’s a race that you want to run and why?

A: Unfortunately, after 2 knee replacements, my running days are over. But I really would love to Run the Up&Over 10k just once!

Don’t forget to leave your questions for Daniel below!

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