Trail Runner’s Book Review – Joe’s Rules: The Art of Trail Race Directing

Joe’s Rules: The Art of Trail Race Directing, by Joe Prusaitis & Chris Haley. Published by the author, 2020. Reviewed for the American Trail Running Association by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Tejas Trails is an American Trail Running Association corporate member.

As a librarian, I hesitated when I was asked to review this self-published book because in my experience most such volumes have a mom-and-pop air about them and lack the polish afforded by a knowledgeable editor. Joe’s Rules, however is the exception. It is well-crafted and organized to the standards of any Golden Ticket 100 mile race. While there are many articles on how to direct a trail race and Road Runner’s Club of America (RRCA) does a credible job with their online pamphlet, Guidelines for Safe Events, there is a scarcity of comprehensive reference manuals on trail race directing. Meaning none that I could uncover.

Joe Prusaitis with ATRA founder Nancy Hobbs.

As the director of such prestigious events as the Rocky Raccoon 100 (photos below), Bandera 100K and former owner of the Tejas Trails racing business, Joe Prusaitis has had miles of experience and sincerely wants readers to benefit from that. Being visually oriented, I was initially turned off by the 1950ish appearance of the accompanying black and white photos, but after working my way from “ GPs and the rolatape” to “ Wood stakes and staple guns” and beyond, I got it. This is not a venue for glossy color shots, but rather a gritty display of black and white clarity.

And yes, Prusaitis takes the reader through the nine decimal points of race directing, from creating a race, marketing, course marking, aid station supplies all the way to packing it up and cleaning equipment. No detail is too small or too unimportant to be overlooked.

As a special bonus he shares his Microsoft Excel philosophy, demonstrating how to control every cut-off detail with Excel-generated math. I must admit my fingers exercised their page-turner capacity at this point, grateful that I gave up on aid stations long ago when the longest event I direct, a snowshoe 8K became famous for its frozen water stop.

I have been directing local trail and snowshoe races for over twenty years, but nothing on the grand scale of multiple ultra events. But if that were one of my goals, I would want to have this book in my pocket. Even for smaller venue directors, however, there is a lot here to consider and learn from. Not to mention a certain gratefulness that we do not have to deal with all these mind-numbing details.

Just like runners, race directors all have their war stories. Whenever I experience such a moment there’s a tiny portion of my brain that reminds me to endure and muddle through for the sake of the excellent narrative to come. As you can imagine, Prusaitis has had many such adventures from the time when a Mom left her six-year old at the finish line while she ran blissfully away, to the time when a bull blocked the route, and the moment when all the 25K runners were mistakenly gifted the 50K awards. And you can tell how much Joe enjoys sharing them with us. Enough to make anyone want to be a race director…almost!

No one states it better than Joe. “What is an RD [race director]? To make an analogy an RD is an orchestra conductor who has composed the music, hired all the musicians, built the concert hall, set up the parking, and organized the refreshment stands for intermission drinks and snacks.” If, after studying this manual, you are still eager to direct a trail race, you will be off to a good start!

[PRO TIP] Are you interested in reading more about trail race directing? Read our review of Phil Stewart’s Organizing Running Events – A Guide for Race Directors published in December 2017 and be on the lookout for Joe’s next book, a compendium of all things wild and wacky.