Technically, the LBA in Olympia’s LBA Park stands for “Little Baseball Association.” But, at least for this Saturday, Mathias Eichler aims to keep “Little Backyard Adventure” on Olympians’ minds.
Eichler is founder and director of the Little Backyard Adventure Race, the first race he’s organized and the first authorized trail race in the LBA Woods since the city of Olympia acquired the property in 2017, according to the city’s Parks, Arts and Recreation department.
More than 100 runners are signed up to wind through the woods Saturday morning, according to Eichler. The race route is a 3.6-mile loop on which runners will see about 250 feet of elevation gain. Runners can choose to run a “single” one-loop race, a “triple” 3-loop race, or a “home run” race that spans five loops and 18 miles.
The variety, Eichler said, means there’s no real target audience.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for first-timers to come out and experience what trail running is all about,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about snow and mud, they can run a course that is just a few minutes from their house. ... But, some of the areas are quite challenging from a running point of view. … So, somebody who comes and does 18 miles out here, they will feel it.”
Eichler said there’s room for 100 more participants; online registration will stay open until noon Friday, and day-of registration also will be available.
The origin story of the race has multiple threads. One is that Eichler himself loves trail running — he co-hosts a podcast about it and wrote a book on trail running in Olympia. He said he has run races all over the region; while Olympia has a lot of races, he said, most of them are in the winter.
“There’s a sort of gnarliness to it: Snow and rain and mud and puddles. …” Eichler said. “We don’t have a summer event. So, I like the idea of bringing people together, and you can actually linger after the race,” rather than, say, run directly to the car in soaked clothes so you can get home quick for a hot bath.
Another reason for the race stirs up some emotion for Eichler: Trail races in Europe, where he’s originally from, start and end at “the town square.” The community comes together, he said, to participate and lend support. But here, trail races tend to be deep in the woods, and not many people know they’re happening.
“If I could bring a race, sort of, to the people, to the community, that would be really special,” Eichler said.
LBA Park is just a few miles from downtown Olympia, a 155.5-acre park that’s home to baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas, and a playground. The park is adjacent to a wooded area, where most of the race will take place.
Eichler said the location choice was intentional. He approached the city, looked at various locations, and the city was excited about him hosting it at LBA Park because the woods are a relatively new acquisition.
“They were actually really excited about this, because nobody has done anything with these woods yet,” Eichler said.
He said he’s dedicated the last three months to the race, which he’s co-directing with Douglas Scott. One other core team member, Amanda Mackison, serves as Operations Director. And his wife, Trixy Eichler, is designing the medals.
“It always ends up being sort of a family affair,” Eichler said.
This isn’t the first time Eichler has launched an effort to bring members of the Olympia community together for a common event. For one, he came up with the idea for A Table for Olympia, a free community picnic he hosted downtown in 2009.
On Saturday, Eichler said he plans to stand at the finish line and give every runner a hug or a high-five.
“I will feel like it’s a success if I see lots of smiles,” Eichler said. “They can be painful smiles, they can be utterly exhausted. But I want to see smiles. I want people to get hooked on trail running who have never run trails before. I want people to come and tell me that they signed up for five loops and it crushed them, because they thought 18 miles in a city park would be easy, and it wasn’t. I want to see people at their limits.
“If you can push yourself to your limit in a safe environment, then you should become a better person.”