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Enjoy the Experience: BiFree Sports Stage Runs

costa brava stage run beach

Stage runs are a niche within trail running, the crossroad between a race and a holiday. Tomas Llorens and Jordi Vissi with their BiFree Sports established themselves as a key player in the space. In less than 10 years, they expanded to three races in the Pyrenees and Costa Brava attracting runners from all over the world. Their concept is simple: offer an amazing experience to runners.

We met with Jordi and Tomas to discuss how they started their business and made it financially feasible by keeping runners' needs as the main focus.

Your company focuses on stage races, a niche within trail and ultra running. Why did you choose to focus on stage races?

Tomas: We started with the Pyrenees, the most difficult of the three races we have. The idea came from the Transalpine Run, which is a race that crosses the Alps in seven days. We thought we must have something like this in the Pyrenees. Then, we looked at Costa Brava where we come from. From 2009 to 2013 there was a stage race covering Costa Brava in three days. In 2018, we decided to start the race again.

This was our beginning and we felt very comfortable in stage races. We like the feeling of stage races because you can run during the day, enjoy the route, recover and sleep, and meet new people. It is a whole experience.

How did your career as a race organizer start? What were the difficulties you encountered?

Jordi: We had no previous experience. I was an economist and Tomas was a scientist. We met at the local running club that our fathers started 30 years ago. We started organizing small local races together. Then, we decided to change our lives. We told ourselves that if there's a Transalpine run, we can do something similar here. We both like the fact that during stage races you can enjoy the environment and the landscapes. During the first years, we dedicated a few hours to the project, and then we decided to quit everything, and we started the race. Doing this job full-time might be strange for someone, but we have three races and there is work to do for all the year. Also, it took us five years before doing it. We like to do things this way.

Talking about the difficulties we encountered, here in Spain we have a say in jumping into a swimming pool with no water. If we knew all the things that were to come, maybe we wouldn't have started it as we did it. The first race was the most difficult one. We needed to do a lot of paperwork with the local institutions, then, we needed eight hotels for the runners during the race. The things we learned from Pyrenees Stage Run were then applied to Costa Brava and our latest race, Brama.

pyrenees stage run runner mountain

Are there any events you look up to?

Jordi: We try to look up at everything, but also things that are not running or skiing. Our events are different, and the communication must be different. We can’t focus only on the challenge of running one day, we must focus on the experience you live. We keep in mind how a runner described one of our events: a life-changing experience. This is what we want to communicate. The course is there all year, right? But what happens during the race is something different. There is a social environment that makes it special with more than 20 nationalities in all the races.

How would you describe what runners experience at your races?

Tomas: Our events are relatively small, even though they are growing. People don’t come to the events just to run, but to live an experience. We want to keep it different from other events. Most runners register for the full experience, which means that they sleep in a hotel. Other stage races don’t offer this option and they are assisted by a travel agency for the accommodation. We wanted to make it easy for the participants and this is also why we have many international runners. We offer food, music, and professional photos. Once you register, you can forget about everything.

The atmosphere is like being part of a family. We have direct contact with the runners, and we strongly want them to feel at home. The scenery is incredible, so we don’t have to do anything there. Costa Brava and the Pyrenees are the most international tourist destinations in Spain and the local tourism offices did a great job in promoting them. This helped us to attract more international runners.

costa brava stage run runners women

How do you plan to grow your events in the next five years?

Jordi: Right now, we reached the maximum participation in all our events: 140 runners at Pyrenees, and 250 each at Costa Brava and Brama. We don't want them to grow more because, as we said, we like to keep it professional and familiar. For each race, it is important to have a minimum number of runners to make it financially feasible. Luckily, we reached those numbers easily. This year we added Brama and in five years we’d like to add another race.

How does the organization of your races work? Do you rely a lot on the local communities?

Tomas: The two of us work full time and then another girl helps us on the logistics of the event. For other things, we hire externals, from photography to video. For things like aid stations or checkpoints, we have volunteers, and we want them to enjoy the event too. It's like working obviously because you wake up early and you are out in the mountains all day. We want them to enjoy their work so that they come year after year and they bring their friends as well. We've had a volunteer coming for the past two years from the States. He just knew about us from the internet and now keeps coming back. We also make sure to have a high ratio of volunteers over runners. In this way, we provide the best experience to runners.

Where do you see your race fitting among other Spanish races?

Tomas: It's a good question. We are totally out of that circuit. We offer sports holidays. Our average age is 40 and we have runners above 60 years old too. We are making a name within stage races and sports holidays. There are other stage races in Spain, but we are the only one having such a big percentage of international runners. We are in our bubble.

What we do is not just set up the race, but we organize the transportation and accommodation too. We are like a travel agency. We added things that runners asked for. For example, offering accommodations the night before and after the race. This makes it financially sustainable for us. We operate as a travel agency in a trail running event.

costa brava stage run runner beach

For what you offer to runners and the rise in registration fees for races, it seems that you offer a good deal to runners. How are you able to keep it so affordable?

Jordi: This is something other people pointed out already. We are simple people, and we want to keep our events simple and affordable. Two years ago, Ian Corless came to the Pyrenees and made the same point. He also told us that maybe we are sending the wrong message to the international community with these low prices because people might think of sleeping in dirty hotels and having no food at the aid stations. This is not true of course. So, he said that maybe we should raise our prices but, right now, we are comfortable with these. We feel we are in a sweet spot to make it affordable for many people and provide high-level services.

What would you like to say to runners who didn’t know you before this?

Tomas: We are small races but this year Costa Brava was sold out in November and the Pyrenees in a few weeks. Anyway, there are still basic registrations open – no accommodation is offered. You can come with your family and camp or sleep in a van while they follow you along the course. It is still a great way to experience the race and have a good holiday.


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