As someone who runs events, I also have that insider view of what happens around the race- both on and off the trail. The outstanding majority of it is good, but there is sometimes the bad and the ugly as well. Here are some thoughts to bear in mind as you are approaching your next event that can help ensure that we enjoy the trails and races appropriately so that our RDs will keep on lovin' us enough to put on these events.
1. Do your research. Most races that you sign up for have ample information posted for you to read on their website. This will often tell you what course conditions have been like in the past, what the weather has been, and what items will be helpful for you to bring. You can usually find a map and an elevation chart somewhere- study them. Don't show up on race day with questions about the course that you could have found online. Race morning (and the night before the race, and the week before the race) is very busy for RDs. While it is not unfair for runners to be able to approach the RD and ask questions, do your part to know what is going on.
2. Follow the rules. Does the race ask that you don't wear headphones? Are trekking poles prohibited? Are you required to have a light at a certain point in the day? Are you required to check in and out of aid stations? Do you need to leave the dogs at home? Rules are not put in place for fun or to torment runners; they are for safety concerns. While it may be true that your dog is well behaved (and I am a dog lover, myself) and that you can aptly pay attention with headphones, try to avoid thinking that you are the exception to the rule.
3. Don't bandit. I am not sure if this needs to be said; I don't know that I have ever seen a bandit runner in an ultra. However, I know it can be a bigger deal in road running, so to prevent the trend from migrating to ultras, I think it should be addressed. Someone has taken the time to find a nice course, mark it, stick some food and water out there, have rescue on standby, pay for permits to use the land.. I could go on and on. Of course, it is public land usually and anyone can be there, but running a trail race without registering adds additional concerns outside of the normal road race bandit stuff. In addition to putting more bodies on the trail and running the issue of not signing the waiver for participating for race liability, there is a really great difference in the amount of resources that could be used. Runners are usually methodically recorded running in and out of aid stations so that search and rescue can be called in if someone is suspected to have gone missing. The chance of this being done unnecessarily increases dramatically if participants are unaccounted for- either by not checking in or not having a number. I (vaguely) understand in large profit-driven road races the desire to skimp on the cost, but you're not fighting the industry by not paying for ultras. Somebody put in the work; if you're there, be a registered runner.
4. Consider where your money goes. This is something that I don't think I truly understood until I became more involved with race planning. Several hundred dollars for permits, several hundred dollars for portapotties, enough food for x amount of runners at each aid station and at the finish line, tent rental, fuel, your race swag- it all adds up. Some folks are making careers of putting on races, but the vast majority are just trying to do a bit more than break even so there is money to put towards next year's event.
5. Show the love to your volunteers! Give high-fives, tell them thanks, try not to be a grump, even if you're feelin' grumpy. If a volunteer shows up and doesn't enjoy their time, they are not likely to come back, and these events would not run without volunteers. Volunteers are often on the course before you and off the course after you, so even though you've got a long day of miles, they've got a long day of standing in the cold/sun/rain/wind/snow/sleet to make sure that you have a good day. If you have some time, volunteer at a race yourself so that you can give back and see what it feels like on the other side.
6. Don't forget to mention the good stuff. You'd better believe that an RD hears it every time a runner goes off course- whether it is the fault of the marking or an inattentive runner. I always make a point to mention it to the RD if I found the course to be particularly well-marked, if the aid stations had just the right snack, if the volunteers were great, if I loved the finisher swag, etc. If you are an unhappy runner, mention your concerns with care if you can. If you are a happy runner, make it known! It's nice for folks to hear what went well, especially if they just got an earful from someone who went a quarter mile off course.
7. Be nice to the trail. This is another one that should go without saying. We are trail runners because we love to play in the dirt, see the forests, and experience nature. Don't wreck it by throwing your gel wrapper on the ground. I have noticed in several races over the last year that garbage is a common occurrence during a race. It's easy when you know there is a sweep to assume that things will be picked up if dropped, but take care in putting your trash in a zipped pocket or someplace where it is not likely to find its way onto the ground. If you see somebody else's garbage, take the extra second to pick it up. In addition to being kinder to the environment, this will help ensure that permits are issued so that the race can be held again.
8. Take care of other runners. I was at a race last year where I met a man who dropped from his 100 because he had stopped to walk with another runner who was terribly sick and wound up not having enough time to make the cutoff. I was rather astounded by this gesture, but he said to me that "people are more important." For this man, who had run his share of 100s, the finish was not that important. Now, I'm not saying that you should ditch your race for someone else, but be ready to help if the need should arise. This may mean taking a second to ask someone if they are okay, it might mean offering a band-aid or an extra snack, or it might mean running ahead to the aid station to send someone back to help.
9. Have fun. Have so much fun. It's cheesy, but really, just have fun. You worked hard, you paid the money, you spent your time getting everything just right. Enjoy it. Don't get uptight. Be gracious, be patient, be responsible, and be a badass. Remember that this is not just a race, this is a community of really, really amazing people. Take the time to get to know some of them. Some of the best friends, the best stories, and the best wisdom I have encountered have come from ultrarunners. Don't be so busy that you miss out on that part of it.