Monday, August 11, 2014

The RD: The Decision

Note: "The RD" is what I'm calling my post series on Race Directing. Since beginning this newest journey into the world for directing races, I've learned a lot. A lot of what I've learned has reshaped quite a number of my thoughts and opinions on the subject and I'd like to share those thoughts. The other aspect is that I hope some of the things I share through this series will continue to enlighten those of you who read this blog about the many intricacies involved in putting on an event.

Being a race director is not something that is new to me. In fact, my history of putting on events goes back a lot farther than most people think. In 2007, I was on the front lines of helping to co-direct a series of events in Pittsfield Vermont. This included a snowshoe marathon, 50-Mile Ultra, and the first Death Race. Most of my involvement in these events was working under the wing of Andy Weinberg. Andy is the original RD of the McNaughton Park Trail races in Pekin, IL (now known as Potawatomi).

I was first approached by Joe Desena in the fall of 2006, while running the Vermont 50 that year, to be the race director of the race series in Pittsfield, VT. At the time, my life had little direction and while I did not agree to be the RD, I agreed to help. Andy ultimately became the RD of the series, and I was excited to be playing a supporting role working alongside him. Most of my role included marketing, sharing of ideas for the races, route finding, and course marking. Andy, in my opinion, had been long regarded as an amazing RD so being able to work with him taught me a lot.

In 2008, I put on my first race in Pittsfield, VT. I was the RD of the New England Ultras. A race I directed under the umbrella of Peak Races. The race featured distances of 50, 100, and 200 miles. We had a little over 60 runners run in that first year offering. Ultimately, however, the experience of directing that race was a rotten one. There was a lot that went right for that event, and we ultimately managed to pull it off, but there was a lot that went wrong too.

My experiences in helping Peak Races weren't always the greatest. I did learn a lot from a veteran RD and how "business" plays a role in taking on the role of being an RD. At the end of the day, my previous experiences from 2007-2010 were incredibly educative. However, on that same thought.. It was my experiences there that had prevented me from directing races again for quite a number of years...

Then there are Fat Asses. I organized my first Fat Ass run in 2005, 1 month before my first official Ultra. The ultra-veterans in New England had instilled in me the ideals behind the ultra community in that area and how import an the community truly was. So I began organizing Fat Asses. They never really did take off in New England as I had hoped, but I held them every year until I moved in 2011. Upon coming to Colorado, I re-started my Fat Ass series here in this new location. Slowly, the series has grown to 7 offerings with over 350 runners on our mailing list.

Directing a Fat Ass run is WAY different than directing a race. Let me be clear. It is Night and Day. Apples and Oranges. Personally, more folks should stick to organizing Fat Asses than deciding to become race directors. I also feel that more people should consider organizing a few fat ass runs before taking on directing an official race. There is a lot of learning and research one can do in the process of organizing a fat ass that in indeed transferable to directing a race.

The Decision:
Over the years I have always kept the idea of directing races again in the back of my head. It's something I wanted to do and to some extent, something I had to do. It was my way of giving back to a community that had given so much to me and very much continues to do so. But it was my previous negative experiences that made me hesitant. I'm also someone who wants to do something right and to it's fullest extent. Without money to start my own business, I couldn't clearly see how I could indeed do it right without adequate funding.

Let's face it. Everyone thinks they are a race director these days, or so it seems. People who have never run an ultra before... are suddenly ultra RDs. Others have run 2 or 3 ultras over the last decade.. and decided they know what it takes to offer races to this "type-A" community. Others have been in the sport a long time, decide to make the leap at directing as a way to give back, and their first race doesn't go as well as they'd hoped. The result, is a one (or 2) and done event that we never see again (ex: Slickrock 100). Others, are just trying to capitalize financially on the incredible boom in popularity our sport has experienced the last 5 years.. they're just in it to make money.

A lot of my hesitation to direct again focused on my previous experiences, how much hard work I know is involved, the fear of being a one-and-done event, and the increasing over saturation of new races in our sport. Ultimately, I have really good friends. Friends who sat me down and buried it into my head that I needed to do this. Because my Fat Ass series has grown almost too large and my offerings there have a reputation for being better than most races we run in the area. Creating my own running series was the logical next step and a risk I and our local runners could afford to take.

The decision to become an RD was not easy for me and it's not a decision I took lightly. Since mid-March I have averaged about 50 hours a week on the project. Some weeks, I've worked as many as 70 hours on the races. It is a labor of love. I've had other RDs contact me and encourage me NOT to direct races because.. "It's more trouble than it's worth" or "You work way too hard and hardly make any money." While I agree with them in some respects, I disagree on others. These conversations have been welcomed, and entertaining as well. They don't know me too well, and what I am capable of when I put my mind to something. I can't just walk away now.. because some other RDs have told me so.

I decided that I would do this with my mission and vision in mind from beginning to end. I'm not in this to "make money." Certainly, I would LOVE to make Race Directing my full time job that pays me well enough to do so.. but at the end of the day, it's not and never has been my true mission. My mission is to provide a race series here in Colorado that celebrates all runners as equals. No more celebrating just the front runners, no more selling out to huge corporations. My races are focused on the community, just as my Fat Ass series. My races are responsible to the resource in that we'll only put runners on terrain the resource can handle, and in numbers that the resources can support. This is what is truly important to me. A responsible race series that treats all runners as equals and celebrates the entire community.

So I'm an RD now.. and I learn something new everyday. As we continue on this journey, I'm hoping to be able to share with all of you the many ins and outs that I've dealt with to date. There is never an easy day thus far. I've shed quite a few tears.. mostly because my passion for this is so strong. Returning to race directing was never an easy decision for me.. but as Ultra has become my life.. it is indeed time to give back and create an ultra series that reflects my views of what the sport once was and always should be.

For anyone looking to become an RD, I would highly suggest you truly consider your motives for doing so. If you're in it to simply make money, or if that's your first thought "Ultra is booming.. what a chance to make some money!" don't do it. Like with anything you should take on in this life.. do it for the love.. not for the love of money. It'll be a greater service to the community so many of us truly love.

CLICK HERE to move on to Part 2: Your Course

Sherpa John is the owner and race director of Human Potential LLC and the Human Potential Running Series. Registration is now open for their first two offerings.