Friday, October 10, 2014

The RD: Bringing it all together

We've covered a lot in the previous 7 parts of this series on Race Directing, and you can find links to all of the previous postings at the bottom of this post. Again, this is just a synopsis of my experience in being a race director and I wanted to share the information because we as runners and constantly fed information that, well, just isn't entirely true. It is my hope that this post help dispel a number of myths and legends of Race Directing.

In this post, we're going to get right to it and bring it all together. You've made the decision to jump in, created a course, got your permits, purchased or borrowed most everything you need, incurred a huge amount of expenses, purchases insurance, shirts, obtained shwag and suckered volunteers to help. You event spent money on advertising and did what you could on a grass roots level to get the info out there. What else is there?! THE RACE!


Race Day is when you really have to bring it all together. This is where your passion comes through to your runners. Remember, these are not just your fellow runners anymore.. they're customers! You must deliver a product, and event, that is sufficiently comparable to the entry fee they've paid. Now.. entry fee's vary greatly across the board. I can tell you right now.. I'm not paying more than $125 for a first year 50 Mile, nor over $100 for a first year 50K. Everything you do on race weekend, race day, sets the tone for what you will deliver in events to come. You'll have hiccups and burps, you'll have to overcome a great deal of things, and how you overcome will set your reputation. Screw up now.. and recovery could take awhile.

Your race is all about the details. Setting up your finish line in a place where a runner can finish the run, and celebrate their accomplishment with their fellow runners, friends and family is key. This area should also be a place where you can provide further nourishment. That's right, a HUGE part of Ultrarunning is the after party. Don't have an after party and forget about having future races. At Tommyknocker Ultras this year, I failed to have beer at the finish line. Why? Because the race was at a Christian Camp that prohibits alcohol on property. I got some complaints.. but there is nothing I can do about it. But it goes to show you.. it's the details. UROC was criticized in 2013 for not having a very good post-race feed. They had less than HALF the registered runners in 2014 as compared to the year before. Case in point.. you forget something, screw it up bad enough, the word gets out.

Make sure your packet pick-up is in a place where runners can mingle with other runners as they arrive. Don't pack 'em in some place like sardines and make sure it's welcoming. Make things streamlined and smooth. Separate your shirts by gender and size. Have em at the ready so a volunteer can just grab and give. The whole check-in process should take 30 seconds a runner. If you're relaying information at check-in for each and every runner.. it should be pertinent to where the start is, what time to be there, and where to get food.

As an RD who had a pre-race meal at our first race, I can see why this is a dying trend in Ultrarunning. Pre-race feeds are EXPENSIVE and they can be more expensive than you think depending on your county's rules regarding food licenses and such. Also, it takes a huge chunk out of your bottom line to the tune of $10 a runner. However, I LOVE pre-race meals and wish they would make a come-back. This is the best place and time to build community. Runners catch up, talk about their training, geek out on the sport, and find folks to run with. It's a price to pay but it's all about that experience. I have personally LOVED the Pre-race meals at the Vermont 50, Vermont 100, Rockin' K in Kansas.

Make sure you've contacted ALL of your volunteers (and heard back from them) a week out from the race. Then, make sure you provide them with a volunteers manual that outlines your expectations of them. Have a pre-race volunteer meeting to go over any last minute details, re-establish your expectations and answer any questions they may have.

Course marking.. not everyone is going to know the course you've laid out. Try and find someone willing to mark your course for you. As the RD.. you don't have time. Consider taking someone out on a run in the weeks leading up to the race to show them the course. Hell, drive them around if you can. Don't give someone a map and blindly tell them to mark your course for you. The old school rule is, "The runners are responsible for knowing the course." But we don't live in the old school anymore. Today's ultra runner wants to be able to run the course with their eyes closed and not get lost. Plaster the crap out of it. Just make sure it's done by someone you trust and YOU are able to check major intersections. If you don't know your own course, if you haven't seen your entire course within the last 1-2 months prior to the race.. you are negligent by sending runners out there. Do the work or don't RD.

Your time on race day, race weekend, should be spent putting out fires and helping set everything up. You are the conductor of a multi-faceted orchestra. You need to make sure everyone is doing the work you need them to do in a timely fashion and in a way that accurately portrays your vision. You are the master of this destiny. Conduct! Spend your time talking to your runners. Thank them for coming. Answer their questions. Answer your volunteers questions. Lend a hand.. but stay close to the hub of it all. You're needed more than you'll ever imagine.

The most Important thing I'll mention in this post is your need to have an Emergency Action plan (EAP). This is the black and white, in print plan that explains what you will do if ______ happens. This could be anything from a forest fire, to severe thunderstorms, tornados, snow, other natural disasters, etc. it explains who has command over the event in all circumstances. It explains under what circumstances you will postpone or cancel the event. It will explain what you will do in the event that a runner becomes lost, or injured. What will you do if 911 needs to be called? Who calls 911? You or anyone? What is the number for Search and Rescue. Everything. You should plan to leave no stone unturned in this plan and make it available to anyone who wants to see it. This way, if anything happens, you can pull it out and say.. "This is what happened, this was out plan, this is what we did." Most importantly of all follow your plan.

After everything is set-up, prepared and ready to go.. you just have to say "GO!" and send your runners off. Make sure your Start Line is lively, fun, and is in a spot where family and friends can see their runners off and wish them luck. Play some music or do something else unique to send them off. I'm as patriotic as anyone but I hate the pre-race national anthem.. unless it's being played on bag pipes.

During the race.. you should do your very best to stay within radio/cell phone contact at all times. YOU are the decision maker. If you should roam the course, do so by not jeopardizing your ability to direct. Make sure you are only going to major intersections where you are needed and always make sure you are back at the Finish line for the Finish. Your finish line should have food, drink, music, and a place for family to gather. Make it fun. Make it welcoming. Make it a place to hang out for a few hours. As runners cross that finish line, you should be there to shake each of their hands and hand them their award. Thank them for coming. Ask them if they had a great time. Show them to the food. Be active. Be engaged. Be thankful. Yes.. you put in a ton of work, but these people gave you money for it. It doesn't matter if it's a loss, or a huge hit.. these people paid you and they deserve your thanks.

As the race ends, keep your finish line open. No runner likes to cross the finish line with 80% (or more) of the event packed up and put away. Every single runner deserves the same welcome at the finish line as every runner before them. Same thing with your aid stations. Have all the cut-offs that you want, but keep that aid station open and supplied until every runner is accounted for coming in, and accounted for getting to the next one. Keep it up and until it's OVER.

Once the race ends, don't wait a week to get the results posted. Most runners want to know how they did that night. Within 24-hours is reasonable. 48 Hours.. you're pushing it. More than 2 days.. you've got to be kidding me. Input the information and upload the results. Then send out a thank you e-mail with a link to where results can be found. Some races offer a Survey Monkey survey for runners to fill out for feedback. Be open to feed back, good, bad, indifferent or other. Take it as your keys to future success. Welcome the thoughts and use it.

You did it.. you're a race director. You're now exhausted, emotional, and wondering what you were thinking and seriously doubting your ability and/or desire to do it again. Set yourself up for success. "Fail to plan and plan to fail." It takes a Herculean effort to make a race happen no matter who the RD is. I just outlined 8 parts to the puzzle in this series. Race directing is a thankless job and by no means, is it get rich quick. It will take a few years to build your brand and get people coming to your race. Most races don't make any money until after year 3... if they get to year 3. Do it because you want to, and you are good at it, and because you truly wish to give back. Don't do it because there's a boom, or it sounds cool, or because you want a new hobby. It's a full time job. Commit.

*Two more posts on Race Directing coming up. I'm going to let everyone know how Tommyknocker Ultras went from beginning to end. Basically, I'll outline what went well and what not so well. My insight on that first event is sure to open some eyes. Also, I've mentioned quite a few races in this series. Thoughts, opinions, and hiccups.. There are a few examples of things that have happened over the years that I want to share as examples of what I think, are to the detriment of our sport. So I'll be sharing those in the hopes that some of these mistakes, are not made at other races in the future. None are the end of the world, but they certainly had an impact on a race, it's reputation, and it's success.
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This is Part 8 of a multi-part series focusing on the ins and outs of race directing. You can read the previous three parts by clicking their links below:
Part 1: The Decision
Part 2: Your Course
Part 3: Permits
Part 4: Infrastructure
Part 5: Expenses
Part 6: Insurance, Shirts, Shwag, Volunteers
Part 7: Advertising