Confessions of a First-Time Race Director

This post originally appeared in the Sugarloaf SUN 

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Here in the Valley we are lucky to have an abundance of races to choose from nearly every weekend. I’ve been fortunate enough to run dozens of these races over the years. As a runner, my experience has mostly consisted of paying my registration fee, picking up a bib, running the race, and going home… sometimes after posting a selfie on Facebook. I appreciated all the volunteers, water, post race parties, course markings, and everything else, but I had no idea of how much work went into making those things happen. That all changed when Justin Killeen and I went on a trail run and asked each other, “Why aren’t there more half marathons in the Valley?” That was the day we decided to make the leap from runners to race directors, with the goal of creating an event that matched the high bar set by the area’s existing races.

So there we were with a big idea, no race directing experience, and a full awareness of the quality standard we wanted to meet. While the idea was still fresh, and before we could talk ourselves out of it, we fired up Microsoft Word and Excel to map out all those things that we thought needed to happen before race day. The list quickly grew to include hundreds of things like creating a route, designing shirts, working with local police departments, and, of course, actually naming the event! Eventually we decided on the Happy Valley Half Marathon and things started falling into place.

As a team of just two, we started knocking off tasks one by one and realized how rewarding this experience was becoming. Even applying for insurance was fun! The more time we invested the more real the event became, which made it exciting to think we would be adding something to the running community that had given us so much.

Before we knew it we had a location, a course, a website, USATF support, sponsors, a post race party plan, and everything else we could think of. Except registered runners. After hundreds of hours of work and with eight months to go before race day, we published the registration page and waited. One by one registrations began trickling in and that is when we experienced that positively impacting other people’s lives is the true reward of race directing. People were signing up for our event to finish their first half marathon, to crush a PR, or to have something to motivate their training. The satisfaction of enabling others to achieve their goals made all those late-night meetings worth the effort.

As race day got closer and closer, our efforts intensified. Did we confirm with all of our vendors? Do our runners have the information they need? Did we order enough portapotties? There was no end to the questions but we did our absolute best to answer them; we owed that to our event participants. The week leading up to race day was filled with bib number assignments, race packet preparation, and lastminute calls with vendors.

Then race day was here. Start time at 9 a.m., but we were out on the course at 3 a.m., in the dark with headlamps setting up water stops and marking the course. Hours flew by like seconds as vendors, volunteers, and runners began arriving. Justin and I remained behind the scenes as we worked to manage the challenges of the event; this day was all about the runners. We stood amongst the crowd as hundreds of runners took to the start line for the half marathon, and then the 5K. We kept in constant contact with aid stations and volunteers to monitor on-course progress. Everything was working as planned, thanks to the hours of planning and dozens of enthusiastic volunteers. Before long the first runners crossed the finish line, and soon the post-race party began.

To our relief, the day was a complete success. Our day ended long after the last runner went home as we picked up trash, took down tents, and made it look like no event had taken place. In less than a year we had gone from an idea to a tangible event that had a positive impact on hundreds of people’s lives; that is what race directing is all about.

As we left Look Park we both agreed that this day was one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. Running had given me so much over the past 30 years and I had finally given something back. Running is an amazing sport and racing is one of its best parts. However, someone has to create and organize those races to deliver experiences and opportunities to the running community. What are you waiting for?

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