by Dante Zappala
Design a course. Provide feedback on the logo. Find a shirt vendor. Coordinate street closings with the police. Ask the Co-op for bananas. And, oh, yeah, get people to sign up!
This is the short list of what is on my plate in my first foray as a race director. When I recently joined the board of West Mt. Airy Neighbors, I eagerly signed up to be a member of the annual Blocktoberfest 5k race committee. It felt like a great way to get my feet wet.
I was soon designated as the race director, primarily because I was communicating with the company that is providing the bibs and timing services. Even though I was given the title out of necessity – they needed someone to be designated as such – it’s still something I don’t take lightly.
I’ve run countless races in my life and in that time, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with race directors over various issues. I have usually ended these silly confrontations with me saying or thinking something indignant, like, “I would never do it that way if I were putting this thing together.”
Well, to all of you whom I banged heads with, I’m sorry. Yes, your mile markers were way off and the courses were mismeasured. You didn’t have marshals at key turns and I ran astray. You mixed up the overall and age group awards. But, as is almost always the case, the hypothetical situations are much easier to manage than real ones. I am officially a race director and I am also officially humbled.
I am in no way doing this work by myself. I am just one person on a committee of dedicated people each taking part in various tasks to bring this race to fruition. We fully recognize that we aren’t just planning our own event; we are, to some degree, competing against others.
Every weekend, runners will find more than one race in their area to choose from. The proliferation of community organized events such as ours has saturated the supply side of the race economy. Even as the number of runners has grown, the number of races has likely outpaced the demand.
So, we of the Blocktoberfest 5k committee have had to think of ways to make our race more attractive. Cool T-shirts? Check. Beautiful course? Hard to go wrong in Mt. Airy. Electronic timing? Got it.
I think a great draw is having fast runners show up for your race. I’ve secured a few free entries for a crop of “emerging elite” hoping that this will bring in other fast runners in the years to come.
Still, the most important element for me is precision. I was just a mere participant in the event last year. In the first mile I was with the leaders and we got confused about a turn. What do we do? Keep going, of course. We ended up running about a quarter mile short of 5k, which really shouldn’t matter much, but it does.
We race for a variety of reasons. Some of us do it as a fun way to participate in and contribute to an organization we support. And some of us do it as a physical and mental test. We want to know how all this training translates to performance. We want to see if we can run a certain time. Maybe we want to win something.
All of this ambition requires a race that is accurate and properly managed. So, these are the details I’m poring over. I’ve measured the course four different ways. I’ll make sure signs are up and people are posted throughout. I’m skipping running it and leading the race on a bike just to make sure everything goes according to plan. And still, there is everything else that needs to happen.
If running is a labor of love, organizing a race is something on the level of true love described in “The Princess Bride.” Or maybe it’s more like “Fatal Attraction.” Either way, it’s profound and intense. This Saturday at 9 a.m., when it’s all said and done, the entire committee will probably tell Running that we need some space or we’ll file a restraining order.
The next best option may be that we start drinking before the timing mats come up. Perhaps this is the great secret – this is what all race directors do.
That would at least explain why they always seem so happy to hear my complaints.