Race Directors To Be…Knuckle up.
In the last post, I started with a quote that explained how it all started here at DelMoSports. “What was this like on day one?” “How did you get through it?” How do you answer other’s questions when they ask you, “I want to be a race director can you help me?” How do I explain to them that to a certain degree I could never explain what it is they need to learn nor what it is I could ever teach? Confused yet? Let me explain.
It’s 2003, and I signed up for a biathlon (swim/run) in Cape May County (I’ll leave the race location anonymous to protect the guilty). In short, this was one of the worst experiences of my racing career. The race was nothing that was advertised. The course wasn’t what they said it would be…which was a major reason why I signed up. The check in process was terrible. It simply wasn’t any fun. To boot, when we finished the biathlon and went over for some refreshments there were dry bagels and water….no peanut butter, no jelly, no Gatorade…just dry bagels (not cut) and water. For the awards there was nothing other than a tiny plaque.
Okay. You’re saying I’m complaining. That I should be grateful that I can do the race and stop whining about the other stuff because at the end of the day everybody has to do the same course. Well, this is true, however, when you’re told ONE THING and are delivered ANOTHER THING it can really put a damper on EVERYTHING especially if you fail to buy some Skippy and Welch’s to show a little love.
Well, that was it. At that moment I decided that before someone cruises into North Wildwood, NJ and decides to hold a triathlon (in those days, people didn’t produce triathlons, you simply had a race) I was going to do it because, “I’m a triathlete, I know how to do it!” Wait for it…
What I didn’t know then was that I was making a decision to change the course of my life. This was 11 years ago. I was a Philadelphia School Teacher and a North Wildwood Beach Patrol Lifeguard. I had zero experience in organizing anything other than middle school kids. Obviously, the perfect person for the job.
Rocky III’s Clubber Lang…one of the greatest motivators of all time.
What Can I Tell You About Year One?
See that guy up there. He summed it up perfectly.
Quite simply it was the most painful/rewarding experience of my life. For all of you parents out there I completely and totally liken it to having your first child. You can consult all the books, the experts, the doctors, prepare the room, and have the cutest outfits picked out. But, there’s one thing you can’t prepare for…the baby. When that baby arrives it’s game on, or as I like to say, “This sh*t just got real.” So this is what I can tell any aspiring triathlete that wants to join the ranks of race director…
New Race Directors: Expect to be doubted.
- You have no idea what you’re doing. Simply acknowledge this fact and commit to learning.
- Write down your vision from start to finish. If you can’t explain what you want for yourself, you’re not going to convince anyone else.
- Pick your weekend. Good Luck. When I started, there were 2 or 3 races per month. It was easy. You found a weekend where there was not race and simply (out of respect for other RD’s) used that weekend. This is no longer the case for a triathlon here in New Jersey. Chances are, you’re going to go up against 2,3,4, or even 5 other races all within a 90 minute drive…the same weekend.
- Before you decide to step behind the screens volunteer to do the grunt work, because chances are since you have no experience as a RD no one is going to do it for you and you’re going to have to do it yourself.
- Did you write everything down? Good. Now, make a list of all the people that you’re going to have to get involved to actually pull this off. Yes, this list is very, very long. Some of them may not like you. You better find someone they do like who can schmooze for you. Think I’m lying? Go ahead and simply knock on the local Mayor’s door and say, “Hi, I have zero experience, but I’d like to shut your community down one morning so I can make all the mistakes that I’m promising not to make and have people really, really pissed at you!”
- Race Directors: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any harder…You Thought Wrong.
- You are going into battle. You’ve got to dig a foxhole and you’ve got to select people that are going to stand by you. You are Jerry McGuire taking his goldfish and announcing to the world, “Who’s Coming With Me?” Remember all of the people who told you, “That is a great idea, you would be the PERFECT person to do that!” Well, chances are none of them are going to back you up because of two main reasons: A. They can’t believe you did it and B. They don’t want to be around when the ship is sinking.
- Did you make it to #6? I’m impressed. Find a Crew. Think of Sly Stallone in the Expendables. They’re going to do it, but they’re not going to do it for free, and chances are they’re going to get the job done. Expect that. HIRE PEOPLE WITH MORE EXPERIENCE THAN YOU. If you’re relatively smart, you’ll recognize that I used all caps…for a reason.
- Have a back up plan. I once worked a race (yes, I would work races because I knew that I didn’t know everything and the only way to get better is gain experience as a grunt) where it poured buckets for 40 minutes prior to the start. I’m talking Biblical rains here. After the 40 minute deadline was passed, the RD went on the radio, “Ok team, Plan B is in effect. Let’s get it done.” WHOA….Plan B? I had never had a plan B before and, “How come I don’t use radios, that’s so much more convenient than using cell phones?” Luckily I learned that lesson quickly, that year, I had to resort to Plan F at my race..seriously.
- Own it. You are going to make mistakes. Face it. You are not perfect. I am not perfect. I’ve screwed up registration, results, shirt sizes, awards, the course, finisher medals, not had enough volunteers, etc. At the end of the day, no one cares why you suck, they just want to hear that YOU know that you sucked. Yeah, it’s really that easy. Own it, make no excuses, tell them you’ll do better. Move on.
- You still with me? Get next year’s date on the calendar STAT! Some young hot shot, or big company is planning on a great race, you need to act now or risk being left behind.
- Yes, #11: Competition is fierce. Racing is not cheap. Services are more expensive than ever. Athletes are going to be very selective with their money. They’re going to choose a triathlon with a good reputation and a third party endorsement. Why are they going to trust you? What are you going to do to convince them?
Race Directors: No matter what it takes, keep moving forward.
Where does that leave you? How are you feeling right now? Do you still want it? Do you want to go after that dream..that thing inside you that pulls at you until it consumes your very being? Only you know the answer.
This whole thing started with an idea. Then, ACTION.