I do lots of things with various degrees of professionalism. I am an attorney, I coach, I write about pro triathlon, I rant about pro triathlon, I obsess about pro triathlon and three times a year I get to race direct. I’m lucky enough to direct the Greater Hartford 1/4 Marathon in April, the Solstice Sprint 5K in June and the Hogsback Half Marathon in September.
I’m not a typical race director. While I work under the banners of the Hartford Track Club and Sonic Endurance, most of the pre and post race work for the Hogsback Half gets done by a very small group of people (lets note here on race day tons and tons and tons of work gets done by AWESOME volunteers without whom the race would not happen. I cannot thank our volunteers enough for all of their time and effort). Shaun does the web design, deals with timing and does a good deal of the design work, my mom takes care of the hot food, Jodi Dougherty of Running for Rescues secures aid station volunteers and Peter Hawley of the Hartford Track Club helps with logistics and dealing with the MDC. Pretty much all the permitting, coordination, communication, publicity and baking falls on my plate. This can be a really great thing. We have a really lean volunteer operation so we’re able to make some pretty sizable charitable donations (no one takes race directing fees or asks to be paid for their services) and we can get things done efficiently. While Shaun hates it, my favorite time to have “meetings” about race to do lists is while I’m sitting on the trainer. A typical Saturday morning is me on the bike and the two of us going through the rolling to do list. Is the design work in for the shirts? What do size runs look like, should we modify? — As an aside this is actually a huge issue as we offer both unisex and women’s shirt cuts and we have to place the order 6-8 weeks before race day. This year when we placed the order about 275 people were registered for the race but we sold out at 500 people the week before the race. We used current trends and prior registration numbers to make our best possible guess as to what size shirts our runners would want — Have you spoken with traffic control volunteers, is everything set? When do we receive our next active.com check? What invoices do I need to pay immediately? And on and on and on.
In the planning process we don’t make any decisions lightly as we’re trying to balance providing runners with the best possible experience and raising as much money as possible for Running for Rescues. While our time and effort is free for the race, most things are not. Timing, bibs, food, shirts, awards, medals, insurance, water, ice, tents, tables, cups, forks, port a potties, rentals and anything else the race uses costs money. We work hard to keep the race affordable (registration ranges from $35 – $55 depending on when you register) and to remain competitive in the “market.” Looking at other 500-ish runner half marathons in Connecticut prices seem to range from $50 – $80 depending on when you register, so I think we’re doing a good job at staying affordable. Its funny, on race day I had some people tell me that we charge too much and others tell me that we charge too little. To the ones who think the race is too expensive, I would encourage them to register early and let them know we are doing are best to keep costs down. To the ones who think the race does not charge enough, I would encourage them to make a direct donation to Running for Rescues, Dog Star or Thank Dog Rescue. For 2015, I am almost entirely certain that we will keep the pricing structure exactly the same. While I don’t have all the invoices in for the 2014 race, it looks like we’re going to raise about $8,000 – $9,000 for Running for Rescues. I’m proud of that fact.
In addition to juggling financial concerns, we also juggle logistical and practical ones. If you ran the race you may have noticed that there was no mile marker sign at Mile 11. It wasn’t an oversight. The individual who owns the property adjacent to Mile 11 does not like the race and removes mile marker signs. We can’t mark the road itself because our state DOT permit does not allow direct markings on state roads. We’re thinking that for 2015 we’ll have a Mile 10.75 sign and a Mile 11.25 sign. You may have also noticed that we don’t have port-a-potties on course. Its not for lack of trying, we’ve been working to find a suitable location to place them and to get permission to have them there for the duration of the race. We haven’t been able to secure such a place yet, but its on top of our list for 2015. In addition lots of people asked about having an 8 a.m. start time to avoid the mid day heat. I totally understand that the 2014 race was unseasonably warm. The problem with an 8 a.m. start is that sunrise at the end of September is at approximately 6:45 a.m. Essentially the sun does not rise early enough for us to have race day packet pick up and start the race at 8 a.m. We would love to hold the race in a perfect world, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist, so we work our hardest to make the best of what we have.
Once we deal with all the pre race financial and logistics issues, there’s the two weeks before the actual race. This year was particularly tough for Shaun and I. In mid-August we experienced a massive flood due to a leaking toilet bowl. Water damage destroyed our entire downstairs and much of our main floor. We don’t have off site storage or office space so we store most of the race supplies in our garage and normally do most of the pre-race staging in our downstairs rec room. This year that wasn’t an option. We did pre race staging anywhere and everywhere we could find space. Starting about a month before the race our living room and dining room started to fill up with boxes of Gatorade, cups, shirts, medals, bib numbers, awards, inserts for race bags, actual race bags, signage from sponsors, and raffle prizes. Then the week before the race I started baking so all those race supplies were joined by gallon zip lock bags of cookies, brownies and rice krispie treats. There was literally no room to move in our house. In such a crowded environment Shaun and I both start to get a little testy.
The actual heavy duty work of the race begins on Friday before the race. We start the day off picking up a truck from U-Haul in order to get everything from our home in Plantsville to the race site in Colebrook. This year U-Haul did not have the 14 foot truck we reserved, so we had to make do with a (soon to be very stuffed cargo van). Once we picked up the van we picked up gallons of water and perishable supplies from BJs. Every year the water calculation is a tricky one. There are two things every race must have — timing and adequate water. We knew that it was going to be warm on race day, likely getting into the 80s after a week of cool temperatures. We had 12 gallons of water in our garage and seven 5 gallon jugs for Gatorade giving us a starting number of 47 gallons of fluid. We figured we would need at least 12 additional gallons at each aid station and another 24 gallons at the finish line. So we purchased an additional 16 cases (96 gallons) of water. We ended up with 12 gallons at the end of the race, so our calculations were pretty accurate. In addition we picked up 12 dozen bagels, oranges, bananas, a sheet cake, extra cookies and milk bones for our furry friends. Once we finished shopping, we had to deal with the hard part, packing the van and my car. Getting everything you need for a race into a cargo van and a Honda CRV is not an easy task. We ended up having to call my mother and loading some boxes into her Rav 4 in order to make everything fit. That afternoon Shaun dealt with last minute changes to registrations such as changing genders from male to female and moving people from the 9 a.m. start to the early start and I headed to lululemon in West Hartford to do early packet pick up. This was our first year doing an early packet pick up for Hogsback. Other than the fact that there was already a line for packets when I got there at 4:40 p.m. (packet pick up started at 5 p.m.) and that I had to carry 12 boxes of shirts and bags across Farmington Avenue Frogger style, I think that it went well. It helps us out to have fewer people looking to pick up packets on race morning and I think it helps runners have a more relaxed race morning experience.
Race morning we are up at 4 a.m. and arrived at the Goodwin Dam (race site) at about 5:45 a.m. where we met up with Peter Hawley. We unloaded the van in total darkness and then Shaun took off to drop off tables, water, Gatorade and gels at each of the aid stations and Peter took off to mark the course. I stayed at the race site to set up registration and direct volunteers. Emily Gianquinto, my registration guru showed up around 7 a.m. and took over registration and directing volunteers freeing me to trouble shoot where ever it was needed. My mother showed up soon afterwards and took over setting up post-race food and beverages (on this note while we cannot serve alcohol at the Goodwin Dam, we will have soda for runners post-race in 2015). I spent the hours before the race checking port-a-potties, giving aid station volunteers directions, texting runners who were lost on their way to Colebrook, photographing pre-race activities, checking on timing, talking to runners and generally making sure everything was running smoothly. As the race start approached I ran up to the intersection of Durst and Eno Hill Roads to take pictures of the runners streaming past. While runners were on course, I went back to the registration / finish line area and checked up on everyone and fielded calls from volunteers on the course. For the first 30 minutes or so of finishers streaming in I took pictures at the start line, but handed that duty off when a medical emergency occurred (for those who saw the ambulance the young man was dehydrated, required some IV fluids and is now doing well). I then coordinated the raffle, crowned our RRCA state champions and handed out awards to all the age group winners. By just after noon pretty much all of the runners were heading home and we were left with my least favorite part of the race — cleaning up. We had several fabulous volunteers and runners stay and help us bag up all the trash, separate recyclables and crush cardboard. We then loaded up the van and cars to take it all home. I got lucky and got all the trash in my car. Awesome. One thing we will defiantly do for 2015 is order a trash skip for the race site. Hauling dozens of black bags of trash home, storing it for the weekend in our garage and then dragging it out for Monday morning trash pick up is not fun plus several of the bags were filled with red sauce that leaked everywhere. We still need to clean and organize all the tables, tents, coolers and boxes of dry goods, but that will have to wait until next weekend.
Overall the race went really well. I’m a perfectionist and I know that there are always things we can do better. Sometimes I obsesses a bit too much over what what wrong and forget about everything that went right. If you ran and have suggestions, please fill out our survey here. If you have issues that you would like for me to personally follow up on, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (you can also email me to tell me you loved the race, I always love compliments as well). I hope to keep making this race better and better and I’m looking forward to 2015.