April 4, 2015 was my ninth time race directing the Greater Hartford Quarter Marathon. I began directing races in 2006 with the Solstice Sprint 5K. When I started race directing I knew that I wanted to create races in which I would want to race, while raising money for charities that were meaningful to me (proceeds from the Quarter Marathon go to the Blazeman Foundation). To me, races are about more than courses and timing splits, they’re about creating an environment where both the fastest and slowest runners feel that they are special and that their contributions to the larger running community are appreciated. I hope that nine years later (writing that makes me feel old) I have had some degree of success in meeting these goals.
This year’s Quarter Marathon came at an interesting time for me personally. As many of you likely know I have been heavily involved in the #50WomentoKona / TriEqual movement. The aim of the movement is to increase participation and diversity in triathlon by increasing accessibility for all athletes, from beginners to elites (our first concrete objective is to secure equal representation of male and female professional triathletes at Ironman World Championship events). Over the past nine years I have seen the fields in my races become increasingly female and include more and more people of color. This year the field at the (sold out) Quarter Marathon was 67% female and 33% male. Read that again — females outnumbered males at a hilly course on a cold, windy day by a margin of 2 to 1. I actually made the joke during our awards ceremony that due to the massive increase in female participation we were going to follow Ironman rules and hand out awards three deep to female runners but only two deep to male runners. A guy in the front row wearing a M-Dot beanie started laughing.
I think my success in both growing the number of participants in my races (two of the three races sell out well before race day) and growing the proportion of female participants is due to the fact I try to encourage all athletes to participate regardless of experience level and I work to make each and every athlete feels special (for example, we give away dozens of random prizes at every race). As I told a nervous runner who was concerned about whether she would finish last — “First or last you get the same medal and there’s a cupcake waiting for you at the finish” (or as Shaun just noted I actually personally respond to questions from my runners).
As with every race and every year there are things to work really well and there are things upon which I want to improve. The 2015 Quarter Marathon was no different. First the good:
- Tents — This seems silly but we had new tents this year and they are AWESOME. It may seem like a small detail but tents that are easy to put up and look professional are so super nice to have.
- Our volunteers — Not only did we have lots of volunteers, they were fantastic. This year my registration captain had to miss the race due to a commitment in Washington D.C. I was a little concerned about how smoothly things would run without her, but all of my volunteers completely stepped up. Registration was flawless, the egg hunt went off beautifully, aid stations were well staffed, there was plenty of food and the finish line was flawless. The Quarter Marathon cannot exist without volunteers and I am beyond appreciative of the individuals who were willing to give up a Saturday to make it work.
- Raffles and awards — I really loved our awards this year – Technical Truckers from Boco Gear. We also had tons of raffle prizes including so many awesome 50/50 tees from Oiselle. I love that we’re able to send lots of our runners home with either an age group award or a raffle prize.
- Our runners — The way the race is set up, the food and awards take place fairly close to the finish line. Despite cool temperatures and very windy conditions many, many, many of our runners hung around and cheered on their fellow finishers. It is fantastic to see runners supporting other runners. I think some of our later finishers got bigger cheers than the winners of the race.
Things to improve on:
- The Buses — Parking at the MDC Reservoir where the race takes place is limited. Part of the reason that we are still allowed to hold the race at the Reservoir is because we offer shuttle buses to and from off site parking. Most years the buses are able to drop runners off right at registration. This year there was some on-going construction so runners who took the buses had a bit of a walk. In addition our offsite parking was a little confusing for some runners. A goal for next year to to try to make off site parking instructions more clear.
- Wait for food –There was tons of food for runners and their families. Problem was the line for food got a bit jammed up and some runners had to wait a while to get post race food. I think next year we’ll try to address this in two ways. First to set up some treats for families right after the egg hunt, that way the main food line can be limited to runners only and, second, to set up two lines of food tables to help runners move through faster.
- Clean up and breakdown — I’m all about spending on runner amenities. Fancy medals — no problem. Paying for a trash skip, ummmm can’t we pack more trash bags into my car? Unfortunately we’ve grown to the point where hauling trash out on our own has gotten to be difficult. For next year I’m going to look at the cost of having a “real” trash skip on site.
As I sit here on Sunday night writing about the race there’s still a lot to do for the 2015 race (including cleaning out my car and writing checks to all of our vendors). Despite that, I’m looking forward to April 2, 2016 and our 10th Quarter Marathon. Hopefully we’ll keep doing most things right (both the big and little things) and we’ll be able to give runners in 2016 an even better experience than 2015.