I remember my parents – probably my mother – chastising me as a child to “think before I act.” Generally speaking, I do. However, I have a bit of a problem thinking about long-term effects of my decisions. It’s easy enough to think about a month out, or maybe two, but go beyond that and things start getting fuzzy. Usually, this is a good thing; if I actually thought about the long-term impact of half the things I’ve decided to do in my life, I probably wouldn’t have done them out of fear and “rational” thinking. So it was that I decided to create a Fat Ass event and try my hand at Race Directing. As it would turn out, it was a grand learning experience, it just so happened (and I feel rather poorly about it) that a number of folks unfamiliar in my long-term planning skills would join me on this venture.
Having no experience in this race organization sort of thing, I reached out to a few friends who RD’ed before for a bit of advice. In hindsight, I think most of it was sound, and I’m glad I asked because it gave me somewhere to jump from. The big hurdle – and the obvious thing – is permits. I wasn’t planning on taking this run on anything other than public roads, but it’s nice to give the heads up to local governments (and then there’s the whole ‘public assembly’ permit thing…).
Once permits were done, it was time for some course figuring. I know these roads well – they are what I run everyday – but looping them together into a 50 kilometer or a 50 mile course, took some time on the computer. At night I would spend my time linking loops together then head out the next morning and make sure they worked. A few times, I found my path washed away and impassable, or barricaded with chain and “No Trespassing” signs.
Finally, with the course mapped out – for the most part – and the town’s blessing, it was time to see who might show up for this thing. So I went out, took some pictures of the nicer views and talked to the guys at Ultrasignup.com. (As it was a Fat Ass and free of charge – they would host sign-up, for free.) I figured I might get five or six people, mostly friends, to sign-up, but slowly the registrations started coming in, and as the winter months dragged, the registrations kept coming. Sometime in January/February, I decided to cap things at 150 people as the reality of my choice to do this was creeping into my brain and giving me cold sweats at night. With 150 people signed up, there was no backing out. Runners can always opt for a DNS, Race Directors cannot. (It should be mentioned here that of 150 signed up, we had 67 actually show up on race day.)
Winter progressed and I tried to prepare myself for the certain impending doom that awaited me in April. I sent out some e-mails to shoe companies trying to get free shoe vouchers to raffle off as prizes (Skora and Newton came through). Luckily, I had received a couple of emails from people looking for volunteer hours, and willing to help me out on race day – I hadn’t planned on this, and it turned out to be one of the most helpful things I received for this event.
As the day of the run approached, I started to scramble trying to make sure I had everything sorted – course marked, water coolers mixed, tables secured. The problem is, none of these things can be done in advance; when race day approaches it’s a flurry of last minute preparations. (Again, I was able to procure help marking the course from a couple of runners who came out early.)
To this point, I wasn’t entirely sure why I had decided to embark on this, adventure. While I did enjoy communicating with runners via email, the enjoyment wasn’t enough to balance the stress of the last minute setup. Despite the stress race day provided, once I started seeing people on the course, and crossing the line, I began to understand why some people do this. There is something gratifying seeing the smiles as they cross the line, and knowing you helped do that; hearing ultra-virgins lament about the difficulty of what they just did, but grinning because they just accomplished something grand. I was also able to meet some wonderful people, and some legends as well (so maybe not like nationally recognized heroes, but certainly regional and local legends). In the end, it is something I would like to attempt again (given my wife’s graces, and assuming anyone would return to an event I put on…). There are also a number of things I learned, both as a race director and a runner.
1. RD’ing is like parenting. As a teenager, you may hate your parents at times and not understand their reasons or rationale, but once you become a parent, it all makes sense.
2. When marking a course, get someone unfamiliar with it to make sure your markings are clear and visible. What is obvious to you will undoubtedly be obscure to some.
3. You can’t keep everyone happy.
4. Over the course of 50 miles, even in the back woods of NH, someone – knowingly or not – will take down a sign.
5. No matter how many times you tell people they cannot rely solely on your course markings, and should bring their own map and directions (that you provided), someone will rely solely on your course markings.
6. You can tell yourself it’s just a Fat Ass, and since no one paid for anything expectations should be lowered, so it’s okay if things suck, but at the end of the day, you know you’re just lying to yourself.
7. It’s a really crappy feeling knowing people got lost.
8. Ultra-runners are a decidedly unhealthy bunch. They will bring food to aid stops, half of it will be eaten, and then as RD you will be left with a pantry full of Oreo’s and candy; tasty, but not exactly healthy or enjoyable when you have two small children constantly trying to steal cookies. (Canada produces some fine Jujubes, by the way.)
9. When a race closes, join the wait list. And when an RD says no, don’t beg. This was a Fat Ass, so all were welcome – sort of – but I can only imagine the difficulty a real RD goes through having to turn people down.
10. People are more than willing to help when given the chance. This may not be 100% true of a paid race, but when things are free, people will pitch in.
11. As an RD you really get to know and appreciate the ultra community, more so than as just a runner.
12. Everyone should put on a FA, or help put one on.