Well it’s been a week and I finally have a few minutes to jot down a few thoughts about the running of Off Road Pursuits’s first race and the inaugural SoCal Wine Country Women’s Half Marathon and 5K. In addition to keeping you updated on future events, my personal “off road pursuits,” and the random things going on in the world of off-road adventures, I want to use this blog to give people a little better idea of what goes into being a Race Director (RD) and some of the things that happen behind the scenes. If I can provide some information to a would-be RD that would create a better event, and give participants a better understanding of my thoughts as I prepare for an event while extending the lines of communication between myself and participants, I only see that as a positive way to impact the trail running and racing community.
If you’ve been keeping up with the race on the SoCal Wine Country facebook page, you already know that for the most part the race went really well. Between the post-race celebration, email, and facebook, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the race. Just about everyone seemed to really like it and they are just as excited for next year as I am. The weather really favored us during the race, the volunteers were incredible, Vail Lake Resort was a great host, and the Event Manager, Tanya, was fantastic. She even spent her morning working the bar and serving wine to all the ladies. Everything I have heard is that she was a blast behind the bar and really heightened the event. The vendor turnout included Island Boost, Running Skirts, Miche Handbags, Baron’s Marketplace, and Zico Coconut Water coming out to support the race. Lastly, some great BBQ refueled everyone while the DJ kept the party going.
As there almost always is, there were a few problems on the day and no matter how good everything else went I always take some time to focus on what went wrong and try to learn from it to improve the experience for next year’s event and for other events I put together.
Here is my break down on problems and their solutions:
Problem #1: Restrooms
Most events go with a 1 unit to 75 participant number, but I have always gone with 1 to 50 in order to improve the experience for the everyone. It never crossed my mind that this is not nearly enough for an all women’s race. There were a few factors that I think contributed to this: 1) Women tend to spend more time using the restrooms therefore creating a longer wait. 2) Normally a race of 350 people would be about 48-50% men. Men take less time and also use alternative areas to relieve themselves. Women don’t have much of a choice; it’s the restroom or wait (this obviously doesn’t apply to the majority of female ultrarunners). 3) There were a lot of women taking on their first trail race and/or first half marathon. Unlike road races it’s not common to have port-o-potties on the course and this meant that everyone had to make sure they were all set before the gun went off.
This is an easy one, obviously I need more port-o-potties at the start/finish area. Next year I will probably end up with a minimum of 1 unit per 30 people at the start line. Also, if it’s possible and the resort allows it, I will try to have a couple port-o-potties positioned along the course. There are some open fire road sections that may allow this a few miles in to the race.
Problem #2: Course Misdirection
The biggest problem on race day was a misdirection of the half marathoners. I got very lucky in a couple aspects; first the redirection happened at a place on the course where I able to salvage the out and back section, add it to the end, and ensure a full course. Second, everyone got sent the wrong way so the entire field was on even ground. There wasn’t an issue of some people running a different course than everyone else.
The misdirection caused a few problems but the biggest was the need for me to take the truck out on the course, mid-race, to ensure to take extra aid to the first (now last) aid station so that they would have enough for the runners which would now be in need of significantly more than if they hit this stop at mile 2.5 instead of 10.6. The main problem with this meant driving the truck along the fire road that was in use by the 5K runners. If you have never driven a vehicle on a dirt road, it’s almost impossible to avoid kicking up dust and as a runner, it SUCKS to have to breathe in dirt while trying to run your heart out. This was a very unfortunate side effect of the misdirection that I feel terrible about.
The second problem with the misdirection was the sense of confusion it caused, especially among the top runners. This was the first event I decided to add mile markers every two miles so imagine the surprise of the runners when they hit mile 6 extremely quickly! If the mile markers weren’t there it probably would have eliminated much of the confusion but it’s something I will continue to use during my events. Mile markers are a great way to gauge progress and keep a mental check list during the race.
There is a very simple explanation for why this happened; poor communication on my part to my volunteers. There was leftover arrow markings on the turn from a mountain bike race a few weeks prior and because I didn’t do a good enough job of detailing the turn to my volunteer he mistook the arrows for mine. This is simply a matter of improving my marking of this turn and doing a better job of detailing the duties of the volunteers. I will most likely implement a set of notes that I hand out to each volunteer as I drop them at their posts in order to give them a reference guide in case there are questions or problems and they can’t get ahold of me.
Bonus: It turns out the runners accidentally found a better course. Because of the misdirection, the out and back along the lake was at the end of the race. This part of the course is easier than the others and there is a breeze off the lake that adds to the views for a great finish. I’ll be keeping the course run in this direction next year but this will create a new concern. Because the runners will hit the single track sections earlier and not have as much time to spread out, I’ll need to start the race in waves to thin the crowd and not create as much congestion at the steeper downhills.
Problem #3: Course Marking
With the exception of the course misdirection the course was well marked overall. There was one spot on the course that I knew could be a problem and sure enough it was. Most everyone was okay with it but there was some confusion due to the open nature of this section and the extraneous trails that go off the sides.
Simply putting more signs through this section would have greatly reduced the confusion. It’s just another live and learn scenario that comes with using a new course.
Improvements for 2013:
In addition to the above, there were some things that could definitely be improved for 2013 that I wouldn’t consider problems, just things to make the event even better. A few of them are:
- Vendors – It’s difficult to get vendors and sponsors to support first-year, small events. Hopefully now that I have a year under my belt and will be growing the event next year I can get more wineries involved to come out and represent their wines. I really want to grow the post-race experience.
- Competition – This year I encouraged teams to sign up and it went really well. I did a couple team spirit awards but next year I’m adding a team competition. I will most likely take the average times of the team members to determine a team’s time and award prizes for the top overall team in addition to the individuals.
- Finish Line – Baron’s Marketplace was at the post-race party handing out water and fresh fruit to everyone. Next year I will have the water and fruit handed out directly at the finish line so that runners don’t have to go anywhere to get their refreshments.
Well there you have it, a little look into what goes on in my mind after an event and just a few of the things I am looking at to improve the event for next year.
In the end, I am happy with the way the day went and I had an absolute blast putting this race together. This all women’s event created a supportive and fun atmosphere. The women truly supported each other and were great at co-mingling and having fun at the post-race party; they didn’t even shun the fact that there was a male RD.
I’m really excited to start planning next year’s event and seeing what I can do with all this great new knowledge in the arsenal!
See you on the trails,