What Race Directors Wish You Knew

© Libux77 | Dreamstime.com

© Libux77 | Dreamstime.com

Training for a half marathon requires commitment, from carving out time to run to budgeting for running gear and racing fees. By the time you reach the starting line, you’ve put a tremendous amount of time and effort into making your race day go off without a hitch.

But what about race directors, the people organizing the events we run? From hometown races to national events, race directors clock a ridiculous number of hours trying to get everything perfect for race day.

I spoke with three race directors and coordinators — Mike Orrico of St. Louis, Mo., Heidi Murray of Bloomington, Ill., and Tom Osterbuhr of Omaha, Neb. — about both the good and ugly sides of organizing an event:

What’s so tough about organizing a race?

Remembering all the details seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. From shirts to awards to porta-potties to food, a running event requires a lot of different components. Keeping lists are key.

Many directors are type A runners themselves and find it difficult to delegate tasks to their teams. And hopefully they have teams because finding volunteers can be quite difficult in some communities.

What brings the most joy

Races that support a cause are often near and dear to a director’s heart. The money and awareness that is raised through one event is extremely satisfying for those organizing a race for charitable cause. Giving back is clearly one of the highlights of directing a race.

After a few years, it becomes exciting to see how a small race can grow as repeat runners return and race t-shirts are worn about town. Race directors find joy in watching runners accomplish their goals and enjoying a happy atmosphere throughout the race.

What do you wish runners understood about racing?

Directors want runners to understand that it takes a small village of volunteers to put on a race — give back at least once a year! Additionally, they spend an incredible amount of time trying to make everything right and things still will be imperfect.

From weather to transportation logistics, one unforeseeable broken cog in the wheel is certainly not what they intended. Relax runners, this is supposed to be fun!

Does directing a race make you still want to run others’ races?

Absolutely. Running other races is a great way to get ideas to improve their races. They appreciate the hard work it takes to put on a race and want to support others in similar endeavors. Additionally, watching runners in their own race creates an itch to sign up.

Biggest fear on race day?

Bad weather or a major injury. Both very uncontrollable and both entirely possible.

What is the least appreciated aspect of coordinating a race?

The time and effort that it takes to put on a race. Most small race directors aren’t doing this for profit and time spent coordinating race activities is time away from their own families and own training. The special touches such as prizes, food, and post-race festivities take months to organize.

I wish I had known/done… before directing my first race.

This resulted in a bevy of answers from directors. One wished he’d taken a public speaking class while another would have like to have known it was a lifetime commitment. But I think they all agree that this wish they’d known race directing was just as satisfying as running a PR.

Attention runners, before you complain, please know… about racing!

Race directors can control a lot, but they cannot control everything. Mike said it best, “Running is fun, racing is exciting, complaining is neither.”

2 comments… add one
  • Daryl Beatty September 10, 2016, 10:05 am

    As a former (9 years) marathon & half marathon race director, I always appreciated the e-mail notes after the race from people who took the time to tell me how the race was special to them. When I go to smaller races, I try to take time after the race, when things have settled down to thank the RD and some volunteers. 99% of the people who come to your race are great and appreciative, there are always a few special snowflakes, and I learned not to worry about them too much.

  • Darrell Gammon October 2, 2014, 9:00 am

    When I am at a race, I try to thank the volunteers, yell a “thank you officer” to the police at an intersection, etc. Then I go on the internet to tell my friends about this race and how cool it was so maybe next year, more people like my friends will be there to support the event.

Leave a Comment