What I have learned from Back-of-the-Packers (i.e. I have the greatest job in the world)

DreamFar is a inner city group that trains for
road races in hopes to keep kids off the streets
and away from drugs.

We just returned from upstate NY for a 5k, 10k and half marathon at a casino.  This is always a tough race to execute due to the distance – we work crazy hours cramming a week’s worth of work into 3 days, (we enjoy the casino nightlife), get up at 3:30am and produce the race, then drive the 5 hours home and unload the trucks at 9pm at night.  We are all beat by the end as it is always a very physical job.  But this year it was all worth it.

This year, we had a woman in the half marathon who was amazing to me.  We have a time cut off with our races as we do need to open roads back up, let our volunteers go home and allow the community to get back to their business of the day.  We knew this woman wasn’t going to be able to make that cut off.  But as the sag vehicle trailed right behind her all day, she never gave up.  This woman could have gotten in our truck at any time (it was right behind her, taunting her even…..) and had a ride back to the finish.  Even when I talked to her about how we had to pull up the cones and wasn’t sure we would be able to keep up the finish arch, she wanted to finish the race she started.  Her tenacity and will power was inspiring to me.  She finished that race, under police escort, on her own and under that finish line arch – she never gave up.

This woman had been in Boston during the bombing and had
been diverted before the finish.
She was able to finish her marathon with us and she was so moved.

As a race director, we often talk to the back of the packers that are not going to make the cutoff times – 95% of them do not want the ride back, they WANT to finish, even on their own.  The few people that ask for the ride back are in pain and often in tears.  We hear such amazing stories as to why crossing that line is so important to them.  It may be they are running for someone who no longer can, they have battled disease or abuse (mental or physical), they have this life long goal they need to achieve, they want to prove to their family that they can, for their own self-esteem – everyone has a story when they toe that start line.  Because running 13.1 or 26.2 miles is HARD – but that battle is mostly mental.

When you direct a race, you throw a lot of balls in the air and hope they all come down at the right time.  Most of the time, they do not – nothing ever goes as planned.  But when I start to get overwhelmed during the race about what is going wrong (I am a perfectionist so I don’t want ANYTHING to go wrong) – I take a moment and I stand at the finish line and I watch everything that has gone right.  All those stories come to fruition at the finish line – tears of joy, of pain, of self fulfillment, of goals being attained and life long dreams are satisfied.  A finish line of a race is truly the happiest place on earth.

And in some small way, I helped them achieve that.  So for me – I have the greatest job in the world.

 

Timberman #11

While I don’t get to race as often as I used to, I still love getting out there – not just to test myself, but also to look at how someone else is doing it.  My favorite race every year, with my race streak staying alive for its 11th year in a row, is the Timberman Triathlon.

The Timberman is right next to our place in NH.  I watched the tri during its first year, volunteered at it the next two years and then, after watching some of the participants and thinking – I can do that! – I gave it a go in 2005.  I had never done one before and I wasn’t sure how to pace myself – I SUCK at swimming and just wanted to make it out of the water.  Additionally, I only had a crappy 20 year old hybrid bike so I was sorely undertrained on the bike but I knew I could run.  It was only a sprint, after all – 1/3 mi swim, 15 mi bike and 5k run, I figured if I could survive the swim, I could muddle through the rest.

My first year in 2005 with a borrowed bike
Not super proud of the way I was looking back then.
Notice the difference in the race site

Looking better 11 yrs later.  🙂

 So I finished it, and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  And I LOVED it.

Flash forward 11 years later and there have been many changes to this race.  I have done both the long course and the short course and while the logistics have changed dramatically, this race is still the “ideal” for me.  This race defines what I want to be as a race director.  But it may not be what you think.—–

The original race director was Keith Jordan and the race was nicknamed the “Woodstock” of tri races.  Keith organized a number of events both in NH and in TX. The races under Keith’s direction had a crazy cast of characters – a “devil” at the top of the monster hills, a large man in a blond wig wearing a bright red dress and fully endowed, drums, encouraging signs and an awesome swag bag.  He used a lot of local vendors and businesses and it had a hometown feel.  The charities that manned the aid stations made them fun with music, decorations and costumes.  It was super fun, low key but well organized and just a great day for new and experienced triathletes alike.  You never knew what was going to come around the next corner.  The tri started selling out sooner and sooner – it would open in September/October and sell out in November.  It was welcoming to newcomers, it was super fun and incredibly exciting!  They made you feel like part of the experience, part of the family.

This race truly changed me life.  Set my professional career on a new course.

A few years into existence and after rapid growth, Keith got an offer from WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) to sell the race, as well as a few others, so that it could be an Ironman 70.3 series race.  Please don’t get me wrong – if they offered me that kind of money, I would have accepted it too.

But the race is no longer a fun little race.  Entry fees are between $300-$400.  It doesn’t sell out and it is a “big business” race.  The T-shirt sucks, goody bags are lame and the check in process is Disneyland-esque – the way they dumped you out in the merchandise tent.  All the little details are gone – no local artist designing the t-shirts, no fun aid stations, no crazy dressed up course marshals.  Granted – there are certain benefits to competing with such a highly efficient machine as the WTC – very impressive finish lines, super tight check in process, pro athletes, big booming emcees and loads of fencing and banners.  It feels like you are competing on the big stage!  But you sold a little bit of your soul to do it.

When I race this race – I notice everything.  How did they mark the course, what are they serving for food, who is their t-shirt supplier, is the RD is out the next morning cleaning up all those damn gel packets, etc etc.  There are literally thousands of details about putting on a race and I take in all of it – as an RD and as a competitor – what is working efficiently and what isn’t, what do I like as a competitor and what is missing.

Every race is professional development for me.  What can we do better?

But the evolution of this race clearly defines what kind of races I would like to execute.  I want to take the local vibe of the grass roots event and the professionalism of the WTC race and give our participants the best of both.

So I won’t bore you with a long race report as this is more about what sort of experience I have on the inside of the coned running lane and how it can make the other side better.

But I will tell you this happened…… #winnerwinner

After coming close all these years, I FINALLY won my age group (my birthday was the day before the race!).  As my husband will attest – the most expensive bottle of maple syrup ever!