Monday, December 12, 2011

The Dirty Side of Race Directing

I should start by saying I leave myself very vulnerable when I taught about my experiences race directing. A race director friend thinks runners don't want to know, and if they know, they don't care. I don't find that to be the case. I think once you've seen a glimpse of the other side, behind the curtain, your perspective changes mightily. This is just my reality, every race and every race director is living a different one. But I'm always open, you always know where you stand with me, and this terrible honesty is endearing to some and a moment for attack by others. There's the disclaimers, do what you want with it.

So beginning of last week, I saw the ENT doctor who told me I indeed needed sinus surgery. My sinuses are completely inflamed and closed up and we had tried a strong cocktail of antibiotics and steroids, 5 times a day, for the last month to see if any of it could be fixed or if surgery was the only option.  It didn't work. And I'd run two 50Ks through these medical issues too.

The part that sucks, but it's reality, is that I couldn't have surgery immediately because there is no one to take my place as a race director for the New Years Double. There are too many details to pass along and there's too much work to do if I'm sidelined for a short time. And that's if the surgery went well - what would happen if the surgery didn't go that well for my recovery time?

So January 5th I'll have sinus surgery, putting it off a whole month because of this race. I'd like to say the decision was easy - but I'll be honest, it wasn't.  In the meantime, more drugs to manage it until we can get me in the operating room. And now I've come down with a cold - which wouldn't normally knock me on my butt, but when you can't breathe through your face and your sinuses are already full and painful, it's completely sidelined me.

A friend who is a race director says runners don't care. They don't want to know what's behind-the-scenes, they just want to go race. And they don't know or care that there are these moments as a race director where you have to choose... Me or Them. And race directors typically choose THEM. I co-directed a 4,000 person half marathon, and was at a race site for 8 hours, just 2 weeks after my first daughter was born. We want people to have a good experience.

And for all this, most of us are NOT doing this as a business. And it's funny because I'm coming to realize over the years the biggest incorrect assumptions runners have made...
a) Someone is getting rich off of every race that's over 200 people or an entry fee over $20,
b) There's a large race committee behind every race who all feel equally accountable and will give up their sleep and personal health
c) That the standards for all races should be the same

A race director friend had someone come up and tell her I must be making so much money off the New Years Double because they multiplied the half marathon current entry fee times the sold out entries. So first you aren't even taking into account 5Kers in the mix, coupon codes, early registration fees. But the part most runners have no idea is that every little piece of a race costs more than you will every think.

For the New Years Double...
  • Those little plastic pieces with your race number on it that you pin to yourself and many throw away after? $600.
  • Those silver heat-retaining thin metallic-y blankets a half marathoner or full marathoner will get thrown over them at the finish line? $1000.
  • Just two tents at the race site? $3,000.
So all that money coming in, it doesn't line anyone's pocket. A lot of it goes right back out the door to pay bills, and then money goes to the beneficiary. And yes, if for being solely responsible and sacrificing my own health choices and working 1,000 hours on an event, if I want to get $1.84 per hour, I should be able to do that without justifying it to the world. It's doable to be all-volunteer for a 300 person 5K that's been in the same logistical set-up for the last 10 years. But new events, large events, and events bigger than a 5K, take hours of preparation people never see.

And why would you expect the same of a small charity event that you expect from a national conglomerate that has a staff of 40 producing a near-similar event in 20 different venues each year? That constantly surprises me.

But these are the days, when I feel awful and sick, that you wonder why you don't raise the entry fee $15 per person, sacrifice quality to make it 4000 runners instead of 2000 on a 12 foot wide trail, and get paid big bucks for the sacrifice. Especially when everyone already thinks you're rolling in dough from working 1,000 hours, and intense hours near race day, working on an event anyway. When 4% of the runners will hate anything you do, because that's just their own unhappiness or them imposing their own expectations on you.  When something's going to go wrong behind-the-scenes race week that will stress you to the point that hair falls out - it happens with every single race. But my heart, and my gut, know that's not the intention. I do this because it's my passion, it's my give-back to the sport I love, it's worth every smile at the finish line.

And as I blow my nose and work with the portalet guy this morning on set-up/teardown hours and exact potty locations, it's that visualization of happy runners achieving their goals that keeps me pushing forward.

Update: As someone pointed out, yes, I chose to start volunteering and hten race directing. But as with anything, some days still suck. Why should I talk only about the fun awesome days in this "Dear Diary" that is my blog?


  1. Libby, you're a rock star. Thank you for everything that you do. I hope that your surgery is successful and that your recovery is smooth & quick.

  2. Tons of work goes into putting an event together, I'm excited to be a part of it and think you are doing an excellent job. Feel better!

  3. I love that you care so much about the races you put on, and I can't wait to someday be able to work one of them into my race schedule. :) I hope you can get through this month and get better soon!

    As a runner, I definitely want to hear about this side of it. When I first started racing, I used to get miffed about race fees but after doing so much of it and really paying attention to what gets into it, it feels like a steal! And I definitely feel different expectations from smaller local races than, say, Rock N Roll ones. They both have their positives and negatives, and I enjoy everything from the huge ones to the tiny ones!

    I volunteered at my first race this weekend, and after standing out in the cold rain for 2 hours, I definitely have new respect for the folks I see for 2 seconds at the water stops!

  4. Ugh, in the rain?!? That's double awful. Volunteers who do that deserve double points!! I always say a runner should try to volunteer at least once a year, but maybe if you do it in the rain, it counts for two years? I like that.

  5. Love. This. Post. Needs to be said. :-). Cheering in your corner!!!