I am the race director for this awesome race in Juneau, Alaska. It is now a nonprofit organization run by a group of 5, including myself. Readers have enjoyed my own race reports, and I thought it would be fun to write in a similar vein, but from this different race day perspective.
3:30am. My watch alarm vibrated. It was race day. Finally, the day was here. Things were either done or they were not done, but there was little to do about it now.
Quick shower, cup of coffee, load up the last minute items and it was time to drive to the transition area. I picked up a super star volunteer on the way, and off we went. Quinn, my husband, would follow in a different car with the dogs – the day would be too long to leave them at home.
The previous day we had loaded up everything needed for the race – all the gear, food, etc – into a large box truck. It was now parked near the transition area with our gear locked in side.
At least I hoped we had what we needed. It’s a bit of a guessing game because I have to get everything ready ahead of time without being able to set things out. Sounds simple, but with three events and two different races – it is a lot to think through ahead of time. Over the years I can better anticipate what’s needed, but it’s still nerve wracking.
I started as race director 5 years ago. I agreed to take over in May 2015 – with the race just months away. If I hadn’t, I feared the race that had gone on for 6 years might not survive. That first year I had no idea what I was getting into and I didn’t realize what I didn’t know. Thankfully volunteers who had helped previously came out to help and by some miracle the race continued.
This year, I had more years of experience, but we were also adding an Olympic distance race to the sprint, on the same day, and while I knew the course and had an idea on timing, it added a layer of unknown and a lot of additional work for our volunteers.
I had asked a few volunteers to show up at 5am to help set up the transition area. Well, to be fair, I requested help through our online volunteer sign up, and these fabulous individuals signed up for that time slot. What’s more, they all showed up! One even brought coffee and donuts for the volunteer crew. I helped with the physical labor, and most importantly helped direct the construction of the transition area area and parts of the course. I have learned a lot about myself in this role. For one, I’m not great at delegating. It doesn’t come naturally, but I am learning and improving each year, at least I think I am.
Even with help, there are a lot of moving pieces in those few hours of set up in the morning! Need to get the water temperature on race day, need to lay out carpet on the ramp, need to set up bike racks, need to rope off the transition area, need mount/dismount lines and a finish line, need to put out signs to mark the bike and run courses, need to set up food for athletes and volunteer, need to make sure coffee has been picked up, etc, etc.
Volunteers continued to arrive throughout the morning. We have an amazing volunteer coordinator who got many of them set up with their jobs (which they knew ahead of time), and I had already emailed most of them with some more details about their role. This has proved very helpful because I do not have the time to talk with all of them on race morning as I used to attempt.
Transition was ready and open at 6am, and things seemed to be running smoothly with set up.
Shortly after 7am I walked down to the swim start. We had a portable speaker that I could use for announcing prior to the race.
The start of the sprint race was at 7:30am, and Quinn starts the race with a lucky launcher as the start gun after I do the count down. (This is a dog toy used to train hunting dogs and has worked amazingly well as a start gun!).
Once the race starts, I usually have little to do if all is running smoothly. I do try to check in with volunteers and fill in places, but hopefully it is calm.
We started the next race at 8:30am in the same fashion.
I casually watched the swim start for awhile. We started to see some sprint course racers starting their run which goes right by the swim start. I got so excited to see them fly by the start of the swim course and I started to get excited to see who would be finishing first. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t gotten the medals out. Ooops. I ran back up to the start, and fortunately I beat the first finisher.
The sprint race seemed to go over very well. A few people didn’t finish this year – bike malfunction and a pulled muscle on the run.
For the Olympic course, our new course, we didn’t sufficiently mark it, nor have a volunteer stationed at the first turn on the bike for at least the first athlete out of the water. She turned the wrong way and went off course for quite awhile. A big failure that could have been easily remedied. I am reminding myself that if we are not failing we are not trying and I can only learn from it. (Trust me…I’m fighting the battle to dwell on it, which does no good. Learn. Move on.) Other than that mishap, the Olympic course did seem to go off quite well. 20 participants joined us this first year, and I anticipate that it will grow in the future.
The cut-off time for the Olympic was 2pm, but all athletes were done by around noon. They really were all fairly close together, and rather quick. I would guess that it would have taken me over an hour longer than the our final finisher!
By that time, all of the sprint racers had moved their bikes out of transition and things were wrapping up. I had already started to begin packing up, cleaning etc; but after the last racer it was time to get serious about cleaning up. We loaded up the truck again. We had no formal volunteers for this step, but an awesome group of just enough people to make the work easy, pitched in to help.
Meanwhile, Quinn, who enters the time from our timers into a spreadsheet, had the times ready. I got them posted online, sent to the newspaper, and emailed participants to alert them that they were ready. Timing is incredibly time consuming for this race! We had about 15 volunteers help time, with handheld timers and clip boards. It’s really quite spectacular. I have looked into getting/borrowing a fancy timing system but so far nothing has panned out.
Once we were loaded, the super volunteer, Quinn, and I, returned the equipment to the two places it belongs. It was a relief to then return the truck at about 3pm, and know that a shower was not far ahead.
The weather for the race this year was amazing – totally clear and in the 70’s. We have been fortunate…though I know that we are just biding time until it is pouring on race day.
Finally at home I enjoyed a needed shower before we had to prep for the evening banquet. It was at 5pm, but other board members did the set up and we could arrive a little late with prizes in tow. This is the second year that we had an awards dinner and banquet. It’s a potluck dinner, and has been a really fun community event. Volunteers, friends, and family, are all welcome. After a feast, we hand out awards to the top 3 male and female competitors, and top 3 in each age group. Then we raffle off all other donations – which usually includes some nice items!
When the work was over, we were ready to crash! We loaded up the items we had left and ventured home. The long, long, day behind us! One more year down!
It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I’m so glad to do it. Yet, it’s also a great feeling when it’s over. There are finishing touches after the race to be sure, but it’s far less stressful and time-sensitive. Until another year, when we will ramp up again and figure out what changes we want to implement to improve upon this great community event.