Last Updated on July 15, 2017 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP
I’ve got quite the long “bucket list” of things that I want to do during my lifetime. Write a book. Learn how to log roll. Hug a manatee (even though Chelsey says this is illegal, and I argue that it shouldn’t be if the manatee initiates the hug). And of course, there are dozens of races I’d love to do. But nowhere on this extensive list did I include “direct a race”, or think that I would ever want to tackle such a feat.
So I’m pretty stoked to announce that I did it anyway.
Not alone, of course. Our entire Fleet Feet Myrtle Beach team came together to put on our very first race, on a trail, in the middle of the summer no less. We like a good challenge.
It all started a few months ago when we were given the opportunity to take over a different, much larger race that won’t happen until NEXT year. After the initial excitement of that good news calmed down, it occurred to us that we have zero experience as race directors, so we better start practicing. Because we tend to do things in a slightly non traditional, off-the-cuff manner, we decided the best place to start was in the dead of the hot, humid, Myrtle Beach summer, on a holiday weekend. And make it a trail race, of course, because there is a massive shortage of those around here. We stood around for maybe 15 minutes at the store trying to come up with a name, until someone blurted out a winner.
And just like that “Scorched Trails 10K” was born.
Now, as first time race directors, this was going to be a massive endeavor of trial and error. There were parts of this race directing gig that came pretty easy. For example, what essentially amounts to our only trail here in Myrtle Beach is almost exactly 6.5 miles with the recently added “run only” (no bikes) sections. So when designing the course, we cut out one small section, added some more distance somewhere else, and voila, we had a 10K.
The best part about putting on a trail race? You don’t need to close any roads down. So that was pretty easy.
Further, having this race affiliated with the store made a lot of the business end of race directing much easier: permits, insurance, the runsignup.com account, ordering extra port-a-potties (side note: boss man gets all of the credit, AND THEN SOME, for all of that stuff. It might not have been an “easy” point for him, but he made it look easy!)
We partnered up with a local guy who does race timing as a side business, and he was absolutely incredible to work with (thank you, Ryan Caputo!). Needless to say, that took a ton of guess work and planning as far as timing goes, off of our shoulders.
As experienced runners ourselves, you would think it would be easy for us to organize a race: we know what we like and what constitutes a “good” race. But the reality is, having participated in hundreds of races only left me fearful that every single thing I’ve ever seen go wrong at a race was undoubtedly going to go wrong at ours.
In no particular order, here are the things I stressed out about:
1. Promoting the race. A delicate balance of not too little…but not too much. The last thing I wanted to be was the obnoxious race director, and I certainly didn’t want to turn people off of my employers social media feeds. But we needed to at least break even – or at least come close – to our costs, so we needed registrants. Promotion was vital.
2. A logo. Graphic designer, I am not. People offered to help, and some even threw great logo ideas our way, but nothing quite nailed what I had envisioned in my head. In the end, we went with a graphic I slapped together with my rudimentary design skills on Canva. It worked, I think; the printing company was able to turn it into a vector and successfully put it on a tech shirt. Now I have a solid 9 months to find someone to take the design and make it light years better for next year.
3. Someone might get hurt…or worse. I told you this was in no particular order. Back in May at Knock on Wood, a runner went down. For all intents and purposes, he was dead. His heart stopped. For quite sometime. Thankfully, he is alive and well now (in fact, we got to have dinner with him and his wife just a few weeks ago!) But, that medical emergency was a sobering reminder that in these events, people can and do get hurt…or worse. Not to mention, we were putting on a race in potentially 90 degree weather and 90% humidity.
4. People might get lost. I know this trail like the back of my hand. Actually, I know it better than the back of my hand. A week or so ago, a friend told me that when he cant sleep, he’ll run the trail in his head. I tried it, and was able to recall every single turn, hill, berm, you name it, of that trail. I’ve put in thousands of miles on that trail in the last 2 years. I probably could run it with my eyes closed.
I’ll never forget the first day I ran there, and got woefully lost. And I know how many people I’ve taken out there for the first time who had absolutely no idea where we were, never mind where we were going. It actually is a really confusing trail system if you are unfamiliar with it, because of it’s confined space and many, many twists and turns. So of course I couldn’t expect nearly 100 runners, most of which do NOT frequent the trail, or are from out of town, to know where to go. I constantly pictured runners coming towards the finish line from the wrong direction, or off of the wrong trail.
5. T-Shirt Drama. Runners love their swag. Listen, I get it. I once wrote a scathing blog post directed at Ironman Florida for not getting a finishers medal to my sister for like, 3 months. Participants want an amazing course…AND a memento to remember it by. And if you promise that memento to them, you darn well better pony up.
Buuutttt here’s another thing I learned about runners: not as many of them sign up for races well an advanced. Or at least not as many as I had previously thought.
So we discovered the joy of trying to guess how many people may sign up for the race, AND what size shirt they might want, in order to give our shirt printing company enough time to get the shirts to us by the race….all while not blowing the entire race budget on TOO MANY shirts for participants that might not even actually sign up.
6. People would just hate the race, period. Have you ever decided to go out on a limb and get or make a non-traditional gift for someone? Something they would never expect, and likely not already have. The gift is something you think they will love, hell YOU personally would love to get it as a gift, but still, there is that hesitation? That fear that they won’t like it, or they’ll give you that fake smile while they pretend to gush about the gift, but deep down you can tell that they are thinking “what the hell is this, has she lost her mind?”
That’s how I felt about this race.
I love the trails. I love THIS trail. I love the uniqueness of trail races, the sense of adventure that comes with trail races. I love the fact that you aren’t catered to with fully stocked, uniform, and sponsored aid stations every mile. Hell, I love that most of the time there aren’t even mile markers. While organized, your hand is not held. I love homemade awards over manufactured trophies with no personality or cookie cutter cheap medals. I love going to a post race food table and finding it is more of a potluck with homemade snacks, rather what looks like a trip down a Costco aisle. And most of all, I love the inclusiveness of the trail running community.
But Myrtle Beach is not a trail running community (yet…we’re fighting hard), and I knew offering up an event that was vastly different from the norm would either be a hit or huge miss.
But I love this sport so much that I was willing to give it a try.
7. Did I mention this whole thing was happening 1.5 weeks after I had abdominal surgery? Yeah…I was a little nervous about that. But I wore my compression torso brace thing, and somehow survived. Though I looked, and felt, like hell.
IN THE END…
…it all worked out. We ended up 7 entries shy of selling out, and had about 8 people who were pre registered not show up. Over 80 people for our first race, on a trail? I consider that a success.
I am relatively confident I didn’t go overboard with the “spam” on social media.
The t shirt drama never happened. Some runners, especially last minute and race day registrants, did not leave with a shirt in hand, but were understanding and accepting of the fact that we’re going to order more shirts and mail them asap.
One or two of the front runners did end up getting lost for a few seconds, but most of them admitted they were so focused on racing that overlooked trail markers. I guess that’s part of the racing game, but we are definitely looking into alternative ways to mark the trail next year.
NO ONE DIED, only one slight case of heat exhaustion, but my friend Kristy took a gnarly fall.
Most of all, I think people enjoyed the race. We sent out an anonymous survey, and I braced myself for the “constructive criticism” to roll through. To my excitement, the only negatives were small, easy to fix things for next year.
So now, of course, it is time for the thank-yous, again in no particular order:
Thank you to my employers/friends, the Rogers family, for giving me this opportunity to help direct a race. We’re gonna have a lot more fun in the future with this kind of stuff.
Thank you to all of the Fleet Feet staff, ambassadors, and friends for your support and time.
Thank you to my amazing husband for letting me freak out over this race a bit, for spending hours marking the course the night before the race, and hours riding the course during the race, making sure every participant – from first to last – was safe and on course. Oh…and thanks being the designated driver the night after the race so I could celebrate with that really good glass of a 9.7% abv IPA.
And a huge thank you to everyone who came out to race or spectate. Thank you for taking a chance on the new guys in town. We hope you’ll be back …because we’ve got more of these crazy races to come.
Like ripping off a Band-Aid: I was nervous, it happened fast, and it stung a little…but it’s over. Unlike ripping off a Band-Aid, I can’t wait to do it again.