David Martin-Jewell, race organiser of the JCP Swansea Half Marathon and Managing Director of Front Runner Events, draws on his years of experience and offers up some top tips …
1. It’s all in the planning
Planning is the foundation on which any successful event is based. Make sure that all key milestones and targets are fixed early enough and subsequently achieved on time to meet race-day deadlines. Plan well, plan in detail and always expect that something will go wrong. This year, for example, we had an issue that we only managed to resolve on the Friday before race day. This was an enormous problem, which required huge effort from the affected supplier to ensure that the race-day deadline would be achieved.
Without naming the supplier, they had provided us with their products that failed our quality checks and, as such, needed to be replaced. This whole process is technically very challenging in a normal situation, let alone with an expedited deadline (we received the initial products two weeks before race day). It also required the supplier to interrupt their work schedule to escalate our deadlines ahead of other works they had planned. Therefore, the impact on the supplier was huge and also required them to deliver the products in a different manner, but they managed to improve the quality and deliver the new items for race day.
2. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’
Surround yourself with a good, reliable, hardworking team who not only work well but think well, as they will add significant value to any tasks and the overall running of the event. A good team is a must as no event is delivered alone. The team can consist of staff, contractors, suppliers and/or volunteers, but a good team is another of the fundamentals. Choose wisely and plan to work with the good team members for the long term to build up on the relationships and develop together.
3. Seeking reliability
As race director, everyone relies on you but what most people tend to forget is that you rely on everyone to do their jobs, turn up on time, hand out the medals, tee shirts and so on. If you are involved in a race as a volunteer, supplier, contractor, the one thing you must not do is let anyone down. The impact can be massive without you realising the bigger cog of which you could be a significant part.
Take this year’s JCP Swansea Half Marathon. It clashed with the European Football Championships, which I knew would have an impact on the race. However, Wales playing Northern Ireland the night before the race resulted in a few of our volunteers not turning up on race day. Unfortunately, this wasn’t considered until it happened (not even I thought Wales would do so well!). Therefore, we needed to re-deploy people on the morning of the race to ensure that we had sufficient numbers and coverage at all points across the route.
While no-one would deny a volunteer celebrating the success of the Welsh football team, particularly as it was the first in a major tournament for a generation, it demonstrates an aspect of the race where we’re heavily reliant on others and we rely on their support to help us put on the race safely.
4. Listen and learn
Lessons can and should be learned from every race. One race it could be traffic, the next it can be waste management and toilets, the next it can be t-shirts, crossing points and general way-finding. Each and every volunteer, runner, can and should be allowed to provide feedback on the race. Be prepared for a completely polarised range that goes from the most constructive to absolutely damning on any aspect or area from the race day/weekend. That said, whatever it is, record it, learn from it and make sure it doesn’t occur again.
5. Strive for perfection (but never expect to achieve it)
Aim for the stars and set out to put on the absolutely best race you can. Affordability needs to remain in sharp focus and you should plan accordingly to your budget. We all want to give the runners the best time, with the best medal, t-shirt and goody bag. However, what are the most important aspects of the race you want to deliver, focus on getting the fundamental race basics right and once that has been achieved, build from there. Don’t over promise and under deliver – that can result in a very unpleasant situation for you and the runners.
6. Be dynamic and responsive
Not everything will go to plan, particularly on race day/weekend. This is common with most types of event due to the amount of different factors that come to a head on that day/weekend.
The best way to overcome and deal with any unexpected issues, goes back to the people you work with and their approach. A dynamic, responsive approach will benefit the event, providing that each decision is not reckless or puts anything or anyone at risk.
7. Stay calm
Remaining calm can be extremely difficult, especially when there are 1000 and 1 things constantly going through your head (this also applies to the quieter periods during the phase too).
However, if you have planned well, it should (but not necessarily will) become easier to stay calm (although remaining calm is relative, particularly on race weekend).
8. Set goals and stick to them!
You need to set your goals and targets from the start and stick to them. Know where you want to go, set your path and do not veer too far away from it.
Organising a race is very complex and involves many, many organisations, companies and people, many of whom may be resistant to the idea of your race, and it is your job as race director to not only work with such organisations, people, but to inform them and find a way forward. A supportive network of key allies and supporters can help you stick to your goals.
9. Continuously improve
If you are doing something well, look to improve on it. As your race grows, constantly review your supply chain and processes. Is there someone or something out there that can elevate an aspect or part of your race/event delivery team. What are the most important aspects parts that you need to achieve? Again, are you working with the best, can you look ahead to when you will be working with them.
In what is becoming an ever increasingly competitive market, Race Directors at all level of running events are having to ‘up their game’, plan ahead based on the good work of your past.
10. Love what you do
This has to be the one part that cannot be taught, but the one thing that is essential. If you do not love Race Management, then I suspect that going through the emotional roller coaster of arranging a race will be challenging.
Personally, I believe that I have the best job in the world, as I get to mix my love of running and project management as my day job. Whilst it will not be essential to have such a background, it certainly helps if you have an understanding of both running races and management of projects.
From the euphoric joy, the sheer frustration, the constant challenges, the late nights, the early mornings, the long days, the even longer weekends, the meetings, the planning, the deliveries, the logistics, the endless calls, the race, the weather, the road closures, the winner, the last runner, the medals, the pb’s, the joy of the runners, the medical help, the volunteers, the clear-up, the planning of the next year, and so it begins again…… It is because of all of this and much, much more that I love this job and what I now do everyday of my working life.
Blog post written by James Witts. James is a writer and editor specialising in endurance sport, health & fitness, outdoor adventure and sports science.