Five Basic Jobs For The Triathlon Event Race Director
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
After doing the USAT Age Group National Championships and being reminded on what a well organized and resourced event is like and thought I'd give this blog a refresh. At the time I was reluctant to hand over the rather stiff entry fee (over $100 of what I'd normally pay for an Olympic distance tri) but in retrospect I got what I paid for. This article is not to suggest that the task of organizing a running or triathlon race is an easy one. But I do feel, with all the bells, hashtags and plastic medals of the modern event, that the basics can get lost and a reminder on the fundamentals are in order. These are the five most important things I think a seasoned triathlete cares about.
1. Measure the course
We're all checking our Garmins anyway, you could argue, but as we all know they can be inaccurate and confuse things. It's even more important now than ever to have confidence in the official distance, especially at the longer distances. See this marathon that got it wrong not once but twice. Infuriating. Athlete love to give themselves goals based on the distance advertised so when distances aren't measured accurately out of laziness or convenience it can be annoying.
2. Close the course
We spend enough time fretting about our safety in training to want to worry about it during the race. The more police officers, the more orange cones, the more road you can give us the happier we will be and the more focus we can put into the race. The same even goes for run courses. We don't want to worry about kicking a dog or running into another competitor coming the other way. Go crazy with the orange cones and think about traffic flow when designing a course. Not sharing the road with cars is a huge experience boost.
3. Time each person on the course
Modern chip timing is great when it works. But there's no one who competes regularly who hasn't experienced it NOT work at least once (a season!). We seem to forget that you can actually achieve close to the same result with a couple of volunteers a pen and stopwatch. I presumed that's why we're covered head to toe in numbers in the first place. I sometimes wonder how much effort is put into a backup plan. Live tracking with splits is the gold standard and is great for friends and spectators either on the course or away from it.
4. Enforce the rules and penalize cheats
As some races more closely resemble parades than competitions it may be a surprise that a significant proportion of racers still enter events to compare themselves to others. They can't do that fairly if the rules aren't being followed. Everything from entering the wrong waves, drafting, cutting the course needs to be thought about beforehand to be able to prevent and catch competitors messing up the results inadvertently or otherwise. Someone has to be nominated as race official and train volunteers to watch out for rule infringements and how to report them. There doesn't have to be an official for every competitor but it's amazing what having just a couple of motorcycles on the course can do to act as a deterrent and before Nationals there was constant emails before the race warning of the consequences of drafting and the penalties. It's not, unfortunately, enough to just plead with people to follow the rules. Cheats will still cheat.
5. Have a proper awards ceremony
Sure, some people do the race just to finish or to tick it off their bucket list. But to keep people motivated in the sport for long term throw up some meaningful recognition as a goal for the more competitive. The vast majority don't want a generic mass produced $1 medal but would gladly take at least a bottle of wine or a gift card to a sponsor. Advertise the prizes, invest in a podium and have a organized ceremony for those that have goals higher than a finish. Have the prizes make sense for 1st, 2nd and 3rd and distribute fairly across the age groups.
Things we don't care about:
Post-race meal: sure it's nice to get a burrito and a beer at the end but that's not what makes the experience.
Medals and t-shirts: we have enough of both and unless it's some sort of championship or it's actually something personalized with a finish place or time we can do without them.