Monday, June 27, 2011


Last weekend was a really big race here in Seattle and as I worked the expo for a company handing out samples of juice and seeing the runners stream by me for hours and hours at a time I kept on thinking, my god, what a juggernaut this race series has become.

I have always been bothered by this race series and as I stood there, peddling juice to the captive audience, I realized why. Drum roll please......because they are so commercial and marketed and shiny and soul-less! To me they are the Walmart of the running world. Well, the more expensive Walmart.

This series is such a juggernaut that they can get away with charging outrageous prices, and people pay them these outrageous sums of money. If these races come to your city, just like Walmart, there is no competing with them. Smaller races anywhere near this race on the calendar get eaten alive, reduced to whimpering piles of nothing, forcing them to move dates that they have held for years.

This race series does a little bit of good for the community but when you dig around its not a whole heck of a lot. Its mostly a commercial, for-profit entity. What bothers me the most about this race is that it has the potential to do such a tremendous amount of good and it misses the mark. Does running always have to be about raising money? No, but when you have the power to raise that much money and you don't, well, to me that is wrong.

But I guess the 30,000 or so people that run each and every one of them across the country isn't bothered too much. I guess the people that shop at Walmart don't seem to mind supporting their business practices either.

So, how do I create a juggernaut of a race like this, and have it be a truly charitable event, raising so much money for cancer that cancer is obliterated off the face of the planet? I don't know, but I sure as heck am going to study this race series to learn all their tricks!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What a Concept!

This past weekend I got paid to volunteer at a race. That is right, an actual paid gig. What a concept! It makes sense, it was a for-profit race, no bones about it, just a straight up race, make the check out to a company, no promises of a donation to anyone. So, why would I volunteer for such a race? Unless I was being completely altruistic (which, come on, how many of us really are) and wanted to help put on a great race for the sheer pleasure of putting on a great event, I wouldn't.

I was cruising around on the gigs section of Craigslist (we all know that race directors won't get wealthy on racing alone) and came across a call for people to help with a scavenger hunt style urban race. The little listing on the bottom said: Pay: $80. $80 for helping out a race? Yes please!

As I am sitting there, in the rain, waiting for teams to show up to the checkpoint, I am realizing that so many other races ask for volunteers, when really they should be hiring people. A race I volunteered for a few weeks ago was the same. I volunteered, and then later realized that none of the proceeds benefit any organization, except the for-profit company that puts on the race.

No other industry would ask for volunteers like this. Do you see Microsoft asking for volunteers to staff their events? How about any trade-show? Those people sitting there are not volunteers and the companies would be laughed at if they were to ask for volunteers.

One could argue that unpaid interns are essentially volunteers but they at least are getting something more valuable out of the experience. They are not, for the most part, being asked to get up at some ungodly hour to shlep water out to some trail, or cut up bananas for the entire morning.

It is a blatant misuse of people hours and should be stopped. If you are putting on a race to benefit something in the community, then by all means, get as many volunteers as you need. If you are a for-profit race, and nothing more, hire some damn people!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Other Shoe

At races that I have helped put together there is always something that goes wrong. It could be small or it could be major but something always goes wrong. Most race directors know this going into an event and are prepared for the eventual apology or running around with the fix. Part of our jobs is to try and think of every eventuality that could happen that could make the event go awry and plan backups and then backups for those backups. It is actually sort of a fun game, trying to guess what was the one major thing you forgot! I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When this does not happen it is an eerie feeling.

At Good Karma 5K I kept on waiting and waiting and waiting. The timing system guy's truck is going to break down on the highway, OK, nope, he is here, my key volunteers have forgotten to set their alarms, no, they are all here, the Porto-potties are going to tip over when being delivered, not quite, they are right there, snug in their spot, we are going to run out of safety pins, nope, there are 16 boxes full of them on the tables, someone is going to get lost on the course, but here comes the first place guy, right on time, someone is going to trip at the finish line and get hurt, yet here are all my participants, happy and smiling, we are going to run out of food, not this time, there are still piles of food on those tables.....Really? Nothing at all!?

We are packing up, everyone is gone, truck has been unloaded, ok, for sure I am going to get into an accident with this UHaul, for sure my credit card will be declined, ok, I am positive my car has been stolen at the parking lot and my house has caught fire!

Nothing at all!? Really!? I had to be sure, I needed some outside verification, so I sent out a survey to our participants and sure, there could have been better water placement at the finish, or there could have been more people cheering at the finish line. But, hey, I will take that as a huge success!

My race director heart sings when I still have two shoes on my feet. Nothing dropped here!