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Nothing can prepare you to run an event than going to other events and paying attention. Being a competitor will help you be a better race director. Every problem that you will face has been solved, somewhere, by someone else. Take note of the things you like and avoid the things you don’t.

I had the pleasure of racing in Chattanooga for the SUPSplash race and Chattajack in Chattanooga this past week. Ben Friberg, Michael Phillips and Shane Webb did a phenomenal job.  Here’s what I learned. Maybe you can apply this to your races this year? I know I’ll be adding them to mine.

This can be a great spectator sport.
The Chattanooga has built an incredible race location for spectators. There are sloping hills that line the riverbank, concrete stairs that create an outdoor coliseum and a riverwalk that extends for miles all the way to the dam. For parts of the race, people are right on top of the racers.  Why is this important? A race with a good spectator element is an exciting race. Fans get excited seeing the battles as they unfold. Competitors hear the clapping and whistles, maybe even someone yelling their name in encouragement. It’s what makes 5Ks-marathons so much fun. Competitors and spectators make eye contact. The point is that the more you can make your event spectator-friendly, the more enjoyable it will be for everyone and the more likely they will return next year.

Every racer is important.
Ben Friberg took the photos from each competitor and made a photo collage/ID badge that he put on both the event website and then, on people’s packet pickup bag. When I looked for my bag, there was my name and photo right on my bag. I felt enormously welcomed. It was if they’d been waiting for me specifically and if I hadn’t shown up that they’d have their own version of the missing-child milk carton and walked around town asking, “Have you seen this paddler?” I felt included. I felt like a VIP. Everyone did. It was awesome.

Pay attention to the details.
The Chattajack is 31+ miles of river winding through gorgeous gorges. Ben took the time to create maps and laminate them so paddlers could tape them to the tops of their boards. It helped me navigate because I didn’t have my GPS and was completely unprepared. It was a great touch. Why is this important? Because generally, no one knows your racecourse as well as you do.  You might think it’s easy, but for many paddlers, not knowing the specifics about a course and its obstacles is very stressful. Giving them all the info they need helps alleviate the stress.

Be there to help along the way.
The water support in the Chattajack was second to none. They took trash, offered food, refilled camelbacks and gave a mileage estimate. People who finished jumped in the boat and headed back to cheer paddlers on in their last miles. And at NO TIME, did the boat affect the result of the race. There are so many times when a chase or water support boat ends up throwing a perfect wake for one of the competitors to extend a lead or close a gap. They were phenomenal.

Acknowledge effort.
Ben and his team awarded a board to a beloved paddler who had been through a tremendously difficult year. She overcame a lot to be able to complete the distance race. At the start, Brook looked at the bridge and the river and said, “This is my kind of race. I’m not all about ocean races. I like a flatwater beautiful distance race. This is my speed.” She looked happy, prepared, stoked. Why is this important? Because it reminded me that everyone gets there by a different path. You never know what a participant has gone through, overcome, to participate in thie event. Someone who comes in 91 out of 91 may have taken the most difficult ourney to get there. Every racer is valid. Every racer’s journey is tough and rewarding for their own unique reasons. If you only celebrate the podium, you are missing the beauty of this sport and its community. Brook, you kicked ass. We were so stoked to see you at the finish.

 

Race directors can learn a lot from going to other races and asking questions

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