What Is...Going On Behind the Scenes At a Race?



There you are on race day, stretching your limbs among throngs of similarly outfitted people and casually checking out the competition (or just a good view). From the shade of a tent, an enthusiastic emcee is announcing wave starts. In the distance, people line up for the port-a-potty and even further away, volunteers are quickly pouring hydrating fluids into rows of cups neatly lined up on tables.

Most of us simply show up with our game faces on, ready to conquer the day whether it be a marathon, an open water swim competition or triathlon. Participating may have been a drop in the bucket or significant enough to warrant a payment plan (hello, Ironman!). Regardless of the amount paid, when hundreds (if not thousands) of participants descend upon a race venue, they rightfully expect that everything is ready, safe, and fun.

Of course, races don’t magically pop up overnight and event logistics don’t simply take care of themselves. If you’ve ever tried planning an event, you know that there are a lot of moving parts and elements to consider – some of which may not even be in your power to control! Ensuring any event happens hitch-free is difficult but what about a sporting event?

You’ve probably noticed or had a few fleeting thoughts about it, but an incredible amount of work goes on behind the scenes in producing an event! Without fail, there is at least one event or race director that has worked tirelessly for the past few days, weeks, and months eyes glazed staring at a computer screen, squinting at maps, cajoling sponsors for more free stuff, arranging for permits, and steering volunteers to their stations. You may not know or see them, but you can be assured that they’re running around with one hand glued to their walkie-talkie.

So how does one become a race director? What are the key ingredients for a successful event? We interviewed event and race directors from three countries to learn their perspectives and from their experiences. Responses shown verbatim.

zhiyong (singapore)

What events do you have experience working with?
The Performance Series Singapore 2016 (5 running events) and The Performance Series 2017 (3 running events in Singapore and 3 in Malaysia). To learn more about the Performance Series in Singapore, click here for the website and here for the Facebook. For the Performance Series in Malaysia, click here and here.

How did you become an event director?
Being the event director means I coordinate with a broad range of individuals and groups, including our marketing team, event management company, registration service partner, timing systems partner, sponsors, government agencies, etc. The Performance Series came about when our company JustRunLah Pte Ltd sought to provide a platform for more people to get into a consistently active lifestyle. On top of providing online digital information and motivation, we promote sports and are fitness advocates. The event series allows the community that we serve to physically get out there and be active. The Performance Series is the first of its kind to encourage individuals of all levels, from the non-active to recreational to competitive types, to have a schedule of races to work towards and progress along with the series. The goal is that this will help to cultivate healthy lifestyle habits through the appreciation of iconic landmarks in Malaysia and Singapore.

What’s one of the toughest things about being a race director?
The toughest thing so far has been to get a venue and route to hold the intended number of participants. Obtaining the venue and route often entails in-depth discussions with a variety of private stakeholders and government authorities. I wish to also highlight that the next biggest challenge is to market the event using the most cost-efficient ways and effective channels.

What do you wish people knew about being a race director?
There are commonly many feedback about why the race organisers did not consider many things which may be good for the participants. However, participants often do not understand that there are constraints and limitations that the race organisers face. For example, bringing the events to less traveled venues (to give participants more refreshing events) may mean limitations in providing wide paths for running or starting the event at a later time due to legal regulations or requirements – but in Singapore, the heat and rising temperatures during the day is always a concern.

A good race organiser will find all alternative options to balance the participants’ wants (good-to-haves) versus needs (must-haves such as safety). There is no perfect situation but the best scenarios neatly balance the constraints and undergo a cost/benefit analysis.

What’s a race you’ll never forget and why?
I will never forget the Gold Coast Airport Marathon as it was the first ever overseas race I did! I was impressed by the event organisers from pre-race publicity to race-day execution to post-race engagement. Realistically, a lot of times these heavily depend on the financial capability of each event organiser and whether the organiser prioritize the participants’ interests and experience over business-driven objectives.

Runners running ekiden

a-1 (hawai'i)

Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m originally from Osaka but I’ve called Hawai’i home for the past twenty years. I’m a graduate of UC San Diego and the father of two sons, including one I just recently sent off to Boston University. I’m currently the CEO of Sports Navigator Hawai’i and Samurai Sports. My work has me travel a lot but in my free time, I enjoy cycling, jogging, fishing and drinking beer.

How did you become a race director?
I took a USAT RD certified class in 2007. Ever since, I have had the privilege of being a race director at local events like the Honolulu Triathlon, Rainbow Ekiden, Lealea Charity Run, and the Tour de Oahu.

What’s one of the toughest things about being a race director?
Unexpected accidents. Safety on any course is always the most important thing and as a race director, you have to be very well prepared. You don’t know what will happen during a race and anything can happen, but you always need a back up plan.

What do you wish people knew about your job?
Being a race director involves a lot of planning, preparation, and organization. It’s a good idea to be thoughtful about race preparations and volunteering at races is a great idea for those seeking to gain insight and experience. We’re always looking for volunteers!

What’s a race you’ll never forget and why?
Tour de Oahu, it is always fun and I love seeing how happy the participants are to be a part of it!

Man standing on mountain in Hawai'i

keren (tokyo)

Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I have been a keen triathlete and runner for nearly 30 years. Started off in Australia, my home country, and got into this for fun and fitness and to burn off the beer that I like to drink. In the late 90s I moved to Saipan in Micronesia for work and was able to keep my passions alive there. Moved to Japan in 2002 again for life and work, where I was happy to find a vibrant and growing triathlon and running scene. Started off in Japan as a competitive age group triathlete in my spare time, which then morphed into being triathlon and running club leader , and then a coach and a race director. All are natural fits for me given my long experience and my love of these sports.

How did you become a race director?
Over past 10 or so years I gradually became involved in helping with organizing training events and races for the Namban Rengo running club and the Triathlon in Tokyo tri club. All for fun and to gain experience. When I heard that they were looking for a race director for the first ever TELL Tokyo Tower Climb, I jumped at the chance to be involved as I have been a longtime supporter of TELL. It is a great and needed cause.

What’s one of the toughest things about being a race director?
Two things actually. Planning and organizing is the key to a successful race. Be well prepared and the race will go smoothly and the athletes will have a great experience. And to make sure that the technology (timing, race chips etc.) is fully functioning before the race. Had a not so good experience once with faulty timing, but we did manage to post the results in the end. And also need to double check that the course distance is 100% accurate. Nothing grates on athletes as much as a non-accurately measured course distance.

What do you wish people knew about being a race director?
It is all for fun. Don`t take things over seriously. And that while 99% of races go off without a hitch, there needs to be some allowance for the human involvement. And be especially thankful to the volunteers who give their time for free. Can`t organize a race without a lot of help from volunteers. A thank you and a smile goes a long way!

What’s a race you’ll never forget and why?
The training/fun race that I had helped to organize the previous year, but had handed over the reins to someone else the following year. Wish I had given the distance and the course marking the `once over` before the race as both were well off. Lucky it was only a fun event and we were able to laugh it off afterwards after the controversy died down. Like I said, best not to take this sort of thing too seriously.

Man cycling on triathlon bike