Take a peek behind the scenes of triathlon race day
BeginnerTriathlete spoke with Race Director Craig Thompson, owner of Greenswell Events, which recently acquired Ohio multisport racing company HFP Racing. We asked what triathletes should know about race directors like him, and what we can do better as participants to support the sport we love.
Most triathletes are pretty caught up in their own concerns on race morning. What is the race director typically dealing with at that time?
Everything we do on race morning is focused towards ensuring a good experience and timely start of the event. There are countless items but to name a few:
- Final staging of the courses, transition, finish line, timing and registration/check-in – did overnight weather impact any of the core set-up? Do we need to reset fencing, signage, etc.?
- Monitoring Athlete Check-in – are lines too long, moving quickly, etc.
- Monitoring the weather to see if there are any storms on the radar that may impact the event – reviewing Weather Contingency and Safety Plans to prepare should they need to be implemented.
- Ensuring that all volunteers have shown up and are at their spots. If they are not, then volunteers/team members need to be reorganized to make sure that certain areas have volunteers, or water stations need to move to self-serve.
What do you wish more triathletes understood, from your perspective as a race director?
It would definitely be the amount of time required to put on a triathlon – we are talking months vs. hours (months of time): creating and affirming the course (reviewing those routes each season), working with local sheriff/police departments to have the proper staffing at key intersections; working with parks to find dates that work with the park schedule to put on a race; updating maps, website; setting up registration; developing financial breakeven points; developing marketing plans; upgrading, repairing and maintaining equipment; marking the courses so that the swim, bike, and run have clear markings for turns; finding staff to work the races; dealing with customer service questions and items….the list of activities goes on and on.
A race director’s pay (if anything) to put on a race is only after all the costs of putting on a race are paid and indirect costs are paid (rent, insurance, utilities, etc). There are many races where we aren’t able to pay ourselves and many race directors have gotten out of the sport over the last decade or moved to strictly running events.
Race Directors have a passion and love for the sport, or they would not be a Race Director.
What industry trends make you feel hopeful about the sport?
There is a shift back to short-course triathlon away from the half ironman and ironman races. I believe this is an outcome brought on by post-COVID where athletes do not want to lose their weekends training for long course races. Some athletes want to spend more time with family, do not want to spend a lot of money on training/racing. Athletes want to cut down on costs for travel and compete locally when they can.
What industry trends worry you?
I worry that local racing options will dwindle due to the inability to get traffic support, urban sprawl and planned development, and event fatigue by parks, – which may lead to missed opportunities for people to get into multisport racing. In Columbus, Ohio, where we are headquartered there, there is just one triathlon remaining in the city and this will be its last year for the reasons just stated unless things change and the local triathlon community rallies behind it. After 2022, there may not be any triathlons in Central Ohio and in other areas due to the aforementioned challenges. Some law enforcement jurisdictions will no longer allow triathlons on their roads. (BeginnerTriathlete note: This is what led to the move of Ohio 70.3 from Delaware, Ohio to Sandusky, Ohio. The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office simply refused to permit the race. There used to be several triathlons in the county, just northwest of Columbus, centered around a state park reservoir and beach, and now there are none.)
Another worry is the need for awards for 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place for each Age Group – these costs add up quickly and it is a cost that many Race Directors cannot take on.
What can individual triathletes do to support the sport?
They can support their local triathlon club by becoming a member; and encourage their club leadership to develop and support short course racing programming.
Triathletes can support the sport by racing in local races. Bigger branded races are great, however, their price point, time for training, travel, and other costs can make it hard for an individual to get into multisport racing. Registering for smaller races during your race seasons helps keep those races alive for triathletes just entering the sport.
Another thing: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! And if your family will be at your race to cheer you on, encourage them to volunteer as well. It will make it more fun for them to take an active role.
What can individual triathletes do to make races better for others? (Safer, more welcoming, more affordable, etc.)
Be a positive role model for others new to the sport. Keep all of your words positive. Also:
- Review the course maps and information on the event page before race day and know the USA Triathlon Competitive Rules, not only for yourself, but so that you can accurately answer questions from others.
- Mentor those who may want to get into the sport – this can be youth and adults.
- Suggest that beginners start by racing a short course a few times before attempting a 70.3 or IM race. (A 70.3 or IM should not be an individual’s 1st triathlon!)
- Talk to youth at high schools about multisport racing, since most schools do not offer this sport
- Support used gear swaps; Sell or give away gear to those who want to get into the sport.
Thanks Craig! We appreciate looking behind the curtain, and we appreciate you for making the races happen!
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