Journey from Triathlete to Race Director

Feb
22

Posted by Coach Ben Dillon

What would inspire someone to want to be a race director? For me the answer was my desire to organize and produce an event that I was passionate about and that athletes and spectators alike would enjoy. Getting a wild hair, having no prior race director experience, I decided to reach out to the XTERRA folks at Team Unlimited to see if I was eligible to produce an XTERRA regional Off-road Triathlon, and they said yes. Charles Gheen and I made a site visit around November 2014 then produced the XTERRA Blackwater race in August of 2015 at Bear Lake, in Blackwater River State Forest. That was a venue primarily used for trail running events by different groups, now we have several multisport events coming in 2016. After XTERRA Blackwater I attended the USA Triathlon Level 1 Race Director Certification course in Phoenix, AZ in October.

 

I have done 30 XTERRA off-road triathlons around the world, from regional XTERRA events to the USA Champs in Ogden, UT, and the World Championship in Maui.  For the most part, my experiences have been extremely rewarding and positive!  From the event production, to the general disposition of an off-road athlete (more relaxed and low-key), to just being in the woods with Mother Nature, it really sets the XTERRA mood for competition.

 

One "key" to race directing that I found through the 9-month process was having the support of other motivated, experienced, and capable individuals. I knew that my race directing experience was very limited, so I needed the best possible help. Thank you to Charles Gheen (SRITRI), Fred Phillips (DLT Events), and Marcus Barton (SE Region XTERRA Athlete/RD) for their mentorship!  Thanks to them, my foray into race directing was much less stressful. Their input and contributions were appreciated along with our key coordinators and our volunteers and it paid off on race day!

teamwork!

 

Another key aspect, which I partly learned from my time in the Navy, was that of being prepared.  Going up in a helicopter sometimes required hours of preparation prior to the flight. Being on-call for a Search and Rescue mission required many hours of preparation for when the call would eventually happen. So I took this experience and applied it to XTERRA Blackwater. I found that being a Race Director is a lot like pre-flighting a helicopter - you have to focus all your attention on the details.

I was very fortunate to have key coordinators in positions that I knew would handle anything that would arise throughout the course of the event.  We had several meetings prior to our event detailing my expectations and also the expectations of our volunteers. Ultimately our planning ensured we were on the same page on race day. I think that we hit a home run, however, there were still many lessons learned that we will improve on for future events.

The majority of the up-front time was spent finding sponsors, acquiring equipment, finalizing event t-shirts, arranging food, and managing other preparatory tasks.  Our non-profit, SOML Racing, is not an events production company so we needed a substantial amount of support from the community and they really came through! Let’s not forget that athlete participation is also very important……No athletes, No event!

 

Another component that I found essential leading up to the event was providing multiple organized visits to the race site for the athletes.  This was the first off-road triathlon in the Pensacola/Milton area so having a preview, especially for the inexperienced, was very important.  Plus, it allowed me to make a personal connection with the athletes who would be supporting our event!

Race week was busy, but not overwhelming. The equipment needed for the event came from multiple sponsors, supporters, and locations, and driving around a U-Haul was a challenge in itself. The key coordinators and I had assigned tasks. I could focus on the race venue and course preparation while others picked up food, provided athletes with the essentials at packet pickup and other last-minute amenities. Preparations leading to race day are similar for a Race Director and the athlete.  Both need to have passion, commitment, and an unrelenting drive to put forth their best effort!

To be honest, once race morning came, I felt really good and relaxed.  Our team really came together and performed well.  Our pre-planning and communication was the key!  Sure, for a first year event, there were some details that were overlooked and that made me aware of just how dynamic event production can be.  Athlete, spectator and sponsor feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

 

From an experienced Race Director: “Form a plan, stick to a plan, be flexible!”

We have an expanded mission in 2016 with an Off-road Duathlon on April 3rd and the 2nd Annual XTERRA Blackwater on August 7th at Bear Lake in Milton, Florida.

Hope to see you there! For more information on these events, visit www.somlracing.org.

 

~ Coach Ben Dillon

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