Mailbag Question: What does it take to be a race director?

Home Page California Triathlon Discussion Mailbag Question: What does it take to be a race director?

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      This could end up a very long thread but I will start it with my experience at Trick or Tri. An good RD is a bit OCD so no matter how good the race is they will never be happy. There is always something that could be better. Athlete safety is the #1 priority. Bob Babbitt was at the very first Trick or Tri and said that a good day is when everyone goes home safely. Safety is designed into almost every aspect of the event from course selection to volunteers to crowd control to emergency services personnel. It takes a good plan and transparency into that plan by all the stakeholders including the athletes. That is one of the reason we do 6 course previews and clinics. Athletes have the opportunity to know the location of the venue, parking, transition and course layout long before race morning.

      Trick or Tri is a completely closed bike course. No cars. No trucks. No vehicles whipping by you at 60 mph with the only protection you have an orange cone. That greatly limits the possibilities relative to the type of accidents we can have. Someone can go around a corner too fast or go off course but in all likelihood they are walking away from that incident. That is not the case everywhere. Google “triathlon accident“.

      SWIM. The key to a safe swim is having great lifeguards and volunteers keeping watch on the athletes. The lake at Trick or Tri is placid and relatively warm between 65-70. A combination of professional lifeguards on multiple forms of watercraft along with pre-planning meetings provide a lot of confidence.

      BIKE. Even with a closed course there is a lot of planning. This year we added a 70.3 mile distance so we increased the participation age from 7 to 10 for the sprint triathlon. It stings to have a 9 year old not be able to do the race [they can do the 5K/10K] especially because some of the kids are better bike handlers than the adults. Still, if there would be a collision the kids are likely 2-3x smaller and might get the brunt of it. As for athlete instructions we stress adherence to all of USAT’s rules with particular attention to blocking, illegal passing and drafting. The other big danger to athletes are spectators who cluster near the bike-in and bike-out and trespass onto the course. We are really aggressive about directing spectators to safe areas and reminding them to stay off the course.

      RUN. The important part of safety on the run is making sure the athletes have enough hydration especially on a warm day. We have been lucky with “Chamber of Commerce” kind of days but one of these days it is going to be super hot or super cold and we have to be prepared with extra ice or Mylar sheets.

      SAFETY REPORT. A report has to be sent to USAT 2 weeks after the race. It lists any accidents that occurred at the race. We have been really lucky in our first 2 years not to have any major incidents. One of the things that I would like to see as part of USAT’s commitment to athlete safety is for those reports to be accessible to their customer, the athletes. Every athlete I talk too would like to know the race’s history of safety. I think it would weed out bad races which have serious accidents every year. That is a topic for another day.

      There are a lot more things to being a RD than safety but this was a good start. I hope many of my fellow race directors, many who have decades of experience, will jump in and give their .02.

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