Wednesday, October 07, 2009
NC24: A Race Director’s Perspective
It all started with a little conversation about a year ago. “We should have one around here”, said Connie Gardner. She and I had been discussing other 24-hour events. “Yeah,” I said, “I want to do one too.” Connie immediately started to say that we would be able to attract the best ultra runners in the country, including several who lived nearby in Northeast Ohio. Whoa, thought I - we weren’t even off the ground yet. But this talk did turn out to be the start of what was to become the NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run.
My first call was to my friend, Joe Jurczyk. Joe has directed more ultra events than I’ve even run. Calling Joe turned out to be the best thing I did, as the race wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without him. I also contacted several other experienced ultrarunners, including Rita Barnes, Dan Fox, Roy Heger and Shannon Fisher to form the core race committee. I can’t imagine a better group of people to put on an event like this. “Anyone want the RD job, so that I can run the race?” I asked. Nope, it would be me.
Determining an appropriate location and date took longer than I thought it would. It was March before we settled on Edgewater and the first weekend in October. Edgewater is a scenic state park on the shore of Lake Erie, just a couple miles from downtown Cleveland. There is a .9 mile all-purpose trail loop. The only concern would be the wind coming off the lake – we would just have to hope for the best. The first weekend in October was one of the few early autumn weekends without some other major local marathon or ultra event.
Early on, we managed to convince the American UltraRunning Association (AUA) that we had organized our race committee and chosen a location and time frame well enough to qualify our event as the 2009 U.S. National 24-Hour Run National Championship. The AUA would have liked for us to offer substantial prize money to further legitimize the event and attract more high-profile runners, but by starting later in the year, lack of major sponsorship was a problem. I was concerned, in fact, about getting enough runners to simply break even, given our other expenses. Who would be on the hook if we didn’t? Me. Within the last couple months we finally did land some sponsorship, thanks to the hard work of committee member Charles Elkins as well as several others. And we also saw the number of race entries increase such that we eventually exceeded 100 runners.
Several of those runners signing up were the best in the country. It became very obvious that we would have a “dream” field of top runners for the event. The AUA announced that the national teams would include the top three Americans at NC24, provided that they also met a minimum standard of miles. We were also attracting a wide variety of other runners: everyone from experienced ultrarunners to those who had run marathons but nothing further and wanted to see how far they could go.
Monthly meetings became weekly ones as the race date approached. Training runs were held. I answered email questions. Meetings and other communication took place with our timer, Jim Chaney of Terry Lewis’ RS Racing Systems. The course was certified. Volunteers were recruited. Also lined up to help were Dr. Andrew Lovy and his medical students, as well as the Podiatry College. Shannon ordered the food and Roy got the generators. I helped where I could, and also kept an eye on the weather. Before we knew it, race day was upon us.
The set-up, the registration, the pre-race meeting all went by much too fast for me; it almost seemed like a blur. I’m just happy to have had all the great help from Shannon and the volunteers. I thought things would settle down as the race got going. They didn’t. There were probably too few volunteers for the first five or six hours, so I had to help at the aid station and wherever else I could. I also checked in with the Jim several times to make sure the timing was going well. And I did sneak a little time to watch the race unfold.
And watching that race unfold turned out to be a most satisfactory activity. Now and then I had to stop myself from doing something that seemed important at the time, to just think: this is what we’ve all worked so hard for. These runners were the best in the country, and here they were, doing their thing. It was incredibly exciting. All of the runners were truly an inspiration, and any of us who watched the event won’t soon forget it.
I never slept, or even sat down. Some of the runners, especially some of the top finishers could say the same thing. The one aspect of the day that we had no control over was the weather, and the weather held up just fine. There was cloudiness, some wind at times, but no appreciable rain. The temperature was mostly in the fifties. The wind calmed down during the night, so that was actually the most comfortable time. Shannon and the volunteers kept the food coming at all times.
Of course there were a few race-day glitches. The most important one was traffic control at the parking lot entrance. I had several conversations with the park rangers about that, and we eventually got it under control.
By and by I managed to talk with most of the volunteers and most of the runners. What a great bunch of people. UltraRunners rule! Eventually the event ended and for me, once again, time speeded up. We had to do the final measurements to determine the winners and places. The winners, by the way, were truly spectacular. Earlier along the way we also had to work with three age group records. For more on the race itself, check out our website. The awards ceremony went well, but of course this also felt like a blur to me.
And then it was all over, but the clean-up. Where had the last 30 hours gone? If certainly didn’t feel like a day at all. Was it worth it, and would I do it again? You bet!
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