And I've been fortunate enough to lend a helping hand at a wide variety of events and each has taught me something different and something that sometimes I think people who "just" run races don't always understand or appreciate.
It's safe to say, I get around. (But not in the slutty way!)
But working all of these events has taught me a different perspective. Now, when I particpate in those events, when I see a job being done well, I appreciate the hard work and planning that went in to making sure the event ran smoothly and everyone was safe and had a good time.
It also means I'm a little hypercritical and always looking for ways that things could have been done better or improved.
It's a lot like watching any movie about planes when I was growing up. My dad felt the need to point out all the inaccuracies and improbable events, sometimes to the point of disrupting the movie. He could be such a buzzkill..
Oh my goodness... Have I turned in to my father?!? (That's a whole 'nother blog post!)
Anyways, here are some lessons I have learned while working in the racing industry.
1. It's a lot of work. no really, a lot.
Days often start at 7:00am or earlier and go until the wee morning hours. I've pulled 24 hour plus days. I've done days where I worked 20 hours, slept for three and then went back to work some more. In the heat and in the rain. For fear of scorpions and biting ants and snakes and other creatures that go bump in the night.
People often tell me they'd love to come work events with me and quite often I look at them like... Are you sure? 'Cause you have to be at least part-time crazy to want to do this. And a strong work ethic is a must. You like taking frequent breaks and regularly scheduled meals and bed times? This may not be the job for you. Do you like working hard to put on an event that thousands of people will get to enjoy? Oh you do? Then come on over. :)
2. It's also a lot of fun.
But those people who do it and LOVE doing it are a great group to be with. We might work our buns off, but we do so while cracking jokes and having a blast. Because if you're stuck working at 3 am in the pouring rain, you need to find a way to make your job enjoyable. We laugh, we tease, and we have a great time. I've met some really great people while working events. The sucky part is usually that we come from all over to work these events, so we don't see each other in between events. But that just means that when we do finally come back together, it's like a reunion!
And thank goodness for modern technology. Because you really do form some good friendships working together and it's such an odd feeling at the end of a weekend to leave knowing you won't see that person you just spent 48 hours straight with for another few weeks. But thankfully there's facebook and snapchats and good old fashioned text messaging. :)
3. The best events are well planned
But you know what makes it all worthwhile for them? When you tell them how great the event was. Because odds are, they're only going to hear from people who were unhappy. So even out the response and let them know that you appreciated all the planning that went in to making the event go so well.
I'm not saying that things don't change. And a good Race Director and their team can adapt and makes changes as necessary. But an even better Race Director has their original Plan A. And Then Plans, B, C, D, E, F... You get the point. They have a plan for rain. They have a plan for snow. They have a plan in case someone gets hurt. They have a plan for too many volunteers and even not enough. A race does not run smoothly without proper planning!
4. It's not cheap
IT COSTS MONEY.
I think that's one of my biggest pet peeves. It drives me nuts when people complain (expecially about obstacle course racing) about how expensive it is to participate.
Here's the thing, in particular with OCR: There are costs associated with the race REGARDLESS of the number of people who participate. Putting together a quality course costs money. Permitting, supplies, rentals, manpower, time. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY.
Oftentimes it's the very same people who complain about cost that then also turn around and say they're not willing to volunteer because it takes too much time or is too hard or inconvenient. But without volunteers, that means companies have to hire people to work those events. And those people expect to be paid. Which drives up the cost or event production.
Most races actually make very little money on the event itself. Between promotional deals (Groupon, Living Social, etc.) and early registration fees, your registration fee will usually just cover the basic expenses of holding the event. Where the companies tend to make the most money is on the sale of merchandise. Want to cut costs but still have a quality event? Then don't buy swag on race day.
And when events get cancelled because of low turn out, that's a business decision, not an attempt to ruin your life. The reality is, without high participation, these events can actually LOSE money for their companies. So if you want to help ensure your event isn't cancelled, then sign up. And then sign up ten of your best friends. Besides, races are more fun with friends. And that's a fact.
I'm not saying their aren't events out there that don't try and make tons of money. In fact, all of them are TRYING to make money. They are, after all, a business. Maybe not your local smaller events, but even they want to at least break even. So next time you get ready to gripe about how expensive it is, remember that the money you spend goes towards making sure you have a good time at your event and do so safely.
5. VOLUNTEERS ARE EVERYTHING.
Whether they volunteer for a specific cause or to earn a free race for themselves, or just because they want to lend a helping hand, races would be impossible to put on without volunteers.
These helpful people are up at the crack of dawn, out on the course with you, making sure you don't go the wrong way, making sure you stay safe, and making sure that you have a good time. They offer words of encouragement when you need it and are their to congratulate you when you victoriously cross that finish line. They fill your water cups and clean up your trash. (Because, be honest, racers can be very messy people, even when given trash cans. There's a reason we run and don't play in the NBA, people.)
So make sure, the next time you race, you take a moment to thank a volunteer. The person who hands you your water. Or your finisher medal. Or at the registration table when you check in. The security staff out on the course. The medics who offer you a band aid or an ice pack. Each and everyone of these people has given up their time to be there to support you and to make your race day the best that it could possibly be.
And remember, we're all their for the same reason. :)