Saturday, July 01, 2006

General tips and tricks for race directors (Race report).

NOTE added 7/20 If you're reading this because a guy named Jeff linked to this race report and was freaking over this race, just ignore him, and move on. He loves to start trouble.

Note: If you don't feel like reading all of this, skip to the recommendation (paragraph below, in bold). It's important.

So, you want to be a race director?
Well, lets say, hypothetically speaking, you want to direct a race in Farmington, New Mexico. You decide to call it the Grady Williams Memorial Olympic Distance Triathlon. Here's some tips and tricks to ensure the people might want to come back next year and nobody is seriously hurt.

1. When triathletes who have been lost in the desert for over two hours without water finally come in, a really, really good thing to say would be something like, "Are you okay? Do you need any water? We thought we marked that course and we're so sorry you had this experience!"
You would not want them to have the following experience:

Marker-boy: "How on earth did you get lost?

Me: "That course was not clearly marked"

Marker-boy: "yes it was; I marked that course myself last night. I watched the chalk fall down myself."

Me: "I saw some chalk lines before I got to the first water station. After that, I never saw another chalk line, and I never saw another water station."

Marker-boy: "You're wrong. There's not a part of that course that isn't clearly and completely marked. I'll prove it. Come back to the course with me [7 miles back to the lake] and I'll show you.

Me: "I don't want to go back there. You know, I've done 14 of these this year. I'm not stupid."

Marker-boy: "Well, then you've done as many as I have".

First of all, that last comment was completely unnecessary and unhelpful, and generally speaking, a triathlete who just spent over two hours lost in your F---ing desert doesn't want to go anwhere with you. She doesn't want anything but some concern and some water, so kiss my ass.
Oh, and the upside to the suggested response is this:
when it becomes clear that at least a dozen people lost their way on the run course, including many professional and seasoned triathletes, and at least one of whom has done the race before, you won't look like a complete asshole.
(The downside, of course, is that whomever did the markings won't get to puff up his chest and act like a self-important jerk. )
Hypothetically speaking, of course.

2. Be familiar with AT rules, especially if you insist that you're going by AT rules. For instance, you would register people as their age as of December 31st, not age on race day. For most this may not matter. For masters and non-masters clydesdales, it's going to matter a lot. The upside is that when a triathlete, hypothetically speaking, asks someone working in the race about following AT rules, they don't get a blank stare.

3. Have medical personnel at the transition area. For a race this long and challenging, you may need them. This is especially true if you ignore tip #4.

4. If you use chalk to mark your course, chalk lines should not be placed in the center of a path of loose dirt where people will run over them and obliterate them.

5. Have a pre-race meeting.

6. Putting, "The course will be clearly marked" on a race map is useless unless you say how it will be marked. Tape? Chalk? Flaming monkeys juggling batons? WHAT? And maps are useless unless they indicate that you will come to intersections. That way, when the path splits off into several different directions, you'll know where to go.

Recommendation: I would not recommend this race to my worst enemy unless they correct very serious and dangerous problems, or change the name to "Grady Williams GPS Adventure Race through the Desert" It was estimated that somewhere between ten and twenty triathletes, including profesionals, lead runners, seasoned multi-sport veterans and a blind triathlete and her guide lost their way on the run course. Nobody associated with the race apologized, they made excuses. Nobody looked for any of the lost triathletes, and when another triathlete's partners told race officials that his partner was an hour over due, he was brushed aside and ignored.
There are several other quality, well-run Olympic distance events to be enjoyed where they actually like athletes; they are not trying to kill them, such as the Buffman and Squeaky (Texas) or Las Vegas (New Mexico) triathlons.

What happened, Results: DNF. My first. I'm happy to have had a companion in this debacle but unhappy that it happened at all. In the over-two hours we spent running down several paths and dirt service roads, Helen and I saw ribbons tied to junipers, painted surveyor's stakes of various sorts, different colored flags and signs. We never saw the markings for the run course, because they were mainly rubbed out. We were the only Athenas, and had been following faster runners, who themselves had gotten off course, but when they rounded the bend in front of us - the paths and roads were all very winding - they vanished, and we were left running through the desert in July, without a clue as to where to go next. Although off course, they had turned off and eventually did manage to get to T2 on foot, but we continued down the wrong road, hoping to see them ahead.

After a while, it was clear that although we were not the last people out of the lake (the order of this triathlon with swim-run-bike, with two separate transition area locations) nobody had ever passed us, and so we attempted to find our way back to the lake. Three hours after the start, after swimming 1500 meters, then unable to to find the right 10K path through the desert to the next transition area (there were two) Helen and I decided to call it quits. Helen had no water, we had left the correct path and so had no access to any, and all I had was a small bottle of HEED on my race belt. It was getting dangerous. We flagged down a passing surveyor, who gave us a ride back to the lake, where all volunteers and T1 were already gone.

We found our back to my car parked up the hill and behind some trees, having left Helen's car at T2, and drove back to T2.

People that successfully completed the run told me that they worried as they ran along, hoping that the people in front of them knew where they were going, and wondering how anyone could find their way. Some were passed twice by lead runners.

ADDENDUM: I would like to add that when I arrived at T2, there was no way to replenish carbs or electrolytes. I was asked if I was "one of the missing triathletes," and I gave my race number. The volunteers then wondered away without asking if I was okay. There was one water dispenser sitting in the sun, dispensing warm water, and two ice chests. One was empty and dry. The other had a single power bar floating in icy water. Good thing I had some warm Gatorade in the car.


  1. A bunch of runners got lost at my race too because some punks actually STOLE the markers! At least at my race they were nice and compensated the DNF with automatic entry into next year's race and profusely apologized!

    Sometimes you really wonder what the heck people are thinking?!

  2. wow. what a horrific race ! i'm so sorry. did you email/write to the race director ? that is total BS.

  3. Aaak! So I guess you're not happy and it was kind of a crappy race - yeah, I can see how you'd be a bit grumpy. I agree, you should (and probably already did) put this in writing to the race director.

    Hope your week improves!

  4. MORONS!! I am so sorry. So very very sorry.

    I have what may be a stupid question: If they were supposed to be running the race by AT rules - can you appeal to a higher power (uhm not God) and see if this particular race director can be supervised in the future? I just hate to complain to the person who was so negligent in the first place - if he didn't care during the race, why would he care after? Just a thought...

    Keep your chin up!

  5. I hate that! What moron would use chalk in an event that 1)has people running around *wet* 2) is on dirt...

    I'm pretty sure that someone along the lines has invented colored tape and paint that washes away *eventually*

  6. Oh, and by the way, it seems that I'm ahead of you on the procrastination road...I've done noooooooooo races this year! ha!

  7. Hey, cool blog. I saw it on the Outlaws site.

    Sorry to hear about your experience at Grady Williams. This tri has the potential to be great, but it's the little things like this that keep it from getting any bigger or better.

    I too got lost, and indeed, I've done the race (nay, won it overall) three time previously. I don't know where we all missed that turn, but it obviously was NOT clearly marked! Yes, several pros and other top age-group triathletes were in the same boat, including some multi-Ironman champions, world champions, national champions, etc. We were there for training, so the extra running was not such a huge deal (we ran 5+ or so miles extra), but it caused me to get some heinous blisters on my feet from running with no socks for that long. Plus, we too got pretty dehydrated.

    Anyway, it's definitely a good training race, but it needs to be improved. They seem to be doing it more and more "poor boy" and not working any harder than they have to. I am glad to have the event, but I do hope they do a better job in the future.

    Sorry again for your ordeal. I was thinking about other people who weren't able to get back on course as "quickly" as we did.

    Stick with it...


  8. oh. my. gawd. i'm sorry, but i would have freaked out. you gotta be kidding me.


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