Considering a career change?

Think being a race director is the world’s easiest job? I’ve asked Dan Quick of “Out There” spectathlete fame to return this week to tell us what his job as a running/triathlon race director is really like. Read it, then go hug a race director. Turns out they could really use it.



Written by: Dan Quick & Susan Lacke

You think those cones arrange themselves?

So you wanna be a race director.

I can’t blame you. In my complete, pure, unbiased opinion, race directors are awesome.

You’ve probably noticed this already. When you show up on race morning, everything is ready for you on race day, right down to the safety pins for your bib number. Clearly, it can’t take a whole heck of a lot of work to put on a race: a few fliers, some port-o-johns, and, BOOM! One-way ticket to Easy Street. Pretty soon you’ll be enjoying drinks with pretty little umbrellas because you figured out how to work one morning out of the month while all the suckers out there are sweating away at $35 a pop.


Yeaaaaah, that’s not exactly how it works.

The reason race directors are so awesome is because they have a list of requisite skills that are placed somewhere between “brain surgery” and “rocket science.” Believe it or not, there’s actually a lot of work that goes into producing an event. Any RD will tell you if it was really that easy to make an event that was safe and fun and that people wanted to come back to (read: profitable), everyone would be doing it.

Still want to do it? Prepare thyself. Here are the Commandments for Race Directors:

Thou shalt have no shame:

So you know all of the cool marketing stuff that’s around on race day? The banners and fencing, the signs and freebies, all of that tasty sports nutrition at the beginning and end of the event? Yeah…that’s expensive stuff. If there’s any hope of making a profit on a race, you gotta get that stuff donated. Free money isn’t exactly free, so every now and then you’ve got to do and say some pretty obnoxious things to get that dough.

Getting as much crap for free as you can is part of not failing as a race director. I personally excel in this area. Not only am I as shy as a peacock on prom night, but I’m no stranger to rejection either (shocking, I know). Which brings me to my next commandment:

Thou shalt be broke (sometimes):

Don’t think you’re going to be dropping Benjamins at the club and having people fawn all over you. Race directing isn’t always the most lucrative business. The entry fees athletes pay don’t go straight into my pocket. Instead, they go towards obtaining permits, venue fees, timing chips, barricades, emergency personnel, awards, t-shirts, and other odds and ends.

Though one pro of being a Race Director means always having a well-stocked pantry of sports nutrition bars, gels, and fluids left over from races, a definite con is that you’re stuck surviving on those bars, gels, and fluids between races. Trust me when I say very few girls want to come home to a romantic, candlelit dinner of…free GU.

Thou shalt sacrifice your own mad racing skills:

Race directors don’t usually get to race in their own events. In the months and weeks leading up to race day, the directors are usually too busy tracking down sponsorships and planning the logistics of the race to actually get in quality training time.

Even if a director was able to hammer out every single workout, chances are on race day they’re too tired to run, much less race – after all, they’ve been up since 3 AM getting everything set up in time for an 8 AM start. You think those orange cones and aid stations arrange themselves?

Thou shalt exploit every human connection possible.

If through some crazy relation you happen to be three degrees to Bill Gates and he’ll give you a sponsorship, good for you. You’re still not done asking for help with your race. It’s essential to find bodies to man aid stations and typists to handle all the registrations your athletes turn in. Volunteers make the world go ‘round, and race day is proof of that.

However, the most beguilingly difficult thing in the world is to convince people to give free labor in the wee hours of the morning, often in the cold, for some left-over orange slices and maybe a tee shirt. I would love to share with you exactly how to go about getting the ever-so-coveted volunteers to show up, but I would also love to have the Colonel’s 11 secret spices, too. Sorry, folks, trade secret.

Thou shalt be called an asshole. And thou shalt take it with a smile.

Why? Because everything is your fault, that’s why. Well maybe not WWII, the endangerment of the Bengal Tiger, or the Great Plague, but pretty much everything else is a big fat “Oops! My Bad!” No matter the situation, it is our fault, you have our sincerest apologies and we promise to rectify the situation immediately (insert clenched-jaw smile here).

Let’s say you have a closed bike course with signage and two cop cars flashing their cherries and berries perpendicular to the roadway to indicate a turn. Let’s also say that there is a middle-of-the-pack cyclist who, ignoring the line of racers ahead of him who make the turn as the course suggests they should, barrels right on down the road thus missing the turn along with his “competitive advantage.” It is our fault, he has our sincerest apologies and we promise to rectify the situation immediately (smile).

Things for which the RD is also to blame include (but are not limited to) forgetting a helmet, hills, a child’s flat tire, wind, someone not finding a parking space four minutes before the race begins, and rainy or cold conditions. It is our fault, you have our sincerest apologies and we promise to rectify the situation immediately (smile, smile, smile).

The only known exception to this rule is in the instance of a safe, wildly successful event. In this occurrence all credit shall be given to where it is most due: the valued event sponsors without whom none of this would be possible.

So there you have it, folks.

Personally, I’m a fan of the 3 AM wake-up calls, constructive criticism regarding weather, and committing embarrassing acts in the name of securing sponsors. If you love race day but are tired of enjoying it from the red-carpet vantage of an athlete, then maybe being a race director is for you. However, if you think that you’d rather bask in the ease of simply showing up and racing – I can’t say I blame you.

Happy racing folks! Remember to stay cool and thank a volunteer! Oh, and on behalf of Susan:

See you Out There!