The voice of the announcer is central to an endurance athlete’s race-day experience.
Race announcing is perhaps the most audible part of an endurance sports event that is also likely to be the easiest to take for granted. As participants, we can certainly appreciate all the hard work put in by ourselves and our fellow competitors training for an event and competing in it on race day. We can appreciate the volunteers, the race directors and their efforts, but there’s also that consistent voice in the background that’s left to account for.
At nearly every road race or triathlon you’ve ever been to, it’s there — a pervasive force echoing in the car lot, ricocheting off the porta potties, streaming down by the registration tables, beckoning everybody to the starting line. Throughout the day, updates are provided, directions are dictated, and that occupying, entertaining voice is just there, acknowledging you and everyone in attendance. It’s hard to pinpoint how it got into your head or just where it’s been coming from the entire time, but for some reason you can remember that you have five minutes left before the start of the race and two years ago some guy set a record here you’ll never come close to touching.
Race announcing: It’s the voice of an endurance event, and there’s more to it than most of us have ever considered.
Yes, race announcing is full or part-time job, with dozens of people listing it as their vocation. But no, the type of announcing done at road races and triathlons is nothing like John Madden’s duties on NFL Gameday. There’s a different skill set and mentality needed to stand in front of a stampede of spandex-clad crazies running down the road and trying to keep them pumped up for hours on end. Take it from six veterans of the endurance sports announcing world: Logan Delaware of ‘Big Mouth Announcing’, John “the Penguin” Bingham and Ann Wessling of the Rock and Roll Marathon Series, Andy Schachat and Steve Moland of ‘Announcers on the Run’ and Nick Tuttle have been kind enough to provide some insight into their chosen profession.
These six individuals provide clear speech on the microphone, but the most curious aspect of MC’ing a major race is how one can end up in that role. All six announcers we spoke to all have a sports background, many of them being athletes themselves. Nick Tuttle has completed six Ironmans and ran collegiate track at Nebraska. Ann Wessling got going on the high school swim team. John Bingham has led marathon pace teams, while Andy, Steve, and Logan have all raced too. How they ended up as race announcers, however, seems to have been a case of being in the right race at the right time. Logan of Big Mouth Announcing shares his story: “I was at an event about six years ago and the race director was also the announcer. Before the race started I asked him if he needed any help. He gave me the mic, a race program, and walked away. Five minutes later someone brought me coffee and the rest is history. I ended up announcing the race for the next four hours. I had found my calling.”
There aren’t many formal job postings seeking race announcers, and thus no formal interviews. There is one requisite skill, however: the ability to talk for hours on end. Wessling said that as a grade-schooler she “was a spelling bee champ, and I could talk to a wall”, while Tuttle adds, “I used to get in trouble for talking too much in class. Now, I’m a professional speaker and professor. Follow your calling, people.”
Talking the talk is no small feat. Race announcing can be a consuming occupation, and often takes the form of additional weekend work on top of working regular hours during the week. Race announcers start working long before the microphone is ever turned on. This entails getting to know the race venue, the sponsors, prior winners, course records, and other important information. It’s critical to keep the spotlight on all the participants, not just the first few runners across the finish line.
Tuttle will often show up to an event two or three days beforehand and talk to race directors, volunteers, athletes, sponsors, and others associated with the operation. The objective is to ingratiate himself into the community, regardless of the fact that he might live three thousand miles away. For Wessling, this means finding proper striped socks and bows to match the color scheme of the Rock and Roll race she’s announcing or creating a dress of swim caps before taking the mic at a triathlon. A good race announcer will involve themselves in the race’s community, and then involve the community while addressing the crowd on race day.
Aside from just talking to the crowd, race announcing is a matter of handling logistics such as sticking to a schedule, following the script and managing equipment. As Bingham puts it, “My biggest concern is making sure that I’m doing my job well so that everyone else can do their job well.”
No one wants to show up at an event that gives the appearance of being unorganized, and a good announcer often has to improvise to ensure the crowd goes home happy. When something unexpectedly goes wrong, a good announcer will find a quick solution. “I’ve had to yell at the start of a race, make a cheesy air horn noise into the mic and do impromptu interviews to fill air time. All in a day’s work,” says Tuttle. Logan adds: “You’re the one guy that everyone is relying on to get the info out to everyone, on time and correct.”
Whether participants and spectators are aware of their engagement with the noise from the speakers, or it’s just a passive recognizance that there’s a soundtrack to the event in which they’re taking part, the voice of the announcer is central to an endurance athlete’s race-day experience. The race announcers are there for as long as participants are still competing — sometimes that’s two hours, other times it’s twelve. At the end of the race–whether you’re tired, elated, or a mix of emotions–these people will make every effort to pull you through and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.