We’ve all seen the “how to make racing more awesome” advice guides before. I’m not planning on writing one of those. But this post is about how racing could be made more awesome. Fine balance indeed. The main difference here is that I will not be advocating for cheaper entry fees or cash for the pros.
I first feel that I need to qualify myself to be telling people how to run races. I’ve been competing a lot in my 24 years. I have competed in Swimming, Running and Cycling. Swimming as a 12 year old under the regime of the most over-ambitious and dictatorial coach. Running as part of the most productive and successful group of people ever to live in a small part of Devon, and cycling as a late starting enthusiast trying to play catch up. This is going to be focused on cycling. Alongside being the competitor, I also have (admittedly limited) experience as a promoter and event organiser.
So, how to make fantastic and enjoyable races that people will talk about and come back to year after year? I just finished the “King of the Rockies” race in Winter Park last weekend. It’s been running continuously since 1992, so I feel like they are doing a lot of things right. I will be basing a lot of my advice on that series.
1. Its not that difficult. To steal the central tenant of science – The Law of Parsimony should never be broken. If you can get riders to fill in one form rather than three, do it. If you can have 6 categories instead of 18, do it. If you can reduce entry fees by $10 by not giving away a black t-shirt and a water bottle, do it. Keep it simple. People are there to take part in your race, so just let them race!
2. Are you really a cycling festival? Ask yourself a question – what is your event really about? Are you really offering an unforgettable experience that will be remembered for a lifetime? Or is it Wednesday night short track? Because the distinction can be measured by a number of factors. Money is one of the measures. I will most certainly pay $95 to race the Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona, because I know that my money is buying me the best race and experience of the year. And I will happily pay $15 to race on a Wednesday night, with the knowledge that all I am getting in return is the ache in my legs the next day. $65 for a 30 mile race? It better be amazing, and you better be doing something with all that cash that’s lining your pockets at the end of the day. Time is the other measure of what the race is all about. Again using the Whiskey as an example – we drove through the night twice in the space of four days just to race. We knew it was going to be that good, and it really paid off. This is also linked to how long you think my weekend is; I’m happy to work 10 hours a day for four days if it means taking Friday off for some serious adventuring, but I really would rather keep my boss happy and not have to register at 4pm on the afternoon before when its a 6 hour drive to get there. In summary. three types of races. 1. The fillers; cheap, no frills, essential to summer evening happiness. 2. The series: they are spread through the season, they have prizes, and you can afford to do eight of them. 3. The experiences; the once a years, the Breck Epics, the “I will never forgets”. Define yourself!!
3. Don’t suffer from your success. The RME series in Colorado had some problems at the beginning of the season. Too many people registered, too many people raced, and everyone had a terrible time overtaking each other all day long. What they did was address the problem (Novel idea!), even though it meant more work for them. They staggered the categories and had less people on course at a time. Although they still have issues, people like to know their opinions are heard. Winter Park did a similar thing – instead of thinking their event could compete with the Boulder stage of the Tour of Colorado, they moved the race to Sunday, thus saving everyone the wonder of which to prioritise. Even the MSC series put a survey on the internets and asked for some feedback – times are a changing!
4. People really REALLY like podiums. I watched a lot of the Olympics, probably too much, and above everything else I have one thing stuck in my mind. A central tenant in the sport of rowing is the concern of podiums. Each race podium is completed before the next race starts. The idea? Simple; the crowd came to watch an event, its fresh in their mind and an immediate podium is added reward to the competitors and the spectators. Although not directly applicable to cycling, there is no reason why awards cannot be within 20 minutes of a race finishing. If your timing and results system is not capable of telling you the top 3 in each category immediately, then you have a bigger problem. The guy in 20th place probably won’t watch the podium anyway, and he’s happy enough to find his results later. He’s racing for different reasons anyway. The other bonus of instant-awarding? The photos! Look at the rowers getting their Olympic gold – they are drenched in sweat, in their skin suits, barely recovering the ability to produce more than basic sounds. We want photos of riders in their kit, mud still covering their features. Blood still tracing the path it made down their shins. That tells the story of the race more than those weary athlete in jeans lumbering to the front of the room 3 hours after competition ended.
5. Reward those that do well. This title may confuse some, especially those who have not raced for a while. And before you stop reading, this also has nothing to do with cash for pro’s. There has been a trend in Children’s education to ensure each pupil, no matter of ability, gets rewarded equally. Now although the theory has proponents, most agree that it actually punishes the higher achievers by removing the incentive to accomplish. In cycling, the parallel is an endemic trend of Raffles. I personally love a good raffle, but when you’ve paid your $40, got on the podium and received your pint glass as a reward, it is disconcerting to see the 15th place finisher ‘win’ a prize worth multiple times that in the raffle. Sound like sour grapes? Here’s my reasoning: the rider in 15th place doesn’t necessarily need encouragement to participate. They don’t race to achieve a result, but rather they are there for the ride. The raffle may be a nice bonus, but not an essential part of the day. The riders in 1st, 2nd and 3rd also do not need encouragement or prizes. They are intrinsically happy with their result. So why reward them? So that guy who has come 4th or 5th in every race all year has a reason to go home and jump on his bike again, and pedal that little bit harder. So that the people who might just maybe get on the podium have that little bit more reason to pedal when the legs say no. It will make all our races better.
6. Be unique! I’ve raced plenty of races, so what is going to make me come to a new event? Perhaps try a relay? Or what about that new fangled XC eliminator? Or a Red Bull style city centre hill climb? What about touring car racing, where three races are held in a row, with ranking contributing to the overall. Why do we need defined categories to file our competition in. If you’re different, you may discover the new Enduro-racing, and make yourself some pockets full of shiny coins.
So here are six pointers in the direction of fantastic racing. I would love to hear what other people may add to this list, because nothing is ever perfect.