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Dear Race Directors … some harsh truths

Dear Race Directors

This is going to be a hard post for some of you to read – stay with me. The intended audience for this post is for people planning on putting on an obstacle course race in New England. Maybe your first, maybe your third.

It’s to help you put on a better race. It’s to help the OCR community in New England get better races.

The first piece of advice is going to be the hardest one to hear – and I suspect the most often ignored.

From there, I’m going to try and help you get more people, market better, and have a successful event.

You can choose to ignore or disagree with any of these of course 🙂

Lets go, shall we?

It needs to be harder than this ...
It needs to be harder than this …

1) New England has enough “family friendly, roughly 5k” events. There is a good reason why. It’s the easiest type of event to put on. 5k is an easy, understandable, manageable distance. With 5k, you only need one water stop. Maybe 10 to 15 obstacles. Not too much land at your venue. “Family friendly” or “accessible” is also pretty obvious – you’re aiming at the beginner audience, and with the sport growing like it is, there’s lots of beginners. Surely, it’s a done deal right? An easy distance and lots of new people who – frankly don’t know any better.

This is the same idea everyone else is having. Everyone. The reason events like Bonefrog have hit the ground running and are making big waves, is because they are longer. Tougher. Not for beginners. It gives them staying power. The vast majority of events on the OCR calendar are short distance, family friendly events – and we have enough. Some successful, some not so, some trying to be. Please, if you’re starting a new race, try something different!

2) Who is your audience? Are you a local YMCA putting on a parking lot / soccer field OCR for your members and community members? Will you be happy and profitable with 150 people showing up? You get a pass. Make a 2 mile, kid friendly event and have a blast! Most new race directors envision more. They want to hit numbers like Spartan show. They want to rent a venue, get 5,000 people through the course. Just like all the other RDs.

Realistic numbers – IF you hit the ball out of the park. IF you get a good day. MAYBE 1,000. Can you live on that? Can you weather the losses long enough to do a few more events and pull in more people? It’s taken some local OCRs years to break a couple of thousand participants – some haven’t done that yet. Some can live with that and are quite happy without the logistical headaches bigger numbers bring – others have folded.

Trying to expand too quickly, especially into regions you don’t know is the kiss of death. Just ask Hero Rush. Or Ruckus. Or Run for your Lives. Or Badass Dash. The list will grow … stay focussed.

BoldrDash RD runs with the Spahtens at Civilian Military Combine
BoldrDash RD runs with the Spahtens at Civilian Military Combine

3) Do you participate in OCRs? Do you understand the industry? Insurance costs? Obstacle builds? Do you know what course flow and scaling of obstacles need to look like? Sure, most people getting into this come in with an event planning background, but OCRs have their own concerns you don’t find at a 5k or tri event. Understanding them is key to having a good start in life. It’s important to know how a course flows, how long people take at obstacles, how much team work or time your course will need for people to get through.

Robb of FIT Challenge wishes he was hosting a road race!
Robb of FIT Challenge wishes he was hosting a road race!

If you’ve never climbed an 8’ wall in the middle of a race, seriously reconsider your roll as a race director. You need to understand the sport, the participants and know what makes us tick.

Now, onto things that can immediately sink or swim your ship.

Get involved in the community. The New England Spahtens have 3,000+ members who are enthusiastic and passionate enough about OCR to get together in a Facebook community. Some of us live and breath OCR, some run one a year. We can help you. We can partner with you. We are not just a big place to spam with ads, but a group of experts and enthusiasts who can advise you.

bad-grouponBe careful with “deal” websites like Groupon or Living Social – they promise massive mailing lists, and they generate massive headaches. Never – ever ever ever undercut your early bird registration prices on a last minute deal. This is an immediate and sure fire way to alienate the folks who believe in your enough to sign up early. Be prepared for HUGE amounts of time sunk into customer service for people who forgot to claim their “deal”.

Don’t anticipate making your money back quickly. I’ve talked to race directors and business owners who sunk tens of thousands of dollars into their race – only to panic when they didn’t make that back after their opening race. The amount of money in OCR is staggering – the amount of money that is profit? Less staggering.

Having read all of this – if you still want to organize an OCR, reach out to us. Lets talk. We can advise, consult, promote and be your biggest fans.

Otherwise – I highly recommend sticking to organizing a 5k – they are considerably simpler, much cheaper, and will likely bring you a lot more in profit or fundraising for your chosen charity.

6 thoughts on “Dear Race Directors … some harsh truths

  1. […] Dear race directors…some harsh truths by Paul Jones @ New England Spahtens […]

  2. As always… Truth… Nice Paul…

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