What’s It Like to Produce a Race? It’s a Marathon!

Years ago, I watched an inspiring documentary called Run For Your Life. While the film involves running, it’s largely about an eccentric character named Fred Lebow. Through hustle, creativity, and chutzpah, Fred managed to create a little event called The New York City Marathon.

Fred’s story lit a fire under me. I loved the idea of taking my passion for running and sharing it with hundreds (if not thousands) of people. The idea of creating a race of my own took hold.

I didn’t know exactly what my race would look like. I had no real idea how I was going to pull it off. I only had a vague notion of what I’d need to bring it to life.

I did have experience tackling bold endeavors without a clear idea of how I was going to do it.  My journey towards conquering 26.2 miles years ago had been a bit unclear. But, I’d somehow managed to pull it off.

As I traveled down the path of getting my first race off the ground, I began to realize just how much training for a marathon informed my new journey. Lessons I’d learned from the marathon were invaluable in helping me segue into race production.

Below are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned en route to producing 30+ races — lessons that are totally applicable to training for a marathon (or any distance), as well.

So, whether you’re contemplating producing your own race or training for a race, the lessons below should resonate!

Learn all you can

As I began the journey towards creating my own race(s), I had no illusions I had all the answers. In fact, I knew I had very few of them. My understanding of what it took to produce a race was largely limited to my experiences participating in a race.

I knew the very basic nuts and bolts of what a race involved. I knew all runners got a cool shirt, a medal, some water, and some post-race snacks. But, I knew almost nothing about what was required to make all of this happen.

While this lack of knowledge and experience created no shortage of anxiety, I referred to my experience preparing for my first marathon. I learned all I could.

I talked to people I knew who had done it. I bought a few books. I dug deep into any and all resources I could find online. I did whatever I could to enlighten myself.

While research and book learning can never replace the actual experience of doing something, learning all I could about what my latest journey required was a huge part of readying myself for the actual experience of doing it.

Keep moving forward

There was a great quote I read years ago about what it takes to produce a race that likened the job of race director to that of a kamikaze pilot. It’s an apt description of what producing a race requires. Everything is coming at you simultaneously and you just have to put blinders on and keep moving forward.

The most challenging phase of any race I’ve produced is usually the last two weeks leading up to race day. This is when it hits the fan. I’ve got volunteers to line up. I’m being inundated with questions from runners toeing the line on race day. I’m scrambling to cross off countless items on my to-do list.

As I find myself in the midst of this maelstrom, my mind inevitably wanders to the nastiest marathon I ever faced down. The rain was coming down in torrents. The buffeting headwinds blasted me every step of the way.

I didn’t focus on how much I had to endure. I didn’t think about the number of miles left. I stayed focused on what was right in front of me and simply kept moving forward.

I have this brutal marathon to thank for helping me endure the storms that inevitably materialize in those final weeks (and days) leading up to one of the races I produce.

It’s a ton of work

When I was neck deep in the initial phases of exploring bringing my first race to life, a seasoned and savvy race producer told me, ‘It’s not rocket science. But, it’s a ton of work.’ He was so right.

Producing a race (of any size) is a ton of work. There are permits, insurance, paperwork, meetings, shirts, medals, sponsors, volunteers, and countless other items to tackle. Many of the items on the to-do list have to be addressed weeks (or months) before the race even happens.

When I find myself struggling to stay afloat as the work of producing a race threatens to drown me, I remind myself of the marathons I’ve trained for in the past. Getting to the starting line (let alone the finish line) of each one was a grueling, arduous, and challenging endeavor.

A ton of work was involved. I logged miles for days, weeks, and months. There were many sacrifices and compromises during the training cycle for each one.

My experiences as a marathoner helped me greatly in dealing with all the work producing a race requires. I am intimately familiar with working hard. Working hard is the very essence of preparing for a marathon.

Respect the distance

My first attempt at conquering a marathon was a painful, but enlightening experience. One of the biggest lessons I learned from my humbling first attempt at 26.2 was to respect the distance. Even if you train and prepare to the best of your ability, 26.2 miles can still kick your ass. There’s always the possibility things could go sideways.

My first experience taking on the marathon informs every single race I’ve produced. You can never take the distance for granted. Previous success doesn’t guarantee future success. Producing a race involves a ton of many moving parts. There are numerous potential points of failure. Some you can manage, some you simply can’t.

After 30+ races, I’ve dealt with a laundry list of issues including inclement weather, equipment failure, volunteer no-shows, and the list goes on. I’m well aware of what can go sideways, so I never allow myself to take anything for granted. I always respect the distance.

Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!

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