This is a race report with a difference. For a race I didn’t even take part in. The Phoenix Park Duathlon took place on 22nd April 2017 with over 200 competitors. I was one of the 40 Belpark Tri Club volunteers who made it happen. Here’s my report from the race director’s (RD) eyes.
Where it all started
We all have our pre-race routine. Usually it’s a bit last minute, the night before. Pump the tyres, find the race belt, TI card plus a few other bits. Don’t forget your helmet, or the elastic bands. This race was different – I first started back in September 2016. Yep, 8 months ago. I was happy to step up to RD, as I’ve been involved in the duathlon series organisation for the past 2 years, so learnt the ropes from Fergus & Pádraig. This race series has grown in numbers & quality over the past few years and I really enjoyed getting involved and seeing so many happy faces on the day.
It also made me realise what was involved to put on even the smallest race – the race committees & volunteers that give you timing chips, bananas, check your bikes, point you around the course, encourage you. It all doesn’t just “happen”.
We started in September as we wanted the race to be part of the Triathlon Ireland Duathlon National Series 2017, which are the top 9 races of the spring season. That involved preparing a race event plan and also getting agreement from the OPW & Gardaí that a Saturday morning date in April would work for them.
Getting a team together
With that secured, we formed a race committee of 5 excellent club members, who have arranged everything from sponsorship, marketing, communications, finances, equipment, race plans, food, logistics, marshals, advertising. We met only 3-4 times but were in regular contact via email & phone, as it suited our busy schedules to get things done between work, family & training.
It’s all about building relationships, whether it’s getting support from Belpark’s club members to help out with event planning, but also getting the trust and approval of the OPW who grant us access to the Phoenix Park, as well as An Garda Síochana who authorise the road closures.
We also need sponsors to come on board and see value in our race. We were delighted to secure a title sponsor, Mason Hayes & Curran, plus a great mix of sponsors across sporting, nutrition and related industries, who could all help us with prizes, funding or on the day.
More like race week – my colleagues probably noticed me printing signs & stickers, or taking calls talking about registration times, transition setup and ordering sandwiches. It was a busy week, but really rewarding to get everything ticked off the list (transition barriers & finish line gantry were built Friday night). I slept really poorly – my mind was racing with questions, ideas, things to remember.
Alarm was set for 5am. Just like doing a big race. Car packed with tents, signs and flags. Arriving into the Park for 6am it was beautifully calm. The sun was rising and there wasn’t a puff of wind (unusual for the Park). Perfect weather for a race.
Our transition “village” was built pretty quickly – 4 tents for registration and bag drop. Our new club tent looked great. Helen got registration tables, paperwork & her team ready – that’s the pressure job on race morning, with a last minute squeeze of people in queues.
Everything kept to schedule, with race start at 10am, we had everyone registered by 9.30, so could close transition. Bikes looked well racked, although we did have a challenge with the timing system picking up chip numbers off the race numbers, which caused some re-work of run/bike in layout. We also had a last minute flat tire request – a nice guy doing his first race, so a very nice TO John quickly got him sorted. Great to see.
The only moment I felt like a proper RD was when I held the loudhailer and counted down the start. That moment of calm, everyone primed to sprint from the gun (well air horn in our case), no talk. I held all that power for 10 seconds – everybody waiting for you to get from 10-1 in the countdown. And they were off.
It’s funny, as RD you’re not really interested in following the race as it develops, or see who’s leading. You just move onto the next task – starting waves 2 and 3. Checking the timing system is working and the tape & barriers are in the right places. The race itself took 60 mins for the winners and under 2 hours for the newbies. That time flew by. No real stress then, it’s like you’re free wheeling and it’s out of your control.
Well really it’s in the control of the excellent club marshals who are your eyes & ears on the course. They did a great job – stepping up to learn about their area of responsibility, encouraging athletes, dealing with queries, solving problems.
Number 1 priority – all 232 competitors finished the course safely. You really hope the ambulance or Gardaí are not called into action. Even the herd of deer behaved well! Seeing the smiles on people’s faces afterwards is great, even if people are bet when they cross the line. That look of exhaustion – I know how you feel.
Our sponsors seemed really happy, many of them showing up with tents or flyers on the day. Triathlon Ireland were really supportive in promoting the race. We did have a few issues, but overall feedback from competitors, TOs and Gardaí was really positive.
We did get some complaints and suggestions – we don’t take them personally, and will try address for June’s race so it’s an even better experience. I realised that by having a NS race, the bar rises in the eyes of competitors, TOs and sponsors, so you need to be bang on in every aspect. People expect things to be 100% right – which is natural: when I go to a restaurant I always want a great meal. When I do a race, I judge a race on the course, safety, post-race experience, value for money.
So I was wrecked by the time I got home. But first thing I did was go for a run. It always helps me clear my head and relax my body. I wanted to get away from the race planning. Yet who do I meet on my run around Stepaside? Sarah – who’s on our race committee. You can run but you can’t hide!! She’s thinking the same thing. A good dinner, a few beers and I crash into bed. A very good day. Roll on June.