To Race Promoters Everywhere,
First of all, thanks. I’m really glad that there are people like yourselves that have the passion, drive, and know-how to put on races. The bottom-feeders of the world—like myself—need such events to indulge our sense of importance and to feed our unsatisfiable desire for masochistic self-aggrandizement. I’ve taken the liberty to offer up some advice. It’s probably unneeded, and as such, should go unheeded. However, I’ve ridden a few events over the years, and thought you might like to know what goes through the head (besides delusions of grandeur) of a racer when he looks for an event to blow his money and crush his overly unrealistic ambitions.
I like to research gear.
Skis, bikes, lights, tires, packs, gadgets, cameras… and so on. Finding the best gear at the best price is at the essence and heart of every gearhead’s vision quest. However, finding the best set of lights or tires or mountain bike shoes can be useless if there are no good races to flog gear—and legs—at.
That’s where you promoters come in.
Your event is a product. Just like the bikes, tires, and drivetrains we race on.
I approach a new bike race exactly the same way I do new gear. That is, I research. I read. I ask questions. I want to know everything I can about the course—are the trails challenging, fun, fast, technical, well marked? Is the event well organized? How much hike-a-bike? How many racers? Categories? And of course… How much will it cost? This process is amplified for expensive endurance events. If I am going to spend a hundred+ dollars to race, and an entire day to complete an event, I want to know that I am investing in a quality product.
Cost, obviously goes well beyond the entry fee. Although the entry fee itself is the most visible, cited (ridiculed?), publicized number, the true cost of and event is made up of several factors. In addition to the entry fee there are travel, lodging, food, and equipment costs that have to be considered on our end, and insurance, permit, and material costs on yours. In 2009 I eagerly registered for the American Mountain Classic (a 4-day MTB stage race in Brianhead, UT) instead of entering the lottery for the Leadville 100. The entry fee for the AMC—which incidentally, did not happen that year—was $350. Ouch. Leadville on the other hand, was “only” $250. Um. yeah. Ouch. Nevertheless, the AMC was a better deal for me because A) It was closer—just 3 hours away. And B) I had lodging connections that would have drastically reduced those costs, and C) 4 days of racing is more than 1 day of racing. Traveling to Leadville, arranging a hotel room, and spending twice as much time driving as racing, made—still makes—Leadville an unattractive, and expensive (more so than even the AMC would have been) proposition. But clearly, as it’s astronomical attendance proves, I am in the minority. Thousands of riders race at Leadville every year, and thousands more are turned away.
Of course, as mentioned, the AMC never happened. My money was refunded, and instead I rode the inaugural Park City Point 2 Point. A race that (for me) has become one of the most valuable races on the becoming-more-crowded-every-year race calendar. Why? The course is amazing. Nothing short of spectacular. The entry fee is competitive—$150-$175—the venue is home-turf, and family in Park City makes the lodging free. In other words, there is very little monetary cost beyond the entry fee. In addition, the promoters do an excellent job marking the course, providing well-stocked aid stations, lots of swag (race-bag and raffle), prize money for the top racers, and a positive atmosphere and vibe. But perhaps most importantly, they listen to feedback. And not just to the pro racers, but to the dirtbag everyman like myself.
As you know, the rider that finishes 104th is as important as the national pro that finishes 1st.
For those of you that already have well established races, the research is fairly easy. In this age of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, forums (do people still use forums?) and citizen journalism, race reports are rampant, often well-written, and only a Google search away. Disgruntled riders are as unabashed in their criticisms as those riders whose experiences were positive. All the course beta—even gps tracks!—anyone could ever use can be gathered in just an evening or two of searching the web or asking questions on Facebook. I think you will agree with me that that is a good thing. Word of mouth, and social feedback is huge in our small, well-connected world of bike racing.
But what about an entirely new event?
This is where you really come into play.
And it’s also where I tend to get a little grumpy. Especially so when your registration pages are set up to separate me from my money long before any viable and useful information about the event itself is posted. Course details? Coming soon! Aid stations? Coming soon! Start time? Racer categories? Field limit? Coming soon! Oh, and REGISTER NOW! But register for what? Now I realize that courses often evolve over time. That bureaucratic land agencies, private property owners, and advocacy groups must often be placated before your event can take place. I know that red tape must be cut, permits signed into validity, and insurance, safety, and other regulations met. Really, I undertand that. It’s one of the primary reasons I am not a promoter. And it’s why I am grateful to each of you that continually sail the regulatory sea so that I can race my bike. However, it might be a worthwhile promotional strategy to make sure that the details of the event are in place, before asking potential customers to buy the product.
And so, with that in mind, listed below—unsolicited by any of you, of course—are my criteria for a great event.
An easy to navigate website. I think I speak for most racers when I say that we don’t care about flash animation, fancy CSS or other interactive frivolities at an event website. We just want to be able to find the information we need quickly. What info is that? The date of the race, its location (and directions), course details, registration instructions, cost, and racer categories. When that information is available and accurate, then ask me for my money. The Point 2 Point website is a good example.
No lottery. But if you must, make it a real lottery. And don’t charge people money to enter the lottery. That’s just… lame.
Results. Get the race results up as soon as possible, and have previous race results easily available. We love to study old results. They help us plan and scheme for race day. A downloadable PDF is an excellent format for race results.
Course maps. GPS files are nice, but not necessary (unless they are). However, a map is vital. Absolutely vital for any kind of endurance race. The folks at Epic Rides and the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (which is a great event, and happening this weekend) have a very easy to read, printable topographic course map, complete with cues, trail names, and an elevation profile. A map is an item that ought to be available as early as possible. And while I know that course finalizations are sometimes last minute, even a map that is 90% accurate is very useful for planning strategy, course recon, and for simply knowing what to expect when the gun pops on race day.
And speaking of race day…
I think most of us are willing to overlook a few lines or mix ups during packet pick up and check-in. It’s a busy day and you have a lot to coordinate. Try to keep your racer meetings brief and informative. We are all jittery, nervous, and flighty. It’s hard for us to stand still and listen. We don’t need a lot of swag in our race packets. A T-shirt is OK, but something more useful—wool socks, a beanie, or a cycling cap, for example—is excellent. But honestly, I’d gladly sacrifice swag for great aid stations, course markings, and a post-race BBQ. If you manage to pull off all of the above, well, that’s fantastic. And it’s what makes racers come back to your events, year after year.
Prize money. I’m a midpack age-group hack. So prize money means nothing to me. However offering prize money for race winners is a nice gesture. It will motivate national level racers to come and compete, and will add a sense of legitimacy to your event. Especially if the prize is lucrative and travel-worthy. Money is money. Age-group prizes are great as well, but most of us in those categories are racing for the experience. To compete against our own expectations and limitations. But when we happen to exceed those expectations, it feels really good to stand on a real podium, and be handed something that we can use to further our racing career. Wheels, lights, food, anything carbon… or skis. Skis are a nice prize. But so are medals.
A nice race plate. Seriously. Long after my T-shirt is gone, or the socks are torn up, I’ll still have my race plate. Hanging on the wall in my garage are numbers from the last 7 years. Together they create a fantastic history and collage of stories, mishaps, triumphs, and debacles. Race after race, and year after year, it’s the number plate that becomes my favorite race souvenir. Spend a little extra on your number plates. Really, do. If you promote a series, personalized number plates, like the ones available for the Intermountain Cup, are very cool.
No cheaters. If someone deliberately cuts the course, DQ them. Oh, and sandbaggers? Yeah, go ahead and call them out publicly. They deserve it.
Don’t be a jerk. Remember this? That happened 6 years ago, but people are still talking about it.
And lastly—and don’t take this the wrong way—but don’t act like you are doing us all a favor, and that we are all lucky to be riding in your event (see directly above). Honestly, I haven’t seen much of this attitude, so it’s probably a moot point. But it is out there. There is always another event. You are not the only game in town. But we do want your event to succeed. Another great event on the calendar means more choice, and more variety for us. The Intermountain Cup is a fantastic cross-country series. It’s been around for almost 20 years. And people come back year after year. In 10 years at the ICUP, I’ve never felt cheated or slighted. Other smaller XC series are also doing well here in Utah. And I think one of the reasons why is because the ICUP has set a very high standard of excellence. To compete, series have to compete. The UTCX series is also thriving. Why? Both it, and these other series have dedicated, open-minded, racer-centric promoters. And that is something that all the growing or the classic events have in common. Be that kind of promoter.
Well. I’ve said a lot. Let me make you a promise, on behalf of all of the racers out here.
We won’t be jerks either. We’ll give you guys the benefit of the doubt, and try to collaborate with you to make good bike races into great bike races.
We need you, just like you need us.
Keep stringing together challenging and spectacular and fantastic bits of singletrack, and dirt road—we’ll keep showing up to flog ourselves into a stupor.
And again, thanks.
See you at the start line.
Your eager client,