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home > about cool running > road race promotion for race directors > on being a race director - my job is secure... no one else wants it!

On Being A Race Director - My Job is Secure... No One Else Wants It!
Over the years, I have felt that race directors must feel like the crab grass in the lawn of life.

On Being A Race Director - My Job is Secure... No One Else Wants It!

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By Dave McGillivray
Posted Monday, 2 May, 2005

I often ask an audience the day before a race how many are running in the race? Hundreds of the folks in the room raise their hand. Then I ask, how many in the room are directing the race? No hands go up…except mine. I’m immediately reminded how the odds are truly stacked against the race director and his/her team.

So, how, or better yet, why, do most race directors become race directors? Certainly not many aspired to be race directors when they where making career decisions in high school and college. I’m not aware of too many educational institutions that offer race directing as an elective. For most, like me, it just happens by default…right place, right time…or could it be wrong place, wrong time.

Most race directors do this on a volunteer basis and to help a specific cause near and dear to them. Others have chosen this as a career path and end up producing multiple events a year with the hope that when it is all said and done they can earn more than ten cents an hour.

Without race directors, there are no races. And, without runners, there are no races either. So, it sort of makes sense for all of us to work together and to support each other. Most race directors are or have been runners. However, most runners probably have never directed a race.

The part I dread the most about being a race director is the few days following a race…and I mean every race. You know going into a race that you just can not and will not please all the people all the time. No matter how well you think your event went, there will always be a few who simply just didn’t have a good experience. Given today’s easy and instantaneous way to communicate, the comments inevitably pour in. If you don’t have thick skin, you don’t belong in this business.

Constructive criticism is always welcome. It’s even better when it comes with recommended and reasonable solutions to the stated problems. Are race directors sometimes guilty as charged…of course. However, many times the complaints center on areas the race director either had no control over or on an unexpected occurrence. Two of the biggest complaints I have received so far about this year’s Boston Marathon is that it was too hot and please get rid of the hills. Sure. On the outside looking in, things seem to look a lot easier than they are, especially in this business. If race directors go away so do most races along with many individual hopes and dreams.


Two of the biggest complaints I have received so far about this year’s Boston Marathon is that it was too hot and please get rid of the hills


When asked what I do for a living, I often stutter but rarely say, I put on road races! Rather, I say “I help produce mass-participatory athletic events, negotiate with corporate America for thousands of dollars in sponsorship fees, recruit thousands of people to volunteer their time, deal with media from around the world, and work with some of the most highly regarded professionals in the technology, medical and public safety world.”

How does that sound? A little different than, “I direct road races” but much more accurate.

However, even with all the challenges, directing races is a labor of love for most of us directors. Where else can one have a vision, create something from nothing, inspire and encourage people to set a goal to participate and then reap the emotional benefits of seeing hundreds and thousands of people going home feeling good about themselves. Doesn’t get any better than that.

He is now 14 years old and wants to be a landscaper and someday be the groundskeeper at Fenway Park


When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, my son who was 8 years old at the time belted out, “ A race director, just like my Dad!” I was touched. He is now 14 years old and wants to be a landscaper and someday be the groundskeeper at Fenway Park.

The kid is brilliant. He has learned early on all about crab grass and rather cut it than be it.

Note: This is the first of many articles to be written by Dave McGillivray for Cool Running. Along with regular articles there will also be a series of surveys allowing you to have your say as to what is important to you regarding road races and other running related issues.

Please take our survey


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