2010 Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon – Volunteer Report

After speaking up about my dissatisfaction on 2 different occasions volunteering at RMS events, I had a chance to do something about it. Here’s my report on being the Volunteer Coordinator for the Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon in Midlothian, VA on Oct 10, 2010.

After writing a letter to the former Richmond Multisports (RMS) volunteer coordinator, the owner of RMS, Laurie Mehler, gave me a chance to coordinate all volunteers at the Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, Oct 10th.

Now that I have seen first hand what it’s like behind-the-scenes of a triathlon, I have a different perspective. While I still believe I did a better job than the 2 previous races I volunteered for, I was far from perfect. Here’s a recap of how the day went.

Race day setup & check-in

I arrived at 5:30am & began setting up the volunteer check-in tent. I got t-shirts, water, Clif Bars, etc. ready. Double-checked that I had everything I would need. And to my surprise, the first high schoolers started arriving at 6am (15 minutes early).

Mistake

I had different groups of volunteers checking in at different times. I did this so they wouldn’t be standing around with nothing to do, however, it was way too difficult to keep track of.

Next time

I’ll ask all volunteers to check-in 2 hours before the race starts, and I’ll run a 15-minute orientation session & walk-through of the transition area. I’ll also have one of my course captains (either run or bike captain) to man the check-in tent while I’m meeting with the volunteers.

Volunteer assignments. Why bother?

I’m very organized, and this race was no different. I had assignments for every volunteer. Everything was planned out… and of course, nothing went according to plan. There were positions I needed volunteers for that I had no idea about until 5 seconds before they needed to be in place. A spotter to ride with Jim Napier in the pace car. An outgoing person to sell merchandise. Extra swim volunteers.

Next time

I would still assign vols to the bike & run course. But for everything else, I’d just ask them to show up 2 hours before the race, and plan on being there for 5 hours.

Communication

This is basically all I did for 5 hours. Cell phone in one hand. Walkie talkie in the other. When I wasn’t talking to the RMS team, I was shifting around volunteers & instructing them on what to do.

I owe a lot of credit to Matt Kirkendall, David Kunnen, Patrick, Barbara & the rest of the RMS team. We worked together extremely well.

Lesson learned

You can’t over-communicate when you’re on the race production team. If you’re wondering whether you should repeat yourself… than you should.

Teamwork

I had 4 incredible course captains. Lori Perez, Tom McMahon, Laura Perry & Vicki Hottle surpassed even my highest expectations. I felt like the 5 of us had known each other for years, and you would’ve thought we’d all done this many times before. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

Summary

It was a long day & a lot of hard work, but I truly had a great time. To be part of a team of ~10 people who put on a successful triathlon with over 600 athletes, that’s something special. The RMS team is a great group of people who love the sport of triathlon, and love helping others achieve their goals.

I owe a huge thanks to the Tucker High School track team, and their coach, John Amoroso. They supplied 25+ volunteers for the event, and Coach Amoroso owned the mic as the race announcer. The James River XC team also supplied 15 volunteers.

Volunteer Coordinator responsibilities – before the race

Weeks before the race

  • I personally emailed every volunteer who signed up online
  • I created a spreadsheet with all the volunteer information
  • I secured 4 course captains: transition, swim, bike, run
  • I assigned each volunteer to a specific area (and many were assigned to multiple areas)
  • I dropped flyers off at REI & Starbucks to solicit more volunteers
  • I found 2 motorcycle marshalls & a PA announcer (not easy to find, btw)

One week prior to the race

  • I finalized race maps & spreadsheets for each of my 4 course captains
  • I attended a team meeting at ACAC Fitness Center to review the course setup

Saturday before the race

  • I helped with setup at ACAC, and got all final questions answered
  • I didn’t sleep but maybe 4 hours because my mind was in full-out race mode

You might enjoy my short list of tips for volunteer coordinators that I wrote before this experience. I’ll be sure to post a more in-depth checklist at some point.

RMS volunteer coordinator, you’re 0 for 2

A letter to the Richmond Multisports’ volunteer coordinator detailing my volunteer experience at the Pink Power Triathlon in Midlothian, VA. My one and only suggestion for improving the experience at your next race… Pick Me!

Dear Richmond Multisports volunteer coordinator,

Your run course captain has failed… again. You are now 0 for 2.

Based on the fact that you didn’t choose me to be a captain, I’m guessing you missed my volunteer report for Rockett’s Landing. And your run course captain clearly missed my tips for coordinating volunteers during a race, being that he failed to show up. I should have been more clear in stating that

“I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings” is not a highly sought after quality for volunteers of any kind.

My Pink Power Tri volunteer experience went a little something like this

I arrived promptly at 5:30 – just like you asked – ready to lend a helping hand. You promptly checked me in (which was appreciated), but immediately told me to “sit tight” until my captain arrived. I knew right away he wouldn’t show.

So I waited… more volunteers arrived… we waited… and waited. 50 minutes later (yeah, five-zero), at 6:20, one of your staff finally asked us why 20 volunteers were standing in the grass, doing nothing. Then you tasked the backup run captain with instructing us on what to do.

He wasn’t much of a backup. He had no map & very little idea what to do. He grabbed a large, laminated map, started pointing to random intersections and sending us off one by one. He said,

“We’ve got a small road here… uhh, looks like a sub-division… [pause] … someone raise their hand.”

That was my assignment.

Although, I’ll tell you, you owe that man a big thank you. Tom McMahon did a great job, all things considered. Before the runners were out on the course, he drove around making sure we had water, and gave us his cell phone number, just in case.

I don’t know what it is with the run course, but y’all just can’t seem to get it right. Mike West is 2 for 2 being the bike course captain. He did an excellent job at Rockett’s Landing, and again today at Pink Power.

I can’t tell you how to coordinate an event. I’ve never worn your shoes, so I don’t know what it’s like on race morning. But I can offer suggestions on how to make your events (more specifically, the volunteer experience) run more smoothly, and I sincerely hope you take them into consideration.

I’ll even make it simple. One suggestion. All that I ask.

  1. Make me the run course captain for Napier Realtor’s Richmond Sprint Triathlon on October 10th

… and I’ll take it from there.

Just as John Fogerty said many years ago, I now say to you. “Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.”

Running Wild,
Dave

Low Dough Triathlon – Race Report

A quick recap of the 2nd annual Low Dough Triathlon, held at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian, VA. No entry fee. No t-shirts. No awards. No nothing.

Just a free triathlon experience, great for beginner triathletes & experts alike.

Last year, a few friends of mine hosted the first annual Low Dough Triathlon — no entry fee, no t-shirt, no awards, no nothing. Choose your own distance in each of the three disciplines. It was their way of providing an opportunity for Amy to get one triathlon under her belt before she raced a half ironman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. What a great opportunity.

Today marked the 2nd annual Low Dough Tri. 8AM arrival at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian, VA. We would officially kick things off around 8:45.

It was as close to a real triathlon as you’ll get for no entry fee.

  • Dave manned a clipboard with everyone’s name, and checked after each transition to ensure we didn’t lose anyone
  • Course maps were distributed at the race start
  • We had a safety kayaker & turnaround buoys for the river swim
  • Transitions were setup in the parking lot (other than the bike locks, it looked somewhat like a true transition area)
  • Everyone had the co-race director’s cell phone numbers (OK, so this probably made it not like a real tri)

The Swim

Choose your own distance. There were 200m, 400m, 600m & 800m options. We even had 2 buoys to mark turnaround points, and a safety kayaker. After a group picture on the floating dock, Tom counted down from 3, and we were off. (I don’t even think half the swimmers heard him.)

With my bum hamstring, I only participated in the swim, and took off after it was finished. But here’s a quick take on the setup for the bike & run.

The Bike

There were 2 different courses. The long course was 7mi out & back, for a total of 14mi. You could do that once or twice.

The short course was a 3.5mi loop. You could do that up to 4 times.

There were some who only showed up to bike, and they were gracious enough to help the rest of us with the swim, and take some pictures. The 3.5mi loop was great for a few of the beginners training for their first sprint triathlon this Fall.

The Run

The run was a 1mi lollipop on a dirt trail that paralleled the river. Run it once. Run it 10 times. Whatever your legs desired.

Postrace

Tom had his boat, and rumor has it, there was some celebratory wakeboarding after the race. You can’t even get that with an entry fee.

Summary

What a great (inexpensive) opportunity to get a real triathlon experience, with some really great people. We had about 15 or so participants, and I hope to see that number grow each year. I also hope I can participate fully in the event next year.

If you’re in Richmond & would like to know more about this event, especially if you want to participate next year, just let me know. I’ll make sure you get the invite.