I just returned from the Running USA Conference in Savannah, Georgia.
This annual gathering of several hundred industry professionals is always inspiring and educational. Race directors are a unique breed. There are probably only a few hundred full-time race directors in the country who actually make their living doing what I do. The government doesn’t have a standard industrial classification for the job. And no college offers a bona fide degree in it.
The Running USA Conference is one of a handful of opportunities for my staff and I to interact with people who do exactly what we do on a day-to-day basis. We exchange war stories, advice, best practices, and lessons learned all in an effort to bring more professionalism to the occupation. Lacking standardized textbooks and degrees, race directors are forced to learn from their own successes and failures OR those of their peers. The saying, “Steal from success; learn from failure,” captures this notion.
I’m always amazed at how supportive and open a group race directors are. Unlike many industries where competition precludes sharing a lot of information, most race directors do not view their knowledge and experience as proprietary. Even if you’re in a nearby market, they’re often willing to share advice, contacts, procedures and equipment to help you out. My friend Dave McGillivray, the BAA Boston Marathon Director, always says, “In the end, we’re all in this together.” By that he means that helping one another only helps the industry by creating more wonderful events which in the end grows the populace of runners out there wanting to participate.
I’ve worked in other industries including banking, construction and restaurant management. I didn’t find the same openness and positive energy working in those trades. Sure, they had conferences and shared information but only to a limited extent. The people at those conferences could be genial towards one another, going out to dinner and even staying up late to chat over mixed drinks. But the feeling of collegiality was never the same since they ultimately always saw eachother as competitors first.
Even with regards to the socializing, the race director conferences are different. Sure, we stay up late drinking with our peers, just like those other industries. The difference is that we also get out of bed at 6 am to go for a group run! Yes, most of us, like our audience, are crazy, dedicated runners. It’s exhausting but I love being a race director!