Posts Tagged 'sean ryan'

From the Race Director’s Desk: The Rocket Science of Course Design

When the throngs of runners arrive on race day, some may assume that the start line, the finish line, and everything in between was preordained, just waiting to be discovered by the event organizers. The reality is that course design involves public safety considerations, politics, science, and aesthetics.

Public safety considerations often involve artificial boundaries. Crossing or running on streets that serve as critical traffic carriers (sometimes called “arterials”) is one limitation. Construction zones are always a challenge, particularly when designing a longer course such as a half marathon or marathon. Even the staff size of a police or public safety department in a particular municipality may influence whether more mileage is in that city or an adjacent one. The local police, public works departments and traffic engineers essentially have veto authority over course designs.

Politics play a role since people in positions of influence, such as owners or board members, may want the course route to go through (or not go through) a particular area of town. At times, these voices can be in conflict with one another or with the wishes of the event staff. The race director is then forced to play the role of mediator as they try to satisfy multiple constituencies.

The science of course design may seem straightforward: go out and design a course of X miles with a defined start location and/or defined finish location. Modern online tools like mapmyrun streamline this part of the process but don’t necessarily make it easy. Achieving an exact distance can be challenging, especially when the start line and finish line are pre-defined and the number of streets or turns available are limited. Courses that overlap take this science to an entirely new level, becoming almost rocket science. In addition to achieving a defined distance, it’s critical to choose routes that facilitate the placement of support services like fluid stations, medical stations and porta-potties along the route.

Finally, the course route itself should be aesthetically appealing to the participants. While they may have less direct influence prior to the event than the constituencies mentioned above, they will vote by choosing to participate or not. This ultimately decides the future success or failure of the event, which in my opinion makes them the most powerful constituency in the long run. This means that the smartest race director is the one who is able to anticipate the wants and likes of the running community, place that objective above all others, and find a way to get it approved by everyone else.

The staff and I have been hard at work planning this year’s courses. We’ve met with public safety officials, politicians, medical personnel, operational staff and board members. We will unveil our 2014 marathon and half marathon courses this week. I can’t wait to see the runners’ reaction!


Prevea On the Move: Why do you taper?

You have been increasing your mileage all training season, improving your distance and confidence. Now it’s time to wean your mileage and allow your body a break—reduced distances are needed to rest and get your body ready for race day. This process, called tapering, is essential to a successful race day; you began tapering last week and will continue until race day.


In this week’s Prevea On the Move [link to ], Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Race Director, Sean Ryan covers the importance of  tapering your distance runs before race day as well as the importance of diet and keeping focused to reach the finish line.


Prevea On the Move: Hydration

Hydration is a key component to successful training. Consuming the appropriate amount of fluid will help performance and prevent injuries. Runners should know their hydration plan prior to race day and utilize it during the training runs.

This week’s Prevea On the Move is with Tom Krahn, Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Medical Coordinator, who shares tips on how to make sure you stay appropriately hydrated on race day.

Every runner’s fluid intake will vary based on their body’s sweat rate. Follow this simple formula to determine how much fluid to drink for every hour of running:


Do not urinate or consume liquids until all steps are complete.

  1. Weigh yourself nude before a 30 minute run
  2. After the run, wipe the sweat off and weigh-in again
  3. Find the difference in the weights in step 1 and 2
  4. Multiply that number by 16
  5. Lastly, multiple the result in step 4 by two

Sample Calculations:

180 pounds

178.7 pounds

180-179.3 = 0.7 pounds

0.7 x 16 = 11.2 ounces

11.2 x 2 = 22.4 ounces of fluid per hour of running

Hydration Guidelines:

  • Slower paced runners tend to misinterpret fatigue as hydration and over consume fluids.
  • Drinking too much fluid can lead to hyponatremia, or low sodium content in the blood. This condition can cause confusion, fatigue, headaches, cramps, nausea and vomiting.
  • Average fluid replenishment:

–   17-21 oz of fluid pre-race

–   21-40 oz per hour during the race based on above calculations

  • Electrolyte drinks are recommended for fluid replacement

From the Race Director’s Desk: Schizophrenic Weather

As we attempt to shift from winter into spring here in Wisconsin, I’m beginning to think Mother Nature has a severe case of schizophrenia.

Over the last couple months, it seems every week we’ve had wild swings from warm, sunny conditions to frigid snowstorms.  On several occasions in the last couple months, I’ve been able to run outside in shorts and a long-sleeve shirt.  Just days afterwards, I’ve wondered how badly frostbitten my fingers and toes were after a run despite wearing two or three layers to keep them warm.  I had to redesign the weekly training run for this Saturday because the Fox River Recreational Trail–which we ran on this week last year in 70-degree weather–is under several inches of fresh snow with more on the way.

The irony of trying to organize an outdoor event is that one of the most important elements–the weather–is completely out of your hands.  I always tell my Operations Committee not to get too confident since “we only control 49% of the experience and Mother Nature decides the rest.”  This statement is humbling but accurate and keeps our egos in check.

So our trainees will slog on this Spring through the snow and the slush and the rain and, eventually, clean roads and clear sunny skies.  Enduring these trials is part of the “character building” process of becoming a distance runner once again each year.  If you can survive these trials, you can survive anything…almost.

-Sean Ryan

From the Race Director’s Desk: A Common Taskmaster

On the top of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon website is a countdown clock. We added this a few years ago for the benefit of our participants. It serves as a constant reminder to the runners, my staff and any other interested parties that race day is coming.  My staff hates that clock. I assume many of the runners do as well. The clock is a taskmaster for all of us involved with the event, whether as participants or organizers. All of us share the inevitability of race day and the challenge of balancing priorities to  arrive there fully prepared.

Distance runners face the challenge of fitting a rigorous training regimen into an often hectic work and family schedule. Sometimes this requires sacrifices like getting up extra early or using your lunch hour to get in a few miles on a treadmill. The great thing about committing to a race is that it sets an unmerciful deadline. The date of the event is not going to change no matter what drama ensues in our individual lives. This reality forces us as runners to do whatever is necessary to get in the requisite mileage, cross training, and other preparations necessary to get from the start line to the finish line on that day.

Similarly, organizers have a limited window of time in which they must address a million planning details to make sure the event goes off smoothly. Ordering supplies and equipment, coordinating vendors, filling critical leadership roles, and recruiting hundreds of volunteers are all on the “to-do” list in the months leading up to race day. The inevitability of race day can add stress to the organizers’ lives as well, forcing them to squeeze numerous planning meetings into a 8-hour day, stay up late working on site plans and floor plans, and miss family functions on a regular basis.

I’m not trying to suggest that we’re all like movie characters desperately trying to defuse bombs with countdown timers. It’s a much slower burning fuse, typically with a 6-12 month planning cycle. But it is a fuse with an inevitable conclusion, nonetheless. A situation such as this creates a certain subtle, sustained adrenaline rush. Maybe that rush is part of why runners like signing up for events and I like being a race director…that or we’re all just big fans of porta-potties, I guess.

From the Race Director’s Desk: Peer Support

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!

From the Race Director’s Desk: Sharing the Glory

As the Race Director for the marathon, it’s important that I try to understand what motivates people.

I’m not just talking about the participants but also the thousands of people who help produce the event each year. It’s my job to lead and support the marathon staff, who in turn lead and support the Operations Committee (team leaders), who in turn lead the thousands of volunteers that address the needs of the participants. To do a good job of this, we need to provide solid leadership, well-defined jobs, an occasional meal and beverages, a fun working atmosphere, and some nominal perks such as a logo’d t-shirt that tells them they are part of the overall production.

But that’s really the minimum standard in ANY working environment. So what keeps many of these folks coming back to help year after year? Since most of them receive little or no true compensation, what is the PAYOFF?

After ten years, I think I’ve figured it out…

When you cross the finish line of a running event, a triathlon, or any endurance competition for the first time, the sense of accomplishment can be overwhelming. It’s not uncommon to see grown men (or women) brought to tears or cheering wildly. And here’s the rub: Helping others to reach such milestones can be just as fulfilling. I’m convinced that THIS is precisely what drives the return rate for many of our committee members and volunteers.

The glory in the achievement of reaching a finish line is not limited to the individual in the running shoes. It is a glory which is shared by everybody who had a stake in helping them get there — spouses, family, friends, training partners, coaches, and those of us on the organizational side of the fence. It’s been said, “there is no individual achievement,” a perspective that is particularly apropos with regards to endurance events.

It’s exhilerating to work behind the scenes in these events and I’m convinced that the phenomenon of shared glory is a big part of it. I’ve often explained the passion of being a race director by saying that, “the only thing more fulfilling in crossing a marathon finish line is helping tens of thousands of others to do the same.” See you at OUR finish line!

Sean Ryan
Race Director
Cellcom Green Bay Marathon

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