Planner Do’s and Don’ts

Planning for trail and mountain running events or football championships involves unpredictable weather, communication considerations and safety first.
By Sherri Middleton

The task of planning a sporting event offers unique challenges depending on the activity, but commonalities also exist. In this special feature, Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) and chairperson for USA Track & Field’s (USATF) Mountain Ultra Trail Council; Casey Taker, manager of athlete development for Ironman, and Matt Reimel, manager, flag football operations for USA Football, shared their insights.


Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) and chairperson for USA Track & Field’s (USATF)

Hobbs said DO…

  • Secure the appropriate permits from public and or private entities and establish relationships with ALL of the stakeholders.
  • Secure insurance and additional insured certificates in a timely fashion. Carry copies of the certificates with you on race day.
  • Have a medical plan and a medical director.
  • Have a plan for adverse weather. This may mean postponing, canceling or shortening the racecourse from the advertised distance.
  • Recheck course markings prior to the start of the race. Marking may be vandalized, removed, eaten by animals or blown away in the wind and elements. “Going off course is not something any athlete wants to face, so be sure the markings are accurate, there are confidence directional markers frequently along the course, and the markings are environmentally-friendly or removed following the event,” Hobbs said. She reminded that all turns should also be marked.
  • Consider the environment. “What will you do with waste? Will you provide water stations on the course?” Hobbs asked. She suggests recyclable options or reusable cups are a preferred way to provide fluid for athletes. “What about sound and noise levels?” Have a plan for each of those considerations, Hobbs advised.
  • Have trained volunteers or train volunteers in advance of the event. n Have course volunteers and runners sign a liability waiver.
  • Have a good communication plan throughout the course.
  • Have an evacuation plan if someone gets hurt on the course.
  • Think Safety First!
  • Plan a course with a start line that allows for dispersing of runners so there is not a bottleneck on a single-track trail. “This may mean a 100- to 400-meter wider path before reaching a narrower path.”
  • Assume everything on race day will go as planned. Be flexible, level-headed and responsive.

Hobbs said DON’T…

  • Put young people in a lead role unless with an adult to supervise.
  • Expect every venue to accommodate your event. There may be some creativity in planning the right course. One venue may not be good for an out and back route but may be ideal as a loop course.

Casey Taker, manager of athlete development for Ironman

 

Taker said DO…

  • Plan for Event Communication. “Events are like new electronics. Lots of excitement, lots of moving parts… almost no one reads the manual,” Taker said. “We all work hard to create information-packed communication that helps guide our athletes, coaches and spectators through every aspect of our event. Unfortunately, a fair majority of people glaze over robust information and just assume that we will be able to ‘figure it out.’ If you have highly important pre-event requirements and instructions, make sure they are communicated through multiple channels, multiple times.
  • Keep communication consistent. Make sure changes are made to all platforms at one time. “I also find it helps to have multiple people read over your communication prior to sending it out. Context is vital. Things can be understood to mean many different things.”
  • Plan for bathrooms and beverages. “Whether it’s water or beer, Porta-Potties or bathrooms with a butler, access to these two components can make or break an event,” Taker said. “These two areas people WILL talk about can ruin even the best events. How are we handling liquid in and liquid out? That should be a question answered in every event plan.”
  • Quiz your staff on emergency planning. Taker suggests awarding prizes in the morning staff meeting or treating everyone to lunch if the team can correctly answer the surprise question. “At some point in almost every event planner’s career, something crazy will happen. Make sure your team is prepared,” she said. “There are a ton of resources at your disposal that can be customized to help your staff know how to handle everything from extreme weather to active shooter.” Check with the National Governing Body (NGB) or the sports/events association for educational information or guidance.

For more information, visit www.trailrunner.com.

 

DON’TS

 

Taker, a triathlete and sports planner said she’s also learned a few tips over the years that apply to almost any event or planning situation.

Taker Said Do…

Do plan for Event Communication. “Events are like new electronics. Lots of excitement, lots of moving parts…almost no one reads the manual,” Taker said. “We all work hard to create information-packed communication that helps guide our athletes, coaches and spectators through every aspect of our event. Unfortunately, a fair majority of people glaze over robust information and just assume that we will be able to ‘figure it out.’ If you have highly important pre-event requirements and instructions, make sure they are communicated through multiple channels, multiple times.

Do keep communication consistent. Make sure changes are made to all platforms at one time. “I also find it helps to have multiple people read over your communication prior to sending it out. Context is vital. Things can be understood to mean many different things.”

Do plan for bathrooms and beverages. “Whether it’s water or beer, Porta-Potties or bathrooms with a butler, access to these two components can make or break an event,” Taker said. “These two areas people WILL talk about can ruin even the best events. How are we handling liquid in and liquid out? That should be a question answered in every event plan.”

Do quiz your staff on emergency planning. Taker suggests awarding prizes in the morning staff meeting or treating everyone to lunch if the team can correctly answer the surprise question. “At some point in almost every event planners’ career, something crazy will happen. Make sure your team is prepared,” she said. “There are a ton of resources at your disposal that can be customized to help your staff know how to handle everything from extreme weather to active shooter.” Check with the National Governing Body (NGB) or the sports/events association for educational information or guidance.

Taker Said Don’t…

DON’T fear redundancy in communication. The average human needs to see something a minimum of three times for it to stick. Keep this in mind when you start planning for signage, onsite information sources and event flow. Common sense is not common. Make everything as simple and easy to navigate as possible.

For more information, visit www.IRONMAN.com

Reimel Said Do…

Provide a high level of communication prior to the event such as itineraries, schedules, maps and other information.

• Site visits prior to the event.

•Have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

• Have enough staff, volunteers, helpers on hand. “You can never have too many,” Reimel said.

• Have athletic trainers on-site for the duration of the event.

Reimel Said Don’t…

• Under-schedule help.

• Be afraid to spend the funds necessary to ensure the highest quality event.

• Rely on the facility’s restroom accommodations unless you know they are adequate. Plan for other options.

For more information, visit www.usafootball.com