Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Begin with the end in mind: A look back at the planning of the 2014 Winter Classic 8k

While the club has experienced great success with the Winter Classic 8k (WC8k) during its first two years, we found that race planning was consuming too much of our monthly board meetings from October to December. This time of year is important to the life of the club for the purpose of voting in new board members, preparing for club membership renewals and planning activities and events for the next year. It was decided early on in 2013 that we needed a race committee that acted more independently and that the committee should consist of as many non-board members as possible. After a little hesitation I accepted the role as race director for the 2014 race and began to develop a plan of action.

In starting to think about the 2014 WC8k, it was only natural for me to first envision the outcome of the event. My involvement with the first two WC8k’s certainly helped shape this vision with knowing where we needed to improve. I pictured great weather, a large crowd and efficiency at packet pickup, the porta-jon lines and the distribution of awards. When I participate in races myself, regardless of how my race turns out, a delay at packet pickup or a long time waiting around for awards can put a negative spin on the event. My number one goal was to ensure our event was well organized and ended with a positive vibe with the participants eager to come back next year.

In addition to being well organized, it was important that the club not lose money with the event. I looked back at the finances of the first two events and began developing a budget for 2014. The first year certainly involved a lot of learning. In 2012, our race expenses totaled $4,660 with revenue of approximately $6,100; a profit of almost $1,500. In 2013, our total race expenses increased nearly 60% to $7,500 with our revenue at approximately $11,000; a profit of $3,500. Of this $3,500 in profit, $2,000 was donated to our first race beneficiary, Running Works. Considering that the same rate of increase experienced the prior year was not likely, I thought it would be safe to work with our 2013 figures as a goal for 2014.

 $ 6,106.00
 $ 11,140.00
 $ 11,956.00
 $ 4,660.00
 $ 7,585.00
 $ 8,620.00
 $ 1,446.00
 $ 3,555.00
 $ 3,336.00
 $ -
 $ 2,000.00
 $ 2,000.00
 $ 900.00
 $ 3,100.00
 $ 3,600.00
Total Registration

With a race budget now established, I began to examine what it would take to make this year’s race successful. While having a firm understanding of the race finances is helpful to meet the established goals, having a strong race committee is probably even more important. This year’s race committee consisted of Jen McNeill, Steve Austin, Laurie Knowles, Jonathan Halter, Loril Gossett, Jessica Bilbrey, Katie Howard and Ben Hovis. The committee first met on August 18, 2013 to begin putting the pieces together for the 2014 race. 

Establishing the date, time and location was one of the first action items the committee worked on. Consistent with our past two races, it was decided to keep with an afternoon race during the last weekend in January. To avoid the potential conflict with other races, such as the Winter Flight 8k in Salisbury, which was on the same day as our 2013 race, it was decided to try Sunday, Jan. 26 for our 2014 event. While you would think the location was a no brainer, construction along the McAlpine Creek Greenway posed a potential conflict with this year’s race. As a backup, Reedy Creek Park was selected, but fortunately construction had not progressed into the race course area and we were able to once again host the event at McAlpine. 

The next course of action was to begin the effort of gathering sponsors and marketing the race. While I worked to develop flyers and posters, Jen McNeill agreed to lead the sponsorship effort with additional assistance from Steve Austin, Laurie Knowles and Loril Gossett. Jen did a fantastic job bringing in sponsorship funds but also numerous prizes and gifts that were included in the post race raffle. Steve secured sponsorship from Academy Sports and Outdoors, Laurie secured Extreme Ice as the Kid’s Fun Run sponsor and Loril participated in numerous marketing functions to help promote the race. This was truly a team effort that helped establish a great start to meeting our financial goals.  

Another important decision made early on in the planning stages was identifying our race beneficiary. While it was discussed to partner again with Running Works, the committee decided it would be best to choose a different charity partner for this year. We still were able to provide Running Works several free entries and were very happy to see their smiling faces again at the race. Ultimately the decision was made to choose ‘Partners for Parks’ as the beneficiary for 2014. ‘Partners for Parks’ is a nonprofit, nonpartisan support group that seeks to promote and enhance parks and greenways throughout Mecklenburg County. Through various fundraising activities, ‘Partners for Parks’ is able to engage local groups and businesses to raise funds towards specific public projects. The project that our funds will be earmarked for will be to help rebuild and beautify the stage area at McApline Creek Park. We look forward to working with ‘Partners for Parks’ to help ensure McAlpine is able to facilitate local and regional running events for years to come! 

The race committee continued to meet on a monthly basis though December to get updates on sponsorships and discuss various topics such as choosing shirt designs, race awards and when various other supplies needed to be ordered. The committee reviewed the budget each month to ensure we maintained our financial responsibility to the club. The committee was very delighted to be selected once again as a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) NC State Championship event. RRCA provided the award medals for the designated Championship age categories and also provided numerous banners for race day. Being awarded a state RRCA championship event also enabled the race to receive a sponsorship from Gatorade. Gatorade provided (4) seven gallon reusable containers (which the club keeps!), cups, banners and Gatorade fluids for race day.

With one month to go, our pre-registration numbers were running about 20% higher than the previous year, which led us to believe maybe we had underestimated our goal. While most of our expenses were fairly well known based on last year’s figures, revenues consist of sponsor donations and race registrations are highly variable, and probably creates the most stress for race directors. One of the biggest expenses for races is the race shirt. To ensure the shirts are ready for race day they need to be ordered about a month in advance. Part of the challenge is ordering enough shirts (of the correct size) but also not ordering too many! Last year we actually underestimated our shirt order slightly so we were hoping to avoid this issue. Fortunately, this year we estimated correctly. 

As we approached two weeks to go, we were receiving a steady supply of race materials. The shirts, awards, course marking flags, sponsorship banners and the numerous gift cards and prizes were pouring in. It was a little like Christmas to be honest! Steve gathered our list of volunteers and helped to pick up our donated water from Coca-cola. Ben and I reviewed the course and made a slight change to the starting line. Jessica and I reviewed the logistics for race day registration and packet pickup. Laurie made the order for pizzas. Everyone else geared up to help out on race day!

Race day saw a flurry of activities several hours before the race. As planned, the race committee members arrived around 11:00am followed closely behind by numerous race day volunteers. I’m not going to review all the details of race day logistics, but based on the feedback we have received, we hit a home run! Richard Hefner, a local runner from Gastonia, has developed a unique ranking system that he gives to races that he participates in. Since Richard began his journey as a runner in 2008, he has participated in 240 races. The 2014 Winter Classic was #241 in which Richard writes, “Because of doing a lot of little things right (photos, food, raffle, etc.), this race got a total of 114 points in my race rating system, which I think is the highest score I've given any race”. You can read Richard’s full race recap by clicking the following link.
I could go on and on with many more details of the race planning but it’s probably best I start wrapping this article up. The effort put forth to make this race possible was yet again a tremendous show of teamwork of your fellow CRC members. Over the past three years of being involved with the Winter Classic planning, I’ve really begun to develop a higher level of appreciation for sponsors, organizers and volunteers of races that I participate in. I’m sure there are races of similar size that don’t involve this much planning, but considering the level of expectations we have to make our event stand out, I would say every hour spent was well worth it! 

A special thanks to the following individuals who helped in some capacity in the planning and/or volunteering of the race: Bill Shires, Ben Hovis, Jessica Bilbrey, Jen McNeill, Jonathan Halter, Phyllis Tsang, Tom Patch, Loril Gossett, Adam Mayes, Jeannette Pantani, Lee Neitzel, Audrey Ashkin, Dean Otto, Adrienne Blackwood, Laura Gray, Laurie Knowles, Eric Bilbrey, Wendy Norvell, Billy Shue, Melinda Law, Rob Ducsay, Stephanie Wagner, Gary Rautenstrauch, Greg Shore, Mark Ulrich, Ken Simpson and Paul Martino. I hope I didn’t miss anyone! 

To review results of the post-race survey from participants, click
here. Also, if you would like to receive a digital copy of any of the race photo’s please email crcwinterclassic[at]gmail.com with the photo number.

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