1998 Triple Crown – Race Director’s Report

John Mackenzie

It’s not that I’m very fast, but I enjoy everything about races—the competition, the friendliness, the sense of accomplishment—everything. Since races support worthy causes too, you can abandon your family for half a day and indulge your running habit with a perfectly clear conscience. So it was only a matter of time before I tried organizing an event myself. In 1997 I organized a 5K for Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church in Newark, to benefit local faith-based homeless ministries we support. As with most new 5K’s trying to break into a tight race calendar, we spent a lot of money and didn’t get many participants. Now, if I were a rational person I would have quit right there and left race organizing to people who know what they’re doing. But I’m not.

I started talking with various runner friends early last fall, and fortified by a few beers, we decided to try a combination event: a trail half-marathon combined with my church’s "Human Race" road 5K, plus a new hybrid trail/road 10K in between. Three races in one morning, sequenced so people could run them all, and a "Triple Crown" title for the best combined finishes. 22.4 miles of rolling scenery, with time between events for everybody to tend to their injuries and cramp up. Something designed to appeal to idiots like me.

I organized a T-shirt sale at my church to pay for advertising in various race calendars, and I created a web page for the event and got various running web sites to link to it. Bob Auer and I organized trail runs Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings, and an informal group of "Trail Dawgs" eventually covered every inch of Middle Run, White Clay Creek State Park and White Clay Preserve. Once we knew what trail sections would make up our courses, Bob and I walked off all the distances with a measuring wheel. We needed lots of permits, so I played phone tag and got insurance certificates and race plans circulated, and filled out forms. We designed a T-shirt and coffee mug, got prize donations from Delaware Sporting Goods, negotiated a new half-marathon start at White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, negotiated porta-potty placements, traffic control and injury evacuation strategies, organized six water stations, snacks, timing, traffic-control volunteers, runner transportation, communications….

Five days before the event we had 48 pre-registered participants, so I optimistically ordered 100 shirts, looked forward to a small, friendly event, and hoped we’d break even. Bob and I decided to postpone marking the trail until Friday, the day before the race, since we’d found a lot of our ribbons removed by trail bikers, and we were not allowed to use any more permanent markings. I was stuck at work Friday until 1PM, so Bob and I had a lot of trail to mark in the afternoon.

I got the first three miles of the half-marathon course marked in Middle Run, and then tripped on a tree root and (I found out later) fractured my fibula. We still had about 12 miles of trail and road left to mark before the 7AM race start the next morning. I got Bob on the cell phone and hobbled out to the nearest road. We recruited some last-minute help from Jim Bennett and Mark Radosevich, and Bob and they did all the rest of the marking. Betsy, my ever-patient wife, brought ice and wrap, and we shuttled the trail-markers between the trail sections until after dark.

Betsy picked up 40 more late mail-in registrations from the church office, and I got the first inkling we would have a much larger crowd than I’d anticipated. She also found me some crutches. We prepared race packets until 1AM, and finally got a few hours of sleep.

The half-marathon race start was supposed to be 7AM, but we had so many walk-in registrations to process, and so many people needing to use the one porta-potty at the half-marathon start, that we didn’t get the race underway until 7:30. We had reports on some runners getting temporarily lost on trail. Some of our mile markers got misplaced. We discovered that volunteers’ cell phones couldn’t reach the Pleasant Hill Rd. crossing. We scrambled to get extra water to water stations. Creek Rd. started getting jammed up with race volunteers competing with fishermen and stream clean-up volunteers for parking. Our finish area porta-potty had been misplaced by the rental company, and had to be rescued from University of Delaware security. Our logistics were strained to the breaking point, and I hobbled around praying the whole event wouldn’t bog down in total chaos.

Then the half-marathoners started coming in at the finish on Creek Rd. We intended finishers to walk the half mile to the 10K/5K staging area near the bottom of Creek Rd. in order to cool down. A few finishers swore they wouldn’t move another inch, so people literally stuffed themselves into volunteers’ minivans and got really well acquainted on the ride back to their cars at the half-marathon start. The delayed half-marathon start forced us to delay our other two races, and some runners got confused on the trail section of the 10K race. We never had time for any decent awards ceremonies between races.

While there was some very understandable grumbling about delays, most people were relaxed and enjoyed the event a lot. These were not courses for PR’s. It was nice seeing newer runners able to hold their own with elite runners who were doing their second or third race of the day. The weather was beautiful, and the event showcased the nicest open space resources we have in New Castle County. We did not get any reports of runner injuries.

We had 210 registrations and 185 finishers. Local Trail Dawg Peter Petroll, won the half-marathon in 1:32:30. DuPonter Andrew Hartten won the Triple Crown with 1-4-2 finishes, just edging out Trail Dawg Brian Gallagher (3-2-3). Kristin Snyder of Baltimore was 4th overall in the Triple Crown (5-5-5). Team Hubbard (Bruce, April and Reid) placed 9th overall in the Triple Crown. Lois Johnson and a number of other PCVRC’ers turned in strong performances. Jeanine Radice, assistant women’s basketball coach at UD won the 5K outright; she told me she has won two previous 5K’s outright. We had finishers of all ages and abilities; finishers from New York, Ohio, Florida; finishers who got lost on trail and came in laughing about it. Complete results are posted on the web at http://peabody.ags.udel.edu/traildawgs/98results.html

I learned some valuable lessons from all of this: (1) Runner friends are great volunteers. I owe thanks to more PCVRC’ers, hashers and Dawgs than I can list here. They came through and made this event happen. The weak link in all of this was my own management. So this year my motto is "Delegate!" And I'm preparing backup to deal with weird contingencies like breaking your *#&%! leg on a trail you’ve run 10 times. (3) Road-runners don’t always read trail marks very well. Next time we’ll try to saturate the trail with arrows to keep everyone on course. I believe trail-races will become increasingly popular, and road-racers should be encouraged to try them.

Epilog: After it was all over and cleaned up, I finally got X-rays, an air-cast and a good night’s sleep. I missed the Hockessin Hash's 3rd anniversary party, although a lot of our runners made the most of it. The week before I had compared notes with Charlie Wortham, rookie race director for the Lion’s Club’s new 5K, which would be using Creek Road May 2nd. Charlie was facing the same low participation problem I had faced last year with my church’s 5K, and I had promised I’d turn out for his race. So the next weekend I did it on crutches. I finished in 50:24, dead last and thankful.