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Dr. J. on Running

Race Directing

Dreams Crash Into Reality

Published July 10, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

When I was much younger, I dreamed of becoming a pilot. My wife wanted to be a veterinarian, and our daughter wanted to become president of the United States. When her British citizenship upset her plans in the face of an exclusive US constitution, she aimed for the second-most coveted job in the land, that of race director of the Cazenovia Fourth of July Footraces.

So, when perennial race director Evelyn White announced her early retirement last year, and our daughter headed west to college, immediate action became necessary. My wife suggested that we take on the job as surrogate directors for four years until her graduation.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, as the radio beamed patriotic music, I drove to Cazenovia to direct my first race. When I reached Lakeland Park, I saw several volunteers setting up the finish line chute. They greeted me and reassured me that everything was under control. As I drove out of the park, other workers marked the course with traffic cones. I greeted them.

The quarter-mile walk to the high school was invigorating. Volunteers set-up the gathering area, pounded caution signs into the rain-soaked roadside, rolled out large banners, filled water cups, and handed out race packets. I acknowledged them, as my wife drove leisurely into the parking lot.

Two police cars appeared from nowhere to direct the traffic around the huddled masses. A man dressed in a patriotic hat fired a gun and sent the runners on their journey. I sighed with relief. My wife sent me back to the finish line at Lakeland Park to make sure everything went well.

The smell of fresh coffee diverted me away from the finish line. The rain got heavier as both spectators cheered on the finishers. I walked cautiously across the soaked field into the results trailer where I was assured that the awards would be given on time.

So, when I got home relieved at a race well directed and crashed onto the couch, a carefully placed manila folder burst my bubble. Sheet after sheet of names and numbers revealed the enormity of directing a race.

Yup, five single-spaced pages contained a list of traffic cone locations, the names and sizes of the volunteers assigned to deliver all 261 cones, the number of cones allocated to each intersection, the names and ages of the marshals assigned to move them onto the road, the radio frequency at which they talked and the handles they used, and the times to the nearest minute of the anticipated closure and reopening of every street.

Cones in place, the next spreadsheet listed the locations of the water stops, the size and number of cups at each stop, the size and number of tables to hold the cups, the length and diameter of the hoses to fill them up, the names and addresses of the volunteers to hand them out and the size and number of garbage bags to dispose of them.

Before the runners even got to the start line, there was a list of goodies for the entry packets, including four safety pins, race flyers, a custom-designed T-shirt and a bar-coded entry bib.

Oh yes, the T-shirt designed was contested last Fall, the 1,000 T-shirts were ordered last Winter in a variety of sizes with at least four XXL shirts for the course marshals, they were folded and matched to the runners' requests and neatly stuffed into the packets. Every entry form was typed into the computer, double-checked for accuracy, and printed on a tear-off label.

Once the race was run, there was also a list of refreshments for the finishers with the number and flavors of ice cream popsicles, the number and shapes of bagels, strategies to keep the popsicles cold and the bagels dry, and more garbage bags to recover the waste.

Enormity suddenly struck. While I awaited race day confident of my directing debut, my wife coordinated an army of expert volunteers, and attended to every detail and contingency. So, I humbly salute all race directors, lest their unsung efforts go unnoticed.

Incidentally, as I treated my wife to a delicious lunch and congratulated her on her accomplishment, our daughter clarified a minor detail. She did not really mean it when she expressed her desire to direct the Fourth of July Races.

Kamal Jabbour got a free volunteer T-shirt for his valor at Cazenovia. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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