Monday, January 6, 2014

Interview with a Race Director

After several interviews with pros, top age groupers, companies, etc, I thought it would be really interesting to see the sport from the perspective of a race director. Dan Aamodt became the new owner of TriUtah last year, making a huge impact in his inaugural season at the helm. He was gracious enough to answer my most burning questions and provide good insight, regardless of where you live in the world. 

What led you to take over the reins at TriUtah after 15 years under previous management?

Well, I have been involved in triathlon since 1988. When some folks had posters of Michael Jordan in their lockers at school, I had magazine cut-outs of Mark Allen, Mike Pigg, Scott Tinley and Dave Scott in mine. I love this sport and have managed races and special events during my business career in the fundraising industry. Combine that with my love for this sport, I had an itch to direct races. However, I felt that starting from scratch in this industry didn't make sense to me as the Utah market is already filled and saturated with events. Nowadays, you can find a race on any given weekend during the season. Knowing that TriUtah was by far the best organized event management company in the state, works closely with USA Triathlon, and had the best venues in the state, I met with Chris Bowerbank and John Anderson to see if there was a fit for a transition. Luckily for me, we were able to make it happen. 
Who else is on your staff or are you pretty much a 1-man show? Between triathlons and road races, do you get an “offseason” at all?
I have one 3/4 administrative assistant who takes care of all permits and sanctioning for the company. She is also considered our event coordinator. 
I also have 9 PT staff members who help at the events themselves. All of whom have specific assignments; ie run course supervisor, bike course supervisor, swim course supervisor, volunteer coordination, etc etc.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a race director, and what’s the most frustrating?
The most rewarding part of race directing is being at the finish line and witnessing folks who have sacrificed their time and money to race. We owe it to each one of them to make sure the events provide the best experience and value possible.
Honestly, I dont think there is anything that is really all that frustrating. Other than when mother nature throws you a curve ball just before the start of a race.  

On that note, here’s a list of some behind the scenes stuff I imagine an RD deals with. How would you grade each of these given the following scale: A) easy B) can be a struggle C) quite challenging
t-shirts (    )  medals (   ) port-o-potties (   ) police/traffic control (   ) online registration (   ) race check in (   ) getting volunteers (   ) setting up the course (   ) aid stations (   ) timing (   ) results (   ) prizes (   ) securing sponsors (   ) local government issues (   ) advertising (   ) website/social media (   ) post-race food, etc (   )
I don't think I can really rank these. Each has its ups and downs but overall, if you are organized and have planned well, everything goes smoothly.  
You offered some serious prizes this year, including two $1500 Hawaii vacations to watch the Ironman World Championships… did sponsors assist with pulling that off? On a general note, how important are sponsors to putting on races?
Yes, we had a financial sponsor who wanted us to promote the trips. We also had Icon Fitness and Altra shoes giveaway a $2200 Tour De France bike trainer.  
Our goal is to give athletes a reason to come to our events. Having ample "knowledgeable" volunteers is the most important component, while sponsors come in a close 2nd. Financial sponsors give us the opportunity to provide more to the athlete; from swag in the bag, to food at the post race table, to massages and more....  We don't offer a lot of prize money, because we want EVERY athlete to benefit from our hard work of securing financial and in-kind sponsors. Medals and t-shirts come and go, but the overall experience is what we are trying to provide the athlete. If we make them happy with a solid race, great experience, and awesome venues, we believe they will come back to our events. Having raced for over 25 years, I have seen some amazing races and some not so amazing races across the country.  I want to make sure everyone leaves our events and is able to say "that was awesome!" - That is why in 2014, we are offering a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If an athlete doesn't like their experience, and we can't make it right, we will give his/her money back.

Echo Canyon is one such awesome venue

Your introductory email from May mentioned your professional career has involved fundraising for non-profits… can you elaborate a bit on that, and has this expertise assisted with being a race director?
Yes, I have worked in the fundraising industry most of my professional career, working with non-profits and charitable organizations in their efforts to raise money. I do believe that this experience has helped me obtain sponsorships and strategic partners. However, I believe that my 25 years of training and racing allows me to see and visualize how the events should run effectively on race day. The most important component has been that I inherited an amazing staff who are the best in the business of making sure the events go off without a hitch! They are Ryan Webb, Randy Bennion, Alicia Cordova, Harold Blomquist, Steve Gonzalez, Camille Meriwether, and more.
Very random, but I’ve always wondered this… is buoy placement before the swim a precise exercise or more of an educated guess?
Precise. We use an instrument which measures the nautical distance on water. 
As a triathlete yourself, you know that pre-race nerves are typically performance related. Do you get nervous before and during races as a race director (eg everything going smoothly or someone getting hurt)?
Only when the honey buckets don't arrive!
a necessary evil
I’ve been in my share of choppy water, but thankfully never had the swim canceled at a race… I would be disappointed for sure. On one hand, the majority of triathletes always want to go for it, yet on the other hand you want to keep people safe. In your opinion where is the line drawn?
I draw the line when the USA Triathlon official tells me to draw the line. They are the experts on when we can and cannot start the swim.
If you had to guess, what % of “local” triathlons around the country are A) profitable B) break-even C) unprofitable
 20% profitable, 60% break-even, 20% unprofitable.
On that note, one local question: when I moved here from Milwaukee three years ago, I was surprised with how many races there were. Since that time, however, races such as Park City, Provo, Scofield, the Fall Finale, Stansbury, and Battle at Midway come to mind as tris that have folded. At the same time, you’ve been steadily adding races to your schedule. Do you think most races fold due to management, or a broader issue of too much supply/ too little demand? What’s the status of triathlon in our state... has it peaked or is it still on the rise?
Great question. I don't think I have an answer for that. The market is saturated, but it makes all of us stronger as it demands race directors to offer better events. Long gone are the days of paying $75 for a t-shirt, medal, and an orange. I believe we have an obligation to provide athletes with high quality, safe, energetic events which encourage future participation.  

Thanks for the time, Dan!

From my own personal experience, TriUtah puts on fantastic races. Word is clearly getting out... at Ogden, for example, guys from Colorado and Montana knocked me to 4th in my age group. If you're within driving distance, I encourage you to take a look! Below are links to their main site and Facebook, as well as my race reports from TriUtah events in 2013:

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