First Light Adventures offer trail races, training courses, guided runs and walks and wild camping in the Peak District, Derbyshire.

Race Director – easy innit?

17 February 2023

Having admired the organisation and community of some events I’ve participated in, I decided to organise my own event. Chesterfield didn’t have it’s own ultra race and, given that the Chesterfield Round Walk provided the blueprint for a great route, it should be simple right?

My first meeting at the County Council Headquarters in Matlock saw me spread the maps out on the table…..and then visibly shrink as the assembled officers suggested “we can close this lane off here”, and “put some traffic lights there”. We needed to be on the same page, it was clear that they were thinking of a mass participation event whilst I was talking about a niche event with perhaps 50 people. Eventually, after much explanation, our thought patterns converged and the discussion became much more realistic. The first thing I noted was the encyclopaedic knowledge that they all possessed in their related area. “That footpath comes through the hedge directly onto a road!” Much tutting and frowning as the rest of the route was dissected and tossed about. Several workable suggestions were aired and I agreed to go away and work on it. The parting comment was “We don’t want to make it difficult for you, we just want it to work properly, safely and without incident, that way it will be much easier in future.” The police were also equally thorough and helpful, providing me with conditions to meet and statements to share with regards to responsibility and traffic offences. I’m fairly shell-shocked by the amount of work to do and already have a newfound respect for Race Directors.

The revised route, I walked it, detailed it and lead a few recce runs. I sorted areas where we could post an aid station – it helped that the route went directly past the front doors of several friends' houses. In the case of CP6. Park Gate Cottage, Ann and John have also staffed the checkpoint every year and added their own signature to it - providing fresh fruit, cold drinks and even a hose pipe “shower” during the hotter days! I spoke to all of the farmers en route explaining the date, number of runners and approx times. Likewise, I spoke to all households whose property formed part of the route. It was a lot of effort but every meeting produced a positive tick and all were grateful for the advance notice – some farmers even going so far as to suggest they will keep those fields clear of livestock on the day in question. Having built a relationship, it’s now got to the stage where I can text some of the contacts en route thus saving a bit of time and travel.

Race HQ – it helped massively that Clare had such a good relationship with North Wingfield PC – with the first Spire being a fundraiser for a local charity we were given use of the Community Development Centre free of charge.

Getting the message out to participants – in year 1 it was largely word of mouth and a few emails to local running clubs and a few clumsy Facebook posts. I also went old school and had flyers printed off for distribution at other events in the region.  I went over and above to attract people – goody bags (Chia Charge and Mountain Fuel), Spire Ultra drinks flask memento, medal for all finishers, and finish a meal (veg chilli and rice).

I borrowed all the race signs, the hi-viz vests and the water containers/jugs from North Derbyshire Running Club. By running the event “In association with North Derbyshire Running Club” I was able to get away with just paying for the race permit fee and insurance as a one-off payment. A goodly number of my colleagues from the running club also marshalled (and continue to do so). Indeed some now have a spot that they consider their own.

A photographer was tasked to get some action pics and year 1 promised us the blessing of sunshine. I was up late the night before and extra early on race day to put the Caution Runners signs out and deposit checkpoint materials. By 8 am the first runners started to roll up and register. We had 29 starters for the first year – small enough to cope with but sufficient enough to be able to get decent feedback and imagery for future races. My race brief drew attention to the risk assessment that I’d emailed everyone and the protocols we expect on the course. A five minute walk to the start and at 9 am they are off.

Now the day becomes more dynamic – there’s a relief that this stage has been reached, it’s now a case of keeping ahead of the situation. I had to get to the busiest main road crossing sharpish. As it was a 50mph road I had to wear a full hi-viz body cover. Running to my point my phone rang, it was Ann who was supposed to be at the crossing with me – I’d left her near registration. “Where am I going?” - “With me” – “And where’s that?” Oh crap, thinking things is not the same as actually saying things, these are the domino-falling scenarios that can easily pan out in a race if you have not been thorough enough in the step checks. I apologised and gave rough directions before my eye caught sight of the first runners approaching. The traffic was not as busy as I’d feared and the crossing itself posed no difficulty. It was only after guiding the last runners over and giving Ann an apologetic hug that I returned to my car 5 minutes away. On unlocking the car I spied 2 runners who looked vaguely familiar – yep they were Spire runners and they had missed an arrow and run straight on, adding almost 2 extra miles to their day. More insights into the RD role – people going off course and in some cases getting lost.

At 34 miles the route was much longer than the events that North Derbyshire hosts and this impacted on the Runner’s signs available to me. I had to pick up the signs from the early stages and place them in the latter stages before driving to the finish for the first cuppa since breakfast and to greet the winners. I was also blessed to have friends serving food thus giving me the chance to mingle and get really useful feedback. To say it went well is an understatement, I loved it, the runners all loved it and the marshals all loved it. That first event raised £400 for Fairplay children's charity in Chesterfield, and it sowed the seed for future events that ultimately helped shape the direction of the business. Yeah, it can be a tricky, plate-spinning role, but being a Race Director is a rewarding role.

First Light Adventures offer trail races, training courses, guided runs and walks and wild camping in the Peak District, Derbyshire.

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