Sunday, November 11, 2012

Race Announcing: A Little Insight

The first weekend of this month, I announced two brand new races - Texas 10 Conroe, part of the new Texas 10 Series, on Saturday, November 3 and the Pleasure Island Bridge Half Marathon in Port Arthur the following day.

I had a lot of fun doing both.  It is something that I enjoy doing, but it is also something that I don't think people realize that takes as much work as it does.

And it is also something that I'm very, very thankful and fortunate that I get the opportunity to do.  I actually believe that my ability to exhort (speech or discourse that encourages, incites or earnestly advises) is a spiritual gift, as referenced in Romans 12.

For me, there's more that goes into it than just announcing the names of finishers as they come to (ideally) or cross the finish line.  Don't get me wrong, it is a lot of that, but there's more to it.

Because of my race directing experience, I, in essence, become a de facto start and finish line manager, but I believe that the events and race directors that I work with realize it is an added value that I provide over others.

While I very much respect the trained professionals who have great and skilled voices - as well as name recognition at a major market radio or television station, I work very hard to bring a myriad of skills necessary - along with a knowledgable voice - to properly project a race's image and its ability to "do things right" - or first-class.

I read in the recent November/December issue of Running Times an atricle by Pete Magill where he said that "back in the day" runners asked for three things:  start a race on time, an accurately measured course and correct finisher's results.  (And, today, they still do!)

In what I do, I can't take care of the latter two (although I do help timers with discrepancies or missing registration data when a runner cross), but I'm the front line on communicating with all of the appropriate parties to ensure that the event has an on-time start.

I typically aim to start announcing an hour before the event with updates every 10 minutes.  Anything more is overkill.  And when I'm a participant, I hate overkill.  To me, it is unnecessary drivel (and I'm sure that I have a few people that think what I do is drivel!)

I try to - in a very friendly and informative tone - communicate the most salient details that every participant needs to know (how far away - time-wise - we are from the start of the race, where to pick up your packet and/or chip, where to register and when to begin making their way to the start line).

There's always opportunities to thank volunteers and sponsors -- the two parties that make most, if not all, events a success.

The biggest challenge is to not have runners waiting for too long in the chute or at the starting line before the race is to begin.

I always try to aim to have - unless the race director wants something specifically different - runners to be or to begin being queued up 10 minutes before the start of the race.  I know that they're not going to be still until about 7-8 minutes away and that pre-race ceremonies - unless there's a color guard involved presenting the colors - typically don't last more than 4-5, which gives me a 2- to 3-minute buffer.

But you always have to be ready for the unexpected.

At the Toughest 10K Galveston, the second race of the Texas Bridge Series, we knew that parking was going to be tight with the incredible turnout (1,500+ pre-registered).  We communicated over and over before the race to be parked by 6:30 a.m. (a 7:30 a.m. start), but even with the team's best efforts there were still cars backed up on the Causeway at 7:05 a.m.

We - working with race director Robby Sabban - had brought in Other Brother's Peter Manry to do a lot of the pre-race announcement work that morning because of the need to throw all key resources at the parking solution.

We had the start line inflatable blown up on the side of the road because the road was still open to traffic.  But magically, just a minute or two before 7:20 a.m., all the cars were clear from the Causeway Bridge and the road just south of the runners -- and we were set to go, got the prayer and the National Anthem off and ... started on-time.

At the Texas 10 Conroe, everything lined up perfect for an on-time start, but during the National Anthem, I was notified that some things weren't secure on the course.

But because of a sound timeline, clear communications and all of the right people at the start in the right place, the delay - on the course - ended up being minimal and we got started maybe no more than three (3) minutes late.  Not too bad, and not enough to generate any complaints (I hope!).

The curve that we had in Port Arthur was that there was a line of showers that came through in the middle of the race, which meant that the advance mats and the reader had to be taken down.  I had to move my sound equipment under cover and then we had to improvise on the awards ceremony, but having an experienced team like IAAP out of San Antonio and flexible race directors like Rich and Amie James, who also put on The Gusher Marathon in Beaumont each March, made the shift in the pre-race plan rather painless.

Beyond that, for me, it is all about trying to make sure that I call people's names correctly and clearly and then communicate post-race necessities - once again, without overkill.

If I can add something, based on what I know about the individual - or even something that pops into my head, I will, but I try not to force things too much.

My philoposphy is that if nothing is said about what I do, then that's a win for the event (and I've done my job).  It fits into the description of a race being "well-organized".

I very strongly believe that an announcer can take away from an event's image by coming across as unprofessional or as I put it, "hokey"; however, I try to make sure that every event that I'm asked to do that I present a touch of quality and class that is a very, very small part of a participant coming back to do that event the next year.

The most fun thing of it all is when I know something about someone (a recent result, their birthday or something about where they're from) and it surprises them.  That, to me, is an intanigble that very few other announcers can bring to an event.

My biggest pet peeve?  Oh boy.  Yes, even I have them.  If you come up and ask me to call somebody "Pookie Bear" when they come across the finish line, that is just not going to happen. 

The other is interrupting my rhythm or train of thought in processing all of the information that I have coming at me by self-announcing your name before I get to it.  I'll then just ignore it.

I really make a very concerted effort to do my best for each and every runner that comes to a finish line and recognize their accomplishment in an encouraging and professional manner, but a few things challenge me every now and then.

And finally, if I'm doing an event that isn't using a reader mat, there's one thing that you have working in your favor by knowing me:  It is probably pretty safe that you're going to get your name called!

See you at the races!

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thank you for the behind the scenes view of race announcing. I enjoyed reading about your perspective on this issue.