SPONSORING AN OUTDOOR RACE

 

Outdoor inline skate races can have many benefits. Outdoor races are popular, enjoyed by many more skaters than indoor and ice races combined.One reason is that many outdoor races are held in places people like to be, such as Disney, Niagara Falls, and California beaches; your area probably has very enjoyable, if less famous, places to skate.Being public, outdoor races can relatively easily attract attention, and thus sponsorship and support.

 

Outdoor races often also include skaters who arenít racers.These are people who skate just for fun and fresh air, perhaps for a little exercise, often to do something with friends.During a ďraceĒ they stop for a water break, or when tired, or to smell the roses, or for no reason.They pay admission, attract sponsors, bring spectators, and generally help make an event a big deal. Plan for these folks, make your event fun and safe for them, and appeal to them in your event promotion.

 

FIND A COURSE

Often the biggest challenge is finding a place to skate.Ideally, the surface will be smooth enough for skating and without cracks, manhole covers and other things that a casual skater can detour around, but that could be deadly for an extremely fast racer pulling out to pass someone. ďTar snakesĒ are a major concern sometimes; these are pavement cracks which have been widened to about the width of a skate wheel and filled with a tar-like glue which will lock in a skate which rolls over them in alignment.

 

Hills can be a major problem for beginning skaters, and even some better skaters refuse to race on courses with too steep hills.Uphills are obnoxious to climb, but steep downhills can be dangerously fast, especially if the course would force skaters to make much of a turn or avoid other obstacles at the high speed bottom of the hill.

 

Ideally, a skate race course will be at least as wide as one highway traffic lane.A narrower course is OK for short distances, but much narrower isnít wide enough to allow safe passing in a race.

 

Most skaters prefer loop road courses. Point-to-point courses require transportation for skaters and friends to the start, or from the finish. Some races are many laps of a course marked in a large parking lot, but such courses are not as interesting, and require counting laps for each skater.

 

The preceding identify the ideal characteristics for a race course, but shouldnít be considered requirements.For example, the famous A2A race requires skaters to climb a low wall, because that was part of the best overall route.The Disney race included multiple sections of smooth, hard, wet wood, which has no more traction than ice for inline skate wheels; most skaters fell, but got back up.One race had a hill so steep that the race promoters provided chairs at the top, so skaters could remove their skates, and a car to drive them to the bottom of the hill.Races have included sections paved with gravel; skaters were told before starting the race that theyíd need to stop and walk these sections.

 

If a course includes factors dangerous to skaters, clearly explain them before the race.Also, mark them with traffic cones or somehow they are readily apparent, even to racers who have forgotten the pre-race information.

 

Some loop courses can be skated in either direction, so turns are mostly to the left, or to the right. Skaters are more comfortable with left hand turns, but outdoor skaters do both. Pick the course direction which is most safe, considering factors such as downhill speed, visibility of obstacles, and maneuverability around obstacles.

 

If a course is on public roads, motor vehicle traffic is an issue.Ideally, the course would be closed to traffic during the race, but this sometimes isnít possible.Some courses restrict traffic by using cones to designate one lane for skaters, while leaving the others for cars. In other cases, skaters are warned that they will be sharing the road with skaters, and motor vehicles are notified of skaters by signs and/or people who stop the cars as they enter the course.All this needs to be worked out with the appropriate government agencies (a process which can require significant time and money).

 

Reserving a course includes setting the race schedule.Most inline races are in early morning, partly because reserving a course then conflicts least with other users, and partly so the race is during cooler temperatures, out of the hot mid-day sun.Often racers are told in advance that the course will be only available until a certain time, and that any racer who hasnít finished by that time will be given a ride off the course.

 

PIGGYBACKING

Many inline races are part of a larger event, such as a running or cycling race. Such inline races have lesser burdens for publicity, obtaining a course, registration, insurance, etc.Often being part of a larger event is the only practical way to hold an inline race.

 

Of course, being part of a larger event means they largely determine the course and schedule, as well as their publicity, and sometimes award structure, etc. Skaters sometimes resent these restrictions, but they should remember who is making their event possible, and try to seem as cooperative and supportive as possible of the needs of the overall organization.

 

Inline race promoters who want to piggyback may be prevented from doing so because the course used by the other event isnít appropriate for an inline race, because of restrictions in the insurance of the other event, or because of a too-full schedule.

 

DECIDE ON DISTANCES, CATEGORIES, AND AWARDS

Marathon (42 kilometers or 26 miles and 385 yards) is the most popular distance for outdoor races; skaters train for this distance.Shorter distances, especially 10K, but also 5K and 20K, are often done because of limits on time or route length.

 

For small races, of fewer than 100 skaters, and where skaters donít repeat laps on the same course, all skaters can start and race together. Slower skaters naturally line up behind faster skaters at the start, so the group quickly spreads out and no-one is crowded.However, when skaters repeat laps of the same course, give thorough instructions that slower skaters should stay to the outside of turns when being passed.

 

For larger races, skaters can be asked, when they register, to race as Advanced/Pro, or as Fitness/Recreational; men and women race separately. Each of these 4 groups would start separately, perhaps 5 minutes. However, if skaters repeat laps on the same course, safest is to have only one group on the course at one time.

 

Award groups are generally smaller than the preceding race groups.The promoterís goal is that many skaters receive awards, so many people feel good about the event.But if almost everyone receives an award, then awards loose their significance.Often awards are given to the top three male and female, Advanced and Fitness, skaters age 30-39, and in similar age groups for younger and older skaters.Your age award groups can cover larger or smaller age ranges depending on your participation; for example, if you expect many young skaters, their age groups could span only 3 years.

 

Some sports and races are limited to older skaters. But some of the fastest, safest and most experienced inline skate racers are age 9-12.If anyone in the race administration group is uncomfortable with young racers, these skaters can be required to register with proof (such as a coachís statement) that they are qualified to handle what they may encounter in this event.

 

Some races give participation awards to everyone who finishes. Sometimes these are ribbons, sometimes a T shirt, sometimes a small item donated by a local vendor.

 

Award trophy and medal vendors abound, both locally and on-line. Experienced skaters generally prefer medals to trophies; the skater who has dozens of awards quickly lacks space for that many trophies; medals are easier to transport home for the skater who has traveled to the race. The best skate racers will normally travel only for cash prizes, such as a few hundred Euro/dollars for the 5th place skater, and perhaps a thousand for the first.

 

Donated merchandise or coupons can be excellent awards (for all except the very best skaters, who much prefer money).Skate manufacturers and retailers may donate merchandise if they understand that they will benefit from the event publicizing them.Similarly, local sporting goods retailers, restaurants, and motels can be publicized in exchange for merchandise or a coupon for a significant discount. Remember constraints on traveling skaters; for example, if your race is on Sunday, donít give coupons to local businesses which are closed on Sunday.

 

If merchandise/coupons can be obtained, consider giving some via a random drawing (such as of racer bib numbers, so additional tickets arenít needed), so skaters who arenít the fastest have a chance to take home something also.Even those participants who donít win these door prizes feel good about someone like them winning.

 

INSURANCE

Although races generally donít offer insurance to racers, race promoters may want to obtain liability insurance to somewhat protect themselves from lawsuit.Sometimes other people involved, such as the course owner, will require insurance.

 

Sometimes a race and promoters are automatically covered by other insurance, such as that of the government body hosting the race.If a race is part of a larger event, sometimes that event will also insure the race.Insurance can be complex; itís best to get a copy of the policy and review it with someone experienced.

 

Insurance for inline skate races is available from http://www.usarollersports.org/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/05/01/3ec144083393fand http://www.kandkinsurance.com/

 

DECIDING THE WINNERS

Ideally, your race will use timing chips.Each skater fastens one to a skate, and the chip tells a computer how long the skater takes to skate the race. The computer prints a list of winners in each category, and the race times for each skater. Timing chips are commonly used by running races and other events; inquire locally for a vendor you can hire to handle this entire process.

 

For small races without sponsorship financing, timing chips may be too expensive.In such cases, placement judges and finisher lineup can be used.

 

Placement judges are generally volunteers, ideally arranged for before race day to decrease race-day stress for the race promoter. The only qualification is the willingness to remain focused on their responsibility when skaters are crossing the finish line.Judgesí responsibilities can be divided in various ways; ask other races for suggestions, and settle on a clear plan well before the race starts.Usually the Chief Place Judge isnít responsible to judge any specific position or skater, but keeps an overview on the entire process and handles any unexpected situations.When skaters can be lapped, keeping track requires techniques worked out in advance.

 

For a finisher lineup, skaters are told before the race that, after they finish, they must line up in the order in which they finished. This lineup is sometimes more correct than the placement judgeís results, except for skaters who finish almost the same time.The Chief Place Judge compares the placement judgeís results with the skaters lineup, and discusses differences, but makes the final decision in case of disagreement.A successful finisher lineup requires that racers are given a place to line up which is convenient to the end of the race, and that they donít need to wait long (which means that racers who finish first will be allowed to leave before those who finish last).

 

A finishing chute is similar to the lineup, best used with placement judges.A chute is a narrow area skaters pass through after they finish.An official records the skaters number/name as they pass through the chute, or the skater hands to the official a tear-off tab from their bib number, which the official stacks in sequence.A finishing chute should be close enough to the finish line that itís easy for skaters to coast into, not so far they need to work hard to get to it and risk loosing their sequence.A finishing chute shouldnít be too close to the finish line (in one race, skaters were told to slow down before the finish line so they could get into the chute), and it should be arranged so skaters exit quickly, rather than filling the chute so newly arriving skaters canít enter.

 

One small race, Hoyt Lakes, has used the finishing chute as key to a skater placement ranking process which is very simple to administer. When each skater, at registration, receives their bib number, on the tear-off tab are colored adhesive dots which show the skaterís gender and age category. At the end of the race, one person collects the tab from each skater, keeping them in finishing sequence.The tabs are then promptly pinned to a large bulletin board if finishing sequence.Anyone can then scan down the board, picking out the green circle (meaning 20-29 year old) and blue square (meaning male) finishers and their sequence.

 

Awards should be presented very soon after the end of the race, so skaters and spectators donít need to wait long.An alternative is to hold an awards ceremony/party later, making the ceremony an event worth coming to for itself.Typically, skaters who arenít present at the awards ceremony donít receive their award; you donít need to mail it.

 

PUBLICITY AND REGISTRATION

After key race details have been decided, and well before the race (ideally, 9 or more months), publicity is needed.Local publicity should be to newspapers, radio stations, roller rinks, sports shops, bike trails, and where-ever people skate. National publicity should be to calendars and forums such as listed on http://www.growinlinespeed.com/skatingevents.htm

 

Advance registration gives race promoters an additional communication channel, and is preferred by some skaters.You can handle advanced registration yourself, or have it done by an on-line specialist such as http://www.active.com/ .Some timing chip companies will also handle registration.

 

The more popular races require advance registration.Newer races should allow registration until perhaps an hour before the start of the race.

 

Skaters often are given a number to be pinned on. Numbers can be purchased from sporting goods vendors.Numbers arenít necessary, but are useful, when timing chips are used.

 

Many races ask participants to sign a disclaimer, saying that the participant, not the promoter, is responsible for their own injury, etc.Often the event insurer will require a specific disclaimer, which relieves the race promoter of needing to decide what to do.Otherwise, be informed that opinions vary regarding what, if anything, a disclaimer should cover, so seek advice locally. An easy approach is to copy a disclaimer from another well-established race.

 

GOODIES

If weather is warm, water for skaters is important.Best for skaters is small plastic bottles on which the caps have been unlocked.

 

Ideally, water is available to skaters during the race, every 5 to 10 miles.Ideally, volunteers will hand water to skaters as they pass. If so, these volunteers must be clearly instructed to stay at the edge of where skaters will pass, within easy reach, but not where thereís any possibility of a collision between the volunteer and a skater (itís happened, sending a volunteer to the hospital).If water isnít available on the race course, itís essential at the finish, where paper/plastic glasses work as well as bottles.

 

Food after a race is very much appreciated by skaters, and will go far in making your event one which skaters look forward to repeating. Fruit, in small portions, easy to eat while standing, is a favorite; examples are bananas cut crosswise into thirds, small bunches of grapes, and orange sections. Bagel quarters, energy bars, and cookies are good, as are small containers of yogurt and similar food.Sports drink, in cups or small bottles, is always appreciated after a race.

 

Event T shirts are a nice extra if given to all skaters (and paid for by registration).They also advertise the event.Or, shirts can be sold to help cover event expenses.

 

RACE CONDUCT

One person must be designated as Race Director or Chief Official.What this person does before and after the race should depend on local situations and personalities.During the race, this one person must have ultimate authority, and make quick and accepted decisions when necessary.

 

Just before the race starts, someone should drive the course to ensure itís safe, and that the people who will be working during the race are ready.

 

Often a pace car or lead motorcycle stays just ahead of the leading skater, too far ahead for drafting, to ensure the course remains clear of vehicles, people, pets, etc.The pace vehicle should have a driver and an observer, who is in radio contact with the Race Director.If a motorcycle is used, it can sometimes ride beside skaters, rather than in front, and thus check that skating conduct is acceptable, and give instructions to racers. Often local motorcycle clubs will be happy to provide motorcycles and drivers.

 

Except for a few races with motorcycle officials, USA outdoor races generally donít have officials to control skater conduct.

 

Weather generally isnít reason to change race plans. Experienced skaters have skated in rain, wind, cold, etc.But the possibility of rain should be considered in advance, such as in case of surfaces which will be very slippery when wet, or where standing water could stay on the race course.

 

Skate racers are usually prohibited, for safety reasons, from wearing headphones, from pushing baby strollers, from being accompanied by a pet on a leash, etc.Such limitations may seem obvious to you, but arenít to everyone, so should be included with registration information.If you want, copy such limitations from another race.Assign an official to check at the start line for any such thing which is a real danger for that skater, or others.

 

Skate races generally require helmets, and this should be enforced.Other protective gear is often recommended, which is good.Requirements for other protective gear are generally not enforced, but some promoters believe they protect the promoter in case of injury to a skater who isnít wearing such gear.

 

FINANCE

The cost of an outdoor race can range from zero to over $100,000.Some courses can be obtained at no charge; others require payments of hundreds or thousands of dollars to governments, often for wages of employees, including police.Insurance costs are typically a few hundred dollars.Awards and refreshments can also cost a few hundred dollars each, although donated refreshments can sometimes be obtained in exchange for publicity. Payments to top finishers can be another expense.

 

Some races are staffed entirely by volunteers.But paying expenses, and even a significant hourly wage to key personnel can sometimes be make a big improvement in event quality.

 

Race financing can be much more comfortable when sponsors pay some expenses or provide things which otherwise would be purchased.Early in the planning process, sell your event to local organizations.Offer the publicity that will help them; you can even offer to call your race the Jones Shoe Store Inline Marathon whenever you publicize it.Offer to put up signs, to hand out coupons and merchandise samples, to let them set up a booth at sign-in, whatever they want.

 

SPECTATORS

Remember the friends and families of skaters; try to make yours an enjoyable event which they can be a part of.Remember other interested people who may want to see something new, and need a little help to feel welcome, to understand the excitement of inline racing, and perhaps even be encouraged to skate themselves next year.

 

A good announcer can do much to make a race exciting and understandable for spectators.Try to have announcements easily heard and understood by as many spectators as possible.

 

SUMMARY

The preceding has touched on some considerations in sponsoring a race.But there are many other details.Experience is by far the best teacher.If you havenít skated several different outdoor inline races, team up with someone who has.

 

Try to attend outdoor races, not skating, but working.Contact the promoters of the other races in advance, explain that you are planning a race, and ask their suggestions.Offer to help work their race to build your experience. If your goals are really high, hire an experienced race director as a consultant, or as Director of your race.

 

Most of all, enjoy.†† Realize the opportunity you are providing your many skaters, and share their enjoyment of your race.