Friday, December 13, 2013

Tying It All Together for Endurance Sports Events

 Working the Mic at the recent Monster Dash run in Toronto*. Picture -

I just finished reading digital marketing guru, Mitch Joel's new book Ctrl-Alt-Delete. It's a highly recommended read. Three big take-aways:

1. Social media, and marketing through social media is big!

2. The current buzz with brands, is wanting to speak directly to end-user customers.

3. Everything is going mobile!

Endurance sports events be they, running, cycling, triathlons, MOB's or themed runs, sit at the intersection of the above. By their very nature, these events are social - with lots of social interaction going on. I mentioned this briefly in a previous blog. However, this week I came across an info-graphic that spelled this out in more detail with some interesting data and stats.

These events are also the meeting up point for brands(sponsors), and the large amounts of numbers and data that these events are starting to generate and put together - to say nothing of the gathering of hundreds, if not thousands of people in one spot, at one time. Remarkably, few events seem to be taking full advantage of this. Some are, but more could and should do more. 

It goes without saying that the demographic attracted to most endurance sports events are plugged in to a high degree via mobile devices.

At the Running USA conference last winter, a marketing executive who works in the endurance sports space, said to me, "Consider you are at an NHL or NBA game, with 10,000 or more spectators. Think about how much marketing and promotion you have been exposed to from the time you buy your ticket, to the time you leave that game. Now compare that with the promotion and marketing that goes on an endurance sports event with similar numbers from the time you register, to the time you are finished and heading home". Many events, are not taking full advantage of the opportunities here.

It's a great opportunity to leverage the social nature of these events, the social interaction that is organic to them, the high adoption of social media of the participants, and the want for brands to talk directly to end-user customers.

An example of linking that up with mobile follows:

With my frequent work as a Race and Event Announcer*, I often see the collision of the old and the new at the events that I am working at and where the above opportunities go wanting. Often the number one question that I get asked when I am on the mic at an event is, "Hey - where are the results being posted up?". Many smaller to mid sized events still post up printed hard-copy, for participants to check their times/results - if the event is a timed event, with results. In the online, digital age, this now is passe. I'll often announce, where on the race site, that hard copy of the results are posted up, and you'll see that huddle of people surrounding the posted sheets of paper checking their results. However, if a company such as Ottawa, ON based Sportstats is timing the race and producing the results, those results now go almost instantly on-line when a person crosses the finish-line (or timing mat out on the course), to that events page on the Sportstats web site. If people, have a mobile phone with internet access, they can go right there, and see their own results on their own mobile device in the palm of their hand! Even more, Sportstats has a App that ties all of a persons results together that can be customized for that person. People can even "follow" a friend doing an event that Sportstats is timing around a race course. I make the announcement over the PA about this new way of accessing results to. I think it's catching on! 

See the linkage and possibilities with all of the above?

If you are an endurance sports event organizer:

- Are you taking full advantage of the social media opportunities for your event?

- Are you allowing your event sponsors to speak directly to your event participants?

- Are you tying this all together for mobile?

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Race More?

 Recharge with Milk Wasaga Beach Triathlon Finish-line - Photo

I was about to embark on writing a blog straight-up, about the benefits of racing more, for triathletes. I was and still am of the belief that many problems and challenges that the modern triathlete encounters, in races, particularly longer distance triathlon races, could be over-come in part, by racing more.

Then, two things happened:

1. I attended a local social event in my area where over 30 triathletes, many of whom I knew personally, were in attendance. As some know, I work as a Race/Event Announcer almost every weekend at triathlons, running and cycling races. As I stood there in the room filled with triathletes, I realized that I had not seen any of these athletes, with the exception of one, at a race all year!

2. The following day, I asked the question, "Why doesn't the modern triathlete race more?" on my Facebook page. There were an enormous number of responses - some very detailed and informative. You can see the thread of responses here. It's a good read.

Both of these previous points, caused me to re-think things a bit.

From reading the Facebook thread, it's clear that these days, time and costs are the key things that limit the number of races that triathletes do each year. There is no question that races are getting more expensive - for obvious reasons: The costs to put these races on have gone up substantially. As for the time issue, if you look at the largest age-groups in the sport, most active, modern triathletes are right in the middle of their key child-rearing years with 1, 2, 3 or more young kids at home, and also at a time in their careers, when time-on for work, is at it's highest. Add all that up and, and it makes sense why, the modern triathlete races less now, than a previous wave of triathletes did 10+ years ago.

I still believe that many triathletes, particularly newer athletes, in the sport for four years or less, would benefit greatly from more frequent racing. I am backed up on that point by some of the leading local coaches, who also feel the same way, but are pushed back on this, by the athletes they coach. Knowing this, and reading the responses on my Facebook posting, one wonders where the cart and horse are with this. Many athletes want to get better. They want to go faster. A proven way of doing this is to race more frequently (within reason, of course).

Which leads me to what is the definition of a race? My sense is that for many modern triathletes , their definition of a  "race" is a big production + long distance triathlon = expensive.  However, not all races have such big production, and there are certainly many shorter race options (and are hopefully less expensive). Despite what athletes think, these outings can be very helpful and valuable experiences in their overall development.

Also there are "other" racing options - standalone, running, cycling, and swimming events, that again, can be if you look around, not terribly expensive and time efficient. As an example, many local cycling clubs, offer weekly time-trial races, that for club members cost from nothing to a few dollars (with club membership). While not a triathlon race, these standalone races in individual sports can provide great feedback, and serve as outstanding training efforts for the triathlete. Some of these are mid-week, and because of their short and brief nature, can take up less time, than a "normal" triathlon training session.

What do you think? What is your definition of a "race"? Knowing that racing more, will make you better/faster, is that something that you would commit to?

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Have Endurance Sports Events Gone Retail?

 A long line of porta-potties at a recent large running event in Toronto*

I have written in this space before recently about what's been going on in the endurance sports events business, here, and here. A lot is going on! The growth right now is impressive. If you add up all the running, triathlon, cycling, themed running events, and also the mud/obstacle races and events in North America, you are looking at a impressive double digit growth in participation numbers and an aggressive addition of new events along the way. It's hard to keep up with it all.

With all this growth has come competition - serious competition. So much so that, from what I have seen events have gone retail, where everything about an event starts to matter. Your brand. Your logo. Your date. Your route or course. How hard or easy your event is? Your registration process. How many porta-potties you have*. The enthusiasm of your volunteers. Your charity. Your timing and results company(if needed). It all starts to matter. Even stuff you have no control over, like the weather starts to matter! Get two years of lousy weather for a start-up event, and it might be done right there!

Onsite experiences on race/event day are critical. People will come, and maybe they get spoken to in a wrong tone by a volunteer, there are not enough porta-potties or registration/kit-pick-up takes forever. Just like in retail, they will silently go away, never to return, and even worse, they'll most likely tell more than a few people about it. On average, people tell 4 people about good customer experiences, but tell 13 people about bad customer experiences. And that's what RD's need to do and understand these days, beyond getting the cones in the right places, and the directional arrows on the road right - they are in the business of delivering positive participant experiences.

Even the process of race and event registration, these days almost 100% through online services, can be critical in the whole event experience. Some are complicated and unwieldy - with high abandonment rates. In other words, that person who was going to register for your event, gave-up part way through the actual registration process, for one reason or another. You got them to the door . . . but then lost them! Check out some of your sports online forums, to see what people are saying about your registration provider. You might be surprised.

It's important that events think more like businesses, albeit small ones and even non-profit ones, about their brand, and about their image, because, as noted, it's all starting to matter.

The mud & obstacle events and the themed runs, have really driven this point home. How else to explain, the extraordinary growth? Some of these event series did not even exist two years ago. Some will surpass a one million participants this year! In these situations, branding, and imaging matter greatly. There is a buzz. People want to be going to the cool event that everyone else is doing.

Now you may be thinking, "I run a triathlon or a running race. Why should I be concerned about a mud run or zombie run?" Be concerned - they are competing just like you for mind-share and commitment from reasonably young, and active people. And some of those events now really have some serious momentum, behind them and mega-buzz. You run a cool and great event, but it's just a 5K run. You have to think about everything at your event and every touch point with your event participants. How is it impacting them? Is it a quality and a positive experience, or at least matching up with their expectations?

I know the organizer of one of the largest triathlon series in North America, who stands at the finish-line of all of his events, regardless, of the weather, and personally says, "Thank you", and shakes the hand of every finisher who comes across the finish line at every event. Sounds corny, but that's the kind of thing that people remember - just like in retail they remember the good and the bad, experiences. Events need to do everything they can to make sure that everyone's experience at an event is an outstanding one. If so, just like in retail, they will be back!

Whether you like it or not, events have gone retail. What are you doing to make your event stand out? What are you doing so that each and everyone of  your race/event participants have an extraordinary experience?

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Friday, July 12, 2013

More On Sharing The Road

There has been an ongoing situation in the Kitchener-Waterloo area regarding the altercation between the driver of a horse trailer, and members of the Waterloo Cycling Club. It's not going well, and it points out the frustrations of both motorists and cyclists. For more on sharing the road, see my last blog!

There have been charges laid against the driver of the horse trailer, and several of the cyclists. Apparently there is a local bylaw that does not allow 2-abreast riding.

This has lead to columns such as this one in a the local Kitchener-Waterloo paper of record, The Record:

My response to columnist Luisa D'Amato, who's eMail address is,, is as follows:

Ms. Damato,

I am going to respond to your recent editorial in The Record, in two parts:

1. Indeed, cyclists need to respect the rules of the road. I do all the time. What I find odd is the behavior of motorists, who despite the fact that I am observing the rules of the road to a T, seem to want to take some form of hostile action against me (Mostly verbal assaults, but occasionally physical actions). I ride several times a week - and have been for 30 years. On at least one of those rides each week, almost without fail, there is always at least one completely unprovoked altercation with a motorist, or the motorist drives their vehicle in a manner that puts me at extraordinary risk. Hopefully I don't need to explain the basic physics surrounding any contact between motor vehicle and cyclist, other than, it ALWAYS turns out very bad, and even fatal for the cyclist. 

Many motorists seem to have a poor understanding of the rules of the road, and they are also extraordinarily cavalier in their attitude when it comes to the safety of others, who share the road with them, and indeed their own safety. May I suggest here, that MOTORISTS need to respect the rules on rural roads!

2. To understand the rationale for 2-abreast riding, requires some counter-intuitive thinking:

Say there is a group of 20 cyclists out riding. If they are riding single file, they are strung out in a long single file line. On a two lane road, with no shoulders, as is the case on many rural roads in Ontario, many motorists think it OK to try and squeeze by the cyclists while staying fully in their lane. This places both the cyclists, and the motorists less than 1/2 a meter apart moving along at a reasonably high speed. The passing of a long line of cyclists takes some time. ANY false move on the part of the motorists, or the cyclists will result in . . .  Now, compact the group to 20 riders, riding 2-abreast. If it's a group of good riders, they will be riding tightly together. They will be taking up more of the lane, but not that much more, and the distance from front to back of the group will now be less than half of what it was. However, this will force, the motorist coming up from behind, to slow down. Otherwise, they will run right over the cyclists - something I hope they would not want to do. They will then have to wait for a safe place to make the pass around the cyclists - just as they would if they came upon a slower moving car, farm vehicle, police vehicle, etc . . Yes this a minor inconvenience. However, that safe place to make the pass, as it always does, will come up in a few seconds. Now, the pass is made by, moving into the adjacent lane, giving the cyclists a wider berth, AND, key here, passing the group of cyclists in significantly less time. This is safer for EVERYONE - the cyclists, other motorists, and the driver of that particular vehicle! Think about it for a bit.

To FULLY understand, #2, you need to embrace the thinking of  Share The Road, headed up by Eleanor McMahon - the philosophy is that we ALL need to share the road - motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and other vehicles, because, we all have a right to be there!

I ride frequently with the Newmarket Eagles cycling club in and around Aurora and Newmarket, ON, in central & northern York region. It is the club policy to ride 2-abreast, where appropriate. We are lucky that most of the roads of our regular routes are on reasonably quiet 2-lane rural roads probably not unlike the roads outside Kitchener-Waterloo . We rarely have any major issues when riding 2-abreast - but do from time-to-time get verbally harassed by motorists( see #1). We even get passed by York Region Police officers in their cars, and we exchange friendly waves.

At the risk of being accusatory, your views are very motorist-centric, which is understood, because that is most likely the only experience of using the road that you have. Ditto for almost all motorists. To better understand, the view of cyclists, I would suggest spending some time on a bike, on either urban, or rural roads, to better appreciate the situation that cyclists are in, and the challenges that they face. If you did, I am sure your views may be altered.

Best regards,

Steve Fleck

What say you? Do you agree or disagree with Ms. D'Amato. Please feel free to express your feelings here or via an email to Ms. D'Amato, or The Record.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Do You Share The Road?

"Get the-f. . off the road"! I have just been subjected to this offensive shouted blast, through the rolled down window of a car from a passing motorist, while I ride along the road. Then he leans on the horn good and long, as he massively and aggressively, accelerates away, leaving me in a dust and carbon-monoxide cloud!

What have I done to deserve this? Nothing really. Just been riding along the right edge of the road minding my own business. Completely legal and holding up no one. Of course, I am offended by it and taken aback. Where does it come from, this open hostility on the part of motorists for cyclists?

My sense is a big part of this hostility comes from the fact that almost all motorists, see cyclists in a one dimensional way. They are people on bikes - full stop. They can't make out the nuanced differences between, a savvy road-rider, or the newbie triathlete, or even the dramatic difference between the kid riding to school, the typical bike commuter or the hipster riding a fixie. They are ALL cyclists to the motorist.

Now, I am not giving the motorist who just blasted me with his voice and horn, any excuses. He was being rude and offensive. However, I am guessing that part of his hostile reaction to me, was the fact that, five minutes before he came upon me, some other cyclist, perhaps cut him off at an intersection, while running a stop sign and, for good measure gave, the motorist the finger as he road off and away. I'll not tell you what type of cyclist who, I think that was - it could be any cyclist actually. It matters little. What matters is that the motorist, thinks we are all the same, and more cyclists need to know this.

You see, in most areas, bikes and bike riders have every right to be on the road - to take their place in the lane, and share the road with motor vehicles. Of course, there is a responsibility that comes with the right to be there - to follow the rules of the road. Hence the picture at the top and a campaign that I came across on Facebook today to promote this. Original link from Cycling InForm, an Australian based coaching service, is here. Please promote and share further.

In Canada, we have an advocacy group called Share The Road, that advocates for exactly that - a sharing of the road for all users - motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians!

Cyclists, as a group, we can do our part by following the rules of the road, and respecting the spirit of the Share The Road message, of truly sharing the road with our fellow road users. I know it's hard. The easy thing for me to do, given my encounter with the irate motorist that I started out talking about would have been to lash out and give-as-good-as-I-got. However, that would have only reinforced in the motorists mind that all-cyclists-are-asses, thought process. Instead, I give the guy a friendly wave, while a choke on the dust and excess carbon-monoxide!

Again, I know it's hard, but collectively as cyclists, its what we need to do.

Do you follow the rules of the road while you are riding?

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Marathon - The Bombing Will Not Stop Us!

 "We're going to keep running . . . . This isn't a hobby! This is who we are. This is our tribe"

The events of last Monday at the Boston Marathon, were truly, terrible and tragic. Others, have described much more eloquently than I ever can, the horror and the massive out-pouring of emotion from the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

I'll try and take a slightly different approach here.

In a way, the Boston Marathon is the Grand-Father of ALL participatory endurance sports events and races. Before all the other big marathons - there was Boston. Before - triathlons, and the Ironman - there was Boston. Before all the other big running races of any distance - there was Boston.* Before - gran fondos and century rides - there was Boston. The Boston Marathon came before all of this!

The Boston Marathon defined, what is a large participatory endurance sports event, and the concurrent, embracing of that event by the host community. On Patriots Day in Boston and all along the route, from Hopkinton - everything and everyone stops, and focuses on the Boston Marathon. There are no complaints about road closures or other inconveniences. There is no whining about not being able to get around. It's an all-in thing for everyone! Every last runner, is cheered for, heartily and with vigor all along the route. As women's marathon running pioneer and the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer put it so, succinctly, "If you are losing faith in human nature, go and watch a marathon"!

The Boston Marathon is the template, the hope, and the wish, that I am sure every event organizer who ever starts up something, even the humblest 5k fun run, tries to get to - or at least envision. Wouldn't it be great if one day, we could be like the Boston Marathon?

I sense that's why, other than the absolute outrage over the tragedy of what happened on Monday, that this has been such a unifying phenomenon. Even if we've never been to Boston, or done the Boston Marathon, we've either all wanted to, or took part in, or stood on the side of the road cheering, at a very similar event. We all felt like we were there. That we had been attacked and violated. It was personal.

I saw it written somewhere this week, that - "these guys picked the wrong group of people, if they thought they were going to stop us". Hence, Bob Babbitt's great quote at the top. Everyone who's ever pushed the aerobic envelop, is part of this tribe. That's why after the horror and shock of Monday, there has been this extraordinary force of unity amongst all endurance sports athletes, and an emboldened feeling of, we must go on!

The Boston Marathon will go on, all endurance sports events will go on and endurance sports athletes will keep going on!

*Note - I would be remiss, if I did not acknowledge here, that indeed the oldest foot-race in North America is, the Around The Bay 30K, race in Hamilton, Ontario. In fact, Around The Bay, has a catchy slogan that they use from time to time to promote their event "Older than Boston" - which I think is great!

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Last Triathlon - A Possible Exit Strategy

At the time it seemed a bit odd. I was giving the keynote address at the Toronto Triathlon Club's AGM, and I was going over in detail, how to get out of triathlon! Well, to be true, it was the details of my last Ironman triathlon race which also happened to be my last triathlon. Whatever the case, it's always good to have an exit strategy!

For those still new to the sport of triathlon, or still in pursuit, of that first Ironman race, please ignore the following, but book-note this for the future. You may want to come back and review this at some point!

In 1997 a lot was going on for me. My son was born in July. I was entered in Ironman Canada (Penticton) in August of that year, and I had also started a new, very exciting, but demanding job at Sugoi. Matthew was born on July 13. Training had been sporadic that year to date. If I was being honest with myself, my enthusiasm to keep training and racing at the same level, was starting to wane. Two weeks after Matthew was born, I had a bit of an epiphany while out for one of my last long runs before IMC. I decided on that, run, that IMC would be it - the last triathlon!

Much to my surprise, the race at IMC went extraordinarily well - swam OK, biked strong and, pulled a rabbit out of the hat on the run. It was particularly satisfying because my age-group had been fairly competitive with a close battle for 2nd - 5th spots, that went on step-for-step, deep into the run - rare in long distance triathlon. I managed to finish 2nd on the strength of what had always been my strength in the sport - a strong run. I held, my one month old son in my arms, just over the finish-line and wept, genuine tears of happiness and gratefulness. This was it! Not my best race. Not my best finish at IMC, but on that day, in that race, in that moment, it was fantastic!

The lesson here, with the luxury of hind-site, is when you have a really good/great Ironman race, and you know you are towards the end of your triathlon, "career" . . . . . . walk away!  I see many people grimly struggling on, still trying to have that amazing or prefect Ironman race, and unfortunatly for them it never comes. It's a race with so many variables and can be brutal and uncompromising - you have to take your "victories" when and where you can. Rarely does an Ironman triathlon go completely to plan. Knowing when to pack it in is sometimes, just as important as knowing when to start things up!

Years later, I am pleased that I did decide to end it there. It's always good to go out on high note. To be able to look back at that last race, with happiness and satisfaction that, you gave it your best on that day, and that it went well.

Sixteen years on, I have no regrets. It was time to move on.

Final Thoughts: If you have moved on from triathlon, hopefully you've stayed active. Moved onto another endurance sport - you have a great base and experience in three, from all that hard work in triathlon!

If you have moved on, what have you moved on to?

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Running USA Conference Review

Start of the Vancouver Sun Run with 50,000 runners!

In a blog I wrote last year I talked about the current richness of the endurance sports event choices that participants have. Several weeks ago I went to the annual Running USA conference in Savannah, GA. This is an event focused on running events, but the large broad issues and themes discussed in detail at the conference could be applicable to any endurance sports Race/Event Director.

Some key themes:


In many ways, it's all about your events brand. With so much choice, participants have become consumers. So all the same rules apply here that apply in the regular consumer world. You are not just putting on a race, or staging an event. Your event's brand has to shine through. It means a lot about what your event is all about. I was ounce told that, a really great brand walks into the room before you do! Hint it's not just about a logo - but having a great logo helps! One of my favorites in this area is The Blue Nose Marathon!

Think carefully about every touch-point that your participants, your consumers, have with your event. Think of every little impact point from when they first hear/see your brand, through registration,  the event itself, on-site, after the event etc . . . What will be the impression they have of the event, and your brand? What does your brand say about you and your event? Did you have enough porta-potties? Don't laugh . . this is HUGE!

In the endurance sports world, perhaps the pinnacle of this branding is Ironman. After all, when people are getting your logo tattooed on their bodies after they finish it, you know you've done something good with your event branding.

How's your event's brand doing?

Get A Hook

Continuing with the consumer theme - good marketing has a good hook to draw you in? What's drawing people into your event? It could be the course - the scenery, the challenge. It could be the theme. It could be the qualifying spots you have for another race. The weather? It could literally be anything, but whatever it is, it needs to pull people in, get them excited and then get them to sign up to participate.

Keep in mind, what one sub-group of people finds attractive (a super hard, and technical race course), others will not have much affinity for.  So, the parallel exercise here is knowing who your people are.  Those concerning themselves with qualifying for the Boston Marathon, will likely not be the same folks considering the Color Run.

However, bigger events are still diverse and attract a range. Centurion Cycling does a good job of sketching this out right in their motto, "Racers race and riders ride" - at the front it's a race! However, further back people are just happy to ride a scenic, challenging route on a well supported course.

The so-called MOB events( Mud Obstacle Beer), have really staked out the ground with having a hook. They go out of their way to let you know they are very different events, and each of the various ones, has a hook to get you to think about their events. If you don't believe me, just check out the web sites for The Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, Mud Hero and some other similar events. It's clear, they are different.

Hooks can also be subtle - perhaps it's as benign as the charity you choose to work with. This will resonate with people, who are concerned and want to help that specific charity. The largest running event in Canada, is The Run For The Cure - with over 140,000 participants at various events across the country on a single day!

Harry's Spring Run-Off, sponsored by clothier Harry Rosen, is a fund-raiser for prostate cancer, and encourages people to race/run in a suit! It's OK to have fun with this.

What's your hook?


When you have great branding and a great hook working for you, momentum takes over. The older more traditional and bigger events, that have been around for a while, The New York City Marathon, The Peach Tree Road Race, The Vancouver Sun Run and so on. These older, well established, events that have been around for a while, have momentum. They often sell out, and there is a rush and frenzy to enter, or an over-demand for a limited number of places in these races. They have the luxury of positive momentum. But they can't get too complacent - as I mentioned, it's a competitive event landscape. This momentum will only last so long. Ounce that momentum starts to wain, they will need to look into ways of building up their brand, perhaps creating a new hook, to get that momentum back.

What's your event's momentum doing?


Yes you are running a race or organizing an event, but these events now are social gatherings. They are small or massive get-togethers of people who are all part of a tribe. They all think in a similar way. They are for the most part from a demographic that lumps them all together as being somewhat similar. This is why social media has been so effect for some events in terms of spreading the word - many endurance sports athletes were early adopters of social media, and started using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media early on in the game, to communicate and connect.

The Color Run  has 1 million Facebook likes! Tough Mudder - 3.2 million!!

Social media has been hugely impactful with some of the newer events going from nothing to tens of thousands participants in a very short period of time. Events of all kinds would be wise to bone up quickly on social media and start using it in the right way.

Also, people want to do these events together with other people - having their own group, within the larger group. They want to be involved with something smaller, in the context of a bigger event! Teams, clubs, corporate/company groups, fund-raising groups, . . .etc. Whatever you can do to foster this, within your race or event is key. (Make sure your online entry registration is easy for teams/clubs/groups to sign-up) They want to be social with their group within the whole event. Hang with their people, before and afterwards. Events like the Ragnar Relays have really taken off. Road running relays like this have been around for a long time, but Ragnar has really upped the ante and created a bit of a sensation with their team relay events.

How social are you?

If you are a race or event director, hopefully you found this helpful.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Great Indoors

 Kurt Kinetic trainers all lined up at a local drop-in, indoor bike training session.

Full disclosure right up front - I've always hated indoor bike training! I have always been an outdoor-guy. No matter the weather, generally speaking I would prefer to be outdoors. However, living in the places that I have lived most of my life, that has meant dealing with white (with snow) or very wet (with rain) winters.

Back when I was far more serious about my training, my winters consisted of a lot of running and a lot of cross-country skiing. I would sprinkle-in some swimming and, a couple of indoor bike training sessions. In those days, indoor bike training was done, in solitude, in a dark, basement on a "wind-trainer" that roared like a 747 at take-off! Because, I did not really find the whole experience that enjoyable, I made it short and sweet - get-on, warm-up, knock out some really hard intervals, or a 20 min all out TT effort, warm-down, and done! Total time - one hour maxium.

With all the skiing and the steady diet of higher intensity indoor cycling efforts over the winter, I found that I could jump back on the bike in the spring ( mid to late March) and ride up-wards of 100K at a decent pace. I had not really lost all that much despite a low volume of cycling for nearly 4 months.

Today, for triathletes and road cyclists, indoor riding is all the rage. Some still do the solo-thing in their basement pain-caves and dungeons, but they can get very sophisticated these days wth all the training tools and software at the modern athletes disposal.

What seems to be even more popular are group training, with trainers either in ad hoc places (see picture above in a local church hall) or at more sophisticated and dedicated indoor training venues, built out specifically for this purpose, often with dedicated trainers by Computrainer, or other suppliers all hooked up, so that everyone can monitor wattage or other metrics and even, "race" one another!

Knowing what we know now about training with power, these indoor training sessions, away from the distractions and variables of the open road, can be very beneficial for triathletes and cyclists. Training loads and sessions can be very specific. The group environment can help as well. With a great group and a good ride leader ( A roll my wonderful wife Paolina Allan has fallen in love with - in another life she must have been a drill-Sargent!) people can be encouraged along, to levels of effort that, may not have been achievable training on their own, on the open road. In fact, it's not unheard of for some really dedicated folk to be more fit in the spring, coming off a winter of super focused indoor bike training, than later on in the year after logging more outdoor miles!

Of course, for me, personally, nothing beats the open road, and the wind in my face. However, I've learned to move my loathing of indoor training, to not quite love, but something that I will put up with for a few months, so that I can maintain, those gains from all the riding done in the great outdoors in spring/summer/fall. I've even attended a few group-sessions over the last couple of winters and, they have been fun - I can see the attraction. We are social animals. Getting together with like minded people to work hard a sweat for a couple of hours, can be "fun"!

My routine is still more or less the same as years ago. A few higher intensity sessions each week on the trainer, mixed in with some time on the rollers as well. Rarely more than an hour at a stretch. My inputs are not power or heart-rate, but some good music. That's all I need to keep me motivated. There is even a web site for that - check out Velo-Beats. Great tunes for riding indoors. The goal - as it was back then, be ready to hit the open road in the spring, ready to ride!

How's your indoor cycling going?

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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Race Shirt

 Race-shirt from the Rev3 Quassy Triathlon last year

Have we given away enough free shirts?

According to the Running USA Stats page, in 2011, roughly 13 Million runners completed a running race of some kind in the Untied States that year. If you add in Canada, as well as all the triathlons in North America you might get to 15 million total participants in running and triathlon events in 2011.

There is a good chance that many of those 15 million race participants got a fee shirt of some kind for entering each of those races. This has become the standard or default, give-away for almost all running and triathlon races. That's 15 million free shirts given away. I am trying to imagine what the pile . .  err . . mountain, of 15 million t-shirts looks like!

Many of these shirts in terms of their look, follow a similar pattern - some form of of design or art on the front that's in keeping with a given events logo and look and feel, and then often some array of sponsor logos on the back.

At one time, these were cotton shirts. Now many of these are the so called,"technical shirts" or "tech-T's". I recall a meeting that I convened, when I was the Marketing and Communications Manager at Sugoi back in the late 90's. Polyester technical t-shirts for running were new then. Hard to believe that prior to about '97, most runners ran in good old cotton t-shirts. Anyway, the meeting at the old Sugoi office in Vancouver was between the key people at the Vancouver Sun Run, and the marketing team at Sugoi. We were trying to come up with formula even then, to get a Sugoi technical T-shirt on the backs of the then roughly 35,000+ Sun Run, participants. We couldn't crunch the numbers to make it work. then - the wholesale cost of the fabrics at the time was prohibitive. However, now, the costs of have been reduced to a point, that giving away a polyester technical shirt has become the standard.

When anything becomes this big a default action, it's a wise course of action to at some point start to look into the reasoning behind the action. So - why do races give away so many t-shirts? There is a cost to this, somewhere along the line - either a hard cost for the event or for one of the events sponsors. Someone is paying for all these t-shirts.

The most common answer amongst race directors as to "why", is typically twofold:

1. Adding value and differentiation to the event.

2. A place for sponsors logos to be displayed, with  the assumption when that the t-shirts are worn,  there's ongoing exposure for those sponsors and those brands. Race participants become human bill-boards when they wear the shirts after the event.

However, if every race is giving away a t-shirt, that getting a t-shirt is the default thing, how is that adding value and differentiating the event? To some races credit, they will try and differentiate here and there, by offering some difference, with long sleeve shirts, or a better quality garment, or different style and design etc . .

As for point #2 - this is obviously dependent on if, and how often the race shirts are actually worn in public. Some casual sampling that I did, on the Slowtwitch Forum, via my Facebook page, and at some public speaking engagements that I recently have worked at, race shirts were actually seldom worn in public by the recipients! In many cases, the shirts were dumped, passed on to Goodwill or some other clothes donation organization, or used as cleaning rags for bikes( popular with triathletes). Whatever the end-point or use, I am not sure this is what the event organizers or the sponsors had in mind - that the shirts would end up in the trash, on the back of some unfortunate, poor homeless person, or used as a bike rag!

In my sampling of specifically veteran endurance sports athletes - who compete in multiple and many races in a calendar-year, an overwhelming majority of these athletes, saw no use or value in getting a race shirt - many already had closets full of them or gave them all away, as noted. Typically this crowd, would say, "Give me something else, or give me a reduced price on my event entry".

However, I also know that for many first time participants or very occasional participants in many events, the race-shirt is a prized memento, and is possibly worn with a great deal of pride, many times after the event.

With the costs to put on running and triathlon races starting to mount, many race directors and race management organizations are starting to look at all costs associated with their events and looking where they can cut back. More than a few events are having a hard look at the the "free" race-shirt that they have given away for years, and are looking at ways to somehow get around that line-item cost. Some are asking a specific sponsor to pick up the whole cost of the shirt, while others, possibly with some progressive thinking, are making the race-shirt an option - giving race entrants, the choice at the time of online registration, to buy the shirt, or take a pass completely on the shirt.

The very popular and successful ( it's one of the largest in North America) Recharge with Milk Triathlon Series, produced by Multisport Canada, is considering making the race shirt for their events this year, something that participants can purchase at the time of  pre-event online registration

Other events are eschewing, the race-shirt completely and going with different lower cost give-aways - socks, hats, pint-glasses, coffee-mugs all seem to be popular stand-ins for the race-shirt, and hopefully at a lower cost.

Meanwhile, many other events still believe quite strongly, often based on surveying of event participants that, the race shirt, is a key to the "success" of their event.

The whole endurance sports event business is growing at a healthy pace right now. This year, that 15 million figure sited earlier, will more than likely be over 10% more, and that means more and more race-shirts given away.

What do you think about race-shirts? Have we given away enough free shirts or is this something that is here to stay?

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Train With Better People

Group ride in Kona, Hawaii heading to the Kaloko climb. Picture - Tim Carlson/Slowtwitch

I've been lucky. All the way along, whether I was a runner, a triathlete, a cross-country skier or a cyclist, I have always had the opportunity to regularly train with people better than me. . . in some cases a lot better than me! I believe that to a large degree, this has been an important part of the, "success" that I experienced along the way, no matter what I was doing in endurance sports.

It's not all absolutely worked out that way. It took me a number of years to figure out the dosing on this. For example, when I was a runner, of some note back in my teens and early 20's, I ran with these better people almost every day. Every workout, particularly hard intervals sessions and tempo runs was like a race! In fact, I probably had some of my best "races" in workouts! Even easy days, were hard!

I recall one session of 7 x 800m intervals on the track that was a 5000m race simulation workout that, was run at a pace way over my head, with a rest session much too short for me to recover. This was a group of  eight or nine strong runners that included, Provincial and National team champions, and team members. Never-the-less, I grimly hung in there, and when my turn to lead, in the lead rotation, came up on the 2nd last interval, I was able to hold the lead all the way, and nail the pace and the 800m split to the second . . . nearly killing myself in doing so. I some how managed to survive the absolute last 800m, but was well off-the-back of  the group in the final 100m. I never duplicated that, "performance" in an actual 5000m race!

As I moved onto triathlon, the situation was the same - regularly training with the absolute best people around in my area and nationally. Ditto with nordic skiing - which became my winter "off-season", from triathlon, but also involved some mammoth ski training, again, often with really good skiers. However, now I was starting to understand better my own needs for periodization - when to load it up and when to back off. When to go hard and long with the group, or when to go easy and do my own thing.

However, it was not just the red-line on the rivet training that, is impactful when you train with really good people, often it's the little things you notice about a world class athlete: How they move? What they wear? What they look at? What's important to them . . and so on.

I have mentioned here before about riding with former Pro Cyclist Alex Steida back in the early 90's in Vancouver. Sure, the riding with Steida was fast, but when you sat on his wheel or road beside him in the group, it was, how at ease he looked no matter what we were doing, that I always noticed. The reach back to grab an energy bar out of the rear pocket of his cycling jersey. Having a drink of water from a water bottle - it all had this extraordinary economy to it all. Grace and calm under pressure!

I recall a run at Christmas time one year in Victioria, BC, with Peter Reid who had just won the first of his three Ironman World Championships two months before, and a young Simon Whitfield, who was just over a year away from winning the first ever Olympic Gold Medal in Triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The pace for the 16 K run was decent, but not overly fast - in fact Reid had advised us that we had to run "slow". The conversation, was non-stop, and, almost never about training or triathlon! Light and easy. I learned a lot from that run.

Today, my best days as an endurance athlete are far behind me. I don't race much, if at all. Cycling is my thing now. Again, I am lucky in that when I do go out for a group ride, with our local cycling club, the group is peppered with some impressive talent with some of the best Master's cyclists in the province, and in all of Canada! Just hanging in with these guys, and not getting dropped is an achievement and an honor!

Some seek the solitude of solo training. I do too. This quiet time away from everything, I have always found helpful - in many different ways. The trick as I mentioned, is balance. When I was a teenager, running, it was unbalanced towards the side of too much, group training at too high a level. Later on, I realized, how to better balance it all, to get full advantage of the opportunities that training with other better athletes would give me.

The higher level message and take away here is that there is a lot to be gained and learned from training with people who are better than you. I know that I have benefited from it, greatly over the years. Probably did a bit too much of it when I was runner, and had a more balanced approach with it as I got older. But, perhaps I would not have run as well as I did, or developed the massive base of fitness that all that running did for me had I not run like that for 5 - 6 years. Hard to know.

Used properly, group training with better athletes can be highly effective in bringing out the best in you. Don't shy away from it.

Do you train with better people?

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