I thought that it might be interesting to share with you the things I do as ‘Event Director’ for Eastleigh parkrun.
Unfortunately, due to family commitments I’m only able to attend the events once per fortnight on average. However, behind the scenes (and ably assisted by Rachael Elliott), I’m busy each day doing something to ensure that each event runs smoothly. But before I go into my day-to-day tasks, here’s a little background on how I became Event Director for Eastleigh parkrun.
Over the last 6 months or so I’ve unofficially and then officially taken on the role of Event Director for the Eastleigh parkrun. Prior to this, I’d Race Directed a few times. This gave me the opportunity to see how results were processed, what roles each volunteer had, how the technology behind parkrun worked and what things needed to be done behind the scenes every week. I was very lucky to have a great teacher, Rachael Elliott, who had months of experience of all of the above!
On my first solo Race Directing experience, I was under-pressure as Paul Sinton-Hewitt and his entourage from parkrun HQ visited Eastleigh. Thanks to a great team of volunteers that day, everything went swimmingly and I wasn’t demoted or sacked!!
I originally got interested in the Event Director role when Brett wanted to take some time off over the winter following many early mornings organising the lake swim at Lakeside Country Park. As Brett had single-handedly race directed a majority of the events for several months, the first thing we needed to do was find a team of race directors to share that load. Fortunately, several keen volunteers came forward and have been doing a sterling job since (many thanks Henry, Dave, Berni, Rachael and Deb).
One of my first tasks was to produce a user manual for Race Directors that described how to do the role as well as describe in words, pictures and photos how the Lakeside course had to be set out. Although most Race Directors now have a great knowledge of how to run the event, I hope it’s a useful resource if they have any questions/concerns. The manual has even found its way into the hands of new event directors around the country!
The next big task was to find an alternate location after the conditions at Lakeside deteriorated due to heavy rain, ice, snow etc! Paul Johnson was very helpful in suggesting several potential locations and liaised with the right people to explore the possibilities of us moving the parkrun temporarily until the course at Lakeside was safe to run at again. After some negotiation, the University of Southampton agreed to let us use Wide Lane Sports Field in Eastleigh which is adjacent to Lakeside. A perfect location for our winter course.
Having met up with the management at Wide Lane (as well as the groundsmen), the next job was to find a suitable 5km course around the field. This involved running around many times with a measuring wheel and iPhone 4 to work out the best course in terms of distance, low hazards, etc. I was fortunate to also have the assistance of fellow Race Director, Henry Hopkins, on one morning finalising and perfecting the course.
Due to the nature of the fields, there is no defined path so quite a lot of time was spent ensuring that those volunteers setting up the course were able to do so consistently every week. Many thanks to Gareth Jones and John Collier for handling this tasks and providing invaluable feedback week after week. Many thanks also to Robert Spencer for providing course length feedback each week.
And now back to what I do week by week…
Much of the work during the week is involved with ensuring we have a good sized team of volunteers for the event on Saturday and that the equipment is ready.
On a Monday, I like to set up an event on the Eastleigh parkrun page to remind parkrunners that we’ll be back the following Saturday! The Facebook page is something I started prior to becoming the Event Director and I like to think that it’s a good way of building a community of runners in the local area who parkrun at Eastleigh. It’s been great to see the community grow from nothing to almost 185 fans over the months and I hope that it continues to grow in popularity as we also use it to keep everyone up to date with event-related news, news of local races, shout-outs for local running clubs etc.
I also reset all the gadgets and recharge them on a Monday. The gadgets include several stopwatches, the barcode scanner and official parkrun timer. In reality, these are reset several times during the week just to be doubly-sure that they’ll work properly on the Saturday!
Over the last week or so, I’ve also been involved with testing a new version of the software we use to collate the barcodes and finishing positions to produce the event results. With my background in software engineering, I’ve done a fair amount of testing in the past and have really enjoyed seeing how the software’s evolving to make results processing easier, more logical and quicker in the new version.
On Tuesday, I tend to start worrying about having enough volunteers to run the event smoothly. Fortunately, we have a small number of volunteers who help every week. Many thanks Gareth and John Collier!
To try and bolster volunteer numbers to the 12 or so ideally needed to run the event, we use the Twitter page and Facebook page to try and encourage volunteers to come forward.
A regular task is to check the emails that are sent into the event and respond to them. Having a customer services background, I like to do this regularly and provide quick responses to those that email in. Emails tend to be related to missing results, discrepancies in the results due to scanning issues or offers from volunteers.
As each volunteer comes forward, I update a rota held in a Google Docs Spreadsheet. During the latter part of the week, the rota starts to take shape and volunteers and roles are swapped around as more experienced volunteers announce their availability.
By Thursday, the rota should really be starting to take shape. It there is a real shortage of volunteers, it’s time to send out a bulk email to those people that have expressed an interested in volunteering in the hope that some will be able to help. The bulk email is a last resort and I’ll normally try to encourage people via Facebook and Twitter first. The main reason is that in order to send out the bulk email requires the use of the parkrun laptop and getting that warmed up and ready to use can take some time!
On Friday, if I’m not going to be at the parkrun the following day, I prepare the race director’s pack. This consists of forms for recording runners who’ve forgotten their barcode (or whose barcode won’t scan) as well as various other information such as the list of volunteers for the event. I’ll then take this, along with the charged scanner, timers etc, down to Wide Lane and get it locked in the store for the following day’s event. If I’m at the event, I’ll simply take the equipment to the event on the Saturday morning!!
If I’m attending the event (either as race director or running), I’ll get to Wide Lane for about 8:30am. If I’m running, I’ll help the race director brief the volunteers and make sure that the ‘gadgets’ are all ready. This normally involves resetting the gadgets for the umpteenth time! OCD? Me?
By about 9:30, it’s time to crank up the laptop and start to upload the volunteer list to parkrun. This ensures that the volunteers receive their full points (a volunteer receives full points for the first 3 times they volunteer).
As soon as the last finisher has crossed the line, it’s time to start processing results. This involves downloading the data from the various timers and the barcode scanner to the laptop and, on occasion, manually adjusting the data to make it ‘correct’. Last Saturday, one timer managed to miss the first two finishers whilst another time managed to miss the last two finishers! That meant merging the data from both timers together.
There are a number of things that can make processing the results more difficult than it should be. The first is when there’s equipment failure (or finger trouble). Over the last few months, we’ve had a few issues with the barcode scanner and this has led to having to manually record, and subsequently enter, the finish positions of all runners. In some cases, this has been 60 or 100 runners.
Another regular issue is where a runner forgets his/her barcode. Until very recently, it was possible to search for a parkrunner by name and then allocate a position. This was time consuming and also lead to the database on the laptop taking a hammering. (Un)fortunately, it’s no longer possible to search for runners in this way and that means we have to have their barcode number. Without it, we have to record the position against ‘athlete unknown’ when the results are first published.
Processing the results takes several steps and it’s something I can (almost) do in my sleep. With luck, it’s possible to get the results processed in a few minutes and with the mobile internet dongle, results can be uploaded to the parkrun servers within about 10 minutes of the end of the event (by about 9:55am normally). The processing of the results then takes a few more minutes and the results are live by about 10am or a little later.
Things are slightly different if I’m not at the event. Firstly, I need to receive the barcode scanners, timers etc. This is normally done by the race director on the day who’ll kindly drop them off to my house. This does normally lead to a little delay in the results being available. However, due to other commitments, I do normally get the results processed and uploaded to parkrun by about 10:30am.
Once the results are available, it’s time to notify parkrunners on the Facebook page and Twitter. Where possible, I try to include a summary of the number of runners, PBs and first-time runners. This information is collated into a ‘journalist report’ that parkrun automatically send to the event director at the same time that parkrunner individual results are emailed.
Assuming all has gone to plan, that’s it for the weekend and it’s time to start worrying about the following week’s event! A few emails normally come in on the Saturday and Sunday from runners whose results weren’t recorded due to them not having their barcode. Where possible, I’ll try and get these amended and uploaded by Monday morning at the latest.
A day of parkrun rest!
So, that’s it. A week of the life of Eastleigh parkrun’s Event Director. I’m sure each ED does things differently. As you’ll see, the main issue is ensuring we have enough volunteers to help the event run smoothly each week. If you’d like to make things easier (and save me worrying so much), please email eastleighHelpers@parkrun.com!!