Why be a Race Director (Ian Martin)
After the 2018 Priory Relays, one of the competing clubs posted this on its website: ‘Set in the picturesque Priory Park against the colourful backdrop of Autumn trees on the North Downs and on a challenging course with the excellent organisation of the local club with results appearing on the screen as runners finish each leg, this is really the best cross-country event of the year.’ When you receive such a response to all of the efforts of your team, there is great satisfaction in a job well done.
But there is much more to be gained from organising an RPAC race. Most importantly, the three RPAC races: Summer Evening 10k; Priory Relays and Holly Run, bring in a lot of revenue to the club, which helps to keep down the annual membership subscription fee and allows the club to invest in new equipment, hire of the track and other benefits for members. Also, the races raise the profile of the club, leading to new members and increased interest from the local community.
What is involved in the role? Each race has its own character and requirements, but the main tasks are the same for each. Establishing the date, venue, EA licence and publicity are early tasks. Then the key objectives are to ensure that we have enough helpers to cover the required tasks, including runner safety and of course, to draw in as many runners as possible for the event.
YOU ARE NOT ON YOUR OWN. The club has detailed guidance for each race, based on many years’ experience, plus there will be lots of helpers (including past Race Directors) who will offer support. However, as Race Director you can make changes to your race if you wish, and it is important that each new director brings a fresh outlook.
And you have the final word on any key decision. In the first year that I was Race Director of the Holly Run, the weather in mid-December was atrocious. Freezing temperatures and icy conditions made the course extremely hazardous: it was touch and go whether the race could go ahead given the ground conditions. I was advised by a number of people to cancel the event, but I held off as I did not want to be the first race director to cancel. My view was that the race is called the Holly Run for good reasons; runners should expect winter conditions. Then, for 2 days just before the race there was heavy snow. This created a soft cushion above the rutted ice, and made the conditions challenging, but petty safe, though I had to change part of the course to avoid the worst sections of the ground, as well as the tobogganers in the park, but the race could go ahead.
At the end, once you have had time to finish of the last tasks, you can look back on your achievement with pride and satisfaction, knowing that you have created an opportunity for hundreds of athletes to enjoy themselves.
Volunteering at the Virgin Money London Marathon (Liz Clark)
In 2018, it was already warm as we set off at 5.30 am from Reigate to get to Blackheath to help at the start of the London marathon. However, in previous years, we've had cold, snow or rain! When we arrive we are given our instructions and where we will be helping.
Our roles are to help runners and spectators find their way around and tell people the best places to watch. It is a good chance to experience some of the atmosphere. After we have helped we are free to go and watch the race.
I really like doing this as we are helping people. It is good thing to do, the club receives a place in the race next year and we each receive a t-shirt (or similar) and a commemorative medal.
Volunteering at the Vitality London 10k (Liz Clark)
The London 10k normally takes place on the second May public holiday. We all meet at Redhill station at about 7 am to travel to Victoria. We then make our way to Green Park for a briefing, where we are also given our picnic, jacket and t-shirt.
We make our way to the start pens for another briefing, then the runners are starting to arrive ready for the 10am start. Our job is to help the runners into their correct starting pens. If there are any questions, there is always somebody more senior to help. Once the runners have all crossed the start, we have a debrief and are then free to watch or go home.
All a good morning in Green Park and the Club also receives a donation!
Becoming an Official (Donna Barrington-Smith)
When you’re watching your child regularly enjoy the variety and competitiveness of athletics, and you’re travelling many weekends from a track one week, to a cross country course another, then you’re asked if you’d help the athletics club to be in a position to join an athletic league as they have to provide ‘officials’ – what do you say?
Of course you say yes! And so RPAC joined the Lily B league for the first time... And I, somehow, became an UKA Technical Timekeeper.
Not having the foggiest idea what I’d let myself in for, I turned up at the Worthing track one Saturday morning for an Officials Course, just over a decade ago, to be asked what ‘offical’ role I was there to become? “I’m here to be an official” I indignantly replied. Doah (there are seven different disciplines)!
Well someone had put me down to be a timekeeper, so off I went to a small group of potential timekeepers, with the friendliest of tutors, a chap called Mike Barrett. I had no prior knowledge of athletics, except the little I’d watched the children do, and seriously no idea whatsoever of the rules. The course only took a few hours, was interesting and informative, and soon watches were thrust into our hands and outside we trooped to time a small group of young athletes. It was a simple as that...
Nearly. To get my first ‘level’ I had to get four experiences before I could apply for my licence.
My first event was at the track at the old Walton track. A Woking official, Neil, was to be my mentor for the day and we were to time second place. Now remember, this is my first event. First race was a men’s 400m hurdles. First event, first race, second athlete over the finish line...world record. Seriously! It was a Vets 50, 400mH and a World Record to boot. Wow!
So a superb start! Over that first summer season I gained more than the required four experiences, travelling around Lily B’s in Surrey and south London, Crawley Opens and a couple of County events too. And getting my first official UKA Officials licence (which includes a full CRB/DBS check) made me rather proud!
But then I just kept going back. I’d felt at a bit of a lose end, sitting in the sidelines watching my daughter compete, and now the visits gave me purpose too.
At the time, I wouldn’t have said that I’d still be a timekeeper over ten years later, but as I worked my way through the levels, and met and enjoyed the company of so many other timekeepers and officials, I realised I wasn’t too bad at this timekeeping malarkey and was really quite enjoying it!
The highest level of timekeeper is a Level 4, and about 6 years ago I decided that I would take the two years necessary to complete the relevant reporting to gain the grade. I enjoyed the challenges thrown at me, and this also opened my eyes to international events. I wasn’t allowed to time them then, but I thoroughly enjoyed being an athlete’s stewards at the first Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium in 2013, reprimanding Usain Bolt for not having his accreditation on him, laughing at Mo Farah sticking his leg numbers on his head and watching (with the biggest grin) as 3 of the 4 Jamaican 4x100m relay team jumped up and down over the chairs in the call room whilst everyone was in stitches of laughter – and being awestruck by Jess (then) Ennis.
Once I had fulfilled the extensive criteria to become a Level 4 timekeeper and my reports and tests and experiences were approved, I was then to be put on probation for two years; a Level 4P. This opened up opportunities for me to time at International Events and was soon flown to Glasgow during the winter indoor season to time at the British Grand Prix.
Fast forward two years and out of probation, I was then chosen by my peers to be a part of the very select group of UK Technical Officials on the IMO (International Meeting Officials) list. To say this is an honour is an understatement, and currently (for the third year) I am just one of three female timekeepers chosen from the whole of Great Britain to be so. I’m sure this will change at some time, a long way to fall and all that... but I’ll enjoy the moments whilst they are there, the opportunities to time and watch some fantastic athletics, and the chance I’ve had to make new friends and colleagues up and down the country. They really are a friendly bunch!
But no one has to follow the steps that I chose to take! Many timekeepers/officials stay either at as a Level 2 or Level 3. Level 3 allows them to officiate at regional events (South of England) and also work with very experienced officials, learning more if they like, or just enjoying the days out.
I’m a timekeeping nerd. I, like many of my colleagues, discuss hundreds of seconds, dissect error averages, complain about smoke starts instead of flashes, and negotiate race finishes. We lead, we follow, we call times, we time. We compete against each other for the lowest error averages. Always competing. We help each other, we mentor, we watch. We time... and time again...