Boilermaker Blog

When you’ve finally awake, I’ve already left

May 28th, 2013


I know this sounds like the words to a bad country-western song but I thought it would at least get your attention!
Let’s have a talk about time…
Being in my position with the Boilermaker, I often think I’m living in a far different time zone than others.
That ‘wonderful’ countdown clock visually screams at me as I approach the office.
‘Hey Tim, you have less than 50 days until multiple thousands of people descend on the city and it’s your responsibility- have a nice day!’
This makes my sixth year with the Boilermaker and, as I’ve said to our Directors, this might be the hardest race I’ve been involved in. Besides the normal hurley burley we deal with a whole new set of stuff has occupied us. A short list- filming of a Boilermaker documentary, inaugural charity bib program, a Boilermaker app. (available soon; you heard it here first), trying to sell our building, supporting a shadow run in Afghanistan, move of the 3 mile walk back to Masonic and dealing with the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings- Whoof!
Now is the time when I get inquires about some involvement with the race. Perhaps it’s the change in the weather or media exposure or, yes, perhaps it’s that darned countdown clock.
It is bemusing when I’ve put multiple requests for info etc. from a person/ firm and finally get an answer weeks later when the race becomes ‘real’ to people. What is not so funny is when there are dozens of these people and they all seem to respond at once!
The sheer magnitude of this event simply demands that major components are buttoned up months in advance. Finisher’s pins, glasses and merchandise have long lead-times. Expo participation, bands on the course, food offerings/ location at the Post Race Party all have logistical issues that cannot be done at the last minute.
So, amazing as this might sound, a bit of my time is now being spent on thinking about Boilermaker 2014. As I said earlier, I’m a lot farther down the tracks.
By now there is little that can be done to add to the payload of the Boilermaker rocket- we are on the launch pad, counting down. 47 days, 46 days, 45 days…

Boston, One Month Later

May 15th, 2013


A short month ago two bombs shook the streets of Boston- God; it somehow feels so much longer than that! It was simply the biggest attack against the U.S. since 9/11.
So now we now all live in the AB (After-Boston) world.
Since that time:
We sold over a 1,000 Boilermaker/ Boston commemorative tech shirts in 3 days with all proceeds going to the One Fund- Boston. Three days, the same amount of time to sellout this year’s race.
We had a tremendous meeting with nearly every Federal, State and local law enforcement that have or can support the race. It was simply inspiring to see all these agencies forming a unified team. Our Technical Director, a 14 year veteran assisting at the Boston Marathon Finish Line, flew in to offer advice.
We have had a chance to look at our own ‘playbook’ and see where we need to tighten up.
Sometimes small good things can come out of a very bad thing.
Do I think there will be an event similar to Boston; probably not.
Saying that ‘it can’t happen here’ is a pretty lousy disaster plan.
We in the road race biz do not have the luxury of sports that participate in an arena/ field environment where you can control entry points.
However, there are plenty of sensible procedures we can put in place that enhance safety while not sucking the joy out of the race. What I have often seen happen with major tragedies like Boston is an extreme overreaction that in a strange way further bolsters the bad guys.
While the bombs of Boston will in some ways affect mass gatherings in the future we must never run in fear.

The Humane Race

April 27th, 2013


I originally was going to title this blog ‘The Human Race’ but after crafting it decided to substitute the word humane.
Definition of humane (adj) – Compassionate: showing the better aspects of the human character, especially kindness and compassion. (from the Bing Dictionary)

The Boilermaker Charity Bib Program has been up and running since mid-March and it had been simply awe-inspiring. From the soldier running in memory of a buddy he served with in Vietnam felled by Agent Orange to the mother running in honor of her son who suffers from severe Autism; simply great (human/ humane)stories.
I thought about how I could inspire those of you that didn’t get into the race to raise $500 to become a charity runner and I know there are many of you who didn’t get in judging by the countless emails I received after the race closed out.
So I decided to come up with a ‘top ten list’ why becoming a charity runner is a good thing.
Drum roll please…….
Because it is the right thing to do.
Because it is the only way to be guaranteed you will get into the race (the 5k or 15k). While we will be bringing the bib transfer program back there is no assurance you will get one (plus there is the hassle factor). Much demand for a very limited resource.
Because you get your bib for free. All you need are ten semi-rich people who pledge $50 to your charity of choice or 50 not so affluent people who give 10 bucks. You can figure out the various math combinations.
Because you will be able to say you were in the inaugural charity class of the Boilermaker; a small select group of 200.
Because it’s a great test to see how much your friends and family really like you.
Because you never know that money that you personally raised for one of our charities of choice makes the difference in the sustainability of a program. Many of these groups are getting absolutely hammered by budget cuts.
Because it’s a tax deductable donation for those writing the check to the charity to support you.
Because of that feeling you get helping someone else. In my opinion the most amazing gift of all is the one you give to someone you don’t even know.
Because if you are one of the top three pledge gatherers you can win a free entry into future Boilermakers- imagine no waking up at 12:01 am on registration day! Also, we will be having a drawing for some cool stuff for everyone who participated in the program.
Did I mention because it’s the right thing to do?
Its programs like this that reminds me the power this race has to do infinite good. Hey, getting a chance to participate in a world-class race, enjoy perhaps the best Post Race Party in the U.S. and making a difference in our community- that is pure joy!
Want to be a part of something special or know someone who wants to get in the race; check out http://www.boilermaker.com/charitybib/.
Be human/ humane; pass it along

Computers Gone Wild!

April 3rd, 2013


When electronic race registration runs well it is a Godsend for a sporting event. A recent case in point, the Beach to Beacon 10k.  This race which was the brainchild of Joan Benoit Samualson is the largest race that takes place in Maine with over 6,000 runners. Of that field 4,000 enter the race via open registration (first come- first serve). In five minutes the field was filled!

Two recent events show what can happen when computers don’t behave well.

On February 19th registration opened for the Chicago Marathon; four hours later the system was shut down due to technology problems.

In order to equitably dole out the remaining 15,000 slots Chicago officials instituted a lottery.  In spite of the problems, in the four hours the registration system was live approximately 30,000 people managed to register.

Fast forward approximately a month later to the opening of registration for the Marine Corp Marathon (MCM). The MCM which is run in October boosts a field of 30,000. Almost immediately the system strained with the heavy traffic. People were forced to constantly refresh their web screens to, hopefully, get through the registration process.

In the end, the Marines Corp Marathon was sold out in two hours, twenty seven minutes; that’s around the time the winner of the marathon will be coming in!

As a guy who loves history it made me think about the ‘old days’ (like 10 years ago) when we worked with a manual system to process everything.

Imagine dealing with paper applications, you fill it out, mail it, we receive it, retype in all the info you filled out, cash your check and send you a confirmation postcard.

We were heavily dependent upon a small, loyal force of volunteers who would process the mountain of paper. I simply cannot calculate the amount of man-hours needed to get the job done. 

If we used our current registration total (18,500) and assumed it took 5 minutes to complete the process per runner we’re talking about 1,541 hours. This year registration was done electronically in 68 hours.

I can’t think of a major race that is not using electronic systems as their primary, if not exclusive, method of registration.

In addition, races do not have dedicated systems to process your application that is accomplished through a third party.

So the ability of that registration partner needs to be able to handle the ‘flash mob’ that will surge through the system literally the minute registration goes live.

Bottom line is we in the race biz need to pick our partners very carefully because when things go bad you know whose castle the villagers will be charging with the torches and pitchforks.

One Amazing Day

March 24th, 2013


There are times when being President of the Boilermaker is one very cool gig. Like hearing the gun sound on Boilermaker Sunday and watching the thundering herd beginning their 9.3 mile journey. How about witnessing the sea of humanity from the stage at the Post Race Party?
Sometimes it’s pretty heady stuff.
Then there are some events that are much more subtle, yet as awe-inspiring; one of them happened on March 15th.
But let’s back up…
This year, for the first time, the Boilermaker held back 200 bibs to support a charity bib program. I’d love to say we invented the concept but programs like this have existed for years even spawning companies who support fundraising web pages and expedite pledge gathering. Some large races literally raise tens of millions of dollars for selected not for profits.
We decided to take baby steps with our program so we did as much as we could internally to maximize the amount of money that would go to the charities. While we didn’t want to bang runners over the head with a huge pledge target we wanted it to be a number that would be meaningful to the charities of choice; we settled on $500 a runner. While not a math major, this would generate a minimum of $100,000. In addition, we decided to ‘sweeten the pot’ by offering free Boilermaker registrations for future races as well as additional donations to the group they were running for to the top three pledge raisers. Hey, this race is all about healthy competition!
In order to apply as a charity of choice we asked a few questions such as:
-Do you have a physical presence in our region? (This area made the race; we really want the money to stay here!)
– What will do with the money to make a measureable difference? (This is an unplanned windfall; how will you make the area better?)
– Are you really, really sure you can handle this? (We’re giving you the bibs for free but you need to handle the administration.)
Twenty five charities expressed interest; in the end, ten were selected. They serve a very diverse population group (check them out at boilermaker.com).
This brings us back to March 15th; that was the date of the formal awarding of the bibs to the various charities.
While handing the bibs to the organizations in front of the media was a blast, I found the post press conference meeting much more satisfying. All of us had a chance to discuss how we saw this working; a couple of the organizations were old pros at this, some complete novices. As they spoke I saw this inaugural class melding into a team.
There are few times when you realize you are standing at the beginning of a historical moment, clearly the 800 some souls that ran the first Boilermaker in 1978 never suspected what the event would become.
I know my brother, the founder of this race, always has looked at the Boilermaker as a positive change agent for our community.
On March 15th I just knew that I was witnessing another of those significant historical moments for the Boilermaker- simply fantastic!

Color me a Runner

February 18th, 2013


When the Boilermaker was born 35 plus years ago the amount of organized races was certainly not as plentiful and participants tended to be hard-core runners (also thought to be slightly strange creatures).
In 2013 a runner can find multiple races within easy driving distance. The half-marathon (13.1 miles) an unknown event in 1978 has become a major factor in distance running. Running statistics for 2011 (2012 numbers are as yet unavailable) shows 17 of the top 50 races in finishers were half-marathons. In earlier times Marathons would dominate; in 2011 only 8 showed up (with perhaps only 7 in 2012 with the cancelling of the ING New York Marathon last November).
What the running boom has also spawn is what I would call races that are much more built around an event format than a traditional timed event. This is clearly the case in The Color Run series.
The Color Run is a non-timed 5k run where participants running/ walking in white tee shirts are pelted with colored corn starch eventually emerging as a two-legged Jackson Pollack painting. There are lanes where runners can be lightly colored or heavily doused and it’s suggested you don’t eat the cornstarch. Many wear goggle to prevent becoming colorblind (my joke).
The Color Run series is only one year old yet had over 600,000 registrants in last year. It is estimated that in 2013 they will have in excess of 1,000,000 participants- very impressive! Besides the U.S. races have been held in Australia, Germany, Portugal and Brazil.
Currently the Race For The Cure with 1.2 million runners/ walkers is the largest event series in the U.S..
An event like this where you throw/ get hit by stuff certainly seems to be a natural draw to the younger runner (there is no age limit on participation). Approximately 60% of the participants had never run a 5k.
I’m sure that many running purists look down at events like this. As for myself, while not looking forward to washing magenta coloring off my running shoes do believe that if this fun-factor gets kids, even ever so briefly, unshackled from the video games that it’s not a bad thing.
So if you think it’s cool to sport a tee that looks more reminiscent of Woodstock than the Walt Disney Marathon then The Color Run may be for you.

Moving at Hyper-Speed

January 17th, 2013


There was an informal bet among Boilermaker staff concerning when the 2013 Boilermaker would sell out. The 2012 race had sold out in 65 days. I surmised that, with the field held at 14,000 that we would be looking at hitting the cap in a month.
Surprise, surprise!
Registration opened at 12:01 am, January 12th, by 4:30 am when I woke up the count was nearly 800, a fourfold increase from a year ago at that time. Something very different is happening.
The velocity of registrants continued to increase throughout Saturday; that day we saw over 14,500 hits on the website (not including Facebook which was running white hot and registered over 49,000 hits).
On Monday evening, shortly after a Boilermaker meeting, the bomb hit- the 15k reached the cap. Frantic emails began to populate my computer; the phones began to ring and ring and ring.
A day later the 5k fell victim to the race cap. In 2012 the 5k maxed out two weeks after the 15k had filled. That year was the first time the 5k had ever hit its cap and probably caused more ‘how could this have happened’ emails and calls than the closing of the 15k.
It certainly seems clear the advanced warning we utilized worked well (some might say too well).
Months before, we had ‘installed’ a countdown to registration clock on the website. We tried to keep the ‘buzz’ going on Facebook and Twitter before the big day. Traditional local media informed its audience about both 2013 cap numbers and opening day. Running clubs that traditionally send large groups of participants were notified. Finally, we send an email blast to runners that participated in last year’s event of the impending opening of registration.
So what does all this mean?
Assuming the 2013 Boilermaker is a pleasant experience for the participants I would expect the race to sell out even faster. The Peachtree Road Race with 40,000 participants now sells out in less than an hour.
While the date of opening has significance, it’s the halfway point to the running of the race, should we move the opening of registration to a later date? I sometimes wonder if coming off so close to the New Years holiday (and resolutions) that we end up with people with good intentions but later reality sets in (holy smokes; I’ve got to run 9.3 miles on a challenging course in the middle of July).
Many races have resorted to a lottery system or a combination of first come-first serve for a set amount and lottery for the remainder.
It sort of boggles my mind I’m thinking about these things with the race nearly six months away!

We’re Number 1 (and that’s not good)

January 13th, 2013


Americans are a people proud of our accomplishments and certainly willing to tell the world (USA, USA…).
However, a recent study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that the United States leads in categories that one would not want to win.
Compared to 16 other developed countries we are both unhealthier and, consequently, die at an earlier age.
Currently Americans spend $8,600 a year per person on healthcare, which is far above what many of our European counterparts spend with universal healthcare. So I guess money not only doesn’t buy happiness, it doesn’t buy good health.
Specific areas we lag other nations include: obesity, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality.
But it’s beyond internal diseases; you stand a seven times greater chance of being murdered and twenty times greater chance of being killed by a gun than European countries.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the numbers is the majority of Americans struck down die before reaching the age of 50!
“I don’t think most parents know that, on average, infants, children and adolescents in the U.S. die younger and have greater rates of illness and injury than youth in other countries” said Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the study.
I’m pretty confident that this problems has been decades in the making and defies an easy answer. Saying that, this is one race we need to stop winning because it is literally about life and death.

Start Spreading the News

December 27th, 2012


The long-awaited news about the ING New York City Marathon stance on runners who were registered to run this year’s race was revealed. As you are aware, a small weather disturbance called Hurricane Sandy blasted the Northeastern seaboard four days prior to the planned running of the marathon.
In what must be characterized as a mistake of the first order the Mayor Bloomburg and Mary Wittenberg (CEO of the New York Road Runners) initially indicated the race would be held prompting runners from literally around the world to descend on “The Big Apple”. Two days later the race was officially cancelled.
Many have complained that the race should simply allow everyone that was registered for the 2012 race to simply be allowed to run the 2013 race for free- sort of a reset.
Unfortunately the race had spent all the money to put the race on; the only funds unspent was the prize money. The New York City Police Department, who is paid for race support retuned the monies back to the race.
In the end the runners were offered three options:
– Full refund. This number runs all over the gamut from $216 to $500 depending on registration. No guarantee you get in next years race.
– Automatic acceptance in either the 2013, 2014 or 2015 Marathon. The runner would still be liable for an entry fee but it would be held at the 2012 rate.
– Entry in the 2013 New York Half Marathon held in March; you will play the entry fee (running between $117-$128). Space is limited to get in.
The ING New York Marathon is huge- a race hosting roughly 48,000 runners in America’s biggest city. I do not envy the work Mary has in front of her dealing with sponsor relations, the running public and image rebuilding.
An interesting side note, one cannot underestimate the power of social media in our sport. The core demographic involved in distance running are the hard core users of tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The decisions both to attempt to run the race and later to cancel it caused a digital storm over the internet.
The running of this race in 2013 will be very, very interesting.
Will they fill the field? Absolutely!
Will Mary still be the CEO? Who knows?

Moving Forward by Moving Backward

December 18th, 2012


In the December 6th issue of The New York Times Magazine was an interesting article written by Gretchen Reynolds called ‘Running In Reverse’.
Recent studies are now pointing out the benefits of backwards running. Giovanni Cavagna, a professor at the University of Milan, conducted a study on athletes running forwards and backwards on a track.
Backward running tends to burn more calories. That sort of makes sense. Our bodies/ muscles are constructed to move forward in an optimum way. Ask your body to do something in an opposite manner and it’s going to strain. Professor Cavagna found that you would need 30% more energy to run backwards at the same speed running forwards. So theoretically, assuming you can run as fast driving the human-car in reverse as forward you could get the same calorie burn in a roughly 30 minute run rather than 45 minutes.
There is a huge benefit on the balance component side. When we break out of the familiar we tend to focus more carefully. I can speak first hand to the benefits of at least walking in reverse after a knee operation. There is an added bonus in going backwards; it reduces the impact on the knees. Forward runners typically impact the ground with their heel sending a shock wave up the leg; the reverse runners will strike with the front of the foot. Just try doing it walking- your lets will do this instinctively.
Finally, mixing up your workout helps keep the boredom beast at bay. Start slowly (in both speed and time) and record your progress- what gets measured gets better.
It is strongly suggested that you do not try backward running on the road! Best case scenario you will get some interesting comments yelled at you from cars; worst case you get hit by one of those cars. Stick to a surface track.
While I doubt this will be included as an Olympic Event any time soon (although the unofficial fastest 5k was run in 19 minutes, 31 seconds) it certainly seems to make sense to move your health regimen forward by going backward.