Labor Day marked more than the unofficial end of summer; it also marked the end of the Boilermaker Countdown Clock! Let’s back up…
August 31st began as a humid day with heat building throughout the day. It just felt like something was going to happen.
Well ‘the happening’ took place early in the evening. As I was at home watching TV, I glanced out the window and saw the trees swaying- really big trees swaying! The wind chimes were sounding an alarm.
Next came curtains of rain punctuated by frequent thunder and lightning. It was feeling eerily familiar to a Labor Day Storm we experienced five years earlier.
The lights flicked off, returned for 2 seconds and went black. I could tell this was going to go on for a bit so I went on the great flashlight hunt.
I knew there was a working one in the hall closet. It is at these moments that I am reminded what creatures of habit we can become. As I opened the closet door and peered into the blackness what was the first thing I did? Why flip the light switch of course! Note to self; lights don’t work when the power is off. I groped in the mound of hats, gloves and mittens and extracted the flashlight.
My cell phone rang….
‘Tim, this is Jan (Jan is the wife of Race Director Jim Stasaitis). The Boilermaker Countdown Clock is laying on Genesee Street.’ ‘Jim has a couple of people headed over to get it off the road’
I later learned that the clock ended up a half a city block away from our building. A runner came and helped the group move the clock, now in 3 or 4 pieces, next to our building and secured.
The next morning I saw the dented mess whose time had passed. We loaded the remains into a truck sent by the company that originally built the clock. It was very, very heavy; a testament to the power of the storm.
Now the Countdown Clock had been in existence since January of 2010. The clock and I have a love/ hate affair. When the race is over 100 days away we get along very well. However, when we hit the two digit mark our relationship takes a dramatically bad turn. A dreadful electronic reminder of so much to do, with time slowly, slowly, slipping away.
I must admit, I will miss looking out the conference room window and seeing people in cars at the stoplight pointing at the clock or taking pictures of it with their cell phones.
As most are aware we have our building for sale. The first question I’m asked ‘where do you want to relocate’? Second question, ‘What will happen to the countdown clock’? So I guess it has become a fixture (or in this case no longer affixed) to the area.
So now we deal with the insurance company- a rather funny conversation with the agent out of Philadelphia explaining having an electronic countdown clock for a road race on our building and its demise.
So perhaps a countdown (or count up) till we get the countdown clock….
BTW- a ‘credit shout’ out to Paul Buckley who came up with the title of this blog; my original titling was ‘time got away from us’. Buck, you had the better lead!
Labor Day marked more than the unofficial end of summer; it also marked the end of the Boilermaker Countdown Clock! Let’s back up…
‘So Tim, what do you do after the race is over?’While the racers have left and the beer taps are dry (perhaps that’s why they left) there is still much to do.
Getting stuff put away:
The sheer amount of material we use to put on Boilermaker Weekend is perhaps as impressive as the thousands of our participants. Literally miles of snow fence and plastic barriers, hundreds of tables and chairs and banners and flags need to be placed back into storage.
Thank you notes:
My Mom drummed this in the Reed kids heads the importance of sending a thank you note (hand written) and in a timely manner (though I must admit my brother and sisters are much better at it than I). It is amazing that the written word seems to be on the near-extinction list.
The ‘we coulda done better’ list:
Right after the race is over I give a ‘homework assignment’ to all of the races Operational Directors that they document everything we can do better. I usually get some good feedback from runners. Memories are funny; they often fade fast. At our first Directors Meeting in September we will discuss those ‘we coulda done better’ moments and (hopefully) eliminate them.
The events after the event:
Within the race are a series of sub-contests that are celebrated after Boilermaker Sunday is done. Each of these events has an awards night. Among these are:
The Utica Police/ Fire Competition
This event pits runners from these public safety departments against each other in ‘friendly’ completion. This year, in a break from tradition, the Utica Police Department took first place. I had to laugh as the policeman carrying the trophy passed me walking off stage and proclaiming ‘Hey we won one in a row!’
The Corporate Challenge
Nearly 800 runners from 70 organizations compete in fastest team times running the 15k. We award three $500 checks to charities nominated by each team and chosen by a drawing. This year The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Doctors without Borders and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center were the lucky winners.
The School Challenge
High school runners are recognized for performance in both the 15k and 5k races. This event, sponsored by Empower Federal Credit Union and held in their Utica office, is a real delight. There is a certain camaraderie that is forged among runner regardless of what school they represent.
Charity Bib Reception
Really looking forward to this one! Our inaugural class of charity bib partners raised over $102,000- simply outstanding. I know I’m going to cry at this one.
Finally, planning for next year’s race (can you believe it).
The last finisher (albeit unofficially) of the 36th Boilermaker 15k hit the Finish Line on Sunday July 21, 2013 at approximately 1:00 pm; a full week after the official event.
That finisher was me.
Let’s go back in time…
I’ve been ‘on the blocks’ from running for two years with knee issues. It’s a long story but I have felt I’ve significantly recovered to make a Boilermaker run possible.
Although traditionally Boilermaker Committee members run the race the week prior, my longest run at that point had been four miles. If something bad were to happen, better to have it occur after the Boilermaker.
The starting temperature at 11:25 am was 78 degrees with little humidity and a slight breeze; clearly better than the sultry weather a week earlier.
For this run I would be wearing headphones- hey no bands or fans along my imaginary Boilermaker so I needed to bring my own music. I have Pandora and decided to listen to the Neil Young station for my 9.3 mile journey.
The run began with an absolutely blistering 16 minute version of Cowgirl in the Sand by Neil Young and Crazy Horse recorded at the Fillmore East in 1970- a great start.
The first hill three and a half miles into the run - Valley View Golf Course.
A tip, when running the Boilermaker do not look up at the hill prior to running it, keep your head down and focus what is in front of you. Looking up you will (a) be depressed you when you see the size of the hill and (b) be depressed when you see the amount of people ahead of you that are finished with the hill. You should however look backward when you have reached the crest of the hill and see the many people behind you- it’s good for your ego. However, if you look back and only see the people cleaning up the course you will surely not be happy.
As I traveled down the Parkway/ Sheppard Place Led Zeppelin told me of goin’ to California, Clapton cried for Layla, and Jagger and the Stones asked for a little shelter (my ringback tone).
Now we reach the horrible, awful, terrible bridge/ uphill that traverses from Faxton up to St.Lukes. It seems to make sense you have hospitals on either side of this obstacle. Neil came back to sing Don’t let it bring you down (another favorite) that managed to carry me up the incline.
At mile eight Bob Dylan sang about Knocking on Heaven’s Door, I certainly was thinking about visiting the afterlife but it wasn’t Heaven!
As I turned the final corner of Whitesboro to Court Street making the last final stretch of my run Neil came back
‘Old Man look at my life I’m a lot like you were…’ Such a reminder of my first year running this race in 1978 as a 24 year old, with 24 year old legs.
So I finished the race in 95 minutes clocking in a bit over a ten minute mile pace. My worst Boilermaker I have ever run in the 25+ I had previously been in- but hey, I finished.
I received my finisher’s pin from Jim the Race Director this morning.
Neil, thanks for the help; let’s do it again next year.
Next Sunday, July 14th, we will be celebrating the 36th birthday of the Boilermaker Road Race.
The vision that Earle Reed and a group of fellow runners had in the fall of 1977 was to have a race that makes a difference not only in the lives of people who run it, but also in the lives of everyone in our community. Both have certainly come true and remain at the core of the Boilermaker’s DNA.
Who would have thought what an adult the Boilermaker would grow up to be? It began as a mostly local road race and blossomed into a multi-day event drawing people from throughout the world.
And this race certainly has many, many parents who have adopted the Boilermaker as their own!
There are 14 individuals left who have been at every Boilermaker birthday party and who have run in every single one.
The final days leading up to the race tend to be a semi-organized madhouse taxing one’s patience. Just when I’m ready to explode, I try to remember a quote from Tony Robbins: “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what these events mean.”
What do these events mean to someone like David Freeman, race director of this year’s Boilermaker shadow run in Afghanistan? He wrote me to tell me that in 24 hours, 450 troops had signed up to run. And, Freeman wrote: “They keep flowing in.”
Or the charity bib runners hitting the streets in honor or in memory of loved ones.
Or the two blind runners participating in the 15k.
And in a weird way, this Boilermaker birthday is the gift from the community to the community, igniting like the brightest birthday candle, a pride in the place we live.
It’s a gift of sold-out hotel rooms and crowded restaurants as people from around the world stream into Utica.
A gift of people deciding to take charge of their own health and achieve something few can do.
A gift of people regardless of community, color or age working together for a common goal of helping people they most often don’t even know.
Perhaps instead giving out orange slices at the end of the race we should give out cake.
Happy birthday to us!
Dum, da, dum, dum
Dum,da,dum, dum DUM!
‘The stories you are about to see are true,
the names have been changed to protect the innocent’
From the TV show Dragnet
I think there is an unwritten math formula which states the amount of my emails will quadruple every day the race gets closer. This week I received in excess of 300 emails.
This does not include the emails that go straight to my spam folder. You know the ones; the ones promising instant riches to be found in Nigeria, emails written in what appear to be Chinese characters, offers of can’t miss stocks and messages that begin with ‘Dearest Beloved’.
If the internet has done anything it has driven us from verbal communication to the written word. The power of email, twitter and text messaging is remarkable. It is sort of eerie how little the phone rings compared to my first year in this job. I remember days as the race got close and all six lines would be lit up! I felt like Lilly Tomlin in her ‘Ernestine the Operator’ role.
A quick word about facebook , while I consider myself a fairly affable guy I am a lousy ‘facebook friend’. I’m happy to just keep up with the electronic stuff I need to deal with. Same goes with twitter.
So what has arrived in the old electronic mailbag over the past few weeks?
The vast majority of my emails go into what I would call big buckets labeled; logistics, security, charitable efforts, sponsor/ media relations, industry emails, special events, community stuff (I serve on a committee for the Community Foundation and am Chairman of the Tourism Bureau) and the ‘I’ve got a problem- can you help me?’Let’s look at what fits in that last category.
Amazingly I am still getting a couple of emails from people who just sort of figured out the race sold out and asking if there is a ‘wait list’. The term wait list became a sort of unofficial dirty word at our office after trying to administer it a few years ago.
Vendors wanting to be a part of the Expo (deadline was a month ago).
A runner who is planning her wedding that will take place in the Summer of 2014 and didn’t want to miss the race- talk about dedication! BTW, next year’s race will take place Sunday July 13, 2014.
Where are good camping sites in the area?
Why don’t you have a bike race?
I couldn’t sell my bib; what do I do?
I couldn’t get a bib; what do I do? I really wish this person met the person who asked the previous question!
What is going to be the beer at the Post Race Party? Hey I have an answer; that would be Wild Hops Pilsner.
Looks like the formula is holding true, today on track for another 100 email day!
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…
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.
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
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.
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!