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!
Next Sunday, July 14th, we will be celebrating the 36th birthday of the Boilermaker Road Race.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.