While athletes always seem to get the limelight and profiles on the pages of running magazines and websites, we very rarely hear from the people who make it all happen, the race directors. Mark Roberts, a Blue Mountains local is race director of the very popular Coastal Classic, Jabulani Challenge and Raffertys Coastal Run, the later two of which are part of the Ultra168 Supporters Club. We caught up with Mark to hear some stories from the other side of the fence.
How long have you been race directing?
2017 will be my fourth year as the Race Director for a number of events including the Coastal Classic while I have taken over a number of other events including the Jabulani Challenge and Raffertys Coastal Run more recently.
What made you want to do it?
Who wouldn’t want to do it? The opportunity to be involved in a long-term passion, spending time out in beautiful parts of the world. Seeing and hearing the stories of triumph or tragedy from runners after they have completed one of your events is a special feeling as well.
Did you jump straight into it and learn on the job, or did you spend some time getting to know about how best to go about it?
A combination of both, while I jumped straight into the deep end as a race director I had the opportunity to spend time at other events, learning from some very experienced operators. This gave me the opportunity to experience outdoor events from the other side of the fence so the speak and to take different elements from the way other race directors go about things before my first hit out as race director.
What inspires you to put on the races you do? The course? The people?
I think a great trail run always starts with the location/course. If you have a challenging course with beautiful scenery, and ideally a course that takes you on a journey then the runners will come. Once the concept is locked in then what inspires me about the race? The runners that do it, the stories they share and the memories they build are what lies at the heart of any race.
What’s the biggest mistake or mishap you had as a race director?
Thankfully it was very early on and I wasn’t the race director but still had responsibility for a large part of the event in question. I somehow managed to miss my alarm and arrived 45 minutes late, thankfully still well before race start but as you can imagine the last thing a race director needs before a big event are staff not arriving on time, I haven’t lived that one down and probably never will. The one mistake I think it is easy to fall into in a more general sense as a race director is getting caught up in the nitty gritty and not focusing on the overall picture. That is one thing I am always reminding myself to do, stop regularly and take a step back for a minute.
What’s the best moment you had?
I have a number of ‘best’ moments that spring to mind, that moment when the race has been run and won, all runners are safe, happy and a little bit tired, the race is packed up and your standing in some picturesque location knowing that you wouldn’t change a thing about how the event ran on the day. Makes all the hours spent in the lead up worthwhile.
What’s the number thing request you always get from runners?
To have their preferred sports drink/energy gel/favourite race food at the aid stations!
What’s your take on the Australian trail running scene?
Have you been overseas and spoken to race directors in other parts of the world? How are we different/similar? I think the Australian trail running scene is in a really good position, we have a lot of great races around at some stunning locations. The element I love seeing is the variety, there are your events that are absolute monsters to just finish then on the other end of the spectrum you can easily find a trail run you can take the whole family to, complete before lunch and enjoy a great active day out. Plus all degrees in between. One is not inclusive of the other, they all form important parts of the whole.
In Australia we have plenty of red tape to jump through, how hard does it make it for races to be put on?
Red tape is par for the course and can make things a lot more difficult that is for sure. It is always at its worst when running a new event, do it once and show you can do it safely and things can get easier.
If you could have set-up any race in the world, which one would you have chosen and why?
As a Blue Mountains local my answer would be the Six Foot Track. Challenging course, stunning scenery, iconic finish location, great volunteers from the RFS, I was just a few years too late. Also don’t envy the job of getting 1,000 runners away from Jenolan Caves with the lack of space and one way only road in and out but you take the good with the bad.