' Five Things Friday: Lesson Learned | Adventures with FitNyx

Friday, October 9, 2015

Five Things Friday: Lesson Learned

This weekend, the Towpath Marathon will be run along the picturesque Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail.  Between the full marathon, half marathon, and 10k distances offered, over 2000 runners will sweat it up and work it out along the trail - and thanks to my efforts over the past couple months, over 100 volunteers will be on-site at aid stations, in the parking lot, along the course, and at the finish to ensure every one of those runners has a great experience.  I've spent a LOT of time as this race's Volunteer Coordinator lately, and I have learned some VERY important lessons about working as a race event planner!  Here are my top five lessons learned about working as a race coordinator!

5. Timeliness Can Never Be Expected.

Not even for a t-shirt. Half the time I only DO things for the t-shirt, so I half expected the threat of not getting a volunteer shirt to ensure I would have everyone's volunteer waiver in by the first deadline.  NOT SO.  Apparently some people volunteer for the good feels or because it's the right thing, not because they get a free shirt - who knew?  I kid, of course; I'm thrilled we have so many people, including last minute signups, who are willing to donate their time to this race...  I just wish I wouldn't have to spend weeks after the race following up to ensure I have all proper documentation!

Lesson Learned: Accept that even free stuff isn't always enough to get people on your schedule and things WILL come in late.

4. Communication is Key.

I received empty waivers, slow responses, total silence, questions that could have been answered by actually reading the information I'd already sent...  Though it's true for far more than just this race, giving and receiving clear communication can make or break just about any endeavor.  Important information can easily get lost if it is not clearly labeled or tagged, and a quick phone call isn't always the best way to ensure something registers!  I had to up my own communication game to fill in the holes left by volunteers who have their own lives full of work, family, and other issues.  I suppose that's why there even IS a Volunteer Coordinator position!

Lesson Learned: Organize your inbox, flag follow ups, and get everything in writing as soon as possible.

3. Late Nights Are Going to Be a Thing.

At least for me.  For some reason, I can't get myself to spend hours of mindless data entry while the sun is up.  Maybe the glowing spreadsheet screen is more romantic by moonlight, or maybe there's less interesting television when it gets late, or maybe I'm just plain busy during regular hours, but I have stayed up all night a few times doing the dull but necessary organization tasks that will be so important for post event record keeping and next year's follow ups.  Late nights aren't foreign to me (after years and years of collegiate and grad school all-nighters) but it's been a long while since I actually needed to use those hours productively.

Lesson Learned: Either find a way to pound out the grind earlier, or make sure you keep your Netflix subscription current because late night TV stinks.

2. Preview the Course and Be Ready for Changes.

We actually considered this one in advance, and scheduled a bike ride to cover the full marathon course almost two months prior to the event - while the weather was still gorgeous.  Actually covering the whole route helped us identify potential problem spots and helped us correct the errors in our labeling.  For example, we had named some of the aid stations according to previous years' course names, but found that the anticipated locations did not match with the landmarks for which the stations were named, sometimes by a long shot.  We were able to make corrections, get a visual, and have loosely formed backup plans should issues arise.

Lesson Learned: Don't trust the maps or the old info; nothing is more accurate than first-hand knowledge.

1. Send Out WAY More Requests Than You Think You Have To!

I asked a lot of people for help.  A LOT.  This race series is lucky to have a 20+ year history and quite a few dedicated teams that help year after year, but that doesn't mean there aren't gaps to fill.  I blasted volunteer requests through many channels, and only barely managed to fill all my big spots!  Either I was asking the wrong people (quite possible) or the success rate is really just that low.  Regardless, I was struck by how much poking, prodding, pestering, and polling it took to fill my last few stations.  I'm very lucky to have made some connections earlier this summer that came through big time in the past couple weeks; here's hoping that same luck holds out for race day and everyone shows up!

Lesson Learned: Spam is your friend sometimes.  Embrace it and try not to feel bad.

Alright - after all those lessons, it's go time.  Expo tonight and tomorrow, then race on Sunday, then I'll probably sleep for a few days once that stress is off my shoulders!  If you're running the Towpath, find me and let me know how your experience was, I should be lingering around the finish line area for most of the day!  GOOD LUCK!



  1. Five great lessons - and I agree with them all. (PS- I also like the images you posted in conjunction with the five lessons).

  2. These are all really great lessons! #4 is probably my favorite, partly because of that comic, which I have [very thankfully] never witnessed thus far...

  3. I am also way more productive in the evenings. I just seem to get my 'wind' at night, instead of during the day.