Being on the other side of the race

  • This was printed in May of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 50th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Racing is easy. You train, eat well, hydrate, decide on an outfit, and then show up at the starting line and run.

Race directing is not so easy. I appreciate race directors and volunteer staff so much more now that I’ve been on the other side of race day.

I must point out that Barbara Leach, children’s pastor at Valley West Christian Center, was the true race director of the Second Wind 5K. She has been behind the scenes managing, organizing and problem solving to put the race together for the past four months. As her co-director, I got the easy jobs of creating the course, voicing my opinion on race amenities and various other details, and finding a sponsor.

I must also point out that Second Wind, which drew 300 runners and raised $17,000 for two local charities on Saturday, would not have been possible without amazing volunteers, sponsors and support of Madera. You all know who you are, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The event almost went off without a hitch.

As runners were likely putting on their race gear, donning tutus, lacing up their running shoes and driving to the Madera District Fairgrounds, I was running all over the grounds — on concrete, road, grass, dirt and gravel trails — marking the course with a borrowed chalker. It had poured rain Friday night and the fairgrounds were soaked, even at 4 a.m. Saturday when I started chalking.

When I finished marking the course, I could see a few runners were starting to make their way to our event. Had I been a racer rather than a race director, I probably would’ve been one of those early birds sitting in my car to keep warm before the run.

I found a way to keep warm — I ran the course. I am a stickler for accuracy and I had to be sure that our mile markers were in the correct spots. I turned on my GPS watch and took off.

As my watch beeped to signal Mile 1, I wasn’t bothered to see that the marker was slightly off. I moved it to the correct position and ran on. But when I got to Mile 2 and realized that the marker was clear on the other side of the fairground’s cattle barns, I started to panic.

When I got to Mile 3, and then 3.1, which should’ve been the entire distance of the race, I found myself in the middle of the parking lot where the Madera Swap Meet is usually held. Uh-oh.

All told, the course measured 3.36, about a quarter-mile too long. That wasn’t going to cut it; not at my race, not at what was to be the first 5K for at least half of our participants.

We scrambled to get the chalker and a bag of chalk to that lonely parking lot in time. Thanks to a volunteer — a local cross country runner who also wore a GPS watch — running part of the course backwards so that I knew where to re-chalk, we got the course rerouted and course monitors into position exactly 13 minutes before the bullhorn start. The fiasco had brought on so much stress that I seriously considered never race-directing or volunteering again.

Then I walked onto the Speedway.

While I had been in crisis mode, hundreds of runners had assembled behind our starting line and about 100 more were in the grandstands waiting to cheer on their friends and family. My mood instantly changed — this was AMAZING! This was a race!

Race day, I realized, is exciting for everyone, no matter what side of the starting line you’re on.

My proudest moment, besides watching four of my family members complete — and enjoy — their first 5K; besides watching my dad get a silver medal placed around his neck in the 40- to 49-year-old age group at his first 5K; besides realizing that something HUGE had just happened in the small town of Madera… Besides all of that, I was most proud when I saw Joseph Guerra, a man I don’t even know, comment on a Facebook post after the event:

“That was my first race and now I’m hooked. I AM A RUNNER!”


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