Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Respect the RD! Interview with On Hill Events

Think it would be easy to put on a race??  


Continuing our Respect the RD! series with Joe Coles of On Hill Events. Among other things, here Joe gives some valuable insights on what goes on behind the scenes, weighs the pros and cons of lime green race shirts, and answers our burning question on triathletes vs. pure runners.

Thanks for the time, Joe!

What’s the history of On Hill Events and the origin of the name?

On Hill Events has produced over 120 races and was established around 10 years ago. Its name comes from my grandfather who ran his last two marathons at the age of 80 being the oldest to run St. George and Deseret News Marathons at that time. I always said he was always on the hill not over the hill.

From your perspective how has the Utah race scene changed since On Hill started? In what ways better & worse?

The race scene has drastically changed during the last 10 years. At the time we started the Layton Marathon it was one of 11 marathons in Utah and now it is one of 30 or more. This can be great for racers with a lot more selection however race companies are hurt because many races do not have enough racers to sustain them. 10 years ago St. George did a lottery turning away 75% of those that registered and now it struggles to reach capacity.

What are the most valuable skills you need to have as an RD?

As a race director there are important skills to gain. Basic ones are being able to manage several things at once and trust in my workers. A race has many moving parts and being able to make these parts move properly with a limited staff is done weeks in advance. An example would be the Ogden Marathon which has a volunteer staff of 2500 and paid staff of around 30 that make up the goal foundation. In order to be as effective as we can we will have a volunteer staff of 50 and paid staff of 6. We use one person to fill a void then move as the race moves. Example one person could work the starting location and then be in charge of sweeping the course. It is a very complex plan to make a race work effectively and provide all the same services as a major race. Some races cut corners to run on limited staff by doing a cupless race with no cups at the aid stations with no volunteers. We feel cutting corners like this hurts a race and can be a huge danger to it. What if someone is hurt between miles 6 and 8 or what if an aid station runs out of water? Our goal is to provide all the services of a major event at a lower price.

What are your top 3 favorite events to put on and why?

1- Drop13 Half Marathon - It is a fast race down Big Cottonwood Canyon. This race offers incredible scenery and service. We do bonus medals like PR medals if it is your fastest Half Marathon or Medals like Drop13 LBS medals. We feel this is a way to honor personal accomplishments at races in addition to those standard age group awards.

2- Bear Lake Brawl Triathlon - This is one of the most beautiful races in Utah. It has a great course in Bear Lake and is extremely fast as well. The race has the only full 140.6 course in Utah and Idaho as well as a Half 70.3, Sprint and Olympic.

3- Utah Santa Run - This race is the jolliest race in Utah. We give all racers a Santa Suit to keep and run in. This 5K is held in Ogden, Provo and Gardner Village. This race has milk and cookie aid stations and Christmas music overhead. Each of these races is followed by holiday fun provided by the venues which keep the fun going and they all donate to worthy causes.

What are your biggest pet peeves as an RD, and what are the hardest aspects of putting on a triathlon & race in general?

I do not like venting but I will because you asked. Our biggest pet peeve is from a few select racers complaining about silly items. We understand if we missed something like a turn sign or ran out of cups at an aid station, however a few racers are just too demanding of us for things we will never please 100% of the racers out there. Example would be someone yelling at you for the color of a race shirt. We had someone yell at us for a navy blue shirt and said it was the ugliest color they had ever been given in a shirt. We then apologized and asked what they would have liked more and they said a lime green, which would have ticked off 75% of the racers. If a race is 99% perfect and 1% of the race is off please do not give the race 1 Star on Facebook. Do not show up 15 minutes prior to the start of the race and complain that we are unorganized when packet pickup has been over for 15 minutes and we are scrambling to get your race bag in time for you to start in time. 99% of racers are awesome and well prepared.

You put on a wide variety of races. Don’t be modest here… in what ways are triathletes the best to work with and in what ways the worst?

Triathletes are traditionally the best to work with because they usually represent the most experienced racers. They read the instructions and have generally done a few races prior to this so they come prepared and register early. They rarely fall into my pet peeves in question 5.

The only issue I have with Triathletes are with a few racers that are primadonnas that rarely show who demand a lot. Very rarely a racer will compare our race to an Ironman race for swag. They will say Ironman had a better shirt or fancier medal. Though our shirts and medals are great they do spend some more on theirs than we do. Their races also cost the racer 3 times our races. Again we strive to give the same experience especially when it comes to support but we cannot compete when it comes to a race with 5 times our racers and 3 times price plus we cannot use their brand or the term Ironman because it is their copyright.

Who is your favorite type of athlete to watch at your races, and what has been the most inspiring situation you have witnessed at one of your events?

I have two favorites:

(1) The Elite Athlete - We used to have Jason Crompton come to our Bear Lake and Powell Triathlons. He was extremely humble about his talent and would help first time athletes. One year he raced the Half one Friday and came in first by 25 minutes. The Saturday after he raced the Olympic and when starting the race he went off course during the swim and swam an extra 100 meters and still came back by the end of the race and won it. We were sad to hear about his passing last August and the industry will miss what he brought to it.

Heath Thurston & Jason Crompton

(2) The Supported Athlete - We had a disabled athlete get pushed by his family members a few years back. Racers loved cheering him to finish. The inspiration is not only from the athlete but the pushers. We are so inspired by these athletes that we give one comp per race to athletes and pushers who do this.

What do you wish athletes knew about being an RD?

It is not easy. I have had racers think that all we have to do is set up a website and collect registrations. Races are 9 to 12 months in the planning process. Race week we work an 80 to 100 hour work week with often 36 hours straight without sleep. If something does not go exactly according to plan due to a massive lightning storm or 50 MPH winds, be patient as a RD or athlete. It is one of the most stressful things that can be done but very rewarding.

You announce some changes for 2017 on your site. In a nutshell, what’s new?

Most changes are not with courses. Once we have a good course we strive to keep it. We strive to add more service or swag each year. For example one year we went from not having a medal for the Spring to doing one then now upgrading it to a higher end medal. One year we went from cotton to tech shirts. We hope to have better support in 2017.

Anything else you want to share?

I just hope that racers do not feel that I was complaining in the fields above. We love our racers and that they are continuously supporting and coming to our events. In this interview many of the questions asked about concerns from a race director's perspective. We know this industry has the best customers out there.

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