On the starting line
Paddy Corcoran explains how Tees Valley Leisure, a leisure trust, came to organise the Redcar half marathon, why it seemed like a good idea at the time and what lessons were learned for next year
Jayne Parkin gets her number for the Redcar half marathon from Paddy Corcoran
“Why don't we take on the responsibility for organising the 2008 Redcar half marathon in partnership with your events team?” Proof positive of the burgeoning new relationship with the council or a moment of madness? Hmm…
Having been involved in organising road races and athletic events since I started in the leisure business, I did quite fancy the challenge of taking on a well established event and re-positioning it in terms of profile, impact and all the rest. If the key ingredients of a successful event include having a good idea, a plan to deliver it, an experienced team to do so and the wherewithal to make it happen – how big a problem was it going to be?
Working with an already well-established event was a great starting point; we had 26 years of event history to fall back on. The impact of the event, however, was mainly regional and we took a number of steps to develop a national profile – including adverts and media releases in national athletics and running magazines and increasing the prize fund – to attract a better calibre of athletes and encourage the recruitment of international athletes to improve finishing times and generate stories. We also worked closely with Mizuno, our running shoe sponsor, utilising their contacts with athletes and putting a specific section on their website. Locally, we worked hard to generate PR stories – the oldest runner, the one thousandth entry and so on – and linked formally to a regional newspaper and radio station. Having Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson living in the area, who provided generous support at photo shoots, was also a great help. In addition to a range of local sponsorships, we were also fortunate enough to get the backing of the local primary care trust. They were keen to use the event to promote physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle and we were happy to include a three-kilometre family fun run to help send out the message that keeping fit is fun and for everyone.
Tees Valley Leisure’s senior management team formed the core of the organisation team but although undoubtedly very strong in leisure facility management we were very new to road race organisation. Fortunately, we had the expertise of the council's events staff to fall back on and to help out in a few key areas. Shamelessly I also added some ‘ringers to the team – colleagues from the Newcastle/Gateshead area, veterans of the Great North Run with whom I had worked on the Dubai Marathon. Calling in favours also worked; thank you from the bottom of my heart to Tees Valley Sport, the sub-regional county sports partnership. What also helped on the day were friends and family who cheerfully braved what was a cool and damp day (this is the North East after all) to man late registration, hand out T-shirts and take on all the other jobs.
As a qualified planner, planning and organisation should come easily to me and the development of a 100-page-plus event manual is testament to the enthusiasm and commitment I brought to the planning process. As ever I did draw from existing examples already out there; thanks again to Max Coleby of Nova International for helping out. It is, however a ‘work in progress’ and I envisage quite a few changes for the 2009 version. Putting a budget together for a new event (new to us anyway) was difficult, particularly as we considerably increased the marketing budget to raise the profile of the event. Securing the support of the primary care trust was a major boost and gave us the confidence to include the family fun run as part of the package of events on the day.
So what worked? Feedback on the day from competitors, sponsors, local media, councillors and, just as importantly, the safety advisory group (comprising police, traffic management, St Johns Ambulance and others) was that it went really well. Entries in the half marathon just about hit the 2007 figure, which was not bad seeing as we had moved the date by a month to try and get some warmer weather. Lots of children and families took part in the family run and professed themselves happy with the experience. My management team thoroughly enjoyed the experience and are already looking forward (so they tell me) to next year. Although it was never intended as such, it also proved to be a very useful team building exercise.
What didn't work? Not much really but inevitably an event on this scale will cause local disruption, particularly in terms of traffic management. It was disappointing that although we advertised the road closure programme more than two weeks before the event it still seemed to pass many people by, who consequently fumed impotently in seemingly endless traffic queues. It was interesting that the news did reach some people; we had one or two calls complaining that plans for Sunday lunch were ruined and it was all out fault. We were very polite in response.
Lessons for next year? Planning can never begin early enough, the notion of “too many volunteers” doesn't exist and make sure your family, friends, acquaintances and contemporaries don’t make alternative arrangements on the day of the race!
Paddy Corcoran is managing director of Tees Valley Leisure Limited
The Leisure Review, June 2008