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Penni Bengtson, the chair of the USA Triathlon Race Director Committee, catches up with USA Triathlon staff member Meg Weagley at the 2013 Race Director Symposium.

The Importance of Committed Race Directors

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I was sitting on the airplane on my way back to the Bay Area from Colorado Springs after this year’s Race Director Symposium reflecting on what an awesome three days had just passed. Each year for the past seven years I leave this meeting in January renewed to tackle the coming year’s events with a fresh look to many of the important details that contribute to making triathlons a special event for athletes.

What makes this annual pilgrimage so special? There’s a long list of attractions including Colorado Springs in winter with its great views of the Rocky Mountains, the restaurants and microbreweries in town, the conference venue with it’s gigantic fireplaces and rustic beams, and perhaps even the cocktails at the bar in the evening. Quite honestly it boils down to two very important components: Networking with race directors who produce triathlons and other multisport events and the opportunity to meet face to face with the staff at USA Triathlon.

The race directors who come to this conference are here for one important reason — sharing. This isn’t just limited to networking at the bar. They are here to have that one opportunity each year to renew friendships and make contact with other race directors from pretty much every state in the nation with a single minded focus to talk about triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon and all the other multisport events. 

They also get to hear some in-depth and interactive presentations by experts in their field about safety planning, course planning, financial resource management and risk management, marketing , social media and even race director certification classes or CPR classes. The opportunity to talk with USA Triathlon staff about issues and problem solve is invaluable.

Regardless of the size of event, the length of time a race director has been doing events, or the type of event there is a single thread that weaves itself through the entire weekend – best practices. We bring examples of successes as well as failures to share, to seek improvements and share feedback with others. Of course this discussion isn’t just about the race venue either. We also get down to stories about athletes. There are always heartwarming tales about the inspiring efforts that drive people to the finish line and the marriage proposals proffered at the event. Everything is fair game for scrutiny and examination, including how to treat that athlete who is behaving badly.

So why is all this important? I’ll tell you why. This annual gathering of race directors brings together a group dedicated to their own professional and business development, implementation of shared best practices, and a desire to do their very best in producing a high quality event. This isn’t just the full-time professionals, but also the small community event and parks and recreation events. Most of them have taken the extra step to become USA Triathlon Certified Race Directors, thereby making a commitment to continuing to learn and improve and share. 

They represent some of the best multisport event producers in the industry and they do this not only for themselves, but for you, the athletes. So the next time you’re searching for a great event be sure to check out your local races and ask those race directors if they are certified, if the event is sanctioned and covered with the best insurance offered for multisport events, Make sure that race is committed to providing you with the best experience possible. Take a look around and see if there is adequate safety staff on the swim, volunteers on the bike and run course to guide your way. Make sure this event is not only fun but safe. The job of a race director is not only to produce a fun event but a safe event.

I can guarantee that the 100+ people I spent time with this past January fit that bill and more. We all look forward to seeing you at the races this year!

Penni Bengtson is the chair of the USA Triathlon Race Director Committee. She is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Race Director and the owner of Finish Line Productions.

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