I have been emailing with Thom Parsons about putting on a mountain bike race for what seems like my entire life. Certainly for as long in my life as I can remember, which is like four or five years. IN ANY CASE, after years of dreaming about it, we finally did it.
The stumbling block was always finding a venue. I am not a good venue finder. In the growing list of Weasel Productions (tm), I still have never been the person who made first contact with a landowner. I am the registration guy, the staging guy, the results guy, the volunteer guy, and the guy who sends rude emails to his co-promoters.
So that's how we ended up Foxboro. It's in Thom's backyard (sound familiar?), and the DCR lets freakin' motorbikes race there, so there was some kind of precedent for this sort of madness. Parsons weird personal magnetism was enough to get the DCR guy's approval (but then he retired... and his replacement was equally powerless to resist) and that was that. We got a venue, everything else is a cakewalk, right?
It should be noted that Kevin Sweeney is the secret third promoter for this event (just like Ice Weasels), but his role is much closer to mine (arguing about things via email instead of actually doing them) so he doesn't pop up in my narrative as much.
Back in March I went down to Foxboro to check out our "rad, gnarly course" with Thom.
Half an hour later, I was ready to throw my bike in the woods, but since Thom was watching, I instead took out my disgust at my inability to ride the trails on him, declaring the course to be "pretty much horrible" and that "I would never drive here to ride a bike."
Luckily for the future of our race, Thom started getting tired (or I woke up) on the second half of the course, and the trails got a bit easier, and by the end of the preride I was like, "ok, this could work as a race course, but we have to bill it as the hardest freaking thing in the world. Like if Tough Mudder was actually hard, this is what it would be."
...and that pretty much sums up our marketing strategy.
I've now ridden the course at least 5 times (that's 100 less than Thom) and I finally think I would like to try racing on it.
So, if your first exposure to it was this past Saturday, and you walked away broken, disgusted, or disappointed -- I TOTALLY GET THAT!
Most the people who finished seemed really stoked on it though. Shame we couldn't get a post-mortem from all the people who didn't make it to the end just to balance it out -- I spent most of the day going, "seriously? You guys liked that?"
On top of that, SOMEHOW the two EMTs we paid to be there for the entire day had almost zero business. I could be wrong but I believe they tended to exactly two people, and the most serious injury was solved with five stitches (after its recipient stood on the top step of the podium, I might add).
So, that was pretty amazing to me.
Ok, subject change, let's take a step back from people not dying on race day and talk about one of the reasons I wanted to put on a mountain bike race.
One thing I've noticed over the years is that race promoters always take care of their own category. That's why most races have plenty of offerings for masters, and frequently stiff women's categories -- most promoters are older men.
We are no exception. Thom, Kevin and I have well over a hundred combined "elite" starts MTB racing. Guess which mountain bike race was the only race in New England to pay $2000 in cash prizes to its elite fields?
I can't remember if this payout was my idea or not, but I'll pretend it was. I'm sick of people in the cx and road communities acting like mountain bike racing is some kind of joke sideshow, but have you been to a mountain bike race lately? Small fields, low production value, and tiny payouts. The haters are right, and it's annoying.
(I happen to know that a certain MTB race this season paid $20 to 3rd place in its pro race. That's right, the third fastest dude at the entire event didn't even get his entry fee back.)
Anyway, lead by example, blah blah blah, we carved $2k out of the budget, posted an actual prize list (as opposed to the conveniently vague prize of "cash"), and put up $400 for first place in either gender. It "worked" in that we had the largest elite field of any race in New England I know of -- 7 women started, 36 men started. Over half of the elite prize list was paid for by the elite field! That's almost #jerrynomics!
As for production value, we had some hits and we had some misses. My plans for a legit start grid were totally foiled by the morning rain -- the road utterly LAUGHED at my attempts to stick duct tape to it. Our podium? Somewhere in the barn at White Barn Farm, so we ended up with dudes standing on a rock in the woods. Sigh. 9 career races promoted, zero proper podiums.
But other than that, I thought we had some good stuff. Course map at registration, recommended warm up loop (with signs back to the start), mile markers, callups instead of mob staging for the elite races, results with lap times (thanks to Christin donating her day to sitting at the timing table), a ludicrous amount of course tape and arrows on the course...
I could tell you about the things that very nearly took us down in flames (parking, timing) but I'd rather keep the secret workings of the sausage factory that is race promotion hidden.
In the end, things appeared to be a huge success (despite me generally being a stressed out a-hole for much of the day) and we cleared the break-even point by a few hundred dollars which will be donated to the local NEMBA chapter, and we get to walk away with job satisfaction and sweet memories, and the drive to do it again BUT BETTER next year.
We already have like 6 things we want to change for next time, like a better finish layout and a designated gu-zone, since apparently people just litter the woods at random if you don't tell them not to.
My favorite things:
1) A 14-year old kid got 9th in the elite race, passing Mark McCormack on the final lap. Kids like this remind me that I will never go anywhere racing my bike and I should just work on getting really good at putting on bike races.
2) Andy Gould got 3rd in the elite race on a 30-lb trail bike. He brought his xc dualie and the trail bike, prerode on both, picked the trail bike, and was rewarded with his first ever elite podium. If that doesn't prove THE GNAR, I don't know what does.
3) Rob Stine was 4th in the elite race, a minute behind Andy, on a FULLY RIGID 29'er. If that doesn't prove that it's the rider, not the bike, I don't know what does.
4) There was a tiny child who lined up to the Novice race with a camera on his head roughly the size of his body. I was worried for his safety. Obviously, he won.
5) Vickie Monahan was the first expert woman to finish. She was also the only person to get stitches.
6) Mike Wissell showed up at 7:30 AM, volunteered all morning, raced the entire elite race in nothing but a vest and baggies, and then immediately offered to go take down the course when he finished, because he is a robot that doesn't experience fatigue.
rad pics of people getting air.
8) Russ Campbell did his first mountain bike race in 20 years, didn't die, then grabbed his camera gear and started taking photos of the expert/elite races.
I probably forgot a bunch of other cool things that happened and the cool people who made them happen. But the point is, this was pretty cool and I can't wait to do it all again next year!
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