Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sacramento Cyclocross - The Other Side Of The Tape

In my last post I mentioned that even though I was off racing my last Enduro MTB race of the season, cyclocross was where my head was at.  But really, the Sacramento Cyclocross Series has been on my mind all year.  Not to train for or race it (only if I'm lucky), but from the other side of the tape.  So here's a different kind of race report, as the event promoter and race director.

You might be thinking... "Planning all year? It's just a few bike races! String up a course and people show up right?" Not quite.  I've been around the business for a while, but never tackled the whole thing.  Without getting into all the details, here's a glimpse of what ended up taking much more of our time and energy than we expected.

  • How many races? And where? 
  • How do we fit our race schedule in with all the other CX races in NorCal.
  • How many categories? What's the best race day schedule?
  • USAC or no?
  • What are the insurance requirements of each venue?
  • Which venues require porta-potties? Where do we get porta-potties?!
  • Who's handling EMT duties?
  • This venue permit is 72 pages long...
  • Why do they make it so hard to have food and alcohol at an event?!!?
  • What's the jersey design for this year?
    • Hmmm... two good ideas... make one a shirt!
  • What timing chips are we using?
  • How do we build a new website?
  • How is registration going to work?
  • What are we doing for marketing? Where do we get posters printed? Who's distributing them?
  • Social media...
  • What course material do we need? Do we have enough? (No... you never have enough!)
  • This is a lot of stuff... we need to buy a trailer.
  • How will we compensate core staff? Where are we getting volunteers? 
  • It's June and the venue manager wants a course map...
  • Trying to get Old Sac as a venue= meetings and more meetings.
  • Searching out and formulating agreements with sponsors... so many emails!
  • How to I make a good CX course? Details...
    • Random park goer: "Why is that guy riding his bike around (seemingly) aimlessly in the grass and going half way up hills and turning around?"
  • How do I make barriers?  Can they be lighter?
    • No... barriers made of vinyl fencing don't hold up.
  • How do I make a podium backdrop?
  • Who's watching Logan while we're running the event?

There are a lot of things that were left off that list (and a LOT of prep that Jen did too), but you get the idea.  So after all the planning... the season was finally here.  With Jen handling all the timing and registration, the equipment, course, and the race functions would be my responsibility.  No matter what else we did with the series, website, sponsorship, marketing, etc... it still comes down to the fact that the course has to be good and foster good racing.  Without that, to me, there wouldn't really be any growth in the series and people wouldn't come back.  This means that every course becomes my baby... in addition to this one...

The first race at Orangevale Park was a returning venue with a course that was well received last year, but after riding around the venue and making sure I was using any unique feature it had to offer I saw some changes to be made.  Some of which involved a couple hours of raking...

With a good route mapped out I was ready to go.  And on the day before the race, with an awesome crew from Folsom Bike we eventually got it all set up.  But it took way too long and all the volunteers weren't effectively utilized.  Something I'd make sure to do on future setup days.  Huge thanks to Ron Shevock for helping me out until after dark.  And I also learned that I need to set up my start finish chute first if I want it to look nice.  We ran out of material before we got to it, and had to go back and thin out some sections.

After getting home and loading up the rest of the race day equipment, everything was full again and I was seriously concerned that we wouldn't be able to get everything home after the race!

Race day... lesson #1: Expect that at least some of your course will be destroyed overnight.  Either by humans, overly powerful sprinklers, or wind.  For this race, it was humans.  Many stakes were used as javelins, ending up in random places, and some were never found.  Great.  Some foul words were uttered as I rode around the course at 5:30am.

But with daylight came life and as the registration area and start/finish chute took shape the racers started to roll in.  There had been a lot of excitement leading up to this and I was still a little worried that people wouldn't show up.  But people kept coming and the buzz was awesome.  The first wave of the day (Men's C's) was huge!!  George asks me if I want to say something before they go off... yeah, I do, or rather I feel like I should.  But I don't know what to say so after rattling off a few logistical details, I just express my appreciation that they've come out and that I hope they love it.  And they're off!  It felt great to finally have racers on course.  And wave after wave people were stoked and loving it.  I don't think I ever stopped moving all day... repairing broken course, preparing awards and handing out podium prizes, repairing more course, making a kids course route, taking feedback from racers, resolving results disputes, thanking the sponsors that came out, oh and repairing more course :-).  I was so wrapped up in doing everything, that when I saw my mother-in-law in the reg area (she'd been taking care of Logan at our house), and then saw a stroller, with a baby in it, I had to stop and think for a second.  Wait... if she's here, and... oh that baby's mine!  I felt so bad that I had been so mentally wrapped up in everything that I hadn't even thought about our little guy at all.  But so thankful that he was being taken care of so that I didn't have to and could be in my new version of "race mode." I was excited to see him though and I walked around with him for a while and, you guessed it, repaired some course :-).

After all the racing was done, I couldn't believe how well the event had gone.  And was so stoked that everything we'd been working on finally took shape, and made a lot of people happy (336 racers!).

And I even managed to fit all of the course and venue equipment in the cars and trailer!  Good thing I played a lot of Tetris as a kid!

Monday... time to focus on race number two at Maidu Park the next weekend. New venue, new course.  I took some time during the week and just went out to the park and just walked around.  Reading the contours and visualizing the course and what lines would be taken at race speed.  I had a good course plan and I went around ahead of time marking where each stake would go.  With another great setup crew, this time from Roseville Cyclery, we knocked out the course before dark.  Except we ran out of course material, again.  And some thinning was required to put together the start/finish area, which we couldn't access until the soccer games were over.  I HATED the fact I had to skimp on course material! Oh well, not much I could do now.  After all the volunteers left I walked the course making minor adjustments, moving stakes just a few feet, etc.  I ended up redesigning a series of turns in the grass until they felt right and the few guys out preriding gave me good feedback on the course.  

Race morning... I'm out at 5:30am again riding the course and it's all still there! Stoked! It's gonna be a good day.

I started setting up the course that ran through the parking lot and quickly found out that I needed to block off areas due to the softball tournament and those people wanting to park in our venue.  I scrambled for some cones and also blocked off a space for the food truck which would come later.  People ended up moving some cones to park there anyway.  Ahh!  

As I'm finishing the setup of the parking lot section of the course, a park maintenance guy drives up and says he needs to get into the maintenance yard that is on the other side of my course.  Seriously? So I take the course down for him to go through.   Unfortunately he'd need to do this a few more times throughout the day, during races.  That was quite the headache to deal with and make sure he got across two way race traffic with his truck safely.  This venue certainly had some flow issues, with people having to cross the course not only to get to registration but to get to the bathrooms.  Something I had never considered.  So not only do I need to have a good course, I need to figure out where the foot traffic is coming from and where it will want to go for future races.

But the day ended up being awesome again and the racers were stoked.

And yes I did a quite a bit of course repair...

It was another day where I seemed to never stop moving and was always going a different direction.  We had one somewhat major hiccup in the timing system caused by too much draw on the batteries.  But we learned how to (hopefully) prevent it in the future and thanks to a great scribe crew (backup scoring) we had a manual record of finish order at least for the Master B's categories.  

At the end of the day... 346 racers got out on course to hammer and had a great time.  I couldn't believe how well the series was going.  And how rewarding it's been despite an incredible amount of work.  Honestly... just showing up to an event with a bike and racing seems easy in comparison!  

Two weeks later, at our third race at Lembi Park in Folsom, I would get the opportunity to do both!  This race went EXTREMELY well despite a tough course, which equals even more course repairs.  But I had bought about 175 more stakes since the beginning of the season and had a few extra on hand (I learned not to use them ALL on setup for this reason).  People were really digging the techy course I had put together (thanks to all the help from Team Revs on setup!) and there were spectators/hecklers everywhere and the vibe was awesome.  With ten minutes to go before the final race of the day (Men's A/SS A's), I found myself in the timing area having checked over, made repairs and all of the course was ready to go.  I told Jen I was thinking of jumping in the race but I didn't have my timing chip or anything set up yet.  She says, "I know someone who can make that happen you know..." So ten minutes later, after a towel change in the parking lot I roll up to the back of the Single Speed group... "So I hear there's a bike race eh?"  Lots of familiar faces welcome me back to this side of the tape.  It felt really good to get out there and actually enjoy some of the fruits of everything we've been doing.  

And yes... it was a really fun course!  But really hard too!!!  I was essentially course sweep, but I was having fun.  I even scored a dollar hand-up.  Thanks to everyone who I saw repairing the damaged course while I was out there racing.  And sorry to the guy whose foot I ran over at the top of the run-up!  

After the dust settled at Lembi and Team Revs picked up the course in record time, I got to go walk the course with Jen and show her everything she never gets to see (always stuck in the timing/reg tent).  So that was pretty cool.  And the other amazing thing... the count was 392 racers... wow.  So excited to see where this is going.


  1. Thank you, thank you ,thank you for all the hours it obviously takes to pull these together! Nary a hiccup felt,seen or heard from this participant,and yes,I'll continue to repair tape & downed stakes too whenever possible! Your never-ending energy is infectious I guess!

  2. nice work Clint! you have our support (Bhopla's and Revs)~Vee.

  3. Thanks Clint. The Sac races are my #1 priority this season. I come from San Mateo but I am never disappointed in the locations and courses. I consider them some of the best in Norcal. Been racing CX along time and I appreciate the thought put into the race experience. Love that I can race for an hour (45A), usually appreciate it well afterward! Keep up the good work! Cheers

  4. I live on the SF Peninsula and have only done the Lembi Park race, but it was amazing, as was the food truck. You have really raised the bar for how a cross race should be put on.