RD Diary: Brick by brick

Editor's note: This is the second of a series of 13 weekly articles originally published on Slowtwitch in 2003. The articles chronicle newbie RD Jeff Henderson's journey toward the production of his first race: the Musselman Triathlon in Upstate New York. After these 13 weeks worth of diary entries, we'll flow directly into a new series Jeff is writing for us, where he talks about his challenges and goals now, as he prepares for Year-7 of Musselman.

Somewhere in the middle of the bike leg I took a wrong turn and found myself on the "long course" when I had signed up for the "short course." Rather than considering it an excellent opportunity to get my money's worth, I muttered under my breath something about how any moron should be able to hold a triathlon and, at the very least, get people to go the right way and do the right distance. An hour later, I found out that nearly half the field had also gone the wrong way.

Six years later I am now that moron trying to hold a triathlon and saying prayers each night that no one takes a wrong turn (or drowns in the swim, or gets hit by a bus, or...). I have reached the point of no turning back - enough people now know about the race and enough money has been spent that, come hell or high water, I will be holding a race in July. The last time I wrote, though, I was about to meet with Reverend Gerling, the man responsible for the other triathlon in Geneva, a race that has been held for the past 22 years. Let me tell you how I got from there to here in less than three weeks.

Dan Empfield advocates going to the top when procuring permission and permits to hold a triathlon. In my case, the top turned out to be the minister at the First Presbyterian Church, Geneva. Once voted Citizen of the Year, Jim Gerling knows everyone, has an answer for everything, and I have yet to meet anyone in Geneva who does not respect him and his work. Rather than feeling threatened that I wanted to hold a new race in Geneva, he patiently heard my ideas and enthusiastically supported my vision. I told him I did not want to impact the Miracle in the Park, the race he puts on each year as a benefit for hunger relief, and he told me it needs a shot of adrenaline to remain viable. We concluded our first meeting with an agreement to form a partnership - he will continue to hold his race in early June, I will hold mine in July, and we will do everything we can to help each other be successful.

Armed with the blessings of the Reverend, I began my search for a race committee. In order to be sanctioned by USAT, I need to have a safety coordinator overseeing the planning and ensuring that no slippery stone is unmoved. I offered the post to my father's cousin, Robert.

Robert is retired, 70-something, and spends his time golfing, bowling, and shoveling snow. But he's also perfect for the job - he was a professor in the computer science department of Hobart College, worked for the government in applied physics, and has an obsession with thoroughness and attention to detail that few people can match. A few years ago he was asked to be a host on a tour of historic homes through the Finger Lakes; he spent so much time pouring through County Clerk records and scouring historical documents that the woman in charge grew concerned and re-deployed him to the home's kitchen, where he could only present the oven. I fear we may wind up TOO safe.

My bike course is in the capable hands of Jim Hogan, the owner of the Geneva Bicycle Center. An avid runner and owner of a photography studio, Jan Regan, is my run coordinator. And my site manager, registration coordinator, and PR manager are my father, mother, and brother, respectively. If this race bombs I may have to make alternate plans for Thanksgiving dinner next year.

The race will be known as the Musselman, in reference to the millions of miniature zebra mussels that have invaded the lake via non-local watercraft. The mussels siphon so much algae that the lake is now crystal clear - a pleasure to swimmers and tourists but a menace to ecologists. If I can sell the idea to a local supplier, maybe we can have a mussel feast after the race. It will be on July 11th - my best attempt at avoiding conflicts with local races and the big half-ironmans in Tupper Lake and Timberman - and we'll offer a sprint race, too: the mini-Mussel.

As fun as this is going to be, I don't want to go broke in the process. My wife, a concerned accomplice whether she wants to be or not, also does not want to go broke. So we spent two weeks drawing up lists of everything we would need and calling people who could get them for us so we could put some numbers down.

Let me just say that triathlon budgets are the essence of fuzzy math. The cost of port-o-potties is easy to determine but swim buoys are not. And if I am going to be able to look at myself in the mirror for the next six months, I need to make an effort to not dispense yet another t-shirt in the goody bag. Luckily, my wife found a company in Bangalore (yes, that would be India) that produces bulk towels. How much does it cost to ship 800 towels from India? (And what kind of lead-time do we need on this?)

Many things depend on how many people register for the event - parking, food for the pre-race meal, swim caps - but an entry fee must be determined before people can register. Here we have a chicken-and-egg problem: make the fee too high and no one will come, make it too low and the family doesn't eat because 900 towels are coming from Bangladesh.

I now spend my days frantically writing an online registration system so we can "go live" somewhere in January. Due to my desire to save money and not use active.com - I hate the idea of charging people 6% on top of their entry fee just so they can use a credit card - I've decided to roll my own. In my next installment I'll tell you if it works, how I plan to get the word out, and who else joins the committee. Applications now being accepted.