Three queries for a hay bale

Editor's note: This is the sixth of a series of 13 weekly articles originally published on Slowtwitch in 2003/4. 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.

The website is purring. I've got a Bike Coordinator, Run Coordinator, Safety Coordinator, and probably a Coordinator Coordinator working away at raceday strategies. The timing company has been contracted. I've got a pre-race dinner special guest, wine on the tables, and goody bags stuffed with shwag. So why haven't I sold out yet?

The biggest challenge, I've determined, to putting on a first-year race is making folks aware that my race exists. My budget for this year includes things that Escape From Alcatraz has not needed for perhaps five years now, solely because that race is a household name. Ads in magazines, fliers around town (as well as the next town), traveling and cajoling and emailing and writing. And still it never seems to be enough.

My wife, Melissa, and I have been hitting the triathlon club circuit here in Central New York. There's no tri club in Geneva, where the race will be held, but there are at least four or five within a reasonable drive. Back in December I sent out emails to all of the clubs I could find, targeting the presidents and webmasters to get mention in their newsletters and spots on their calendars. Now, two months later, I attend the monthly meetings and am constantly surprised at how many people have not heard of the Musselman, just a half hour down the road.

Dan's EWP is right: Karen Smyers at the pre-race dinner and an ad in Inside Triathlon will help, but nothing can replace showing up on a frosty Sunday night in the backroom of a town bar or college dormitory to say a few words about the race to a gathered group of triathletes. For one, the people who come to these meetings are active and involved and therefore more likely to make the trip. Two, the amount of information on the internet and in print has become too much; who is going to check thirteen different race calendars for the upcoming season? I need to be on every single one of them, and then there will still be people not immersed in online triathlon, as I call it. Believe it or not, not everyone checks their email five times a day. Some people don't even have email (gasp).

I've tried to answer common questions on the website, but I get two to three emails a day asking for distances and whether or not The Mussel is USAT sanctioned. You simply can't replace the in-person smile and handshake, and even though it's more work for me, I'm glad it's that way. I spend enough time with computers.

Let me give you a quick update on some other items I have previously mentioned in other articles. Was I ever able to create my own online registration engine or am I one of the denizens knocking at the door of I am happy to report that my own is alive and kicking and cheerfully accepting entries as we speak. But creating such a system is not for the faint of heart - the world of online credit card processors (which is what presents your request to the computers at Visa and Mastercard) is a netherworld the likes of which you've not seen since you last mistakenly clicked on the "hot porn" link in an unsolicited email message. It took a good three weeks to find a legit processor, then another to code the system.

But my expenses are less as a result. Instead of 6.5% of every transaction going down some unknown hole, a much smaller percentage goes straight to Visa. And since I wrote the system, I now have something to barter with other RDs: they have swim buoys, or bike racks, and I have a triathlon-friendly registration system.

In elementary school my friends and I would trade lunchbox items: cookies for chips, chocolate milk for licorice. As the only kid with parents hip enough to arm him with a CapriSun drink box, I pretty much ruled the lunchtime commodities market. I could get nearly anything for a CapriSun will little effort. As a first-year race director, however, I am not so fortunate. I have neither the cash nor stockpiled equipment from years past to trade with other RDs for the goods I need.

But I do have a registration engine, and happy bartering days are here again. I used to get a box of animal crackers for one watermelon sack of sugar water; now I get 25 "stop & slow" signs for one registration engine. But why would an RD use my system instead of the existing online engines? Because you can't manage all of your data in one place. You get access to the entries processed online, but what if someone pays by check? That information can't be entered in those systems, so you end up with two different databases and the constant problem of merging the two whenever you want an overview of what's going on.

Lest you think all is wine and roses here in the Land of the Mussel, we unfortunately still do not have a Volunteer Coordinator. This is a crucial post, but apparently not for everyone. Don't get me wrong - we've got volunteers, just no one to coordinate them. I've even got a group of kids from a nearby juvenile detention center pumped about manning an aid station. My advice: don't slow down to take your water bottle and keep the other hand on your wallet.

Speaking of detention centers, the long course for the bike rolls right past two of them, each bedecked in spangles of barbed wire and lookout posts. And a good portion also passes through Mennonite communities; in the pre-race meeting I plan to cover such topics as "How to Pass a Horse & Buggy on the Left" and "What to do if Approached by Individuals in Black and White Striped Clothing."

Today the thermometer climbed out of the 20s. Red Jacket Orchards donated bushels and bushels of apples. The ice on the lake is breaking up. Coure elevation profiles have been created. Each day we have another three minutes of daylight to play with; spring can't be long now. July 11th is coming fast, and the Musselman is coming together, piece by piece and swap by swap.