Tom O’Grady: Winter Series 3 Race Director Answers Questions

Why a race in winter?

Hmm, why not race in the winter? OK, in all seriousness now. The club started the Winter Series to qualify for and prepare for the Boston Marathon. At least that's what I've been told over the years. The idea was to start with the 15km and then each winter series would be a little longer - 13.1 mi, 25km, 30km, 20 mi. Finally, the Winter Series culminated with a winter marathon in February. The thought was you could also use this as a last-chance qualifier for the Boston Marathon. Things have changed a lot over the years, and while it was still possible to qualify for the Boston Marathon, registration for Boston began wrapping up in September. 

The Winter Series races also simply offer cheap, no frills, options for individuals to race over the winter and stay fit. I've used the Winter Series races myself as a structured way to train for the Boston Marathon since 2008 and it's worked very well for me! I'm glad we have these events.

How do you handle volunteers, particularly the ones covering the 25K race?

Recruiting and positioning volunteers can be particularly challenging for a variety of reasons. The 25km race is long and it's one of the less popular races (the most popular appear to be the first, the Hangover Half, and the Grand Prix 10 mile). I have a copy of the course map and have several spots marked off as ideal places for volunteers to cover (think the two water stops, the turnaround spot, and the road crossings). Depending on the number of volunteers who sign up we try to send a few people to each spot. If there are enough volunteers, we try to rotate people through so volunteers don't get tired, cold, etc. The club sends an e-mail out asking for volunteers. When I direct the Winter Series, I also ask people I know to help. A few times we had very few volunteers and that made things a little more challenging. 

We have some core volunteers who help a lot. Marey Bailey and Carol Reardon are always at the registration table, for instance. Maureen Cox has been doing refreshments for several years. Christine Bishop and her husband Charles have been core picture-taking volunteers, along with Bill Meehan. John Parisella has been a key person (Tom Adams before him) in helping with the van. All of these people are so important to make the event work. This year, John became ill right before the Winter Series and I had to get the van, in addition to the other responsibilities. A big thank you to Chuck Terry, Lee Hilt, and Tom McGrath for stepping in and helping out. 

My wife and children have been key volunteers to help make things run smoothly. We've also tried to offer opportunities for the youth in the community to help and get volunteer credit. Both of our older boys are in Scouts, and we opened up the volunteer to their troop. We had several Scouts help, and that created a win-win! 

What are your duties as a race director for WS3? There have to be many that we do not see on race day?

My job is to manage the separate pieces of the event and ensure things go smoothly. There is a Winter Series race directors meeting that starts over the summer. Things that are discussed are changes to the course (the UAlbany campus has had a lot of construction over the last ten years). I keep track of the numbers and try to recruit enough volunteers to cover the event. I'll discuss refreshments and awards with Maureen. On race morning I'll help set things up, and make sure course maps are up and volunteers know where to go. I'll help unload the van and set up the course and be at the finish or inside to answer questions, assist finishers with their cards, ensure that awards are done, and do a variety of other things. After the event, I'll help pack everything up and make sure it gets back to the HMRRC clubhouse. There are probably many other things that I am forgetting. 

Have you ever thought of directing a bigger race for the HMRRC?

I know a lot of work goes into directing each of the HMRRC races and this is especially true for the bigger races such as the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon and the Stockade-athon. I enjoy directing the Winter Series because although it is a lot of work there is less stress due to the no-frills nature of the race. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and if I took on the responsibility of a bigger race I would want it to go very well. I'm not sure I'm at the point in my life where it's feasible to give the attention to directing a bigger race that it deserves. My wife and I have four children, we both work full time, and we both volunteer in other capacities for the HMRRC and elsewhere (I write for the PaceSetter, for instance, and we volunteer for Scouts as well). Simply put, there is not enough time and something would need to give to add a bigger race. In the future maybe it would be feasible, but for now I'll continue with race-directing smaller races or helping in other capacities. 

Do you miss running the race since as a director it would be impossible?

I have usually just done my long run after everything is cleaned up. This year I did 16 miles (just a little longer than 25km) after the event was over. Once I was home and cleaned up, we ordered pizza and watched the NFL playoffs. It felt good to relax for a little while. 

How do you juggle being a director since you have so many competing responsibilities such as being a college professor, and writer, training as an elite runner, and handling a family of four young children?

The good thing is that it's a time when I would probably be running at the event anyway. Running is very important to me and it's not going anywhere. It's important to give back to the community and to give back to something that means a lot to you personally. My wife, Sara, enjoys volunteering (probably more than I do). We want our children to be involved with the community as well, and volunteering supports that. We were even able to include their Scout troop and help others get volunteer hours for their various requirements. As for my training, it's probably better that I direct the race. Then, I can do an easy long run afterward and don't risk getting carried away with what others are doing if I were to run the event. It's all about perspective. As you can see, it takes a lot of planning, as well as having a significant other who has similar values. My field of work is public health, so volunteering for a race that improves the health and fitness of the community also meshes well with my life/career goals. It takes a lot of work, planning, and time management but I also try to set things up so that these responsibilities aren't always competing. I try to evaluate occasionally and recalibrate based on how things are going.


Reviewer Tom O’Grady is an elite runner, coach,writer and college professor with a joint appointment at NYSDOH/UAlbany School of Public Health. Click on his picture to read all that he has written for The Pace Setter-and it is a lot!

Thank you, Tom!

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