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Behind the Scenes with a Race Director

By Bruce Dunn | Feb. 17, 2017, 6:52 p.m. (ET)

ozark valley triathlon 

As an athlete, you’ve experienced race-day nerves before. But what’s it like for someone on the other side of the event? Race director Bruce Dunn tells the story of producing his second event as a full-time race promoter and first triathlon back in 2003.

bruce dunn3:30 a.m. It’s race day and the alarm is about to go off in a few minutes. Have I remembered to pack the radios and fill up the coolers for the run course aid station? Where is my headlamp, will everyone come out of the water, where did I pack those body marking pens, are the rental truck keys on the counter, does Vince have enough volunteers, is the course marked properly, what is the combination to the locks on the park? Oh no — it’s Monday, June 30 and I’ve overslept. Oooops, just a bad waking dream. OK you get the idea. Race day is pretty hectic. The morning of a race for this promoter is just about the most stressful, fun thing I've ever done. People are depending on you to deliver and people are depending on you to deliver. The proverbial double-edged sword. 

4 a.m. The truck is loaded and it's off for the first annual Ozark Valley Triathlon. Over 160 competitors from 11 states have signed up to see what kind of pain the Ozarks can shell out. Hopped up on Red Bull while driving a fully loaded rental truck in the dark out to Lake Wedington is not what Captain Safety recommends.

4:30 a.m. I arrive at the park and no one is here. Is anyone coming? Is this the wrong day? No you idiot, it's the Red Bull. Open the lock and get to it. What's the combination again? The lock won't open. Relax. After dialing the same combination for the umpteenth time, it finally opens. Yes, the triathlon will start.

5:15 a.m. The truck is unloaded. I’m ready, I think. The volunteers are beginning to arrive. They are simply the best! Arriving on time with headlights, a great attitude and jumping in where they're needed. The race is beginning to take on a life of its own. Did Shawn remember to set his alarm so we’ll have a P.A. system? Oh, there’s Shawn setting up the system. What a guy!

5:35 a.m. The park is officially open and there are already three athletes unpacking their bikes. Yes, the transition will open, this is not a wetsuit swim, bathrooms behind you, helmets on at all time while on the bike. I remember my first tri and patiently answer all questions. It’s good to be alive and doing something you love. I hope everyone here feels the same.

5:45 a.m. Where are the body marking pens? Call Chip or Wynn, they’ll know exactly where I put them. “Wynn, do you have the pens?” “No Bruce, but Chip has a pen with him.” Just like Chip to make sure he has one.

Panic mode is setting in — where are all of those pens? Take a deep breath and say a little prayer. Maybe I should check the same box where all the other race paraphernalia is stored. Lift the lid and a little gift from heaven — the pens! Now the race can go on! Yes, this is a good day.

6 a.m. The P.A. system is up and running. Mr. Joe Garrett is on the mic. “Welcome racers to the first Ozark Valley Triathlon.” Oh those words ring sweet. It’s been approximately six months since Brother Dave (Latourette) and I hatched this idea and now it’s coming to fruition. Thanks Dave for giving me your cell and work phone numbers in California. Your advice and encouragement were the difference between a mediocre event and a safe, successful event. Thank you! 

It’s only 1 1/2 hours until race time. Doon Muehlbach is the bike course leader and he’s on task. I start to ask Doon if he’s done this and this and this. Done and done and done! You da’ man. 

6:30 a.m. The participants have started to arrive in full force. Joe and Shawn are spinning some tunes, the courses are ready to go and the athletes are getting excited. Why aren’t there more issues? Could it be this event is running too smoothly? No, there must be something wrong.  

7 a.m. The transition area is full, the bodies are marked, swimmers are warming up in the lake, Red Bull is flowing, Cindy Knott has the timing clock ready to go, and there are people in the water. We’re about to have a triathlon and there’s not any more worrying that I can do to change that fact. It’s go time!

7:35 a.m. The bullhorn siren sounds and the first wave of competitors is swimming. Oh no, I forgot to get nervous.

7:50 a.m. Willie Pickhardt is coming out of the water — 15 minutes flat on a very tough swim course. He’s smoked the competition. More participants are coming out of the water. Uh, we may just have successfully pulled off the swim course.

8:20 a.m. They’re all out of the water. Radios crackle with four heaven-sent words. Transition area is clear. Thank you, God. Now we’re having fun and the rest is all downhill — well more like uphill from here if you’ve ever participated in the event and experienced the infamous hill on the run course.

9:04 a.m. Our overall winner, Carter Johnson, crosses the finish line. No one expected that quick of a time. 1:29:50, a new course record! OK, the first course record.

9:17 a.m. Our first female competitor, Amber Mounday, finishes with a time of 1:35:56. She is the sixth overall competitor in the race. Of course, I’ve got to mention Deb, my wife, making a very strong showing coming in as the second overall female, and 13th overall competitor. I’m sure it was all that coaching she’s been receiving from yours truly! Yeah right! 

10:22 a.m. Here she comes with all smiles and a look of satisfaction. Deanna Duplanti has just completed her first triathlon. Seeing Deanna cross the line is what makes this race promoter want to put on more races. Congrats!

10:30 a.m. All are finished. The war stories are flowing along with Gatorade, energy bars, bananas and oranges. Bank of Fayetteville has fired up the barbeque and hot food is about to be served.

10:45 a.m. There is always some angst with the race results. Operator Error is flashing all around the room as I sort and re-sort the data. Competitor ABC: “I was listed in the wrong wave, so my time is off.” Correct B27, highlight data, sort data, say a little prayer. Now we’re ready for the awards. Competitor DEF: “I had the wrong color swim cap and I went with the wrong wave.” Correct B84, highlight data, sort data, say a little prayer. Now we’re ready for the awards. You get the picture. 

11 a.m. but probably closer to noon the awards are ready. We have tons of prizes to give away and some great awards to hand out. We had lots of fun interviewing winners and hearing war stories. The grand prize was a set of Shimano wheels. And the winner is so and so. Not here, must be present to win. Draw again. And the winner is: James Sawyer! The award ceremony is over.

Hey, can we do it all over again? This has been quite a day and the best part is I’m fully packed, hopped up on Red Bull and driving back to Fayetteville by 2 p.m. Hey, I like these one-day gigs. 

The first annual Ozark Valley Triathlon has been a complete success. We had competitors from several states come to our area and first-time athletes become full-fledged triathletes!

I want to thank all the volunteers, racers and spectators who helped make this race worth promoting. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. in the morning is probably not anyone’s idea of fun; but to see the race unfold the way it did, it’s worth every missed minute of sleep.

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