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Behind the scenes of the top championship races across the nation

By Lauren DeMarco | Feb. 10, 2020, 5:27 p.m. (ET)

USA Triathlon supports over 30 regional championships across the six regions and over 45 state championships. These events bring together thousands of athletes, from first timers to seasoned weekend warrior triathletes and support USA Triathlon’s mission to grow, inspire and support the multisport community. 

Race directors are the lifeblood that make these events possible for so many athletes to enjoy. 
USA Triathlon spoke with a few race directors to see what it takes to put on a championship event and stand out among the crowded field of events. 

Race director of Herbalife24 Triathlon Los Angeles, Brennan Lindner speaks to running an event in the downtown Los Angeles area and Faye Yates shares her experience hosting Mountain Lakes Sprint Triathlon and Duathlon, one of the longest running triathlons in Alabama.

Hosting a championship event not only has a nice ring to the end of a race title but also carries a lot of meaning with it as well. When racers cross the finish line, rep their race day bling, or walk around in their event swag; they are not only proud of their accomplishment, but of the race they signed up for as well. Hosting a state or regional championship event provides athletes the opportunity to compete against the state’s or region’s best athletes, plus the chance to qualify for the Toyota USA Triathlon Olympic- and Sprint-distance National Championships. If you’re interested in hosting a state or regional championship, find more information here

Read below to learn how these race directors organize successful events.

What do you think has led to your event being so successful?

Brennan Lindner: I think there’s a number of factors that lead to the success, but number one is that it’s a once in a lifetime chance to race around the city of Los Angeles. The fact that it’s perfectly situated among all the major cities makes it easy to get to as well. Having the LA Tri Club as our official partner, they bring out tons of athletes in support of this event.

Faye Yates: The sense of community combined with years of experience and familiarity of the area is really magical, especially when you find such a welcoming area as Guntersville. This event is our second oldest triathlon — it has been going on for over 30 years now. We have a really established grassroots event that has brought people in before the big triathlon boom even hit. We had upwards of 900 people for the event in the early 90s and the community has really embraced it ever since.

What prep goes into hosting such a large event? When do you start thinking about the championship race?

BL: Considering the scale and scope, it took us about two years before we could actually launch this event. We go through five different city council districts, two county areas, and 18 neighborhood councils, so the planning never really stops. We started work a month after last year’s race for this year’s event, so it’s really a nonstop process.

FY: We start planning our event the day after the event for the next year, and I think that has added to our success. We meet with communities right after to do our debrief and get feedback from racers to apply for next year while the thoughts are still fresh.

Are there certain safety precautions or procedures that you follow come race day?

BL: There’s definitely a lot of safety precautions that you need to look at from a lot of different angles, including being a participant out on the course as well as a resident in the area. The biggest thing is having a safe and secure bike and run course. Working with police to figure out what closures (are needed) and when they need to happen, as well as having a whole buffer zone around the course a block off to further ensure no one is really going close to the course. Then of course in the water there are tons of LA County lifeguards providing on water safety. We also take into consideration natural disasters and the tourist component, when hosting in a major city and if there are any additional concerns or preps we need to implement. 

FY: One of the big hitters is definitely the weather and its impact on the course, especially with the swim. Luckily, with our race the lake doesn’t get affected by big winds. We may not have to deal with tides and waves, but there are many other things being a race director you have to consider. For instance, during the summer there tends to be extra growth of weeds in the lake and although it’s not a safety concern, we don’t want the racers to feel uncomfortable in the water. 

In what ways has hosting this event affected the community, positive or negatively?

BL: We get both positive and negative feedback, always going to get people who don’t want to be inconvenienced from their routine. Our event starts really early, so we clear up the dense areas early on, so our impact is relatively light. We do get morning spectators, but most people tend to sleep in. Downtown is where a lot of the cheering occurs; being located near transition and the finish line. There’s also not really any other time besides the LA Marathon where people can ride and run along the streets of LA without any interruption from traffic, so our athletes love that aspect of the race. 

FY: No negatives! Over the years our race has paved the way for other sporting events to enter into the area. Guntersville now hosts several major sporting events, from baseball to fishing. So again, the sense of community and support we get has been great. With the increase in event presence it does limit us with choosing dates for our event to line up with the cities calendar.

What type of marketing do you do for your event, and how far in advance do you start to spread the word? 

BL: Best practices within LA we try to go above and beyond. It starts at that grassroots level, then social, then emails. In the denser neighborhood areas, we do door hangers, fliers, and send out emails through neighborhood councils about the race. Then closer to race day we post a-frames around the course to let people know the event is coming and we coordinate with our local news partner, KTLA, who does a ton of coverage of the event come race day. A challenge for everyone these days is the marketing aspect in that we are all competing for people’s time and attention. We have a pretty robust digital campaign, some print, but a ton of grassroots outreach at other events, an email list to past participants and partners, etc.

FY: Tough to make marketing decisions these days as the digital age changes constantly. We think often how we can get our ambassadors and athletes that know the race really well to try and spread the word on social media because that is where people are now looking. Also reaching out to past racers and clubs to get them to come race with us again. We are always applying for championships because it carries something with it; tells the racers not only does USAT think this is a solid event but gives people something to talk about racing and being a part of a regional championship.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new race director getting into the sport of triathlon what would it be?

BL: Be flexible! Have your vision in mind but know that getting there isn’t going to be a straight line. Be solution oriented — what is going to make the best race and know it might not be that first idea you have. Our job as the producer is to provide one to five solutions that work best for anything, whether it be the racer, city, resident, or the spectator.

FY: Do your research! For the sport of triathlon, you need to pick the right community — find one that wants to have you there. Also, there are so many events for racers to choose from you need to find out what’s something that is going to make your race unique and different from the rest.