Entering endurance races can end up being a costly experience and there are the logistical challenges to consider too. How do you choose which races to sign up for? Do you spend hours (and hours and hours) poring over the course profiles before making your final selections or is it an impulse decision?
We've asked Mad Hatters Sports' Events Director, John Yelland, to help us work out what we should be looking for in a quality endurance event and to hear about what it takes to put a race together...
Hi John, so what inspired you to go into the world of organising endurance events?
There are three of us at Mad Hatter - John, Martin and I - and we have participated in various races, across varying distances and at quite a cost over the years.
We felt that regardless of distance, discipline or cost, the atmosphere at the majority of races we'd been to had been poor unfortunately. For example, I did a 32-mile ultramarathon and I was greeted at the finish line by a dog and one man who clapped half-heartedly and muttered "well done".
I felt that having spent £80 to participate and then run for 5.5 hours, I kind of deserved a bit more.
So, we decided to try and put our money where our mouths are and organise our own events, with a focus on creating an atmosphere and energy around the events.
I think that atmosphere is perhaps something that potential participants should look at before signing up for an event. Ultra racing is an experience at the end of the day and you want to enjoy it.
And so what 3 things should an athlete be looking for in a quality endurance event?
That’s a difficult one because it will come down to the individual and whether they're there to race or to enjoy the experience. If I had to pick three things that I would personally look for, it would be reviews, accessibility and, above all, a challenge.
1. Speak to people who have done the event in the past as they will be honest if it’s good or not and they will give a good insight into the atmosphere of that event.
Using a website like Racecheck can help as this is a good place to look at past reviews from participants who have been there and done it.
2. Accessibility. Is the race location easy to get to and is there accommodation available close by? It's well worth checking this in advance as it isn't always the case and the logistics of getting to the start point or race registration early will make a huge difference to your mindset before you start the event.
3. And for me, it’s all about a challenge. There’s no point in doing something that's easy.
When it comes to actually planning an event, how long does it take for you to plan and ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day?
For example, running a large event like the Roseland Swimrun, which covers nearly 40km of remote coastline, for the very first time will take a year of planning, which I guess is something people don’t see when they turn up on the day.
Once an event has run a few times it becomes easier to plan and manage.
We, the organisers, all 'recce' the course - which again takes time - and in a swimrun event it’s difficult to do this in the winter months due to the water temperature in the UK.
So, you're definitely putting in the yards when doing the 'recce' then! When it comes to the actual race, what are the most common queries you receive from athletes taking part?
Definitely about the kit in terms of which brands are best and how some of it should be used. Common questions we get are, which wetsuit is best or cheapest? Where can they buy or try it? What goggles do you use? What shoes do you wear for swimrun?
Then it’s questions about nutrition and hydration in terms of what they should use, when and how, as well as what will be available on course and how much they should carry.
How would you go about placing aid stations with the nutrition and hydration on a course? Again, I imagine it's perhaps a factor that potential participants will look at before signing up for events...
Definitely, which is why we work on trying to provide aid within every 10km, but it does depend on the terrain on the course. Transporting aid to a clifftop isn’t always easy so it’s about finding the best place.
As part of our 'recce' of the course, we look at where we have to work hard on a certain stretch and try to place some form of aid in that area.
And what are the most common problems on race day? I imagine you might spend a fair bit of time checking the weather forecast in the build-up to race day?
Oh my days, checking the weather, especially the sea conditions, are our biggest worry.
If it’s looking like it’s going to be windy and from the worst possible direction, then my blood pressure goes through the roof!
We have had to postpone or cancel events in the past as it’s not just the competitors that you have to consider, it’s also the people on kayaks for hours that could be at risk , while there's always the question of whether we can even launch the safety boat.
How valuable are the volunteers when organising an event and why should athletes consider helping out at an endurance race?
Without these people events wouldn't be able to go ahead, so we really value our volunteers and we try to select people who know what it's like to be out there so they are knowledgeable and encouraging.
Personally, I love to help other events when I can as it certainly makes you feel like you're giving something back.
And what's your favourite part of planning events?
My favourite part is seeing people come over the finish line to achieve their goals, but also seeing the feedback we get.
At Mad Hatter Sports we have also developed a large community of athletes who meet every day to swim or run. Enabling them to do this when they all used to do it as individuals is extremely satisfying.