I just posted my leg-by-leg synopsis of my recent volunteering at Texas Independence Relay on their website. It was part of a post-mortem that I sent to the race director the day after the race. The other part was a series of overall suggestions and thoughts that I felt would make the relay better, which I left off of the posting. Within a few hours I got a note from the race director saying that he did not feel comfortable having this on the website so he removed it. It’s his website and he has every right to censor my remarks, but it saddens me that I was just telling the truth of what took place as I was doing my job. So I’ll probably never get asked back again after I do this post here, but I think that censorship is unacceptable. So here is what I posted along with the part that I had previously removed. Overall it was a great race and very well organized. Except for this I have nothing but good things to say about the race director.
Note: very long post… sorry.
My name is Brian Watt and I volunteered to help at the TIR. I wanted to learn about distance relay racing having completed six marathons. Yup, I sure did learn. By the way my weekends are quite free these days so I offered to help all weekend. Naturally Race Director Jay took me up on my offer – and did he. My adventure began the week before the race when I drove the course with Jay. Then it continues the next weekend of the race. Finally I end with some exchange-by-exchange notes (which I sent to Jay already), but you might find interesting to see what the “elves” of the race worry about and do… enjoy!
First I cut and pasted this post Texas Independence Relay pre-drive
Second I cut and pasted this post Texas Independence Relay
Leg by leg
Leg 0 (prologue): The first group started at about 5:05 AM. I waited at the start for the group to show up after the prologue. For some unknown reason I totally missed them when they finished the prologue and the single lead runner started toward exchange 1. So after about 20+ minutes I asked if they had finished the prologue – duh!, and someone told me yes. Whoa! Already I was behind. Ugh! And it was dark, and very foggy. I was under a great deal of stress right at the start.
Leg 1: On the way there I made a bad turn and found the missing tent. A lucky mistake. However, then I needed to find the right spot for the tent, because I was lost w/o GPS, which wasn’t working in the big Van I was driving. So I made lots of cell phone calls to Jay. Finally got the tent in the right spot farther down the road.
Leg 3: Several teams asked for porti-potties at this exchange. I have no idea if there were any, but I didn’t see any.
Leg 4: Several team vans said that there was not marker on the highway at 90 & 364 to mark the road to turn down to the exchange. I went back and put some flags there to highlight the corner for the team vans. Also the tents could blew over easily. The one at Exchange 4 was destroyed and a jumbled mess at the top of the hill in the park. The local people had moved the new tent to the end of Park Road 3. I painted a sign (luckily I had paint in cardboard and tape from decorating the vehicle) and taped it to a pole. Also added flags to help direct the runners at the top of the hill.
Leg 5: Move the exchange to the far side of Shiner Brewery parking lot. Had to paint a sign and added flags to direct runners where to go.
Leg 6: Unable to use cell phone in out-of-the-way places. Didn’t phone ahead. Just drove on. There was more than enough time.
Leg 7: Bring binoculars to see lead runner in the distance. Some of the running teams had binoculars and they helped me see who was coming.
Leg 12: No volunteers at exchange. Had to leave and continue even if no volunteers are there.
Leg 14: Runners are now an hour early. Lead teams were too fast, and arrived at exchanges too early (60 to 90 minutes early). Jay adjust your overall min/max planning schedules
Leg 17: Bought lots of toilet paper and began to stock porti-potties as an additional job.
Leg 19: Colorado River was a nightmare. In the future I suggest that each team should usher their own runner across the river on the narrow bridge. They’ve got vans and they are on the same road, so have them stop and help their own people. For this race Chris and Karol stayed back to help usher teams across. No police there, and when he arrives he can’t do anything except keep his lights on. Need more signage to tell cars in both directions to slow down and say there are runners on bridge.
Leg 28: Had to go back and add flags and signage at Gaston and Circo Ranch Rd. Missed the lead runner arrive at the exchange by about a minute.
Leg 30: I remember hearing a rumor that people are not entering the park (George Bush Trail). Need more signage telling them where to go.
Leg 31: Teams are concerned about women in the park (George Bush Trail) at 3 AM in the morning – this is a safety issue. We suggest that if the team is concerned that two different team members stay together in the park, or another team member goes with them. IMHO We need to do something about this. Also police are telling me that there are motorcyclists that are in the park and could pose a danger to the runners.
Leg 31: Path at back of the building needs to be better highlighted. The tent has some direction signs to be put on cones. Also had to create a sign for vans in the parking lot pointing to where the exchange is located. One early runner did not follow the path down under the street. I ran across the street with a direction (right) cone and placed it at the end of the path over the underpass directing runners to turn and go down under the road.
Leg 32: No police at Wilcrest and Briar Forest, but never called to race central. Didn’t notice until later at the next exchange. Maybe we were just too early.
Leg 34: Added flags at nature center to highlight that the runners are to go by it and further along the path.
Leg 36: Checked to make sure golf course entry gate is open. It was. Add note to runner directions that if a golf course gates are close, the runners are to go over or around them. We were asked to check if the exit gate was open. We didn’t check ourselves. We asked the lead runner after the golf course if there was a problem with the gate and she said, no, it was obvious what to do.
Exchange 36: In Mason park (after the golf course) it was unclear where the “Mason Park Path” was after the light. There were three choices – one by the lake, one along the road, and one between. We had people running all over to try to make the decision. Finally realized that the path was by the lake. Added flags to help direct.
Leg 40: Never got the last exchange time, don’t know why, maybe just didn’t really know where exchange 40 was (at the brick columns), or I was just so totally brain-dead after 29 hours. Or maybe there was no longer a need to project ahead to the next exchange since there wasn’t any more exchanges because my job was done. In any case, I never saw them arrive and I have no idea when they arrived. Sorry.
Here are my overall recommendations:
Pre-drive was essential. Later during the race the marker cones along the way helped to confirm the path. These cones became confirmation of the path on the day of the race.
Vehicle decorations (flags and paint) helped make the lead vehicle noticeable to the running teams, the local volunteers, the towns people, and the police. I think it was a good idea.
I never pre-phoned the week before to any of the volunteers. I entered all the numbers into my phone but I was unable to verify the phone numbers before the race started because I got the final list at the last moment, and the first leg was very stressful. As a result both Chris and I had to dial them by hand. He started using his own Cell phone, but he had no Cell phone charger. So after a while his phone died and he had to use my Cell phone. I have no idea how much money was spent using our Cell phones in this way.
My GPS was not working because the van was so long that it couldn’t see out the back of the van for any of the satellites. It kept seeking satellites. So I started in the entire race without the “crutch” that I had expected.
Also I had assumed I would have a co-pilot (the night before the race I was told that Bill would be my co-pilot), but at the start (Bill’s wife did not want to drive in the dark) that changed. Then with the first tent missing, Jay said he would come with me. Then after the tent was found because it was not set up at the right location, I suggested that Jay stay back. Finally Jay said that Chris would be my co-pilot and join me at a later exchange. This was fine, and in the long haul having Chris was a great benefit.
The lead vehicle did too much set-up because volunteers were rarely there that early. We set up the cones and tape. We set up blinkies on the cones. We set up the flag and tent number. We set up the garbage box and put the garbage bag in it. We marked the parking with a cone. Later we re-stocked the porti-potties with TP.
If someone else ever does the lead vehicle job you need to discuss the expenses beforehand and paying for them – what is reasonable and what isn’t. It was shortsighted of me and I should have talked with you about it and I would had been less worried as the money was spent. I should have assumed that the van would need gas. I didn’t expect that the van when I picked it up would not have a full tank. So I stopped and filled it up. It required $50, which surprised me because I drive a little Hinda Civic. I didn’t know if I would ever get paid back because we hadn’t talked about it. Also I hadn’t expected that Chris would have no money. But I freely lent him some yet I never knew if I would ever get paid back. I was especially worried when we had to buy $50 in toilet paper. So as the bills piled up I had no idea if you could afford it.
Make the runner numbers bigger so they are easier to see. I was trying to record the lead runner numbers. They were hard to see, not impossible, but just hard compared to other race’s running numbers.
The lead vehicle must demand the volunteers put on their shirts so later team vans will see them. We need to tell the volunteers to stay away from the tent and to position themselves at the parking. The tent fools people.
Two people in lead vehicle was very helpful – one driving and the other doing communications. Thanks to Chris. He helped reduce the information overload. However, when he was stuck at the Colorado River, I was able to manage on my own – just barely.
Lead vehicle had too much powered equipment and not enough 12V outlets. Cell phone, computer, and GPS. Had to swap power from device to device. I had bought a splitter, but the lighter in the van did not allow it to be used. So I could only power one device at a time. The priority was: cell, computer, and then GPS. For the most part the GPS was off because of the co-pilot, because the route was so well marked, and because I had already driven the course.
No way to record and communicate where all the cones were placed so the sag wagon would know where to pick them up. I moved several into corners of parking lots that were hundred of feet from the exchange. Somehow I wish I could have marked on a map where I put them so the sag wagon could pick them up and you wouldn’t lose them.
We need a better plan as to what I should do after all was over at the end. I was more than willing to help with the party set up. However, I was also a zombie and felt that I was always one or two steps behind the people there. Also I didn’t feel that anyone was giving me specific jobs to do. So I finally went to the van and went to sleep for about 2 hours.
Suggest two lead vehicles one for the first half and the other for the second half. I think 29 hours is too long for one person to do this job by themselves – this is a safety issue. Although I never nodded off, and I kept awake it was only with Chris being co-pilot that helped me stay awake.
Karol was helpful, but I didn’t feel she was needed. However she was essential at the Colorado River to help ferry runners across and then later to get Chris back to me. She drove such a long way, and should have had a more meaningful responsibility.
There were times when we would have liked to have told race central general information but did not because the cell number was kept for emergencies only. It would be nice to have a general information cell number and a means to publish to all interested parties.
Only once when I tried to get Jay by Cell phone was his cell phone was line busy – this was excellent. We didn’t have information overload from our point of view.
Cell phone was unable to connect out in the country at some exchanges. So had to go to the next town to get a Cell signal. Luckily didn’t have to go back ever to an exchange in this case.
Several times Chris and I rushed back to a spot to add new signage to help direct the runners and the vans. For example, the tent was moved on Park Road 3 to the end – needed to create painted signs (luckily I had paint and cardboard and tape). For example, on Cinco Ranch the right hand turn was unclear (one of the team vans told us that) so we rushed back and tried to make it clearer. For example, at the path behind the building we needed to add a sign with arrows. We need to bring sign making materials in the lead vehicle – markers, cardboard on sticks, and tape.
We also added in a series of flags to help further direct runners visual clues. For example at the park we wanted to direct runners to the path with a series of flags. So in the future I would not hand out as many flags to the volunteers and instead keep some flags for helping with directions.
The tents were too big causing them to blow over in the wind. Yes, I know that they were big to be visible too. Also they attracted the volunteers who would sit under it and not go to the packing area. However I know of at least three that were bent or ruined. One or two times I had to re-anchor a tent to keep it from blowing over. Luckily I had brought rope and a knife with me. Next time provide rope, tent anchors, and a knife to help anchor them if it is windy. Oh, one other thing, twice I had to tie the garbage container to a nearby fence to stop it from blowing away.
Add the stocking of the TP in the porta-potties to be a lead vehicle responsibility. Or talk to the vendor and tell them that there were several without toilet paper. We spent approximately $50 in TP, and by the time we ended we did not have any left.
The computer spreadsheet was useful to project the time of the lead runner to the next exchange point. I would use it again the next time to help approximate when the lead runner will arrive at the next stop. This helped both the exchange volunteers and the runner’s teammates.
If I ever drive the van again and leave to return, we need to plan what things I can load into the van to return to Round Rock. I’m sorry if this caused you problems. I was very happy to get something to eat at the end. The pizza was great, but next time it should be immediate, because Chris and I hadn’t eaten all night or that morning. You’ve got to understand that the end really wasn’t my party because I didn’t have a team or any friends there. Also I was a volunteer and not a member of the “inner circle” so I couldn’t celebrate with Jay and Joy and their family and friends. I felt out of it. So after a bit of sleep I felt that my job was done and it was time to go home. I wish my car was there so I could have left with out taking your van.
So all you racers had your experiences and just to let you know that all us volunteers, who were scurrying around behind the scene, had ours too. Best wishes to you all and I hope to see you again next year – maybe as a runner.