Everyone feels vulnerable when it comes to producing races they care about.
Race promotion is just as much art as managing process.
When you create art, you do it in a way that you don’t always feel is correct.
Sometimes what we do as race promoters is a guess.
The first race promoter that put together an Enduro mountain bike event didn’t know it would work.
Enduro was a guess.
Same goes for the first XTERRA triathlon, cyclocross, Spartan Run — every new race was someone’s experiment.
They could have all failed.
Worse yet, there are plenty of haters out there that would love to see these events fail.
These are the people who enjoy criticizing your creations.
Some even go as far as to call them stupid, silly, not fun, unrealistic, not endurance racing, or a waste of time.
Let’s face it: these people suck!
It’s true that when you’re a race promoter trying something new, not everyone is going to like it.
Unfortunately, some haters go out of their way to point out the flaws in your events.
Even if you try not to listen to it, it’s hard not to take it personally.
Hearing that people didn’t like your event is tough.
It’s even tougher when you hear from people you look up to.
Then something even worse happens.
You start believing it.
You start to think that they see something you don’t.
Then you that voice in your head begins to point out all your other faults.
How you got into race promotion without any training.
How other race promoters are doing so much better than you are.
This negative thinking eventually takes you down a dark rabbit hole.
The dark rabbit hole that leads to quitting.
See if the words of that negative voice in your head sounds familiar:
- OMG! They hate it!
- Why didn’t they like it?
- Why did I build this?
- Why did I even start building races in the first place?
- I never going to be good at this.
- I am an imposter.
- I suck.
- I’m done.
Yikes! That is a dark place to go when you find out someone didn’t like your race.
I could really do without that negative voice.
Most of us avoid confronting those who express their dislike for our art.
Building better races is an art.
We spend years trying to perfect this art.
All the while trying not to tarnish the reputation you’ve built for yourself.
A reputation that is often maintained for the sake of trying to impress would-be elite and professional athletes.
You have a weird need to have them come and enjoy your events like some sort of seal of approval.
When they show up, you think it’s because you’re lucky.
Never because your race is top notch.
Their arrival means you’re now important enough to matter.
Now your desire to make your race go above and beyond for those at that top of their athletic careers dominates your thinking too.
You add changes to your course to make it harder.
You add extras to your race that you have never included before.
Maybe even spend money you don’t have.
But then you find out after the race is over that none of it really mattered.
In fact, you find out that they didn’t even notice all your extras.
Not only did they not appreciate any of your efforts, you discover that they found your race pedestrian.
That’s a snobbish way of saying dull.
It doesn’t even need to be all the athletes making bad comments.
Just one of them saying something awful will do it.
Only one of them has to make a sideways thoughtless comment for your self-worth takes a nosedive.
It doesn’t even have to be true — because most times it’s not.
But that doesn’t make a difference.
It’s already ruined your whole day.
You could have had 200 racers at your event, all having the time of their lives, but in your head, you feel like a failure.
That negative voice comes back with a vengeance, pushing into that dark spiral again.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
You need a wake-up call!
Sound the alarm!
Mean people suck
You need to shake off those feelings, and you need to do it NOW!
Thinking that you’re an imposter when other people criticize you is not uncommon.
We all do it.
Especially when we hear people we respect trash our efforts.
Face it, hearing that kind of feedback hurts.
But you need to know that you have value.
Let me say that again.
YOU HAVE VALUE!
Building races it hard.
Getting everything in place for a race is hard.
Directing a race is hard.
Dealing with racers is hard.
But you’ve done it.
You’ve done it all and survived.
Did you make mistakes?
But you learn from those mistakes and gain knowledge.
The knowledge that was hard to come by.
And you did it.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot of patience to deal with nasty people in general.
It takes, even more, time to develop the thick skin you need to deal with racer comments.
Why more time for racers?
Because you care more about what they have to say.
It’s a personal thing and racers can be particularly cruel to race promoters.
Racers show up late, put out some effort, then judge you with the harshness of a movie critic.
THOSE racers never see your value.
They only see themselves.
When you realize that this selfish behavior extends to elite athletes too, you learn your first coping skill.
What skill is that?
There are bad people no matter where you go.
And those bad people will never be happy, no matter what you do.
So stop letting it bother you.
Trust yourself that you built a great event.
Remember the value you put into building your race.
If they don’t like it, then they don’t need to come back.
You’ll probably be better off without them anyway.
Build some new skills
Unfortunately, I can tell you these things all day, and you’re still going to hear that voice and jump into the spiral.
You’re going to need to do some work to break out of this cycle.
But you’re going to have to WANT to break the cycle first.
To help yourself, you need to put in the effort to make a change.
If you’re ready to start changing, here are a few techniques you can use:
#1 – Feedback is a force multiplier
Feedback is a funny thing.
Everyone is both afraid and desperate to find out what other people think of our art.
You fear it because it could validate your worst thoughts about yourself.
Meanwhile, you’re desperate to know if people enjoyed themselves at your race.
It’s what they call a Catch-22.
You want to know what people think, but you’re afraid to find out what they think if what they think is bad.
What if it’s good?
Oh, we want that!
But it could also be bad.
No, we don’t want that.
Hence, the Catch-22.
You cannot pick what kind of feedback you will receive.
If you ask for it, you’re going to get both kinds.
However, you CAN decide what to do ABOUT the feedback you DO receive.
When one person, maybe even an elite athlete, tells you something disparaging about your event, you have to remember that it’s just one person’s opinion.
Compare that to the number of people that gave you good feedback?
Does the opinion of one elite athlete outweigh the opinions of 10 regular athletes?
I say, No!
It does not.
Being fast, or having a ton of athletic skill does not make them smart.
Nor does it make them a “good judge” of what makes a good race, and what makes a bad one.
So their fast and they’ve won a bunch of awards, have a ton of sponsors, and everyone knows their name.
What are the odds they are going to promote your event, sponsor you, or event come back?
Very small, that’s what.
However, what are the odds that those 10 regular athletes are going to tell their friends about your event, put your company sticker on their car, and come back with those friends?
One bad review does not define you, your race, or your racing company.
Compare it to all the other positive comments you have received.
If the comparison is 1 to 100, the 100 positive comments win every time!
Even 1 positive comment beats 1 bad one every time.
Stop giving that 1 comment any weight.
As the saying goes: You can only make half the people happy only half of the time.
Put that 1 comment where it belongs, in the trash.
#2 – Don’t be afraid to experiment
You might be great at promoting mountain bike races.
But how are you at trail runs?
You’re great at building ultra trail runs.
How about adventure races?
This might seem absurd to put all your focus into one kind of discipline, then try your hand at another.
How can this help you cope with bad feedback?
The idea here is to try something new, something you’re NOT good at.
Experimentation is all about learning.
What can you learn from building an off-road race that is not your primary focus?
First off, you’re going to experience an entirely new kind of customer.
Cultures or even sub-cultures within off-road racing are not all the same.
Don’t believe me?
Go from a mountain bike race to a cyclocross race.
Notice a difference (and not just with the bikes)?
How about a 5- or 10-mile trail race to a 100-mile ultra trail race.
These might as well be people from two different planets.
Having a new kind of customer will produce a new kind of feedback.
It goes a long way to building that thick skin too.
Second, when you’re not an expert at something, you pay attention to the feedback with more interest.
There is something about being in “learning mode” that helps you take in more information.
You don’t know everything, and now you have an opportunity to find out what you don’t know.
With each new experiment, you get better and better at building that kind of race.
The same will happen with the feedback.
With races that become better than the one before, the feedback will go from supportive, to positive, to fanatic.
Remember, the word “fan” comes from the word fanatic.
Plus, you never know what you might learn from an experiment that you can apply to the races in your primary discipline.
Finally, experiments are a good way to build your confidence in something you’re not as sensitive about.
Not as sensitive?
If an experiment doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work.
The point is to learn.
Having an experiment fail is also another way you learn.
Only when an experiment fails, you’re not crushed by it.
It’s just an experiment.
However, if it works?
An experiment that works will help you see your own value too.
This makes experiments the perfect tool for trying out new things in a low-risk environment.
Always be learning through experimentation.
You never know what you might create that will make racers happy.
#3 – The hard slog is easily overlooked
There are no overnight success stories.
You might like to think that a very successful race promoter just exploded onto the scene.
Everything they touch is gold, and all the racers want to be at their race.
They seem to be doing everything right.
Meanwhile, your races are not bringing in anywhere near as many customers.
You’re having a hard time breaking even on your races, and growth just seems like a distant dream.
Then you compare your business with the very successful race promoter, and you get depressed.
STOP DOING THAT!
There is no comparison.
You’re comparing apples to oranges and holding yourself to a very unrealistic standard.
First, you have no idea what kind of hard slog that race promoter has been through.
They may have been doing races for 10 years before they hit it big.
Second, you have no idea what kind of circumstances their success is part of.
They could be losing money during every race despite their turnout.
They could seem like they are a big time race promoter, only all their processes are broken, they’re staff are unfriendly, and they cut corners.
Or maybe they won the lottery and are able to throw money at every problem.
You have no idea!
So drop all your comparisons between you and other race promoters based on perceived success.
Your races should be all about you and your races.
Where were you 1 year ago?
Where were you only last season?
Compare yourself TO yourself.
Look at your success by measuring yourself over time.
Did you improve?
Could you improve more?
Did you have an off year?
What will be different about this year based on what you learned last year?
If you base your progress off of what you did before, your chances of enjoying your success are much greater.
Make the standard for yourself all about the growth you’ve made towards your goal, not the growth someone else has made towards theirs.
No more negative voices
Unfortunately, I can tell you these things all day, and you’re still going to hear that negative voice and jump into the spiral.
The trick is to learn how to shut that voice up or at best, figure out how to ignore it.
That means you’re going to need to do some work to break out of this cycle.
How do you break the cycle?
Here’s the secret: You’re going to have to WANT to break the cycle first.
To help yourself, you need to put in the effort to make a change.
When you’re ready to start changing, start applying the techniques of:
- Using positive feedback to keep you motivated
- Experiment and discover new things
- Accept that there are no overnight successes
The key is to take action.
Get help if you get stuck and surround yourself with positive people.
You might not be the best race promoter on the block — yet — but if you keep your end goal in mind you can work towards it.
Stop caring about what negative people think of your races and start caring about what positive people think about your races.
Put your energy into working with those that actually appreciate your efforts.
Besides, those are the people that you want to build better races for in the first place.
And know you now.