Do you conduct dress rehearsals before a big race?

Racers practice all the time before a big event.

Why don’t race promoters practice too?

Many kinds of races can be accomplished with very little rehearsal.

Small running, mountain biking, or even orienteering races, that host less than 200 racers can often get away with this.

As long as the race director has a good schedule and control of the staff, he or she can coordinate as the sole source of direction.

Other races — especially big events like the XTERRA, or complicated events like a 24-hour Adventure Race — need more than a good schedule.

When the size of your event starts to include race registrations above 500, you need to add a new process to your tool box:

The Dress Rehearsal

It’s just like it sounds.

Instead of only directing the race on race day, you find a time to do a practice run of your event.

If your event is on a Saturday or Sunday, the Friday before can work to your advantage.

However, sometimes you may need to do it a week or two before the race just to make sure everyone who is essential can be there.

There is no point to a dress rehearsal if only half the staff shows up.

Why not do a rehearsal with some if you can’t get everyone there?

Your staff is critical to making this happen and they all need to be on the same page for a dress rehearsal to work.

Since volunteers might have a difficult time attending, it will be your staff that will help you realize your vision.

The important part of the dress rehearsal is getting all your captains and key people to understand the schedule, what comes next, and what to do about the unexpected.

Often, this includes actually deploying to the locations they will be at during the race.

If you have staff going out to an aid station miles away, have them actually travel there.

This will give them an idea of how long it takes to get to their spot and provide them perspective on how much time they have to get set up.

Practice Your Playbook

The dress rehearsal can also be used for incident management.

Don’t only run through the mechanics of your race.

Use the time to throw some wrenches into the process to see how your team responds.

Netflix has software called the Simian Army to help them achieve this result.

Just as if a group of angry monkeys somehow got into your server room and started yanking on wires, the Netflix Simian Army randomly inserts chaos into the Netflix service.

This sanctioned chaos requires the Netflix operations team to respond to each problem by using a pre-determined playbook of actions.

Your race can use this same concept during the dress rehearsal to have it’s own Simian Army intervene.

These problems can either be played by real or fictitious people and include your own playbook for what to do in some of the most difficult (but likely) scenarios.

Without telling your staff, you simulate what happens when a racer gets hurt out on the trail, when a radio goes out, or even pretend lightning just stuck in the middle of your practice event.

This way you can see how they respond (or don’t respond), find out where you are vulnerable, and teach your staff what to do if it really happened.

Quality Training Time

You cannot underestimate the advantage a dress rehearsal can have on the success of your event.

If you think back to your past events, you face time with staff and even volunteers before a race is very short.

The dress rehearsal can give you 10x time with your people, allowing you to actually do some real training.

It can also give you a chance to reinforce your principles, empower your staff with some pre-determined decisions, and answer everyone’s questions in detail.

Your customer service objectives can also be reviewed along with what customer issues need your attention, and what they can deal with themselves.

But imagine all the other unknown-unknowns you can discover through a dress rehearsal.

You can see how long your radio batteries last and when your deployed staff need a new battery.

You could discover the possibility of a morning or afternoon rain shower or the possibility of morning fog.

There is a chance that not all of your staff will be familiar with the venue.

A dress rehearsal is a perfect time for their first exposure to course design, instead of trying to figure everything out when actual racers are on the trails.

When your staff has a chance to explore everything in play before the race, they get the rare chance to learn where potential race day danger spots are and how to best get to those places if needed.

Not All Dress Rehearsals are the Same

Ultimately, the time spent doing a dress rehearsal greatly depends on the size of your race, and the complexity of your orchestration.

You are the best judge of what your staff can handle before a race.

For a big race, this is a must, but even the staff of a small race can benefit from practice.

If nothing else, it is a great excuse for a training day with just you and your staff.

However, if you can find the time to practice at least once before the big day, you greatly increase your chances of looking far more professional than your competitors.

It is nice to look like you know what you’re doing and that you’ve done this before.

While your overall reputation is important, it is not as important as keeping your race safe.

A dress rehearsal is one of the best ways to reduce many of the risks we face in off-road racing.

When everyone knows what to do BEFORE you have to tell them, you have a far greater chance of saving someone’s life in an emergency.

Besides, if your dress rehearsal directly leads to saving a life, you will no problem justifying a little bit of time and expense hanging out with your staff in future.

Plan the race then race the plan.

And now you know.

How do you Train Your Staff?

When do you find the time to train your staff and/or volunteers before a race?

Is it during a dress rehearsal or test run of your race? 

I’ve been looking into how established race promoters like yourself train your staff (if you have staff) or their volunteers.

Some of you benefit from super volunteers — those volunteers that already come with skills you need.

In that case, do you train your super volunteers too?

Or do you just point them in the right direction and let them get to work?

Please send me a quick note about your people and how you train them!

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!