Have you ever thought about how the schedule you use to direct a race is very similar to how a script is used to make a movie?

Not those big budget blockbuster (unless you’re doing a major marathon, or hosting a national event), but one of those smaller independent film.

Maybe something Kevin Smith or Max Landis (two of my favorites) would produce.

If you think about it, all the elements are there for you to write a script to your very own racing movie.

You have your racers as your stars — since it’s all about them, right?

Your team is your supporting cast and crew.

Your race course is the plot.

And the drama kind of takes care of itself once all the players are thrown into your creation of a race course.

However, the most important component in your racing movie is going to be your script.

Which, in this tortured metaphor, is represented by your trusty race day schedule.

Just like in a movie, you need to know what your stars and supporting cast members need to be doing. You need to know what scene you’re filming, and how the action moves the plot along.

On race day, your race day schedule is that script. It defines each of the when’s, what’s, and where’s of the entire day.

When registration opens, when the first wave launches, when the results will be posted, when the awards ceremony will happen, and when you need to be clear from the venue.

All of this orchestration for your race needs to be scripted BEFORE race day.

To do it ON race day would be courting disaster.

You can only remember so much as it is, which is why your race day schedule is your guide to making sure everything happens when it should.

But just knowing that your race day schedule is very important to your race is not enough — you need to build one!

So, to help you do that, here are three quick steps you can use to create your next race day schedule:

Step #1 — Give yourself time between acts

You have to get the pacing right so that you have time between acts.

Race waves include all sorts of racers. Fast ones, slow ones, and vanishing ones.

Vanishing ones?

Yes! You know, those racers who have DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) but didn’t come to tell you or your times that they have walked off the course and gone back to their car?

Yeah, those ones! The one’s you spend a ton of time looking for, then find out they went home an hour ago.

But the fast and slow racers are equally frustrating.

Fast racers might complete your course in record time, leaving huge gaps of dead time between events.

Meanwhile, a race full of slow racers might find your course particularly difficult, and complete their event so late that it cuts into the next starting time.

To deal with these issues, you need pre-race the course to get an idea on average completion times.

Do a fast lap, then do a really, really slooooow lap. You might even try walking it (even if it’s a mountain bike race or a trail run).

You need to know what the worst case scenario looks like. Once you do, you can pad all your times with a little extra for those inevitable problem moments.

This will allow you to make realistic start times for each transition in your race, and give yourself enough breathing room to organize everyone without having to rush.

Step #2 — It cannot all fit into one movie

You cannot put everything you want into a single day. It just cannot happen.

As much as you wish it to be, jamming a day with too many events can not only cause you management problems, but make you look very unorganized.

You need to know your limits, and only fit enough events into a given day that you and your staff can handle.

Each team is different. While one team can run five events in a single day, others have trouble just getting one organized and completed.

Additionally, you have to think about your racers. Some racers just cannot do multiple events in a single day.

Nor will many of them want to.

So that big cross-country race you have planned, followed by a big relay, may sound fun.

Only a percentage of your hardcore racers will attend both.

One race in one day is a lot of work, so give yourself a break if doing more than one sounds hard.

This is not to say that you cannot have multiple waves of a single race. Often having your race broken into two or three waves is a good way to manage your event.

So know your limits, keep it simple, and think about breaking a multiple event day into a series over a few weeks.

Step #3 — Get your script out of your head by writing it down

Obviously, you need to plan your race day schedule out before it happens.

However, this means more than knowing what happens on race day.

Just like in a movie script, you need to plan out each and every moment with a schedule that you can share.

And just like a movie script, you have to be ready to take feedback from your team, your racers, and your permitting authorities.

Does your team think that the time between one wave and another is too short?

Then you’ll have to think about changing it.

Do your racer’s think that the slow racers launching before the fast racers is a bad idea (because they will run them down)?

Then you’ll need to think about changing that too.

The park might even have a problem with you running your race to late and want you to end it at a specific time.

Then you’ll really have to think about moving start times and course lengths to adjust to these requirements.

The point is to not create a schedule in a vacuum.

Share it as soon as you have your first draft. Give those involved a chance to help you make it better.

A bad schedule will only make your race hard to direct, and possibly upset your racers in the process.

Don’t look like you do not know what you are doing on race day by having a schedule that does not work for your race.

Share early and share often.

Let experience be your guide

The only way for you to know your race day schedule works, is to run your schedule and find the flaws.

Nothing fixes a schedule faster than real world events.

However, the good news is that each time you direct a race you will find out how much time things really do take.

Pre-runs of your course will not prepare you for the reality of having a big group of racers actually racing your course.

Each time you direct a race, you will need to adapt you schedule to what works, and improvise when you discover things that do not work.

Timers or officials show up late?

You’ll need to push back starts.

Computers crash?

You’ll need to break out the paper and pencil and run it old school.

Rain storm rolls in, complete with thunder?

You may need to pause your race until is passes.

Each one of several dozen scenarios can happen on race day that are not in your schedule.

You need to be comfortable with dealing with ambiguity and prepared to make changes as they are needed.

So prepare yourself by at least having an idea of how long each race will take, how much time you need to setup in-between each race, and have a race day schedule written down for all to see.

Remember: No race day schedule has ever survived contact with racers and not been changed.

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!