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Gotta’ Run: Good race directors, under-appreciated but required

In a normal year, Salisbury and Rowan will have about 30 races. Some have a long history, a few are brand new but every single successful one requires a lot of work. I once had a woman representing a charity call me and tell me the date and location where she wanted to have a race. Then she said, “So, do you need anything else from me? You’ll take it from here, right?”

That is certainly not the case! The Salisbury Rowan Runners provide some guidelines and plenty of answers for questions, but we won’t manage the race for you. Being a race director, usually someone who either is a volunteer or adds the responsibility to their regular job, is not easy. There is a long list of to-do’s required. Those details make or break the race.

One of the best long-term race directors in the area is Rayna Gardner, head of the popular Butterball 5K. She’s won SRR’s Race Director of the Year award twice and probably deserved it more than that. Rayna, also the general manager at The Forum, adds the annual director duties on top of her other work. Always detail-focused and forward-thinking, she works through a long list of early decisions. These include confirming the date, making sure the course is available and getting an event permit from the City of Salisbury. Since 2020 is an unusual year, right off the bat decisions had to be made that resulted in the Thanksgiving Day race being moved to Salisbury Community Park. That makes for a new course and other logistical changes.

One of the biggest parts of the preparation for a good race is the initial race brochure, crammed with information to make the event interesting to local runners and walkers. Once the brochure is completed, then the race gets set up for online registration. About 80% of all registrations come in online now, with the percentage increasing each year. Participants register later and later in today’s market, making for a guessing game to get the right amounts of commemorative shirts, awards and food.

Once all this is in the works, then begins the long list of questions that come by email, text or phone where possible participants want to know things that might affect whether they attend. Rayna is one of the best at this, sharing immediately or finding the answer. This year’s race had questions about the difficulty and layout of the 5K course, availability of parking and bathrooms. And the biggest question of all; what was she doing to meet coronavirus guidelines?

Meanwhile as the registrations rolled in, Rayna worked with the race bibs and other details to make race morning easier. I could write a whole column on disasters that race directors caused, usually coming to light as race day participants began to arrive. Heading up various check-in processes is Rayna’s strength. She handles any issues and complaints, and keeps the lines moving.

Once the race was underway, she monitored course volunteers who keep the participants on course. And finally, Rayna gave out the race awards to the socially distanced finishers. Once done, with the runners and walkers headed for home, Rayna managed the removal of all the race day paraphernalia. And from experience, I hope she got a nap that afternoon.

When all was said and done, Rayna, who is super fit and resembles Jennifer Marion from TV’s Randy Marion car commercials, said, “The feeling of putting on a good race is like no other. Getting organized is a lot of hard work but when it comes together with the aid of volunteers and sponsors, we support worthy charities in our community. I get lots of help to keep the world turning during race prep.”

Looks for the results of Thursday’s Butterball 5K and info on the upcoming Dec. 12 Santa Run and Jan. 17 Winter Flight races at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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