Road runners: the long and the short of organising a race

From disgruntled residents to traffic-cone hire, race director James Cottle is finally on the home run

James Cottle, organiser of the Docklands 5k, runs along the quays in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

James Cottle, organiser of the Docklands 5k, runs along the quays in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Having lived on the route for a decade, and then taken part in a few Dublin marathons, I’ve been on both sides of the local resident versus road-race runner divide, but I still can’t quite forget the level of animosity etched in the face of a man who was trying to pull out of a parking space into a crowded course a few years ago. I was helping to steward the event with members of my club and was eventually reduced to telling him he’d have to run me over first. He immediately made it clear that he was pretty taken with the idea.

Now, the club, Crusaders, is to relaunch a race, the Docklands 5k, which it used to run before the then Docklands Development Authority took it over and delegated the organisation to a commercial promoter; that relationship has ended. Assuaging the locals is just one of a long list of challenges to overcome.

The race is short and so, for the majority of participants, it will be over in less than half an hour; a swift conclusion to a project that began a year ago. “It’s been a learning experience,” says James Cottle, the race director, with an air of slightly exasperated understatement. Pressed on what he would do differently if he knew then what he knows now, he says he would have started the work earlier.

“A lot of things come out of the woodwork,” says Cottle, who, along with head coach Michael McGovern, and a core group of volunteers, saw the race as an opportunity to fund improvements to Crusaders’ facilities at Irishtown stadium; it has one of the largest memberships in the country.

“You know that you’re going to have to deal with Dublin City Council on road closures, but that can be difficult because they’re very wary of irritating the residents and then it’s a bit of a shock when the Garda tells you your intended bag-drop area isn’t suitable because runners will have to cross a road after the finish to get to it and many, they say, won’t wait for the lights to change.”

Dublin Bus has to be consulted; insurance sorted; a registration system established; gantries for the start and finish lines hired; bibs and timing chips bought; the list, as Cottle and the race committee members have discovered, goes on and on.

Costs

Containing costs, meanwhile, is an issue that hangs over everything. The organisers, not least Cottle himself, are a well-connected bunch and have raised a little more than €15,000 in sponsorship (commercial aircraft leasing firm AWAS is the main backer, and PwC also contributed) for what is effectively, after a gap of two years and a change of ownership and format, a first-time event.

Various members bring useful skills to the table and so the website, leaflet design and social media have all been looked after by volunteers, saving significant amounts.

The upshot is that with Crusaders estimating the expenses to be between €10,000 and €12,000, the committee reckoned they would make the guts of €5,000 even before anyone paid the €20 entry fee. That, Cottle admits now, may have been somewhat optimistic.

“We underestimated things slightly and I think at this stage that even if we only broke even, that wouldn’t be the end of the world; as I’ve said, we’ve learned a lot for future years. One of the things that took us by surprise, for example, was that we have to pay the council about €3,500 to close the roads for us.

“The council owns the stadium where we are based and is a partner in the event, so I think we thought that would be part of it but it’s a different department; we usually deal with Parks and Recreations, but this is Events.

Martina Halpin, of the Events department at Dublin City Council, says: “We want public spaces to be used, but because it is public space we have to be mindful of everybody who uses it.

“That’s why there are certain procedures that have to be gone through, so we can weigh up the interests of everyone because we can’t be unfair to motorists, residents or business owners.”

Apart from that, says Cottle, “There’s a traffic-management plan which you have to get from a consultant and the cost of hiring the cones to implement it, which is separate again.” He says the cost of gardaí depends on the route, because the more Garda areas you go through, the more costs you incur.

“They tell you you can’t run it on a date when there are any other events happening in Dublin; and by that they don’t just mean other races: they mean anything in Croke Park, the Aviva, the RDS, the 3Arena or the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

“It certainly narrows your options: if you’re not careful you can very quickly end up with a race run over a route you didn’t envisage on a date that doesn’t suit.” For all that, he acknowledges the Garda has been very good about the cost of this race.

Crowded market Other races

are a factor too. It has become a crowded market, one undermined to some extent by the tremendous success of the weekly 5k parkruns, which are free, and even some of the highest profile events have suffered declining numbers in the past year, prompting the club to place a huge emphasis on the course – fast, flat and central – and to provide pacers as an added attraction.

“I think running booms tend to be associated with recessions and we’re coming out of the recession,” says Peter Hanlon, a club member who is also on the board of Athletics Ireland. He believes events such as the Docklands 5k can still prosper as “it takes place in an area where lots of people work, at a time when they can come out of work, run the race and head home without having taken an awful lot out of their free time”.

The problem is, as he acknowledges and Cottle now knows: “They take a bit more organising.”

The Docklands 5k takes place on Thursday, June 18th, at 7.30pm. See docklands5k.com

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