Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My name is James and I am a parkrun Event Director

In my previous post, I detailed the journey I had from being a non-runner to becoming the Event Director at Eastleigh parkrun. Had you asked me whether I'd have that role 18 months ago, I'd have said no but the truth is that it's a role I love and wouldn't want to give up. I fully expect to be as involved in my 70s as I am today. Or, at least, hope to be!!

Many people probably wonder what an Event Director does. I suspect that the role is different for each event and it also evolves over time. At some events, the Event Director also acts as Run Director. The best I can do is describe the role from my perspective.

In a nutshell, I'm a project manager. The project being ensuring that participants get to enjoy a free, weekly timed 5K run every week come rain or shine. However, this is not something that I, as the Event Director, can do alone. To achieve the goal, I need the support for all at parkrun HQ and a strong event team and I'm very fortunate at the Eastleigh parkrun to have, what I consider to be, one of the best teams I've ever worked with.

Firstly, I have a team of 5 Run Directors (Henry, Dave, Neil, Berni and Deb). These individuals are passionate about parkrun and are the public-face of the event each week. They are the ones that do the pre-run brief and organise the event from ensuring the volunteers have arrived and are aware of their role to uploading the results once the event is over. Behind the scenes, they are involved each week in helping make decisions about the smooth running of the event both at the time and for the future. Without these incredible people, our parkrun wouldn't be the great event it is. We're also blessed to have a very dedicated core team of volunteers including the 'A team' who set up the course every week (Gareth, Dave and Trevor). Their job is made more difficult during the winter at our event as we need to modify our course regularly to ensure the sports fields we use don't suffer unduly due to the weather conditions and 290+ runners trampling around the fields.

We also have the weekly volunteers who give up their runs to record finishing times, scan barcodes, take photos etc etc. All of the roles are pretty simple but vital to ensuring the event runs like clockwork under the direction of the Run Director.

As I've said, making a parkrun really work week in, week out is a team effort. My role is simply to ensure that team work effectively together to deliver the best experience. That involves keeping a careful eye on any issues that may arise, feeding in information from 3rd parties which might affect the event as a whole or on an individual week and 'managing' the project.

Each week, new challenges arise. At Eastleigh, we've grown incredibly over the last 18 months or so from about 50 runners at the inaugural event to almost 300 last Saturday. Unlike many other event, we operate a 'summer' and 'winter' course and both suffer due to weather conditions. Often this involves considered discussion with the managers of the venues and looking into the future to ensure the longevity of the event whilst taking into account issues such as health and safety, ensuring we don't cause any damage. One concern we currently have is whether either venue can support the growth of the event and, due to this, I'm actively involved in discussions with the local council to identify additional or alternate venues. We're very lucky that Eastleigh Borough Council are very supportive of running events, including the excellent Eastleigh 10K road race, and supportive of parkrun.

As well as these 'bigger picture' issues, I'm involved day-to-day with things like dealing with incoming emails, building the volunteer rota for each event, making sure the Run Director for the forthcoming event is aware of any issues and liaising with parkrun HQ.

A vital aspect of any parkrun is its community both at the event where many friendships and some friendly rivalries are formed but also via Facebook and Twitter. The latter two social networks are my responsibility too. We have a very strong Facebook presence with almost 500 'fans'. This community is very enthusiastic and it's great to really interact with fellow parkrunners via this medium outside the event.

At Eastleigh, we're very well supported by a number of local running clubs and groups including Eastleigh Running Club, Southampton Athletics Club, Winchester & District Running Club, Southampton Running Sisters, Lordshill Road Runners, Stubbington Green Running & Athletics Club and Southampton's LA Fitness Running Club. As well as fostering these strong relationships in order to gain support for the event in terms of encouraging the clubs to provide regular teams of volunteers, we also ensure that we promote the benefits of membership of these clubs and also promote their races and other events.

Other relationships that need managing include the relationship with our local, recently opened, Sweatshop. We have a good relationship with the store management and work together to cross promote parkrun and Sweatshop's in-store and online promotions.

Each parkrun relies on technology whether it's the stopwatches, barcode scanners or web-based results processing system. Given my many years of applicable IT and software development experience, I've been actively involved in testing the latter and provided a fair amount of feedback on usability hopefully resulting in the improvement of the system.

It's incredible to think that not only does parkrun provide a free event every week across the UK and abroad but it does so because of the dedication of volunteers. I'm a volunteer and do as much as I can to make Eastleigh parkrun the best it can be. I certainly couldn't do that without the team of Run Directors mentioned earlier or the support of Paul, Jo, Tom and the rest of the team at parkrun HQ. Thanks all.

Being an Event Director is incredibly rewarding. It's an ideal opportunity for me to use my skills (both project management and technical) to good use in conjunction with my love of running.

If you've not volunteered, I truly believe that you aren't getting all you can from parkrun. parkrun is about so much more than the run. Email your local team and unlock a much fuller experience.

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic post, thank you James. Hopefully this will open the eyes of a few reluctant volunteers and maybe turn the odd volunteer into a Run Director or even an Event Director.

    I for one will be doing my best to take on a Run Director role at some point in the next few months.


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