Season 2,
53-Min

Fix a Bad Race Course with a Good Design Strategy – MOD019

February 21, 2017
Show Notes

Welcome to the Merchants of Dirt Podcast Episode #19, hosted by Reckoneer.com founder Kyle M. Bondo. This is your insider’s guide to practical recreational engineering where I teach you the art and science of building, promoting, and directing off-road races. In this episode, I talk about how you fix a bad race course with a good design strategy that includes walking the course, testing your design, and getting feedback from real racers.


In This Episode
  • 0:01

    Your Course Design Strategy Starts with a Walk

  • 0:01

    Ricks Roasters Coffee Company Fire

  • 0:01

    Course Design Changes Based on Feedback

  • 0:01

    And Now You Know

  • 0:01

    Coming Up Next

  • 0:01

    Call to Action


Your Course Design Strategy Starts with a Walk

Today is all about course design strategy and how not to design courses that will cost your customers after the race is over. So where do we start with a course design strategy? Well, at the beginning, of course. And any good course design starts with a very simple process: with a walk. As the race promoter, it’s in your best interest to have first-hand knowledge of your course.

What You’re Looking For
You’re looking for things you need to keep track of. You should be thinking of those danger areas that like to eat bikes. Holes, deep ruts, and loose rocks are out to get most racers. These danger zones are extreme areas that you should come back for with a chainsaw or shovel and deal with.

New trail changes
Alterations to the trail done by humans is another source of concern. There are plenty of instances where people who see messy patches such as mud puddles often find ways around them.

Clean as you Go
A trail walk also helps you become a better steward of the trail. While walking you will see sections that you wish you could come back and fix, add or bypass. You might think, “Wow. It sure would be nice if someone could come back and fix that for next year.” Taking a trash bag with you to pick up the garbage you find along the way can make some trails nice again.

Trim as you Go
You can also take some trimming sheers with you and hack away those gnarly sections as you walk up on them. These additions to your trail survey could go as far to include your trail maintenance team too. This could benefit your event’s standing in the community, and just make the trail better by cleaning up after the idiots who make these messes in the first place.

Lessons Learned After 3-hours into the Survey
At a good pace, you can walk about 8-miles in 3-hours. But after walking a course for 3-hours, I discovered all sorts of trail sections that I never knew existed. I also started working out a rough course in my head as I started piecing together parts the I can use in place of parts I know that I cannot use.

Importance of good trail features
I found the parts of the trail that I enjoy the most when I do ride it — which is what you do after you walk it. You need to make sure that your draft designs included those sections. If I was to take it out or reverse those sections, I would not only make a substandard course, but I would have removed the parts that “other people” like too. That could potentially take away the trail that makes your course a really fun ride.

Know what racers like
Alienating your audience by not understanding the trail is a good way to make people not come back. By piecing the trails together, you will realize that you can do some things you never thought you could make the trail do before. This gives you something that you may not have had before: options.

Finding options
Having options “does” give you something unexpected. Especially if you are forced to change the course from previous years due to unexpected constraints like whether damage, erosion or even planning construction. Forced design changes can add new elements to even local fun rides and runs. Many racers will not expect you to link certain trails in a particular way, and that unexpected route will make your event stand out. Throwing some racers off-guard with a new course is a good thing. Some will complain, but most will enjoy it. Focus your efforts on the one’s that enjoy it! Because they are the one’s that will come back.

After Your Course Survey
After we’ve done your course survey, and you’ve walked all the trail you can walk, it’s time to go back and rethink your event routing. You need to seriously consider what pieces of the trail you are going to use and not use. You can make a few different course designs to show some options. But a maximum of two course designs should be your limit.

Test your course design
It’s finally time test that monster! Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for: racing your course as if it was really racing day. That means either getting your mountain bike, putting on your trail shoes or grabbing your map and compass. Whatever kind of race course you’ve designed, always bring your map with you on the course. If you find problems, mark them on your map and redo your course test. Think about the flow, where your danger spots are, and how you will mark those spots come race day. Now is the time to change stuff, so make sure you do. On race day, it will be too late.


Ricks Roasters Coffee Company Fire

Todays “Coffee’s for Closers” is a special request to give a local business some support. Ricks Roasters Coffee Company in Fredericksburg, Virginia, had a fire last month. Nobody was hurt, but it did some damage to their building and shut down operations for a few days. If you don’t know who Ricks Roasters is, Ricks Roasters Coffee Company is a fellow Veteran-owned coffee roaster located in Stafford, Virginia, just North of Fredericksburg. You can visit them at Ricksroasters.com to choose dozens of hand-selected blends of some of the best coffee there is. My favorite blend is their Four Horsemen coffee. Sean and Keely Ricks have really created something special with this company. So please support my local favorite Ricks Roasters Coffee Company by visiting their website: Ricksroasters.com. Please visit them online and help them get their little company back on its feet. Tell them Kyle from the Merchants of Dirt Podcast sent you!


Course Design Changes Based on Feedback

Racers are likely to forgive you for most minor course design issues. Unfortunately, you can only please half the people half of the time. Some customers really care about how a course is designed. The plus side to races that hate your course is you know exactly how they feel. Instant feedback is easy to understand. However, how do you know if other racers hated your course too? The short answer is — you don’t. If you hear back from 5 anger racers that thought your course was not worth racing, consider that to represent 50 racers strong. If you hear that much feedback from your target customer, you need to make some changes. Luckily for you, it’s not too late to change your course now.

#1 – Don’t make me think!
Arrows and survey tape don’t cost much. This means you should never have a reason for course confusion. Anytime you have an intersection, questionable deer path, or open area, you should have some clear and visible indication on which way a racer should go. Lack of simple directions takes racers out of their race-head and makes them have to make decisions about what might be the course. Do not overthink your courses.

#2 – You want me to do what?
Including dangerous areas is another concern. It is understandable to want to put features into a course to attract elite racers. However, if you think that elite racers showing up will make you money, you need to re-evaluate who your target customers are. The racers that actually come back to your events time and time again are not elite athletes. Some might not even be what most would call athletic. If you design a course that only elite racers can race, then maybe only elite racers are going to come back. That that is a strong maybe. Scaring off your target customer is bad for business. Remember who you are designing this course for.

#3 – You made this too hard!
Some courses are just not as advertised. This has a lot to do with a course that was never tested. When you leave out the testing phase to your course design, you invite trouble. A course design is not finished until you have full vetted the course and found all the problems. This includes how difficult you plan on making everything. Test your trail with real racers in conditions that real races will race in. If they come back to the finish line in times that are way off your estimates, you might need to change some things. Chances are, those racers you use to test your trail will already be giving you feedback. It’s your job to pay attention and make some changes.

It is never too late to learn from feedback.
Even if you make some of these mistakes, you need to first accept that your customers deserve to have a course that is fun to race. You then need to filter that feedback and decide what is a real complaint, and what is just an unhappy person. If you hear from more than 2-3 racers that your course needs some changes, take that as a good indication that something is wrong. Finally, take action and tell your racers that you took action.


And Now You Know

Always get some feedback. After you test your final course design, you should always seek it out second opinions. Take others through your course who understand what you’re trying to do. You can also show off your work with a free group event that goes through the entire course without stopping. This could be a great way to do A/B testing of course options. Take one group through course design A, then another through course design B. Then ask everyone what they thought of each course. If you get a few negative comments about certain sections, take note. But once you have good, honest feedback, then you know your course is done and ready to race. All that is left now it to make a final map, and share it with your racers.

And now you know.


Coming Up Next

Tick Tock! Timing is an essential part of every race, having your race results is how you decide who won or lost the race. In my next episode, I will be talking all about timing and why timely race results pay for future races.

That and more on the next Merchants of Dirt Podcast!


Call to Action

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Now go build better races!

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