MOD 019: Fix a Bad Race Course with a Good Design Strategy

Merchants of Dirt Episode #19

Fix a bad race course with a good design strategy that includes walking the course, testing your design, and getting feedback from real racers.

Key Take Away #1: Your course design strategy starts with a walk

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.

First, you should be thinking of those danger areas that like to eat bikes and runners.

Holes, deep ruts, and loose rocks are out to get most racers.

These include messy patches such as mud puddles where people have found sloppy ways around.

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.

This could also include trimming as you go.

Take some trimming sheers with you and hack away those gnarly sections as you walk up on them.

Key Take Away #2: Building a rough outline of a course based on the survey

By piecing the trails together that you personally visited, you will begin to conceptualize routes you never thought you could make the trail do before.

You can make a few different course designs to show some options, but a maximum of two-course designs should be your limit.

Once you have a good draft of your design, you need to test it.

No matter what kind of race course you’ve designed, always bring your map with you when testing the course.

If you find problems, mark it on your map, make a change, and re-test it, because, once race day comes, it will be too late to make changes.

Think about flow, centralization of resources, danger spots, and how you would get rescue into each area if you needed to on race day.

Test your course until you have a final draft that you can share.

Key Take Away #3: Consider 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 unless you ask them.

So ask them!

Key Take Away #4: 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.

Key Take Away #5: Always get 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 is to make a final map, and share it with your racers.

Bonus Tip: Priciples of Good Race Course Design

#1 – Remove Confusion: Arrows and survey tape don’t cost much so there should never have a reason for course confusion.

#2 – Remove Danager: If you design a course that only elite racers can race, then only elite racers will race it. Scaring off your target customer is bad for business. Remember who you are designing this course for.

#3 – Remove Difficulty: Test your trail with real racers in conditions that real races will race in and make changes if they tell you it’s too hard.

And now you know.

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Thank You for Listening

Thank you so much for listening to Merchants of Dirt Podcast. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to me @MerchantsofDirt on Twitter, by Email, or my Contact Form.

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Kyle Bondo
Kyle Bondo is a thinker, podcaster, author, and creative strategy dragon seeking to make a small dent in the universe. He is the founder of Reckoneer, host of the Merchants of Dirt and Get Lost Racing podcasts, and an avid adventure racer.
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