Strategies for picking your race dates – MOD011

Show Notes

Welcome to the Merchants of Dirt Podcast Episode #11, hosted by 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 we’re going to talk about race date selection strategies and how your business strategy greatly impacts your race date choices, introduce Cy Sack from Adventure Race Hub in the Coffee’s for Closers segment, and talk about why focusing on newbies, greenhorns, and amateurs is a good way to bring a failing adventure race business back to life.

In This Episode
  • 0:01

    Podcast Intro

  • 0:01


  • 0:01

    Strategies for picking your race dates

  • 0:01

    Coffee’s for Closers

  • 0:01

    Bring you failing adventure race business back to life

  • 0:01

    Get your 90-Day Roadmap and companion eBook

  • 0:01

    Call to Action

  • 0:01

    Podcast Outro

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!

Please enjoy this special Christmas edition of the Merchants of Dirt Podcast with regular theme music replaced by Carol of the Bells Rock by bequadro. This version of Carol of the Bells is a uplifting and upbeat full power arrangement in rock style of the popular Christmas carol composed by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914. The song is based on an Ukrainian folk chant called “Shchedryk”. Enjoy!

Strategies for picking your race dates

Picking your race dates is an important part of your strategic process. Usually, between October and December, you sit down with your list of potential race offerings, pull out your calendar and a pen, and start considering possible dates. STOP! You’re going about this without all the facts. It includes the following questions you need to ask yourself:

  • #1 — How many races will you offer next year?
  • #2 — What days of the week will your races be held on?
  • #3 — How many races will your competitors offer next year?
  • #4 — What weekends will you consider blocked or blacked-out?
  • #5 — What weekends are a risk?

By going through these questions one-by-one, you start to create a list of dates that will NOT work for your next season. When you remove all the wrong dates, the right dates will emerge. In a world that only has 365 days in it (366 on those pesky leap years), and only 52 weekends, you have a total of 104 days available to you and your races. When you take away all the dates that will cause problems, that number is greatly reduced.

#1 — How many races will you offer next year?
This should be an easy question to answer. You are planning a certain number of races for your first (or next) season, right? How many is that? Whatever the number, this is the number of weekends you need to find.

#2 — What days of the week will your races be held on?
Now after finding this number, think about who your customers are. Are they “no-matter-what” weekend warriors? Or are they “Sunday’s are for church” racers? Your customers will be mix of the two, but finding out what that mix is, is a challenge. If you don’t know, then you need to hedge your bets by either making a principled decision, or conduct a market experiment. Whatever you decide, your decision will appeal to a percentage of your customers. Which means your decision will also NOT appeal to a different percentage of your customers. It’s your job to figure out which percentage is more important to you and your business. The decision you make is not right or wrong, it’s strategic.

#3 — How many races will your competitors offer next year?
Some off-road competitors are obvious. They offer the same race disciplines as you, and they might even use the same parks as you. It is highly likely they also have the same customers as you. You can check out their schedules, see their planned dates, and know what venues they’re targeting for the year. It’s the competitors that are not so obvious that you need to be on the lookout for. These can be direct competition or indirect competition, but both will suck your customers time away.

Holidays are the first the come to mind. Holidays come in two flavors: a holiday that gets customers to come outside and play, and the other kind that takes all your customers away. Knowing which holiday is which is important for maintaining a healthy turnout. Columbus or President’s Day might be great for turnout. Thanksgiving and Christmas are never great for turnout. Knowing which holidays work for your business is critical to turn out. Especially when it comes to getting your permits in early to capture a particular weekend before your competitors do.

When it comes to special events, graduations are easily the first to come to my mind. The impact of graduation time is always something to consider when picking dates. Customers that have kids, or are kids, are likely to be impacted by the rotation of May and December graduations. First and last days of school are another kind of special event to avoid. Again, customers with kids may not have the energy to come to your race around that time. You might get the one or two that just needs a break from everything, but your overall turnout will take a hit. This goes for college kids too. They start much earlier than K-12 kids, and have things like orientation and move-in days to consider. Avoid future conflict by understanding your community’s schedule is ALONG WITH your competitor’s schedule. Then look for those days that have nothing planned, and pounce on them as soon as possible.

#4 — What weekends will you consider blocked or blacked-out?
Competitors enjoy taking all the “good” weekends away with early permits, and like to plan all their events on the same day as your races. But remember that park managers do NOT approve permits that far in advance. Not only do they have fiscal year issues to deal with, but race promoters do not have first right to the park. Camps, after-school events, other sports, farmer’s markets, club activities, etc. — all these organizations have rights to the park too. Not to mention contracts. But a park manager has to worry about more than just land use. They are also concerned about traffic, parking, utilities, and emergency access. The result is a decision-making process — at least with venues throughout the United States — that can only be reserved as early as 6-months in advance. Other venues require you to submit your permits in the SAME YEAR as the events. If you submit them too early, the park may just sit on your application for months before they approve it. Or worse, ignore it outright, and make you submit it again. No matter how flexible you are, you will (at some point) have to fight for a specific date at a venue. If this fight fails, take a deep breath and keep an open mind. Sometimes having your venue snaked away by a competitor will lead you to an even better location.

Additional Reading: Get your next race permit approved

#5 — What weekends are a risk?
Weather is unpredictable and can make your race, or destroy it. Sure, a week out, you might have a good idea what the weather is going to be like. What about 6-9 months out? You will have no clue because you cannot tell the future. You will never know. But you can guess! Sometimes, old tools like the Farmer’s Almanac can help you make a decision about your weather chances far in advance. Is is perfect? No. Seasons will have variations from year-to-year that will be make your life difficult. However, if you live in an area long enough, you’ll start to get an idea on what months are the reliable ones. Then you roll the dice with the months are not reliable. These are the “risky” months.

Additional Reading: How to bounce back when everything goes wrong

Coffee’s for Closers

I want to tell you about Cy Sack of the Adventure Race Hub. Cy is an adventure racing evangelist located in my hometown of Seattle, Washington, who started Adventure Race Hub DOT COM to help grow the sport of adventure racing. But Cy’s website more than another adventure race fan site. He’s built Adventure Race Hub into a content platform that focuses exclusively on growth strategies, training, thought leader interviews, and promotion ideas just for adventure racers and adventure race directors.

One of his latest articles on Adventure Race Hub titled Targeting Your Niche Audience taught me the importance of getting specific about customers and define my target audience using 3 variables, not just 2. To which I figured out that my target audience is off-road (x) race promoters (y) who want to build better races (z).

Adventure Race Hub is also the place to find races! In fact, Cy had this very same problem most adventure races do in that finding an adventure race in your area, AND one that matches your skill level, is hard to do. This is why Cy which is why he created the site’s Adventure Races Calendar. This lists tons of races across the United States, and Cy is adding new ones all the time. If you have a race that is not on this list, reach out to Cy and I’m sure he will add you to it.

So, if you’re interested in adventure racing, or are thinking about starting an adventure race yourself, then visiting Adventure Race Hub is a great place to start.

Bring you failing adventure race business back to life

The real reason Lewis and Clark signed up for the Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial Adventure Race was their unadulterated sense of adventure and curiosity for the outdoors. It is the same sense of adventure and courage that brings thousands of new Adventure Racers into the sport each year. The problem is too many of the current assortment of adventure races are geared towards advanced racers, not amateurs. If you’re a greenhorn adventure racer, the idealism of the Lewis and Clark style expedition has been lost among today’s adventure race promotion companies. No longer are they looking to create events to act as gateways to the harder races.

It is this new crop of Lewis and Clark style adventure racing idealists that needs to be cultivated with events geared towards their new found “Lewis and Clark” style of exploration; not with events that take them out of the fantasy. By producing short and interesting beginner level adventure races, newly created adventure race athletes can do something even some of the advanced racers need to do: learn new skills. And cannot hone these skills after only one race. Newbies and amateurs need time and experience to do this, instead of throwing them into the sport and demanding that they cease being amateurs. This is exactly why obstacle course racing is stealing all of adventure racing’s beginner level customers. Where obstacle course racing has thrived is in training, group activities, and team building, adventure racing has started to go back underground, with more and more attention being directed towards expedition races suited for the more advanced level adventure racer.

Right now, there is a unique opportunity within the obstacle course racing market that adventure race promoters can capitalize on. What is that opportunity? It is the popularity of obstacle course racers. Some might go “eww” or hold their nose at that thought. But if you consider this for a moment, obstacle course racing is doing something that adventure racing is not. It is getting people — customers — interested in off-road endurance sports again. But obstacle course racing is only getting those beginner level racers halfway there. By producing beginner adventure races, you now allow these newly minted newbie endurance racers a new challenge. One that is just different enough to be attractive. However, this cannot be done alone.

And Know you know.

Call to Action

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.

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