Since sticking our heads above the event organising parapet some six years ago, there have been plenty of people wanting to shoot us down.
Trust us, we've heard every complaint under the sun; events are too hard or too easy, too muddy or too rocky, too hilly, too flat, not enough jacket potatoes and in the case of Nationals 2015...too many line choices. Blah, blah, yawn. When you've busted your balls for weeks, and put your heart and soul into an event the last thing you need is some spineless Facebook botherer dripping about it.
One of the frequently contentious issues across cycling, running and triathlon, are the race categories and prizes. It's a race, we know that there needs to be prizes, but before you publicly state your disgust about the lack of a Vet 75 podium at your local 10km fun run, think about it from an event organisers point of view.
Let's examine MTB XC, and the current plethora of race categories. Even with the ditching of the pot-hunting Masters category, from Juvenile to Grand Vet, top three in each category, male and female comes to.....fifty four prizes! Fifty four! At a South West regional race we are lucky if we get anywhere near 200 entries, so one in four people would go home with a prize! Has one in four people at a XC race really done something that deserves a prize? I doubt it. One of our sponsors in the past compared it to Santa's Grotto. Not far off really, is it? When you get into triathlon it's even worse, with their 5 year age categories. The presentation takes longer then the race, the only people sat there are the prize winners, and they are secretly wishing they were already sat in KFC. I was first Vet 40 at a running race recently, and they had a trophy for it. An argument ensued between the vets, each claiming that they WEREN'T first vet, just because they couldn't be bothered to take the bloody trophy home.
So we'd need to find 54 prizes, even before we've thought about the under 12s. Don't kid yourself that sponsors are falling over themselves to provide a prize for the third place in the Grand Vet category, because they aren't. Even when we've been able to snare a prize sponsor, we still spend countless hours batting e-mails back and forth (usually with the line 'HOW MANY PRIZES!?' in there somewhere), then driving round to collect and sort the stash. It all starts well, but by the end someone always goes home with a XXL t-shirt or another bottle of Muc-Off. And the next day we see the good prizes on e-bay. Lovely. How about trophies? For a worthy trophy that won't find its way directly to landfill, you will spend a minimum of a fiver. Then multiply that by 54, and again by the number of races in the series and you get to the kind of a figure that makes your bank manager wince. And that figure is on top of all the other bills that cascade through the door before the dust has settled on the single-track.
'No battle, no victory.'
So something has to give, and unfortunately you are going to upset someone. The slightly offensive phrase that is bandied about is 'rewarding mediocrity' when it comes to race podiums. At the running race where none of us wanted the 'first vet' trophy, it was because we'd rather be recorded as being in contention for the overall, rather than getting a patronising pat on the head for being old. Is it fair that the person in third place in a category with only three in it gets a prize for turning up, whereas third place in a hotly contested category needed to turn themselves inside out for ultimately the same prize? I don't know. Is the person who is training 20 hours a week, mostly at 0500, as well as working full-time and raising a family, the same as the weekend warrior who happens to fall into a category with no-one in it? No battle, no victory. The people that complain about the lack of podium for whatever category they are in will ALWAYS say "It's not about the prize, it's the recognition." But we know that's not true.
For the past few years, we've focussed our energies on the majority 75% of people that don't win prizes but want a kick-ass event. You'll forget the prize within a week, no-one apart from Rain Man ever remembers who won what race, but people hopefully remember the parts of the course that we devote our time to. Who could forget the number of injuries when Derriford Drop first raised its head? Ask people who won the whatever category at whatever race, and even the race winner himself wouldn't know. Ask people if they remember the Bear Pit / Down to Brown / Nod Off and they will all have a photo of it. I'd rather spend hours trudging round Newnham Park with wellies and hand-tools than talking to sponsors with shiny shoes and too much aftershave. These days, when there is a legacy of some really good event organisers in the South West (I knew Martyn Salt was to blame:) - hard act to follow), people expect professionally run events. Well, events run professionally tend to be run by event professionals, and we need to see a financial return for our efforts. Making ourselves bankrupt by providing all the race categories that you would like to see is a quick way to kill the event stone dead.
So if we merge your race category because there's only two of you, take it as an opportunity to duke it out with people you've never raced before. The Soggies will be the usual mass start so you'll be battling with riders between 13 and 60, and my money is on the 13 year old. There's your battle, take the victory and enjoy it for the good day out that we hope it will be. Alternatively, rustle up 54 prizes per round for us and we'll start the presentation now.