Behind the Scenes, Beyond the Podium with Racing Underground

By Kate Agathon, Campus Cycles

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at an organized sports event? How much time and effort does it take to go into a single event? How do organizers deal with the unexpected while still pulling off a successful event? And finally, what details do organizers wish participants knew?

We are doing a two-part series on some of the area’s most well known events and event organizers. This week, we recently caught up with Racing Underground owner Darrin Eisman about what it takes to hold an event. 

For nearly 30 years, the Eismans have organized a number of Denver-area triathlons and duathlons including the Littlefoot Triathlon, Barkin’ Dog Duathlon, and the Chilly Cheeks Duathlon series.

Darrin on Chilly Cheek sorta day!

“I’ve been racing since 1979, and I never get tired of being around races. I love everything about them. The people are great, the atmosphere is amazing, and I enjoy seeing everyone finish- from the elite racers to the first timers,” enthused Eisman.

In 1995, Darrin and Jill founded Racing Underground to produce and time running races and multisport events. Since then, they have worked on more than 1,000 successful events in that time. In addition to approximately 20 events of their own, they provide timing services to a select number of additional races each year. These events are often booked years in advance.

No such thing as a season

Event planning is a year-round process; not just a season. Darrin and Jill have no down time. Planning for the next year’s event begins the day after the current event is completed, when they begin to lock in a date and submit permit applications. Once a date is approved, they update the race website, schedule medical and police support, open registration, and begin promoting the event. 

Over the next few months, t-shirts, finisher medals, and swim caps are ordered; artwork is completed, post-race food is decided upon, volunteer groups are organized, and porta-potties are ordered.Two weeks out, water samples are tested (if it is a triathlon), participant packets are built, trucks and trailers are loaded, and final race details sent to participants. Finally, race weekend involves set up (which is extensive for a triathlon) and marking swim, bike, and run courses and hosting an early packet pickup.

A typical race day begins at 2 AM with final setup and course markings, and ends 14 hours later after the final medal has been awarded and the last meal served.

What most participants don’t know

Refunds and deferrals are common requests from participants. However, participants may not fully understand the impact of their requests. For example, when asking for a refund or a deferral, most don’t realize that the money has already likely been spent on an event t-shirt, event swag, and food. 

For events like those held by Racing Underground that have no event sponsors, the majority of the total event costs are covered by race entry fees. Therefore, by asking for a refund or a deferral, participants are unknowingly putting the next year’s event in the red. 

2020 in particular was brutal.

During the pandemic, Racing Underground had to give 100 percent credit towards future races for several events, including the 2020 Barking Dog duathlon. Even though they had already paid for race day items and knew they were making the responsible choice, it was a sickening feeling to realize they were tens of thousands of dollars in credits.

“We work with lots of events, and the no-show rate on races this fall has been extremely high – sometimes 25 to 30 percent or more. We (and most race organizers) offer fair refund and deferral policies, and those policies have deadlines based on when they begin spending the bulk of the entry fees on the event,” explained Eisman.

Despite the return of a full event calendar in 2021 and sold out events, they discovered that participation could surprisingly still be dicey. According to him, this year more than any previous years, there has been, what he describes, as a “massive number of refund and deferral requests” during the final week leading up to the races.

He attributes the increase in refund and deferral requests to the pandemic. “I know it may seem harsh to a participant who can’t receive a refund or a deferral after the deadline, but races operate on fairly small margins and giving a large number of refunds or deferrals to the following year can cause a race to disappear,” he continued.

T-shirts, medals, swim caps, food, etc. are all bought specifically for each participant; in other words, every detail of the race is based on the number of people who have entered. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon to begin planning next year’s event in the red.

Unexpected happenings

For race organizers, some things are beyond control. One year, the burrito vendor was not available. Their daughter and a friend ended up making quesadillas for everyone at the last minute. Another year, participants mistook a spectator for a volunteer and headed in the wrong direction. Then there was the running race up Mt. Evans that was planned. Some creative and strategic planning was made (wave starts, limited numbers, contactless pick up, etc.), people were onboard, and at the last minute, the City of Denver shut the event down by not allowing parking in the space it owned.

“When everything was shut down at the end of March 2020, we worked hard to come up with plans to safely hold our events. For months, we developed detailed plans, got encouragement from venues and local authorities, then they were shot down. Over and over again.” said Eisman.

The experience was surreal. One week, they were lauded for their effort, the next week, they were vilified for things beyond their control (such as terminating an event at the last minute). By the time winter 2020 arrived, they were allowed to host the Chilly Cheeks Duathlon Series. However, less than two weeks out, there was an uptick in COVID-19 and only 75 participants were allowed. There was the omnipresent concern of money, compounded with ensuring the participants had a great experience.

“ After crunching the numbers, I determined that we could just break even if we and our staff worked for free, and all volunteers were true volunteers with nothing in return except seeing smiling faces at the finish line. It ended up being one of my favorite years for the 20 year old series!” he exclaimed.

In order to keep their community of athletes engaged, they began to host free weekly virtual races (one running race and one bike race) to keep them racing.  Once races started to happen, Racing Underground was able to hold its Littlefoot Triathlon in September 2020. It was limited to 175 participants, and sold out in 4.5 hours. They took it as a promising sign of things to come.

Transforming an event into an experience.

Why have registration fees increased over the years? Attribute that to a change in expectations. The advent of social media has made what used to be a simple race into a cultural event to enjoy with friends. Long gone are the days of race entrants being greeted at the finish line with some bananas, bagels, and a paper cup to use at the water cooler. Thanks in large part to social media, triathlons and duathlons have become experiences, according to Eisman. “Once upon a time, an entrant would expect to receive a race number and an occasional t-shirt to commemorate participating in the event,” mused Eisman. “Now, people want medals, swag, food, and entertainment of some kind,” he said.

In order to stay in business, they had to change with the times (no pun intended). Interestingly, turning the event into an experience has also helped maintain its unique identity, distinguishing it from the plethora of other events added every year. Races build a loyalty over the years, and improving the racer experience helps to draw in new participants,” he explained.

Finding ways to mix up events also draws more participants. This year, the Colorado Special Olympics triathlon was included as a part of the Littlefoot Triathlon. Eisman exclaimed, “It was truly inspiring, and the best part was when one of the Special Olympians won a new bike from Campus Cycles in the post-race drawing!” 

Although the work can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating, Racing Underground’s Darrin and Jill Eisman and their dedicated team find reward in producing events that celebrate and encourage participants to achieve their athletic potential. 

For now, 2022 has already begun.

One Big Reason Why Darrin Was So Happy with Chilly Cheeks Duathlon…

By Bill Plock

If you know or have met Darrin Eisman, you undoubtedly have felt his positive energy and just his energy in general. His company Racing Underground has a number of multisport and running races, including past weekend’s Chilly Cheeks duathlon at Cherry Creek State Park. It was the third and final race of this popular winter duathlon series. 

About 75 people raced in the cold around the west shore of the ice covered reservoir where even the slightest breeze added to the challenge of figuring out how to stay just warm enough to comfortably race. People raced on everything from TT bikes to fat tire snow bikes—although the roads were perfectly dry and clear.  Some wore puffy jackets and others shivered in minimal kits and even with a few in shorts! 

Susan Felicissimo

When Darrin popped out of his van (down by a lake, not a river :)), and was asked how the day was going, he smiled wide and beamed with happiness watching people race. 

Like all racing events, Covid has had a major impact on Darrin’s business.  His joy was more than just because the race was happening.

Darrin said, “I’m so excited, my staff is so amazing, and we did some things to cut costs with minimal awards and a few other things, but they volunteered to work for free and we actually might break even today! We did get few extra entries in the past week because we were recently allowed to go from 75 to 150 people. The series had sold out but with a few more people, we might break even and if we have any extra we will happily pay our employees—they are just awesome, they want people to have fun and be here.” 

Like other races, they made some modifications to make it as safe as possible. Things like a time trial bike start and an overly ample amount of room for bike racking and transitions. 

Top 2 male finishers, Austin O’Brien and Brian Folts with Darrin

Racing Underground recently held the popular winter running race, the Yeti Chase. In April there is another duathlon at Cherry Creek, the Barking Dog. Check out their website for all of their races. They have a fun variety of venues and races all over the front range.

http://www.racingunderground.com

Racing Underground Announces Free Virtual Races, Great Awards and Giving Back

Announcing the launch of the Racing Underground Community Race Series!!! www.RacingUnderground.com/Community

This is a FREE WEEKLY VIRTUAL SERIES, with a running option and a biking option each week. We will kick things off on April 6th with a 5k virtual run and a 10k virtual bike race (or you can do both).

We will be awarding free race entries and gift certificates from our sponsors by random drawing each week.

With the cancellation of the spring racing season, many of you are looking for motivation to continue training, and we hope this will keep you motivated.

Sign up for the first series event by noon on Sunday April 5th, then you must complete your virtual run or ride and post your results to the series results page between Monday April 6th and noon on Sunday April 12th.

Registration is FREE, but we are accepting optional donations for several worthy groups that we support with our events. Again, donations are optional and we understand that money may be tight for many of you – – we welcome you to participate either way!

Darrin, Jill, and the Racing Underground Crew!!!

Mt. Evans Ascent

Idaho Springs

Although the air will be noticeably thin at the starting line, Echo Lake’s 10,600 feet of elevation is just the beginning. The climb totals nearly 4,000 vertical feet – much of it above treeline – as you make your way 14.5 miles to the finish line located at the summit of one of the most recognizable peaks on Denver’s mountain skyline – 14,264 foot Mt. Evans.

Be inspired!!!

Join us on June 8, 2019 for another memorable run.
Spectators will include Bighorn Sheep, Marmots, and Mountain Goats – maybe even a few people!!!

 

Event details and registration here

Barkin’ Dog Duathlon

Denver

 

The Barkin’ Dog Duathlon celebrates 22 years as the kickoff race for the summer multisport season! The Barkin’ Dog is Colorado’s largest duathlon, and consistently one of the largest duathlons in the Western United States.

This race attracts some of the top pros in the country as well as a whole slew of first-time multisport athletes trying something different. If you can finish a 5K, you can complete a duathlon!

Participants can choose from the standard 5K Run, 34K Bike, 5K Run event or the short course which challenges participants with a 1.2 Mile Run, 11 Mile Bike, 5K Run.

We hope to see you at the 22nd edition of the Barkin’ Dog on April 20th!

 

Event details and registration here

Three Creeks Half Marathon

Denver

 

Racing Underground brings you an amazing half marathon this spring! The Three Creeks Half Marathon features a USA Track & Field certified half marathon course that is flat, fast and scenic!

Travel on foot through some of the most beautiful parts of Cherry Creek State Park, with a total combined elevation gain of only 291 feet spread out over 13.1 miles as the course follows the banks of Cherry Creek, Windmill Creek, and Cottonwood Creek on a mix of road, paved running trail, and wide dirt trails.

We hope to see you at the 5th annual Three Creeks Half this April!

 

Event details and registration here

Ralston Creek Half Marathon & 5k

Arvada

 

The Ralston Creek Half Marathon and 5K returns in 2019, after sold out fields in the half for the past 7 years! Join us at Colorado’s Premier Winter Half Marathon, and the finale to the 2018-2019 Racing Underground winter running series.

The Ralston Creek races feature a fun winter half-marathon and 5K run conveniently located on the west side of the Denver Metro Area in Arvada, Colorado. The courses covers a scenic mix of road and bike path over rolling terrain, and an optional early start time for half-marathon runners who expect to take more than 2.5 hours to complete the course!

Event details and registration here

Series Events:

Superior Stocking Run – Dec. 16, 2018

Yeti Chase 5k/10k – Jan. 20, 2019

Ralston Creek Half Marathon & 5k – Feb. 3, 2019

 

*To the best of our abilities, this information is correct. Please check the event website for the most accurate information.

Ralston Creek Half Marathon & 5k

Arvada

 

The Ralston Creek Half Marathon and 5K returns in 2019, after sold out fields in the half for the past 7 years! Join us at Colorado’s Premier Winter Half Marathon, and the finale to the 2018-2019 Racing Underground winter running series.

The Ralston Creek races feature a fun winter half-marathon and 5K run conveniently located on the west side of the Denver Metro Area in Arvada, Colorado. The courses covers a scenic mix of road and bike path over rolling terrain, and an optional early start time for half-marathon runners who expect to take more than 2.5 hours to complete the course!

Event details and registration here

Series Events:

Superior Stocking Run – Dec. 16, 2018

Yeti Chase 5k/10k – Jan. 20, 2019

Ralston Creek Half Marathon & 5k – Feb. 3, 2019

 

*To the best of our abilities, this information is correct. Please check the event website for the most accurate information.

Stocking Run 5k

Superior

 

Join us on Sunday December 16th for a fun and festive, family-friendly 5K run and walk in the town of Superior – conveniently located off Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder. Get a head start on the holiday season with the Stocking Run!!!

All entrants will receive a red felt stocking chock-full of sponsor goodies! How fun is that!!! And stockings for kids age 8 and under will include a tiny toy!

This is also the first race in the Racing Underground winter running series. The series has been extremely popular, selling out two of the three events every year!

Event details and registration here

 

Series Events:

Superior Stocking Run – Dec. 16, 2018

Yeti Chase 5k/10k – Jan. 20, 2019

Ralston Creek Half Marathon & 5k – Feb. 3, 2019