If you have been around the Central Ohio running scene for any amount of time, it’s likely you have met, or at least seen, Andy Harris. Andy serves as the director of operations for event management at Columbus Running Company (CRC), which includes serving as the race director of CRC events as well as partnering with many other local events. The 2022 season of the RUNColumbus Race Series includes five CRC events that are directed by Andy and his team including the Fantastic Frigid 5K Series, Choo Choo 9 Miler and 5K, AEP Ohio Columbus 10K, Blazin’ 5 Miler, and the Big Bad Wolfe.
Andy and his wife Cheryl have been married for 18 years. They have two cats that love to “help” put timing tags on bibs and sit on t-shirt boxes.
How did you become a race director? I graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education, and then promptly worked in the insurance industry for a decade. I was ready for a career change and inquired about a job with the Columbus Running Company. They had a pending opening as a race timer, which I accepted over nine years ago. We helped time many events for charitable organizations that the first year. I was part of the production team producing my first event from start to finish after 10 months on the job.
What’s the greatest challenge you face in your role? Two words: managing expectations. As an event manager and race director, there are many “masters” I serve in my role. Participants, sponsors, partners, vendors, bosses, volunteers, and certainly not least: my own expectations. It’s important to understand what other parties expect from the event, to determine what our capabilities are given many factors, and to effectively communicate to everyone how reality may enhance or differ from those expectations. It’s something that’s reasonably easy to say “do this” in the abstract, and often quite difficult to put into practice. It’s hard enough sometimes to figure out what we as race directors want our event to be, let alone determining what other people think our event is and how to manage any differences in those expectations. I strive to be open and honest with communication, admit when mistakes are made, and be transparent with what will be done to fix those mistakes.
What’s the greatest reward? Almost every Saturday and Sunday I get to see people do things they maybe didn’t know they could do just hours before. Sometimes, it’s a PR. Sometimes, it’s a nervous and excited first-time racer. And every so often, we get to witness things that appear to be a really big deal in that person’s life. My favorite story about the latter was a late November event one year. Our lead bicyclist returned with the lead runner at about 17-18 minutes and told me that the last-place person was just then crossing the ~1/3-mile mark. I did the math, it was going to be a chilly and longer morning than expected. We cheered on participants as they returned and welcomed them back to the finish line. Some folks stuck around for a bit to wait for friends and family, but after a while, it was just our team and a few spectators. They said that they were there waiting on the last bunch, so we knew we had company and I was glad to have some folks to help us cheer in those finishers. As that group made the final stretch, we could see the effort being put forth. One of the gentlemen in the group was walking very stiff and slowly, but was very determined. He took one step past the finish line and belted out, “gimme a chair!”. We sat him down in a chair right there on the path, and he told us that he’d just turned 75 years old and that today he completed his first 5K. He was very proud, and he deserved every bit of that pride. We’ve seen so much at finish lines: joy, heartbreak, photo finishes, monster PRs, and a few bumps, bruises, and bloody lips. It’s all wonderful to be a part of.
Other than signing up for your race, how can runners support and encourage race organizers? Two things: one – talk to us and let us know what you think of our events. Did we put on what you consider a sub-par event? Count to 10 and then put together some good constructive criticism to send our way. Did we knock it out of the park? Tell us that, too! We don’t hear the good stories enough. I don’t say this because race organizers need our ego stroked (we don’t), but rather if we’re doing something right we want to know so we can do it again! Two: VOLUNTEER! Races need help from the community to operate and volunteers allow our events to happen. For races in the CRC Signature Series, we provide volunteers with one free entry to a future CRC Signature Series event. You help at an event, you get to run another for free. Simple!
Is there anything else you want people to know? Race directors/organizers are humans. We’re regular people just like everybody else, please say “hi”.