2017: A Year Of Risk

As endurance athletes we are no stranger to risk.  Every run is a risk.  Every race is a risk.  In fact every time you sign up for one of our events you are taking a risk.

  • Will I have a good time?
  • Will I get my money’s worth?
  • Will I get injured during the race?
  • Will I get injured before the race?
  • Will life get in they way and force me to cancel?

Life has risk around every corner, and it is often good to take those risks as long as they are well calculated.  Without taking risks in life we may never know what might have been.  Sometimes a risk pays off.  Other times we fail miserably.  That is all part of the calculation, but at least in those times of failure you learn something valuable.  You learn what the limits are.  You learn from failure what you should do differently or what you should not do at all.  At least you know.  Without taking the risks, you may never know for sure.

2017 was a year of huge risks for Next Opportunity.  Not just us but for you as well as part of our Next Opp community.  We played it pretty safe in 2016 choosing to focus solely on growing and improving our existing races: the Hot Hot Hundred and Rough Trail 50K.  We learned a lot in 2016 about how to continue improving our business, how to deliver quality events, and how to grow.  So it was big step in 2017 when we launched five new races.  Oh, but that wasn’t all.  We also launched a film festival (which we had to cancel) and the Bluegrass Trail Running Series (which we had to cancel).  We also took big risks with our two flagship events as well.  So 2017 was year of risks, and it was a year of lessons learned.  Let’s dig into some of the big risks we took this year and what we learned from them.

Risk #1:  Doubling Our Event Portfolio

We felt good about our first two years in operation as a new event company.  Our inaugural event, the Hot Hot Hundred, more than doubled its attendance numbers from year one to year two.  Rough Trail 50K sold out in just its second year, and we had been working tirelessly on new races.

The truth is that we are always looking for new opportunities to host an event.  Our eyes are always open for communities that could benefit from an event or great areas that would make a perfect race.  Many of those opportunities never pan out for one reason or another, and that is why we were so excited that the Big Turtle 50 Miler and The Reaper 30K were actually becoming a reality.  We went into 2017 with the plan to offer four events:  Hot Hot Hundred, Rough Trail 50K, Big Turtle 50 Miler, and The Reaper 30K.  

It was a gamble.  We asked a lot of questions.  Did we have the time?  Brandy and I both worked full-time jobs at the time in addition to managing Next Opportunity Events.  Did we have the capacity?  These new races would require a great deal of human and material resources to pull off.  We would need more volunteers, more tables, more ribbon, a bigger truck, more food, more water.  More, more, more.

The gamble paid off.  The events went off successfully but not without hitches of course.  We learned a lot in 2017 by doubling our event offerings.  

Risk #2:  Tripling Our Event Portfolio

Ok, so here is where things got really tricky.  If doubling our event offerings in 2017 was a big step, then tripling them to six events was a giant leap!  We didn’t start the year with the intention of creating the Timber & Trails 5K and Redbird Crest 100K.  Those opportunities presented themselves, and we just had to go for it.  We had already put ourselves into deep water by putting on four events.  Now we wanted to do six?  Looking back it still seems a little crazy.

Now we really had to ask ourselves some tough questions.  Where would we find the time?  I usually have to take at least two days off from work during these events.  Where would I find the time to get off work?  Where would Brandy find the time?  Were we risking market saturation in this area?  Were we stretching ourselves too thin?

Risks aren’t bad.  They just need to be calculated.  The costs and benefits need to be weighed against each other.  Ultimately, though, there comes a time where you need to roll the dice.  

Risk #3:  Non-Race Events

Another risk we took in 2017 was a venture into non-racing events, specifically the Trails in Motion Film Festival.  As I’ve said before we are no strangers to event and project management.  Planning and conducting outdoor adventure and endurance events present their own challenges but they are just like any other project at their core.  You have a plan, a schedule, and a budget and you execute that plan.  My project management colleagues just fainted at my oversimplification of it, but you get the idea!

The film festival ultimately didn’t pan out for us due to a variety of factors that all come back to miscalculations made by us.  We learned some things through that process about how to market and promote an event that didn’t involve tremendous physical discomfort!

Risk #4:  Upping Our Game

Next Opportunity started in 2015 in a very bootstrap fashion.  We used a lot of our own materials and put in a lot of work ourselves instead of buying things or hiring people.  So our early events lacked a lot of “whizz bang” that larger, more established events boast.  2017, however, was our year to take it up a notch.  We had established that Next Opportunity races are some of the best in the Bluegrass, and now it was time to look the part.  We invested a lot into operating infrastructure, supplies, and marketing in order to deliver a high quality and professional experience for you runners.  “Upping Our Game” was probably the easiest risk in terms of execution, but it was probably the scariest.  Spending money always is!

Risk #5:  Bigger and Longer

In addition to building on the raw number of events we offer, the last two additions to our event calendar are the biggest in scope, cost, time, and distance.  Yes, we are talking about the Redbird Crest 100K and the War Hammer 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Except for the Hot Hot Hundred, all of our events take place in one day.  In fact the Hot Hot Hundred is over at midnight.  Saturday events that bleed into Sunday are a different animal.  No longer could we take solace in the fact that we could get a good night’s sleep when the race was over.  Oh no.  The race would still be going on all through the night.  Redbird Crest 100K was my first experience with a 20+ hour event.  Even as a runner I’ve never experienced a race that long.  I completed my 72 mile race in 2016 in 16.5 hours, so I was done by 1:30am.  At Redbird earlier this month it was a completely new experience being up at 4am, having been up since 3am the previous day.  

Such a long event presents a boat load of new challenges:  firewood, lighting, night visible course markings, and more.  As Redbird Crest 100K drew nearer we had to adjust our approach to race day in a very big way.  In fact, we could no longer refer to it as “race day.”  It was now “race weekend.”  We had to anticipate new issues and obstacles that we never had before.  We had never put on an event that had runners in the woods all night.  We never had an event in which runners were on their feet for 20 hours.  We had to plan for new medical emergency scenarios, adjust our communications approach, and plan differently for food and water supplies.

2017 was a year I’ll never forget.  It was good.  It was bad.  It was fulfilling and exhilarating while still being exhausting.  We rolled the dice a lot and came up short sometimes, and other times the gambles paid off in big ways.  I guess that’s how trail and ultra running goes for all of us.  We take chances and hope those chances pay off.  If they don’t, we keep moving forward.

Michael WhismanComment