The following article appeared in a recent issue of the Irish Runner magazine and is published here with their kind permission...
Guest Article - Race Series.......by David O'Dwyer
Much has been written about the current “running boom” but it is only when you take a closer look at the grass roots can you see the origins of the boom and more importantly if the boom will last. The “race series” is not a new phenomenon but it is something that has really caught hold in the areas of East Cork and West Waterford. This in part may explain why these two areas are leading the way in terms of road running in Ireland when it comes to attracting people into the sport.
East Cork encapsulates a number of pro-active Senior Athletic Clubs and of course there is the efficient machine that is Ballycotton Running Promotions. Indeed Ballycotton Running Promotions claim to be the promoters of the original road racing series in Ireland. Their Summer Series of four races has mushroomed in popularity over the past couple of years where the average entries for each of the four races are in excess of 400. The series has been on the go for over 30 years and the main reason for the recent upsurge in popularity is that if you complete the series then you gain guaranteed entry in to the famed Ballycotton 10.....(Please note that this was the case. There is no guarantee that it will be correct for 2011...John Desmond)
East Cork AC has held a Winter Series of seven 3k races for the past 12 years. This series started off as an event for members only in an attempt to liven up the Tuesday night speed sessions. Over the past couple of years this series has grown almost too big to handle for a Tuesday night session with the numbers competing now regularly in excess of 150. On a cold wet and windy Tuesday winter night this is quite remarkable. Even more so when you consider there are no prizes given out on the night. The only reward is a long sleeve T-shirt if you complete 5 of the 7 scheduled events.
West Waterford AC also hosts a Winter League and Spring/Summer Series. These events are held on grass and road and offer a variety of events to all standards of runner. The club has shown to be innovative in its approach to hosting events that are attractive to the beginner as well as the more seasoned athlete. Staggered start times and an option to run 3, 4 or 5 laps of the cross country course are just a couple of the ideas that have proved to be so successful. Both the Winter League and Spring/Summer Series have had the same sponsors since 1994 with some events attracting in excess of 300 competitors.
The club also holds members only events and this helps to harbour a real camaraderie among members. In total there are in excess of 50 events organised by the club so there is always something to aim for. According to club chairman Tony Ryan, this is one of the reasons why the club attracts so many members. Tony states that the foundation of the success though is the very strong committee that the club has in place. The committee includes both runners and non runners and this ensures that the needs of the members are being met by the club.
Innovation seems to be the name of the game in Dungarvan where the club is based, a prime example being the latest idea which has become affectionately known among members as the “Breakfast Club”. This is where a group of mainly female members go for a run after dropping off the kids to school. West Waterford AC also has a thriving juvenile section but it is good to see that the adults are also being well catered for.
There are other similar race series around the country, Mayo and Galway spring to mind. Limerick is the latest to catch on to this idea where a series in UL has been taking place this winter. There are probably other series around the country that are just not that well known. The most famous series of course in the Adidas Dublin Marathon Series of 5 mile, 10 mile and Half Marathon races that are held in the lead up to the Dublin Marathon. This has proved to be a great platform for attracting new Marathoners.
Many of the Series’ detailed above have been taking place for a number of years. There has been little or no official input from Athletics Ireland – this is not a criticism but perhaps the governing body could learn some lessons from these organisers. There is no reason why such events cannot take place elsewhere in the country. Some excellent work is being done by the Regional Development Officers with regard to attracting the young kids into the sport but let’s not forget about the adults. There is no point in getting the kids interested if there isn’t a whole lot there for them when they get older.