This week, we chat with Sherri Robbins from Blue Nose Marathon of Halifax (isn’t it great that people from there are called Haligonians?).
It’s also known as the ‘the people’s marathon’ and gathers over 12’000 participants every single year. But that’s not it as over 80 local charities raise more than half a million dollars annually!
Who is behind that success? How do they do it and how do they differentiate? Answers 👇
Ambroise: What is your background? How did Sherri Robbins end up race director at Blue Nose Marathon?
Sherri: My most relevant work experience would be through my work with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF). At CBCF, I oversaw the Run for the Cure for Atlantic Canada and worked as part of the Run Strat team that oversaw the Run as a whole across the Country.
I have also been a runner for the past 15 plus years. My preferred distance is the Half marathon although I have completed 5KMs, 10KMs and a few marathons. I volunteered with the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon on the Organizing Committee in the early days.
Other experience includes a strong background in operations having been an Assistant Superintendent for a number of years in the golf industry (my not as relevant experience but still relevant). I also spent two years in the Safety industry which lends itself quite well when we are trying to deliver a safe event for our participants.
Passion for Blue Nose and running, work experience and education have all led to me becoming the Executive Director for Blue Nose Marathon.
What is your most memorable day as a race director?
To date it would be first race weekend as the Executive Director. As with any major event we had some hiccups that weekend, but it was fabulous weekend overall.
I have a fantastic job and a fabulous team which translates into A LOT of great days between race days now with two under my belt.
However, race weekend is spectacular, and I think it will always stand out. There is so much excitement and energy on that weekend its hard to compare to the other days.
What makes Blue Nose Marathon a truly unique event?
Our focus on all our participants since day one this has been the Blue Nose philosophy; create an ‘extraordinary experience’ for everyone.
Fifteen years later this still remains at the very core of what we do. With over 12,000 participants on any given year that can be challenging but it’s a challenge we embrace and strive to achieve. We always try to look at things through our participants eyes and how decisions and/ or changes we make will impact them.
What do you wish you knew about organizing running races when you started out?
How much is involved and complex it can be although I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s part of what I love about my job.
When I started with CBCF, I wasn’t a fundraiser or a race organizer. I became involved as I had a passion for the cause my grandmother had died from breast cancer and a love for running. The rest I figured out along the way; I was very fortunate to have a great team around me then as I do now at Blue Nose.
I do get asked a lot; “so your job is year-round full time?” people do not always realize all that is involved; we have six races in two days along with a 2-day Expo.
You must have seen everything when it comes to race logistics! What are your best logistics tips for race directors?
Looking at through the participants eyes. We use this as a driver in practically everything we do. We went to a double loop course on our marathon in 2016 due to some major construction in Halifax known as the Big Lift.
Two years later this work is almost complete, and we know operationally the 2 loop is easier to execute. However, incorporating the Macdonald bridge is a pretty unique experience, one we want to deliver to our participants so we are thrilled to be including the bridge as part of our marathon for 2018.
Talking through the various elements and seeing the impact it can have on the various stakeholders. For example, we are exploring timing each of our relay legs this year. Seems simple enough until we start to look at the details a bit closer and the various members of the team it impacts. We need to talk through those changes and additions. And then of course there are lists.
What are your best race promotion tips for race promoters?
Make it about your participants and use social media. Try to keep it engaging and about your participants.
We have had a number of posts perform much better than paid posts because they were engaging and allowed our participants to share and tell their story.
How do you differentiate your race from competing races?
Our focus on everyone. Blue Nose started out as the “people’s marathon” and that is still who we are today.
There is something for everything regardless of your fitness ability and we want to celebrate everyone’s achievement on crossing that finish line. We set out to create something a little different, we didn’t want to be another road race. You see that in very much in our brand and marketing and how we talk about the event in general.
How many volunteers do you have? How do you recruit & manage them?
We have over 1,400 volunteers that help us deliver Blue Nose weekend. We recruit volunteers through word of mouth, social media, previous volunteers and our website.
We are very fortunate to have a large group of volunteers many of whom have been with us for years.
One of Race directors’ biggest challenge is securing sponsors. What is your secret sauce when it comes to finding & securing sponsors?
Our secret sauce is our Director of Sponsorship & Partnership; Chris Larsen.
He has been with Blue Nose from the beginning before any feet hit the pavement when it was in the concept phase. Chris started out as the General Manager of Blue Nose and oversaw sponsorship as well. After 10 years wearing both hats he retired the GM one and now oversees sponsorship.
And no you can’t have him, ha ha.
I think part of our success too lies with Chris really trying to understand what the sponsor is trying to achieve and how Blue Nose can help them do that.
[NOTE FROM AMBROISE: here is our ultimate race sponsorship guide]
What is usually your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing running races?
Time and resources. We have lots of great ideas but do not always have the time or resources to implement and execute. Sometimes it can be a combination of both. Some things may have to wait for the next year.
Anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my experiences about Blue Nose Marathon.
I look forward to hearing from other Race Directors across the Country on their experiences..
Ambroise: It’s been a pleasure 🙂
One last thing: where can people find you and your races online?