Meet Melissa Houser - Race Director of the Month


This month we'd like to introduce you to Melissa Houser

Melissa Houser Tell us your story?  Why did you become a race director?
I fell into race directing in 2004. I was interning for a large nonprofit organization in Houston that hosted a yearly Turkey Trot. Part of my job responsibility was to help the the Director of Development with race logistics. I was hired full time by the organization in 2005 and led the org's fundraising the Turkey Trot became my largest event to produce. I directed it from 2005-2009. It was definitely trial by fire as I'd never put on a large scale event before, much less a race with 8,000+ participants.
What do you love about your experiences as a race director?  What have been your biggest challenges?
I love seeing all of the participants come together on race day. I love watching their faces, smiling and having a good time. I love seeing the registration numbers climb higher and higher as race day nears. I love the buzz and excitement of the day from start to finish. I assume my challenges are the same as other race directors face...getting people to sign up early so I have accurate counts for shirts and swag, promoting the races on a limit (or often times non-existent) marketing budget, finding sponsors, and dealing with last minute issues that always pop up to throw a wrench in things. It's a very high stress job and I've spent many many late nights and early mornings to get things done. Literal blood, sweat, and tears go into almost every race I produce.
How do you feel your expertise in the field sets you apart from other race directors?
I've been directing races for close to 20 years. I've seen pretty much everything go down and had to deal with troubleshooting issues I'd never in a million years think I'd have to deal with. I'm familiar with directing small races as well as huge races, and all those in between. I have a fantastic network of vendors who I can call on to help me out. If I can't do something, I know someone who can. I also understand budget limitations and the importance of providing good stewardship to sponsors and vendors, good communication with participants and volunteers, etc. I can plan a race from start to finish while keeping focus on the main goal and mission.
Tell us about a crazy/funny/"you would never believe this happened"/story at one of your events!
At the very first race I directed by myself in 2005, the timing company made a mistake and a 10k finisher's time was wrong in the final results. He didn't place because of it. I've never seen anymore more angry than he was. He ran up to me at the finish line and cussed me out, spit flying all in my face. Made vague threats against me. Luckily there were two Houston Police Department officers standing within earshot who ran over and took him down. He was handcuffed and escorted off the premises and banned from future races. I was scared to death but the experience made me realize just how seriously some folks take racing. So I always try to provide the best customer service possible. I think through as many "what if" situations as possible to be sure I haven't missed anything.
As a race director, what is your #1 goal?
A great runner experience...starting from the time they register to the time they leave the event. I want people to have a great time at the event and tell their friends and family about it so we increase our numbers each year. I want them to have a positive memory that correlates to a positive relationship between them and the hosting organization.
What are you most proud of as a race director?
As a contracted race director, I'm proudest of the fact many of my clients hire me year after year. They tell me how much they appreciate the work I put in and that their race wouldn't be successful without my help. It's always nice to get a big hug from my clients after each event. I've been in business for myself for 12 years and I have many, many repeat clients. They've become part of my family.
Do you have any advice for others venturing into race directing?
You're never going to make all participants happy. There's always going to be a few people who are going to complain about something. Take the negative feedback and learn from it...but don't hold it too close to your heart. You can always improve your race but sometimes people are just grumpy and will complain for no reason. Have thick skin and a big smile. Also, at some point during the event, take a moment to step away from the hustle and soak in what is going on around you. Putting on a race is hard work and is often a thankless job. It's important to acknowledge the work you've put in and be proud of what you've accomplished.
If you are willing, please share your contact info?
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