If you’re a part of the running community, chances are you’ve heard about Bob and Lenore Dolphin (aka Team Dolphin). Not only are these two 83-year-olds the race directors of the beautiful Yakima River Canyon Marathon, but they form a pretty strong runner/volunteer team. Bob has traveled all over the country to participate in marathons and Lenore has volunteered at most events (she famously gave finish line hugs to participants). In 2012, Bob completed his 500th marathon at his very own Yakima River Canyon Marathon and people came from all over the world to run with him and support him reaching his goal.
We love working with Team Dolphin and asked them a few questions about their secrets to success:
How did you first get involved in organizing a marathon?
Lenore: We’ve been married for almost 19 years and during that time I started going to races with Bob and volunteering as he ran. He had set a goal to run 500 marathons and we traveled all around the country and got to know a lot of people in the running community. Back in 2000, we were invited to a meeting about hosting a marathon in the beautiful Yakima River Canyon by members of the local Hard Core Runners Club and someone who owned property in the Canyon. Because Bob was such an experienced runner and I was a seasoned volunteer we were asked to be race directors, and the rest is history.
How did you make the transition from being a volunteer to being a race director?
Lenore: The first thing I did was contact people at races we’d been to that had treated the runners really well. We got ideas from them on what to do and what not to do. People rallied around us and we got support from all over the place—from our web master in Lacey, Washington to a sports management company in Vancouver, BC. The owner of the sports management company suggested we attend the Portland Marathon’s Event Director College, which was great advice. We learned a lot and met some great people there. We attended that for about five years and also attended workshops at the Boston Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon.
There are three things we use as guidelines for our marathon, which we learned from three different people:
- Keep it simple.
- Smile a lot. So many mini crises happen and you never know when they’ll hit, so just smile. (This one really helped me get through the first year!)
- Be nice to the volunteers. We hold a pep rally for volunteers on the Monday night prior to the race to hand out the list of assignments and race details. We give away prizes from local businesses and train our volunteers to be friendly and know the important race info.
The first year of the marathon was in 2001—how did it go?
Lenore: The first year went really well and I think it’s because we took 14 months to plan it. It was covered in the paper and people came out of the woodworks to help. We’ve had a wonderful race committee from day one and very loyal volunteers. We had about 450 runners come out in 2001 and our peak year was 2012 when 625 people registered.
We were scared going into it but it was a success and we haven’t really changed much since then. We want to keep it simple—our marathon is a race for runners and walkers.
How do you attract participants to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon?
Bob: Just by participating in so many races, we have a big group of friends in the running industry, which is very important to us. A lot of our participants have done the marathon all 13 years.
We’re also tied into two ’50 States’ groups and are #32 of the Marathon Maniacs membership and co-directors of the 100 Marathon Club North America, so we get a lot of runners from those clubs each year. Lenore and I are known in the industry and our marathon has a reputation for being a race for runners, so we attract people from all over the country as well as Canada, Europe, Australia, Germany, Norway etc.
The marathon has been featured in the book “From Fairbanks to Boston 50 Great U.S. Marathons,” and we were pleasantly surprised to see that we were highlighted in the “Top 100 U.S. Marathons” map for people who want to run a marathon in every state.”
What are the best ideas you’ve incorporated into your race?
Lenore: We’ve gotten great ideas from other races and also come up with a few on our own that help us make it a great experience for runners:
- We keep our registration fees and meal tickets at a nominal cost so people can afford the race. We rely mostly on donations of goods, prizes, and people’s time. We don’t have a big sponsor. We just want to break even.
- I bring home and wash all clothing left at the race. We include a note in our post-race email to participants that they can email us about missing items and we’ll mail them out. We put whatever is left over in boxes at packet pick-up the following year for anyone to grab.
- Having guest speakers at the race is a big deal and our participants love it. We’ve had Joe Henderson, Dick Beardsley, Rick Nealis, Bart Yasso, John “The Penguin” Bingham, and other great people. Next year we’re really excited because Kathrine Switzer will be our guest speaker—she’s a really neat lady.
- We host a pasta pre-race meal whose proceeds benefit the YMCA summer camp scholarship fund. And the other really popular event is our baked potato awards dinner after the race. We hand out certificates with baby feet imprinted on them to our first-time finishers and provide Yakima River Canyon Marathon-labeled wine with some of the awards. We donate all the leftover food…nothing goes to waste.
- I used to give out hugs to everyone at the finish line, but haven’t been able to do that lately!
Bob: The other thing I think our runners really appreciate is that we don’t put any advertising on our t-shirts. We do that on purpose because we want people to wear them. Plus, our race date in late March or early April takes advantage of moderate spring weather. And our awards are high quality and the runners are proud of them.
When did you first start using ACTIVE’s race software?
Lenore: We met ACTIVE at the first Portland Marathon Event Director College in 2000, so we’ve been using your system since the beginning. We want to stick with people who have been with us from the start. Plus, Bob and I are just one step above computer illiterate, so I love having such great support. Whenever I need help, I just call my personal representative and they handle it for me!
What keeps you motivated?
Lenore: It’s a lot of work but we really enjoy it. We joke that at 83 years of age, we are the world’s oldest marathon directors.
Bob: This is our hobby, our diversion, our adventure that we love. Being race directors has opened up a whole new world for us. I’ve run or walked 13 Yakima River Canyon Marathons and hope to complete many more.
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