Ollie Kirwan – From the Race Directors Chair

//Ollie Kirwan – From the Race Directors Chair

Ollie Kirwan – From the Race Directors Chair

We are accustomed to looking at events from the participants point of view, we do ‘competitor spotlight’ feature, we look at the experience they had doing the event, the moments that have brought them to this point, what impact the event may have had on their life, reasons why they choose this sport etc….

So what about the other side, what about the event managers, the race directors, the people and teams that work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring you these amazing events. From event conception to race day to the time the last flag or marker has been removed from the course there are 100’s (in some case 1000’s) of tasks and things that need to be done so that we, the participants, get the best experience possible and have the day of our lives and have awesome stories to tell to family, friends or work colleagues.

To get a better insight into just what is involved in creating and running a series of premier Adventure Races we had a chat with event management specialist Oliver Kirwan from Elite Event Management. A Dublin native, Ollie moved to the Kingdom of Kerry about a decade ago and set up Elite Event Management in 2011. Ollie and his hardworking, extremely dedicated team deliver the multi award winning Quest Adventure Race Events as well as a bunch of other premier top level events in the adventure/outdoor/sporting world…pitting you against the most epic environments Mother Nature has to offer.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ELITE MGT EVENT?
We now organise 14 events every year and we love them all. Outside the 5 Quest events we organise the Wicklow 200, the Ring of Beara Cycle, Ride Dingle, Run Killarney and other corporate cycles. But the one event that stands out every year as my favourite is Quest 12.24. The people taking part put so much into the event, the dedication to training, they sacrifice so much, its inspiring really to see an event we put on which can have such a bearing on peoples life’s, in a good way. So we have to make sure that we organise Quest 12.24 in a way that matches all the commitment the participants put in. We could put in 4-5 days setting out the course, dragging signs up mountains and operating on 2-3 hours’ sleep, but it’s worth it when you see the enjoyment / pain people get from Quest 12.24. It will be good to take a break from it this year but we’ll be back at Quest 12.24 again in 2021.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACE SOME OF THE EVENTS?
Quest Kenmare – the Kayak and the weather. We can organise everything all the logistics, staffing, signage etc but we can’t account for the weather.
Quest Lough Derg – the bridge, we did something no has ever done before by building Irelands largest temporary bridge over the river Shannon. The amount
of Health & Safety and design required was frightening, we even had to turn off a power station up the river to slow the flow of water for the event day, and hope their was no major power surge in Limerick city during the day of the event. Lots of sleepless nights.
Quest Sligo – new events always have their challenges. Is the course hard enough, is it too hard, will people like the course we designed, will the timings work
out. For each new event there is lots of unknowns. Its all about the course and the location so hopefully people will love Sligo.

IS IT THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GET YOU….LIKE A MARSHAL NOT TURNING UP, A CAR PARKED IN THE WRONG PLACE, A FUNERAL/WEDDING ON THE ROUTE, THE COUNCIL SPREADING FRESH CHIPS?
As Mike Tyson once said ‘everyone has a plan until they get a punch in the face’ with events there are on average 1,500 tasks involved to make the event work on
the day, if you drop the ball with even 2 or 3 tasks on event day the entire thing falls apart. Lots of pressure, lots of stress but the team we have are amazing, we work so well together when the pressure is on.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH THAT THE COMPETITORS IN YOUR EVENTS WOULD DO OR NOT DO?
We have such a great group of people who do our events, we know nearly them all by name, even some of their kids that come along to the events over the years, we can see them growing up when they come back to a race 6 month later. We are all part of it together at this stage. Only thing I would ask competitors to do is understand that we are just small business trying to keep the show on the road. We appreciate all the support that they give us, the competitors are supporting 6 jobs in rural Ireland and we are grateful for that.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A TYPICAL RACE DAY?
Its kind of race week really, rather than race day. The planning for each event start 12 months in advance, our marketing and promotions team in the office have the majority of their work done months in advance. They do a super job promoting the events. Then the logistics team kick in with the planning and it all comes together on event week. We’d have a big meeting to finalise the plans for the event on the Monday and then the teams head off to deliver the various elements. Myself, Seamus and Cian start packing trailer, vans, kayaks etc from Wednesday. Usually drive to site Wednesday and start the event build on Thursday. We put in long shifts of dragging signs up mountains, setting up bike racking or putting out various equipment at various locations. It’s great that we do our events in remote locations but it can be hard when the only access to a certain point is a 2 hour hike lugging a load of equipment. On event day then it is all about checking and double checking to make sure all marshalls are in place, make sure medical is in place, our radio comms are in order. Then its start the different waves, do a safety speech (I’d say everyone is sick of listening to me at this stage). Once everyone has left we usually have about 10mins before the winners start coming back in, so its all systems go getting ready for the winners. Once the first people are in it kinda flows then, everything is working, hopefully. It’s on to clean up straight away then. All the signs we put up must come down and as soon as stage one is done our teams are sweeping in behind cleaning up. By the time we are all packed up and everyone is in safe and sound we don’t have much energy left for the after party. If you do see us the night after the event we’ll be like zombies. Then is back to our base in Killarney and unpack, clean organise all the gear to get ready for the next one.

STRANGEST THING YOU HAVE SEEN AT A RACE?
We had a girl do Quest Glendalough with her dog in her front basket of her bike, we had a guy do Quest Killarney with a dog in a trailer behind his bike, we had a guy who came looking for his bike at registration and thought it was included, we get asked at least 50 times every race ‘do your feet get wet during the kayak stage’. Every race someone leaves home with their bike on the back of their car and when they get to race it has fallen off. We try to help out as best we can but we can’t do anything about wet feet.

ANY EVENT YOU’D LOVE TO DO YOURSELF?
I’d love to do one of our own Quest events but that’ll never happen, we are just too busy on event day. I have a small family and I’m away a lot of the time with events so when I’m home for a weekend I can’t really head off up the county to do another event. Any event that I do take part are usually local in Kerry.

ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO CHANGE ABOUT HOW EVENTS ARE RUN IN IRELAND?
There is very little regulation about mass participation sports events in Ireland. I’d love if it was more regulated. The insurance issue at the moment is massive with all outdoor activities in Ireland. Many being forced to close due to it. Our insurance premiums have increased x 5 times what it was 2 years ago. It put serious pressure on our business. When we increase the entry fees for event it’s due to the increasing cost organising events in Ireland.

IF YOU WEREN’T DOING EVENT MANAGEMENT WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
That’s crystal ball stuff, it’s like trying to predict who is going to win the race in the form guide ?. I fell into event management about 9 years ago. I was a Quantity Surveyor working in Dublin and the recession hit hard in 2009 and everyone I know in the construction industry lost their jobs. My wife and I moved to Kerry, I bought a bike and a surf board with whatever money I had. I was unemployed and loads of time on my hands to cycle and run around the mountains in Kerry. We started taking part in events and my wife’s friend Catriona (my business partner) said we should organise an event in Killarney. We started off with one event with 300 people and now a few years later we have 25,000 people taking part in our events, we are the biggest sports event company in Ireland. I’d say if I didn’t move to Kerry all those years ago and develop a love for the outdoors I’d have immigrated to Australia or the Middle East.

ANY STANDOUT MOMENT OR INCIDENT FROM ANY RACE?
Every race is different, there are so many stories around each race. People take part to raise money for charity, people do quest to overcome illness or who need motivation and a focus in their life’s. A few years ago we were out in a pub for our Christmas party in Killarney and a lady I didn’t know came up to me to thank me for helping her husband. I didn’t quite understand but she told me her husband was very unhealthy had mental health problems and was struggling with work, family and general everyday life. He signed up for Quest Killarney and it changed their lives. It gave him a focus, he lost 2 stone, his mental health improved and he became a different person because of Quest. It’s nice that something we do can have such an impact on people’s lives.

WE OFTEN GET ASKED ABOUT MANDATORY KITS, DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE CHECKED MORE REGULARLY DURING A RACE?
It is a contentious topic at the moment, we try to be as strict as possible at our events with a rigorous gear check at the start. I would like to see a check that everyone has the mandatory kit when they cross the finish line, if they don’t have it they will be DNF.

WE OFTEN GET ASKED ABOUT MANDATORY KITS, DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE CHECKED MORE REGULARLY DURING A RACE?
It is a contentious topic at the moment, we try to be as strict as possible at our events with a rigorous gear check at the start. I would like to see a check that everyone has the mandatory kit when they cross the finish line, if they don’t have it they will be DNF.

ANY ADVICE FOR NEWBIES WHO WANT TO TRY AN ADVENTURE RACE OR OUTDOOR EVENT?
I’m no super fit adventure junkie, I’m like most people who do our events we just have a love for the outdoors, like challenging ourselves and like doing that with likeminded people. The people who do quest are really great, I have made so many good friends for our events and we try to create a fun welcoming atmosphere at the event. My advice is to give it a shot, you don’t need to be super fit or have lots of expensive gear, trust me you won’t regret it.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON EVENT MANAGEMENT AS A CAREER – IS IT FOR EVERYONE?
Event management is a tough job. I saw a post online recently and it listed the 5 most stressful jobs you can do. Number 1 was a Bomb disposal officer, number 2 was hostage negotiator and number 3 was event management. We love what we do and wouldn’t change a thing, I have an awesome team who deliver our events with a smiles on their faces. Our events bring us to amazing places all over Ireland, no one day is the same.

Thanks Ollie for taking the time to chat to us, we really appreciate you and all the team in Elite Event Management and your commitment to bringing us some fantastic events. We look forward to heading to Sligo this year for the latest event, we’re certain it will a mighty day there!!

By | 2020-01-03T12:26:09+00:00 January 3rd, 2020|Categories: Spotlight|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Kerry native Padraig has been living in Dublin/Meath for past 20 years. Hanging up the GAA boots about 8 years ago, he has completed an unknown amount of races including 15 marathons across Ireland, UK and the US with a PB of 3hr 39min. Discovering Adventure Racing a few years ago was a game changer for Padraig and as a veteran of 20+ adventure races, he is always looking for a new challenge, the tougher the better! At home on both a road or mountain bike, he can be found most weekends running up or down a mountain somewhere! Big plans for the year ahead already having taking part in the most extreme adventure race in Ireland ‘The Race’ and with the inaugural Quest 24 event in his native Kerry in the pipeline.

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