“It’s not over until it's over” is a cliché, so as a race director, I usually say, “It’s not over until all the post-race reports are in from all your key people.”
Call them whatever you want — critiques, observations, post-race reports, after-action reports. No matter what you call them, they're as important a step in the process as is planning out the race itself. Races often repeat mistakes year after year, mainly because no one bothers to critique the race in writing, especially once the race has been fully conducted.
I am religious about this after-event step and about requiring my management team members to submit these reports within two weeks of the race. These reports can go a long way in fixing mistakes, enhancing your event, and recommending better ways to handle many of the logistical and operational aspects of your race.
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years regarding “judging myself” after each and every event:
- Once anyone signs on to serve in a key management role in your race, you must get across to them that a prerequisite of them helping with the race is that they agree to submit a post-race report immediately following the race, and if they don’t they could jeopardize getting their role back the following year.
- An interesting initial step is to require everyone to send you a short 5-10 bullet point report within 24 hours of the event, and then they can elaborate more within two weeks. This gives you some valuable information right away instead of waiting for two weeks to learn about something that might be of extreme importance. As the race director, it is important for you to know how things generally went in every area of the race. Of course, if something really bad happened, that needs to be communicated immediately.
- Start writing your critique right as the planning gets underway. Everyone should start their critiques early, save them, and then continue to add to them. Trying to remember important details that happened three months ago is difficult. Just keep a running list on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Then your entire critique can be completed within a day or two after the race.
- Once a team member submits a critique to you, try reviewing it right away and respond to them to let them know you received it and how much appreciate the thought and work that went into it.
- A good reason for doing this, too, is if a key member of your team suddenly leaves the race, at least you have their notes from last year to refer to.
- The question then becomes, whom do you share your critique with and whom do you share other team members' critiques with?
- In writing the critique, it should be written honestly but without overly criticizing any particular individual as you never know who will be reading your critique. Be professional and polite, but don’t skirt the important issues, either.
- Once I have received all the reports I expect to receive from my team, sometimes I consolidate the reports by taking the most important points and putting them in one document to share with the entire team.
- When planning begins for next year's race, suggest everyone review their critique from last year.
Occasionally, other races have contacted me and asked me to critique (or as I like to say “operationally audit”) their race on their behalf. I'll either ride in the lead vehicle or run in the race itself, looking left and right and in between and recording my observations on a handheld voice recorder. I then write the report immediately after the race and submit it to them.
It's impossible for you to be everywhere all the time, so it's imperative to trust and rely on your team. They're your eyes and ears, especially on race day. Without these written reports, you most likely will get stuck in a rut doing the same things over and over again whether they worked well or not. If you want to constantly improve your event from year to year, these post-race reports are a must.