I caught up with Ben and Justin the race directors of Maverick Race to get some of their thoughts on how COVID-19 is impacting them. It’s such a difficult situation for all small companies at the moment but especially those in the events, tourism and leisure industry. Here’s what they had to say…
From a race director’s perspective, talk us through the impact coronavirus has had on your 2020 event series so far?
Ben - We had such a strong start to 2020 with our new partnership with Adidas. It was a really exciting start with the biggest races we’ve ever seen, but now with 8 races already postponed the impact has been immediate and unforgiving.
Justin - We’ve felt a massive impact and currently battling a logistical nightmare off the start of the best year we’ve ever had. We will undoubtedly lose a large portion of our customer base the longer this goes on, which will impact beyond this period of lockdown and take time to rebuild.
Ben - We did respond quickly and really well, but the hardest thing now is the uncertainty. We have to keep replanning before we burn through all cash reserves, but the longer it goes on the harder it becomes. Also from a revenue point of view it will have a huge knock on impact on our business well past the end of the lock down. Since we have so many events we won’t be able to reschedule them all even if we wanted to.
Justin - Yeah, we will eventually run out of weekends so will be forced to cancel. Yes we did get on the re-planning and re-scheduling of the events quickly but the reality is we may have to cancel, which means a loss of revenue and possibly a loss of future custom. The uncertainty is definitely the worst bit.
Justin on the trails in the Alps - Summer 2019
What are the biggest challenges you are facing as a race director as a result of Covid-19?
Ben - The uncertainty. We are working with one arm tied behind our backs as a lot of the people we need to speak to aren’t working which makes the whole process of keeping Maverick Race more difficult. And to be fair, even if the people we need to speak to (Forestry commission, national trust, landowners, school admin staff) are at work, they know as much as we do, so it’s speculation on a grand scale.
Justin - It's a constant rolling change of dates. What we initially thought would be a return to races in July now isn’t looking likely, so we are working hard to reschedule rescheduled events. Which is a logistical nightmare especially when there aren’t enough weekends in the year to fit everything in. We don’t want to let people down as we know how much our runners like to race. But the reality is that runners may have to wait until 2021 and we really hope they do wait for us.
Ben - The problem is is we can only speculatively plan. Until someone says that we can deliver outdoor events again, we just remain in the dark. I think that everyone is in the same boat, no one really knows when things return to normal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one is doing events and no one can foresee when events will be opened back up, so that’s something.
Justin - I think there will also be problems further down the line that we need to be ready for. Such as staffing for events. We need to ask ourselves if we will see a decline in people willing to help at events. There are a lot of things that go into the process of delivering an event that we have to think about and how COVID-19 will change how people approach mass participation, such as how will we ensure that delivering outposts (water, food) safely?..
Ben - I don’t think we will truly understand the impact of COVID19 until at least the end of next year at the earliest. As the race entries that we will have had to carry over will impact on next year's entries and revenue. It will be a few years before we get back to normal.
Justin - Not seeing the team is difficult. Not hearing Ben fart on a daily basis has been a big change and I strangely miss it. All the small things you take for granted of seeing your team are suddenly taken away and virtual meetings aren’t quite the same.
Ben - It’s also been a challenge to make sure that our runners are engaged. Making sure that we’ve got engaging; social content, Virtual Runs, new products and positive messages has been fundamental.
Ben in the Alps - Summer 2019
What have you communicated to runners who entered the Maverick 2020 events that have been postponed thus far?
Ben - We communicated in two phases. Firstly runners who had entered races in March and April, we sent text messages and emails to all runners where we gave options as to their race entries (transfer to postponed event, transfer to 2021 event and as a very last port of call a refund). Secondly we then contacted all runners who had entered races in May and June with the same options. We put a really easy transfer system in place where they were able to be entered automatically into the postponed race, or they could choose to enter any 2021 race.
Justin - Nearly all entrants have transferred to a postponed date of 2021 race which we thought would happen due to having a really loyal runner base and a community that is willing to support us. It also gives runners something to look forward to if they know that they have an entry waiting for them in the future when this is all over.
Ben - We’ve been really on it with comms, however we are worried about lots of clashes with other races due to all events coming pushing events to the back of the year so further down the line we may receive more emails from runners asking for different transfers because the ‘bigger’ alpine / mountain races may announce dates that clash with ours.
Justin - Yeah that could happen, but we still hope that our runners will choose Maverick races over those…
Justin on the Alpine trails - Summer 2019
What other things have been important and what have you been doing to keep the Maverick community alive during this time?
Ben - The importance of social media has been crucial to us. It’s our main way of supporting runners, communicating quickly and keeping our community motivated. We know everyone is struggling so we’re being creative as to how to engage them. We’ve done a mandatory kit challenge, Virtual Races, Easter Contests, VR26 Time Trial. We have a dark VR coming up as well as the addition of a new team physio with free Zoom classes. We’ve been very proactive!
Justin - In terms of the VR side of things. Yes it’s cost us money to put on these events, but it’s something we feel has been really important in order to keep our runners motivated. We feel that our community deserves a free virtual Run with prizes as a thanks for staying with us. We feel that runners will continue to choose Maverick after COVID-19 because of the way we responded during it. They’ll remember the things we do now to support them and in turn we know in the future they will stick with us.
Have there been any positives or exciting new opportunities that have come out of this for Maverick Race?
Ben - There’s been a lot of opportunity that has come out of this. As a team it has really consolidated us with everyone playing their part and working really hard. I feel that we have been really proactive and strong with what we’ve been doing.
Justin - Community engagement has been incredible and the support from our runners has been phenomenal. The overriding factor is that our runners understand that they need to support us in order for us to still be there and for races for them to come back too.
Ben - From day 1 we’ve made a concerted effort to engage openly and honestly with our running community and bring them fresh new things. Also other projects that we had in the background we have been able to give some headspace.
Justin - We’ve done really well to engage with our partners who are also small businesses so are struggling as well. They have all been supportive and we have all been trying to work together to help each other's businesses. So a huge thanks to the teams at Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, Freedom Brewery, Mountain Fuel and Precision Hydration. It’s not easy for any of us.
Ben - Being small means we have been able to adapt quickly and put new things into place pretty much immediately for our runners to enjoy. Such as our NHS t-shirts, we were able to get them into production and on sale within a couple of hours after talking about it on Zoom.
Ben waiting longingly to be back out on the trails
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the Maverick family?
Justin - A huge thanks. The more you continue to support us, means the more we will be able to do when we return. If you can’t run with us this year then we will be there in 2021. Supporting us would be to transfer your entry to another race and hold off asking for a refund. Supporting us means engaging with VR and spreading a positive message of motivating others.
Ben - It’s even more than just not asking for refunds, it’s a thank you for being active on social media, it’s a thank you for tagging us in things, it’s a thank you for creating a buzz around Maverick race and participating in our VR’s and challenges. We wouldn’t be as visible as we are, as motivated as we are as race directors without that support. Every like, comment and share goes such a long way. Our NHS tees were a prime example of this, they were really well supported, with lots of buzz on facebook and there would have been no chance that we could have raised so much without our runners being actively sharing on social media.
Justin - We will be there for you all when things return to normal. It's really hard to articulate just how grateful we are for your support but also how important it is for that to continue in order for us to provide races next year.
The Maverick Race Original Dorset Route - Ben and Justin’s favourite Original Event