by Christopher Bagg February 03, 2022
"Ocean swimming in winter is a perfect example of being uncomfortable, but you're OK," says Brennan Lindner, race director of the Herbalife24 Triathlon Los Angeles. "It doesn't need to be safe and cozy and warm. I've been out swimming and the swells have been fairly large, and you think OK, I'm a fairly competent person, I can get through this, but then you're trying to get in and you're in the impact zone, and you're neither moving in nor getting pushed out, and you think I've got to get in but it's not happening quickly enough. I've learned to try and let it go during those moments, my desire to be comfortable."
Lindner, it seems, has made a life out living with that discomfort. Trained as an architect, he found himself organizing small splash-and-dash races as a way to participate in activities that fired his imagination. One or two small gatherings became events, and Lindner soon found himself juggling a full-time marketing job and a full-time race promotion job. He was organizing "five or six Xterra trail runs, and about six swim-run events. We got a contract for the Santa Monica 5k and I told my wife 'I can't do both of these things anymore.'" Lindner's timing was less than ideal, as his first child was only six months old at the time, but "we just decided to do it. Looking back on it now it certainly seems naïve, but our attitude was (and still is) that we would figure it out. Thinking that way doesn't mean that the process won't be painful, that you won't make mistakes, but it will keep you focused on where you need to go, and I think any race director benefits from that perspective."
The last three years, certainly, have tested race directors around the world. Incepted in 2016, the Herbalife 24 Triathlon Los Angeles took a long runway into existence. By 2019 Lindner and his team had gathered the necessary permits to hold the race, and the first edition took place in May of that year. Then, as we all know, 2020 arrived and the race was rescheduled, then canceled. Last year Lindner aimed for May of 2021 and rescheduled to October. This year, six years after winning the contract to direct the race, Lindner will have cancelled it once and rescheduled it twice—an equal number of modified editions as races actually held. Despite that lack of stability, however, Lindner has shepherded the race to a stop on the Professional Triathletes' Organization (PTO) schedule, and he expects 70-80 of the best men and women in the world to attend this year's race and PRO-AM feature, in which a physically challenged athlete, a professional athlete, and a celebrity athlete will each complete a leg of the race.
Image Courtesy of Dylan Haskin
"It's really exciting," Lindner says of the race's spot on the PTO calendar. "St. George [Ironman World Championships] will be the weekend before, so even if the best in the world aren't racing they'll be watching, and many of them will be here, either in the main race or the PRO-AM." Lindner has worked with Super League Triathlon before, so he's no stranger to the different logistics of a highly-visible and televised race. "We'll have to adjust things a little bit to make sure they can shoot the race adequately, and it's certainly more visibility, but it's such an exciting opportunity. We love having as many professionals as possible, and treating them like the celebrities they are in our sport. LA will see the highest concentration of pros in the world that weekend, which is just another reason for amateur athletes to come out and race."
Image Courtesy of Dylan Haskin
"Registration, registration, registration," Lindner says, echoing a cliché of real estate. "Oh, actually, registration, registration, parking, and registration," he adds. Once athletes have picked up their packets and navigated that experience, finding parking and starting their event day occupies a primary space in Lindner's vision of the event. "Once athletes have started, they're in the funnel and there's very little you can do to change their experience by then. But when they haven't begun yet, crafting that experience around checking in and then getting to transition effectively is incredibly important. We've all attended races where that experience isn't handled well, and it colors everything that comes after it." Other than the logistics of race weekend, Lindner abhors sloppiness. "I hate it when you see trash around at a race," he says. "It's fairly easy to take care of it, but it has to be part of your plan. Otherwise, the race venue begins to look a little rough around the edges."
Backing up from race weekend, putting on a race in Los Angeles presents mountains of discomfort for Lindner to find comfort in. More than 400 stakeholders play a role in the race, from the LAPD to six separate city council districts to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. The race covers 22 linear miles of downtown Los Angeles, one of the most heavily trafficked urban areas in the world, and the race closes those roads to traffic, giving athletes a unique experience in North American racing. "When else will you get to do this?" Lindner asks? "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, riding your bike and then running through the LA downtown, free of cars. Couple that with the professionals we get, the amazing ocean swim, and the experience of LA itself and we think we have one of the best events in the world."
Image Courtesy of Dylan Haskin
This year, the race will take place just over six months after its last edition, which went on in October of 2021. Lindner's usual 364 day timeline was cut in half to organize the 2022 event, a lift he says is made possible by the team of people working to make the vision a reality. "Nearly 1000 people will help this race go on," he says, "from me to the marketing team to the volunteers without whom we couldn't do this." I asked him what makes managing this army possible, and he said "I don't think it's a skill set, but being comfortable saying 'I don't know' has helped a lot. There's nothing wrong with not knowing something, as long as you're confident that you're competent and that you can probably figure out an answer. It's really easy for someone to say 'No' when they manage a city of over four million inhabitants, but if you're able to show them that you can find a solution to a problem, that you can articulate a vision they understand, they are much more likely to say 'Maybe.'"
As we're wrapping up, I ask Lindner what he wishes athletes could understand about his job, and what race directors do, and he had two answers. First, that race fees barely cover the costs incurred by producing a race. Without going into specifics, he broke down the dollars of an athlete's registration fee, articulating how much goes to the different expenses. The amount that's left over for Lindner to pay his people would surprise most athletes. Hand in hand with that consideration, Lindner says "remember that there are people behind the race putting their blood, sweat, and tears into your race day. Sure, we need to hand you an excellent product, and complaints are always valid, but remember that there is a person who cares about you who is receiving that complaint or comment. If we can all remember that, our races will be better for everyone involved, athlete or director."
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