Ciele FAM Ryan Chilibeck has fully immersed his life in running. He’s the race director for Canada Running Series West, he’s one of the founders of East Van Run Crew, and he has two daughters who he shares his love and passion for running with. To give him a break from talking about race cancellations, we sat down with him to talk more generally about running, his role, and what’s new.
Photos by: Jody Bailey, Fahim Kassan, and Ryan Chilibeck.
When did you join CRS as a race director for Western Canada, and how would you describe the experience so far?
Ryan: I’m not sure many people out there have the opportunity to work in an industry that they truly love. I get to talk about running every day, get a paycheque doing it, & have the ability to bring runners’ ideas/feedback to reality. I’m still learning so much about the race industry on a daily basis but we have a pretty incredible & hard-working team that brings our races across Canada to life each year.
One of best feelings is seeing your friends run through the finish line and tell you that their race was incredible. So much time, planning & passion go into a race… and getting to share your finished product with those closest to you is a pretty incredible experience.
What event/race (non-CRS) have you been most impressed with, and why?
Ryan: The worst part about being a race director is that I over-analyze other races that I compete in. It was the same when I was working in my restaurant & going out for meals… it’s impossible to avoid being critical or acutely observant.
I’ve run Seawheeze the past 2 years and have been blown away by their approach to road racing. It’s progressive & every touch point is carefully planned with the guest experience in mind. They are breaking the mould of traditional racing. The landscape is changing and I am VERY excited to be working with their team on Seawheeze and the lululemon 10K series.
Another event I loved was Take the Bridge in Vancouver. Darcy and her team are pretty dialled in and have a crazy ability to adapt their alley-cat model to different communities across the world through their connections to the run crews & key individuals in each city. They roll in, fully immerse themselves, create insane hype, put on a race & then poof… they’re gone. For overall race vibes, team atmosphere & incredible views, I would suggest looking at the Banff Jasper Relay. It is always one of my favourite weekends of the year.
Avoid mentioning covid – what’s the most challenging aspect for you as a race director?
Ryan: Aside from not getting to run my own races, the most challenging aspect would be controlling the uncontrollable factors that can lead to a poor race experience. It’s wild how something so miniscule can easily compound into a large issue. It could be something as simple as a poorly positioned table in a finish chute, unexpected construction on race morning, or a key volunteer calling in sick. Any of those can shift so many decisions that you have to make during event weekends. To handle this, some of the best traits of someone working with Canada Running Series are flexibility, problem solving & quick decision making.
Do you get your kids or parents involved in feedback for potential kids’ races? If you have a crazy idea for a kid’s race, do you ask your daughters if they think it’s cool or not?
Ryan: Oh for sure. I run ideas past my wife all the time to get a non-runner perspective… she doesn’t really listen to me when I talk about running so I quickly move on. There are also a lot of parents in my running circle so I often just lob ideas into their text messages and see what sort of responses I get.
My kids like racing so I definitely ask them what pumps them up… most of the time it is the food offerings that tip the scales. The race itself is okay BUT if they get to eat a cookie & drink a juice for breakfast then call that day a success.
End of the day though, it’s a fine line to put on a kid’s race. You can’t charge too much, kids are so different at very young ages – athletic ability, attention spans, dependency – so you have to look at each race not only through the parent’s eyes, but as a 3 to 12+ year old too. Is this cool? Is this lame? Why is Dad having to hold my hand? Who is this stranger? Where is the bathroom? Seriously Dad, stop holding my hand. Will my run/walk program work for this race? I wonder if I will win? I sure hope I don’t lose. Where did I see those cookies? Great, now I have to pee again AND Dad is still holding my hand. This is the worst. This is the BEST!
For any race directors out there that are starting to add kids races to their calendars, anything that you think is critical to keep in mind?
Ryan: Safety is pretty key. As a parent myself, I remember getting super stressed out when I lost sight of my kids as they disappeared behind a building in one race. I probably wouldn’t have felt so panicked had the route been properly staffed with volunteers, didn’t have a course that was along an ocean-side boardwalk, didn’t have parking garages & vehicle egress options along the route, etc. As you can see my brain goes to all sorts of worst-case scenarios so when planning ours, we poke every hole that we can. Parents are trusting us with their most important possessions so the least we can do is look at our kids races from a parental point of view! Keep them simple, keep them safe & make sure the kids have a good time.
What has been your kids’ favourite race?
Ryan: They really like the Moustache Miler in Vancouver. Our whole family rallies behind it every year and they do a great job. The mile distance is challenging for my kids but they have great swag, food and activities to keep it exciting. Once the kids’ race is done, they provide a dance class so that the parents can go out and run their 5K race. After, there is a brunch (and beer) so the kids are able to keep celebrating while their parents get a little tipsy. I’ll call that a win!
I might be biased, but the Banque Scotia 21K de Montréal offers a pretty great experience too. The kids use the big race starting line & run along the Formula 1 track. The course is super secure and volunteers line the track to cheer and keep the kids safe. There is a “kid-retrieval” area and goodies are plentiful.
You plan races for the larger run community, but also plan and organize races for your run crew, East Van Run Crew. Does that help balance you out – planning larger number, more ’serious’ races for CRS and then smaller creative races for EVRC?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s a tough balance. As a race director, I love seeing a large-scale event come together & help inspire a larger community. As a runner, I love seeing some of these underground races take place that are really deep-seeded in the run crew culture.
One of my favourite events that EVRC puts on is the East Van Mile. It’s a no nonsense night race through the streets of East Vancouver… super small fields, all abilities & finishes up with a little party at local breweries. We always pick a local charity to fundraise towards and usually donate over $1000. I keep my eyes peeled to Take the Bridge, Orchard Street, Ekiden relays, The Speed Project… pretty much any unique racing experience for motivation & ideas that I can bring to the road racing industry.
I listen to fellow runners on a weekly basis about what they liked/disliked from the race they did on the weekend. I feel like I am in a very unique situation where I can be creative, take input, and actually try to action ideas that come from the run crew world. My inbox is always open and I’m always up for grabbing a beer to get inspired! We’re always looking for new voices in the run racing space.
It’s human nature to play along with “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” With races off the calendar this year, does this present an opportunity to make some significant changes to the structure, race calendar, or strategy for CRS?
Ryan: We are definitely looking at the silver linings with this pause in the racing calendar. There were so many projects or logistical changes that we have wanted to work on but we have never had the time. Now we have nothing but time.
Aside from starting to plan future race seasons, we have been able to re-write training manuals, start a podcast, refocus our annual marketing campaigns, talk about new races, put some serious work into diversity issues that plague our industry, rebrand a couple of races, tweak some race routes, run our own races, form stronger bonds with other race directors from across North America, and basically learn how we can be better. Running races will look very different when we emerge from this particular pandemic, so all we ask is for some patience as we figure it all out.
Yes, the podcast (listen here)! You’re a host now. How has that experience been?
Ryan: Well, it’s certainly not an easy hobby. Ha. When I first envisioned a unique perspective on the running industry, I just wanted to talk to interesting people about any topic they wanted to explore. It’s tough to find material that might resonate with non-runners, new runners & avid runners alike. There is a fine line between entertaining material and a complete waste of time.
Obviously, this is also a very difficult time in our world. It’s tough not to talk about this pandemic’s impact on the running industry. We’re also addressing how we can use our platform to be more inclusive & provide a stronger BIPOC voice without seeming disingenuous. And we’re only four episodes in!
The biggest learning that I have is that we might cover something that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if I focus on being respectful, kind, and open then hopefully we can create something special for the broader running community. Not every episode is a home run so just keep exploring and telling stories – there are a lot of them out there.