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April/May 2009
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An Interview with race director Sean Potts
BTL – Tell us a little about your father and his running exploits.
In 1976, Bob Potts, my father, was one of the founders of the York Road Runners.  When he started running, he was actually running in regular street clothing.  He was stopped by the police and was asked who he was running from.  That’s how new running was to York.  A bunch of his friends started a club which began the York Road Runners.  It developed from there and he was running for well over 30 years.

BTL – and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, however you look at it, he passed away while involved in his passion.
He was involved in a triathlon at the time so we thought that a marathon would be a great way to honor him and keep his name alive.

BTL – So the idea for a marathon started how?
Clay Shaw, who was one of the York Road Runners and one of the top marathon runners in the country, actually sent me a note when my dad passed away and said how about a marathon on the Rail Trail.  I knew I wanted to do something but a marathon seemed a bit over the top for my first race ever. 
So I sort of pushed it to the side and thought about a 5K. Thought also about having a triathlon. The more I talked to people, the more they said 5K’s were something you could find every weekend; nothing different about that so we thought we’d give a marathon a shot.

BTL – So you had the marathon idea but where did you start?
The first thing I thought was, I had to find people who knew what they were doing; people who have been through this before because I had no idea about where to start.  I contacted the York Road Runners Bob Weikert, Jan Workinger, Clay Shaw, and Paul Makarath and they all got together with me and said these are your challenges. You have to decide if you really want to go through with this because you need a huge budget, a lot of volunteers, and there are not a lot of marathons for a reason, it’s because the work it takes to start it and being that York never had one, it would take a lot of ground work to get it going. After meeting with the committee, we decided we thought it was possible and we should give it a shot.

BTL – You mentioned volunteers. What kind of jobs did you need to fill with volunteers?
We had to find people to take care of the water stations; also having a 5K race, you have to find someone to direct that race, we had to find people to get the permits for the roads, people to contact the Rail Trail, set up the applications; there are probably 20-30 jobs we have that I have to have people to help with. I have to learn to trust the people that I put into place to do what needs to be done so that way I can take care of the other things the director does.

Sean Potts speaks to BTL as he works to organize York's first marathon.
BTL – The 2nd part of the equation was sponsors. In these tough economic times, it had to be a tough sell to companies?
That was difficult.  Ettline Foods has stepped up for sponsorship, we have Flying Feet, OSS (Orthopaedic and Spine Specialists), as well as others and it’s been very hard to ask people for donations because things are so tough for so many businesses.  We have tried finding different ways to go about the sponsorship.  We have a mile marker sponsorship; which sold out within 2 weeks where a business or family or individual can sponsor an individual mile. For example, when the runners get to mile 5, there will be a sign with a business who paid $100 for the 5 mile marker.  It was a quick way to get some money where everybody can contribute a little bit to help us out.

BTL – You have told me that this will be a festive time for the runners throughout the 26 mile course. What are some of the things you have in store?
We will have a water station contest; we have 10 water stations throughout the race which means we will have one about every 2 miles since it’s and out-and-back course.  Actually some water stations will be a little sooner than that.  Each water station will have a theme and we are trying to make it a really fun atmosphere; we already have a Hawaiian theme but a lot of the water stations are keeping what they are doing under their hat to surprise myself and to surprise the runners.  We are also trying to get some musical entertainment along the course and a couple of surprises to make things easier for the runner in the course of a 26-mile race.

BTL – One of the attractions for runners is the fact that this a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon. How did you go about getting that in place?
We had to find someone to certify the course and we had to go through the United States Track & Field Association.  When they certify the course, which basically means they go over the course 2-3 times to get exact measurements, they provide you with a certificate basically saying you are certified and that is what Boston requires for a qualifier.  The cost is $1000 for a marathon to be certified but we felt it was worth it because a lot of people want to qualify for the Boston Marathon since we have such a flat course, we thought it would be a great chance for people to do that.

BTL – Because of the flat course, do you think times will be down?
It’s hard to say because the Rail Trail’s a crushed-stone surface so that takes away a little bit from it being flat and that can increase times a little bit. But it’s hard to say what the running time is going to be since it’s our first one but I won’t be surprised if it’s not around 2:20 or 2:30.

BTL – Earlier you mentioned some of the obstacles that you have run into. Let’s run them down one at a time.
You have to get permits for the townships you are going to be in; we have to try and make sure that you involve every township you are crossing through but that was something that was a little difficult to do. Also, you have to make sure that you contact the fire and police for blocking off roads, volunteers aren’t actually allowed to be in the road so you have to get people who are certified in that so that’s been difficult. 

BTL – Another issue you would never think of is insurance.
York College needs insurance, the townships need insurance, the Road Runners need insurance. Luckily we had people with the Road Runners who were familiar with and took care of all those items and we are ready to go with that.

BTL – You teach during the day and then you told me that you probably spend on average 3-4 hours a night trying to put this marathon together. In the course of all this work you’ve also told me that you have faced some unusual questions.
I get questions, “What happens if it rains?”  My answer is you’re going to get wet.  "What happens if I don’t like to get up at 6:30 in the morning?  Can you move the time to a later start?"  Yeah, I also get a lot of emails from people saying “since the Rail Trial is 21 miles long, do you realize that your marathon is not a full marathon, it’s only 21 miles long?" I have to explain it’s an out-and-back course so we are 26.2 miles but I’m sure something will come up today that will be a new question.

BTL – One of the things that you were determined was to make sure each runner got some kind of memento for the first marathon.
We’re going to have technical T-shirts for each runner which for a marathon runner is very important. This is the kind of material that wicks away the sweat as they run so it’s something that they will be able to run with and that’s for the marathon runners only.  The 5K shirts will be cotton but we’re going to go with Under Armour shirts so it will be a high-quality shirt for the runners and hopefully a nice memento for the first marathon in York.

BTL – In addition to all the local runners, this marathon will have a national and international flavor as well.
We have Ashis Roy who is the number one marathon runner, a veteran from India.  He served in foreign wars and he’s going to be running his 91st marathon, the Bob Potts marathon, so we’re pretty excited about that.  Also, Clay Shaw, who is helping me with the marathon is running, and he’s a member of the 50 States Club and he has run marathons in various countries.  We have people coming from Oklahoma, from Wisconsin, from Maine, from New Jersey, it’s really turning into an event that’s known across the country and across the world.

BTL – As we do this interview you are only about 2 months away from race day. As you head down the home stretch, how are you feeling about everything as it all comes together.
I’m really trying to make sure it’s a great experience for everybody because when I talk to a few runners, they tell me how important it is to them, they’ve been training, for some it’s their first marathon. I feel it’s a lot of pressure on me because I want to make sure it’s a great experience.  Someone that trains that much for a race should have a wonderful experience.  I can’t control the weather, so I’m not worrying about that.  I’m just trying to do everything I can to make the runner when they cross the finish line, say this was a great marathon!

BTL – In the end, this will be a marathon for many runners but it also has an added benefit.
It’s the Bob Potts Scholarship Fund which is benefiting cross-country runners in York and Adams County.  We are looking to get that started as soon as possible and that’s why we’re having this race to fund the scholarship so it will keep my dad’s name alive and also help a young runner experience college.