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How to Organise a Challenge Walk - Chapter Five - Final Matters

5.1 Extra touches

It is often attention to little details and extras that leads to participants (both walkers and marshals) thinking afterwards, 'That was a good, well-organised challenge walk that I thoroughly enjoyed.'

The attitude of marshals and officials is crucial. They should appear enthusiastic and cheerful (even though they may be fed up and tired) and should do what they can to encourage the walkers. They should be efficient but not officious in performing their duties.

Walkers appreciate a well-run HQ and checkpoints. The aim should be for an aura of almost effortless efficiency, with everything getting done with a minimum of hassle and fuss, without queuing or unnecessary waiting. The atmosphere at checkpoints probably makes more difference to walkers' enjoyment than anything else. Marshals should welcome walkers when they arrive, be concerned with the walkers' welfare and do their best to provide any assistance required. Walkers should be able to sit down if they wish and will appreciate having food brought to them, particularly at later checkpoints. Placing of seats is important - in the shade on a hot day, or in reasonable warmth (but not too hot) if it is cold outside.

An event will be remembered as much for its food as for the route and weather, so it is worth making it interesting and varied. Home made items will be especially appreciated. An unexpected food or drinks point is always welcomed. On a hot day, providing extra water or squash at convenient points on the route is a tremendous boon. If there is an unannounced checkpoint or kit check, providing an extra nibble (orange segment, chocolate bar, biscuit, etc.) will make up for the nuisance of the check.

Helpful notices at HQ and at checkpoints are appreciated and improve efficiency, as are signs en route such as 'Checkpoint 200 yards' or 'You are half-way!' There is scope for artistic talent and humour here. Displays of photographs, maps, information, merchandise, etc. at the start make the waiting time before and after the event more interesting.

Particularly on longer events, there is a sense of occasion when walkers finish. It is nice for there to be enough room for earlier finishers and supporters to be able to welcome walkers as they come in. Walkers feel a tremendous sense of achievement in the moments after finishing a long event and they should be helped to enjoy this to the maximum. It may even be possible for those sitting outside the finish to watch walkers approach, perhaps as they descend a final hillside.

A house style for documents (entry form, final details, route description, etc.), perhaps with the event badge or logo, helps give the event an identity. Documents should be produced with the convenience of the user in mind and should be unambiguous and easy to read. A well-written and well-produced route description with large clear type is particularly appreciated.

Some events provide notes on natural or historical features on route, though these should be clearly separated from the route description, either on a separate page or using a different type face.

Organisers should consider the well-being of checkpoint teams who often work long hours. If there is any flexibility in the location or arrangement of a checkpoint, it is worth considering what is most pleasant for those running it.

There is unlimited scope for 'little extras'. One event even provided a massage service at the finish which gave students from a local massage school practice in soothing aching limbs!

5.2 After the event

Afterwards, there should remain minimal evidence that the event has taken place. Either on the day of the event, or on the following day, all litter, notices, temporary waymarking, etc. associated with the event must be removed. It may be possible for the sweepers and checkpoint marshals to do this, but there should be some final check of the whole route

After the event, the main organisers may suffer from anticlimax as well as a combination of exhaustion and relief. Unless the committee is very dedicated, the Chief Organiser may be left on his or her own and there may be a strong temptation to put off the remaining jobs.

One way of ensuring that things do not grind to a halt is, at the planning stage, to make the target completion date not the event itself but a final debriefing, say two weeks after the event. The Committee will then realise that they have work to do until then. Some events have been rounded off by a party for organisers and helpers a couple of weeks later - there is an incentive to have everything completed in time to allow an evening of relaxing, reminiscing and looking at photographs of the event.

In practice, there is relatively little left to do after the event compared with previous weeks. There may be the results and report to prepare, borrowed equipment to return, a few bills and expenses still to pay, final accounts to draw up, 'thank you' letters to write and (perhaps, but hopefully not) the odd farmer to appease. If the momentum and enthusiasm of the main committee members can be kept going for another week or two, there should be no problem.

Many events circulate a report and/or results to participants and, perhaps, helpers after the event. This loses its interest if it is not sent out soon, certainly within six weeks and preferably within two weeks. A specific committee member should be responsible for writing and producing the report and results and for its prompt distribution. The report can be a short factual account or can include anecdotes or statistics relating to the event; often an outline report can be prepared before the event leaving a few details to fill in. The results comprise a list of walkers with their times taken, usually in order of finishing. The distances achieved by retirees can also be included. Some results include times at intermediate checkpoints, but the sorting and checking for this can be very time consuming. Computers have sometimes been used to collate these lists of times, but, by the time the data has been entered into the computer, it is often as quick to process the times manually.

Helpers appreciate being named in any results produced (though care must be taken not to miss anyone) and they can be sent a copy. Appropriately endorsed certificates might also be given to helpers as a token 'thank-you'.

Event reports will only be published by local newspapers if they are submitted almost immediately. There is less urgency for reports for magazines such as Strider, but even so they should be written and sent in whilst the event is fresh in the writer's mind.

Inevitably, items of personal property will be found after the walk and a list can be included with the event report. Items of lost property should be retained by one person responsible for the return of the property to the owner. Normally the owner should pay the postage prior to the item being returned.

The Treasurer should ensure that all outstanding bills are paid promptly and that the accounts are finalised and circulated to the committee. Consider making a donation to an organisation involved in the upkeep or management of the local countryside.

The Chief Organiser should write to thank helpers (individuals and groups) as well as to those who have provided assistance, given their permission or been inconvenienced by the event (a word processor can help with this). Taking such trouble will be of enormous benefit to future events.

If there are any problems raised by landowners or authorities, these should be dealt with quickly, perhaps by a phone call.

Particularly if it is intended to repeat the event in subsequent years, it is worthwhile for the committee to hold a debriefing session so that problems and improvements can be identified while the event is still fresh in people's minds.

5.3 The organisers' responsibility

It will be clear from reading this booklet that the main organisers carry a heavy responsibility for the safe and smooth running of the event. Indeed, by accepting entry fees, organisers take on legal as well as practical responsibilities.

If a walker on an event behaves badly or breaks the Country Code, for example by leaving a gate open, it is the organiser who is likely to suffer the wrath of the farmer and face demands for compensation. The event might receive bad press publicity and permission for checkpoint sites or access might be refused for future years. Such incidents give challenge walking a bad name and create difficulties for future events. However, it is rarely possible to identify culprits or impose any sanctions against them.

There have been few accidents on challenge walks. Nevertheless a major accident, even for reasons over which the organisers have no control, could have far reaching effects on challenge walking as a whole and on the individuals involved, with criticism of the organisers in the press or even in the courts. The litigious ethos, which has almost killed off organised outdoor activities in the United States, is on the increase in Britain.

Many walkers who enter events are inexperienced, sometimes unaware of sensible clothing requirements or unable to map-read. Moreover, some entrants tend to overestimate their abilities. Organisers have to take care not to lead such walkers into a situation that is beyond them. On the other hand making the route too easy and providing too much spoon-feeding will drive away the more experienced walkers.

Organised activities in general, and walking events in particular, are subject to an increasing amount of legislation, much of which was never intended to cover such voluntarily run activities. Events may be affected by legislation relating to health and safety, food hygiene, rights of way, data protection, copyright, representation of services, etc.; see appropriate points in these Guidelines.

As emphasised throughout these Guidelines, safety should always be borne in mind, and entrants must be informed about matters that may affect their safety. To reiterate some specific points:

  • a risk assessment of the event should be made, and appropriate action taken to counter any hazards.
  • entry details should make absolutely clear what is being offered, and not be misleading about the level of support provided.
  • entry details should make it clear that entrants are responsible for their own route finding and basic safe walking and that the event is not a 'led' walk.
  • entry details should state what equipment should be worn or carried (assuming the worst conditions for the time of year for the terrain) and the level of experience required.
  • entrants should sign a statement on the entry form that they participate at their own risk, and that they will obey the event rules and the Country Code.

Other matters which warrant particular care include:

  • there should be reliable communications and procedures for their use.
  • checkpoints and other marshals must have the means and knowledge to contact the emergency services rapidly.
  • there must be good procedures for recording walkers, for detecting missing walkers and for taking appropriate action.
  • common sense hygiene should be observed, for example those handling food should always have clean hands, and food should be stored sensibly.

5.4 Was it all worth it?

Although there is a lot to think about, provided that organisers give sufficient time and thought to planning, have adequate assistance before and on the day and follow a common sense approach, a good event should result. Every event will have minor crises (these usually seem to involve food, such as someone forgetting to bring the tea pot!). However, even what seem at the time like disasters to the marshals will go unnoticed by most walkers, and the organisers will laugh about it all after the event.

Most walkers entering challenge events fully appreciate the enormous amount of voluntary effort put in by the organisers and helpers and are very grateful for what is provided. Organisers should be attentive to constructive criticism but should not be discouraged by the very few 'awkward customers' who blame the organisers for everything including their own inability or unfitness.

The educational value of events, particularly shorter ones, should not be underestimated. A well-organised event will provide an atmosphere in which sensible clothing and equipment and observance of the Country Code are the accepted norm. Less sure walkers will be able to gain confidence and navigational skills in the company of more experienced entrants.

Organisers of a successful event will be rewarded by the thanks of elated walkers as they finish as well as in letters afterwards. They will have the satisfaction of doing a complex job well, of giving others a great deal of pleasure and of sharing their enjoyment of walking. They will have assisted in the LDWA's aim: to further the interests of those who enjoy long distance walking.

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