Program Management gets real in the Market to Market 2012

Posted on October 19, 2012 by


Program management involves orchestrating several inter-related projects.  Often times a program grows out of a large project.

M2M Transition

M2M Transition

While reflecting upon a wonderful weekend of running with close friends and over 3,000 other friends, covering a distance of 78 miles in teams of six to eight, it dawned on me – that event was a perfect, real relay and PROGRAM management example.  Running has enjoyed two waves of popularity – the first in  late 70’s into early 80’s with giants of the sport like Shorter, Rodgers, Salazar and Prefontaine launched the birth of competitor driven phenomena.

Ben Cohoon and faithful business partner!"

Ben Cohoon and faithful business partner!”

The second wave began just a few years ago, this time not driven by elites and pure road races, but a mix of events that draw in wide participant range to color runs, warrior dashes, half-marathons and relay events.  Proof of that growth is one weekend in modestly populated Nebraska where several events sprang forth: The Market-to-Market Relay (78 miles, 400 teams over 3,000 runners), Market-to-Market 50k (300), Double Half Mary (300 total), Monument Marathon – 5k (400), Pumpkin Run in Lincoln (3,457 kids!) – 7,457 Total!  Running is something to experience NOT watch. We will never draw the numbers on the TV. We do absolutely kick booty for the in-person, life long experience.

Now for the project management moment of that reflection.  The Market-To-Market Relay is a wonderful example of a program.  Each relay team is its own project.  There are 400 of those sharing the same goal.  That is string together 20 legs of running from Omaha to Lincoln Nebraska within 7 to 13 hours, managing risks of car support, inclement weather, fatigue and in adequate resources while keeping team morale and focus together.

Ben Cohoon is the visionary and race director for the Market-to-Market Relay.  He started running in 2006 and saw a need.

“I saw that there was relay events in other areas and wondered why Nebraska did not have one. Talking with a few folks in the running community, they told me it was a good idea but if I wanted one, I should start one. So I wrote a business plan, then began creating. It was 18 months from idea to the first race day in 2008.”

It was two years from the start of a passion to the launch of an event.   The first year was indeed a green turf, launch.  Ups and downs and lots of adjustments.  Yet it caught on and grew from several  teams and hundreds of people to 400 teams, 3,000 participants and addition of 50k solo run drawing another 300 in 2012.

My piece of weekend of racing was a part of the Freaky Fast Mixed team – a group of eight fun, freaky and sometimes fast people – two guys, six gals! In addition twenty other Freaks were interspersed on six other teams! Each of us cranked out 7-11 miles for the day. The scenery was stunning at times – yup even for Nebraska that can happen. The camaraderie among teams and within teams was inspiring.

Strategy Session for the Freaky Fast Team - Transition Point 8

Strategy time! Captain Bry working the hand signals to Damon on the navigation!

I had the fortune of serving as a “SME” rather than project management.  My SME’ness was more in doing lots of crazy endurance events not speed! Bry Schulz was our captain and project manager. She was outstanding – handing out tasks like veteran project manager.  Ensuring logistics were ready.  Bringing two sub-teams together on race day – the guys rode up in the morning while the gals enjoyed posh accommodations in a hotel near the start.  Keeping the day fun and focused (tough for any team I’m a part of – the focus that is!)

Half way point - Transition #10

My real contribution to the team – relaxing!

As the program manager Ben Cohoon had to make some tough calls – after a rather long drought – rain, thunder and lightning paid a visit.  While grateful for the moisture it did put a crimp in the early start groups and final celebration.  Ben and team already planned for those risks (foolish not to in Nebraska) and had some response strategies ready! The lightning guidance was shared with each captain (er PM) and course officials executed the responses perfectly.

The improvised workarounds for our project team included a coffee stop for the five coffee drinkers (race day is not a good day to quit), extra plastic on the floor of the beautiful GMC Denali supplied by Bry’s in-laws, extra sugarless gum (runner’s breath, ugh!) and hastily secured reflectors (yes those were in the project guidance but we only had one of two required).  Yes read those requirements!

So if you need a practical example of a program to project relationship, look around you, it may just be a jaunt away!

Finish Photo

We’re done before the rain storm!
Sherri, Corie, Dave, Lyndsy, Bry, Rachelle, Joy and Damon