An Afternoon With Race Director Darris Blackford

IMG_4119Confession: I might have been a little star struck. OK maybe VERY star struck. But it isn’t every day that you are given the chance to chat with the Race Director of the Columbus Marathon and I had been given that chance.

After my last blog I had this idea that it would be cool to get to know Darris Blackford a little bit better. I’ve run Columbus numerous times, but really knew little about the man running the event. As a runner from the back of the pack, I was curious to see if I could relate to him. I have often wondered if race directors notice the folks in the middle and back of a race. I could not have been more surprised.

When I arrived at Thomas Worthington High School for my afternoon walk with Darris, I was greeted by a very unassuming looking middle aged man, with graying hair, and the proverbial lean build of a runner. But he offered me a wide smile and quickly came over to greet me as though we were longtime friends.

For the entire week leading up to this meeting, I had been thinking that I might just do a formal interview, but in that moment, I thought that it would be nice to just walk and talk. Sometimes the best way to get to know someone is to keep the conversation casual.

So, at 6pm we set off for our walk. I knew that Darris had injured himself the previous weekend while taking part in the Burning River 100. However, Darris was quick to check and see how my back was doing after injuring it the week before. After getting some general chit chat out of the way, we got down to business. “So why are we here” Darris asked. I told him that I wanted to take the time to get to know the man behind the race a little bit better. I asked him about his experience running 200 marathons and if he could identify a favorite. He was surprisingly quick with his choice, “Marine Corps, there is something about being able to see DC while on foot with no traffic.” For the next twenty minutes or so, Darris was happy to give me these little tidbits about himself, and sure, this was interesting and fun to learn about a fellow runner. Yet, when I was driving home and found myself still smiling from my encounter, I knew that I had gotten so much more.

More than anything else, Darris is a man who loves people and the community he calls home. This is what drives him to make the marathon the best experience possible, for both the participants and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His passion for the race and his work left me feeling inspired and proud that our city had such a fine event. More than that, I was no longer doubting that he notices ALL of his running and walking participants. He was more than encouraging about the 12 hour run I had coming up and reminded me that I needed to have fun that day.

Yet, some of our conversation was at times sobering and I had a glimpse about the realities of managing such a large scale event. I admit, it is easy to take for granted all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into executing a marathon. While positive and engaging, Darris was quick to point out that the negative feedback about the race could sometimes be tough to hear. I got the sense that, his drive comes from trying to ensure that all participants have an enjoyable event, so when he hears otherwise, he takes it personally. He admitted that he has had to grow some thicker skin over the years. As someone who has finished four Columbus Marathons, the quality continues to improve every year.  I know this is due, in large part, to the dedication of Darris and his staff.

In the end, I can’t tell you every little detail I learned about Darris over the course of an hour. What I can tell you is that Columbus is truly lucky to have such an individual as the race director. I can tell you, that he made me feel as though I was just as important as any elite athlete out there. I can tell you that he greatly cares about the health of the community here in Columbus-hence the partnership with the hospital and the desire to raise as much money as possible, so that children can continue to get the healthcare they need.

I can also tell you that one message was very clear, “be kind to yourself and have fun.”

Thank you Darris for your time and inspiration! Hope to see you October 16th!

About the author: Shannon McLoughlin Morrison has her Ph.d. in Education Policy and Leadership. She is an avid runner and coach for Marathoners in Training. She also has two pet house rabbits.

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