At 3 a.m. even the early rising summer sun was still dozing. Most of the day’s runners lay sprawled in bed resting their muscles in preparation for the Saturday morning race ahead.
But along the darkened streets of Marysville and Helena’s Last Chance Gulch, a plethora of volunteers scurried about like ants on an ant hill. They were busy painting stripes, setting up fencing, and putting the finishing touches on the race course for the 2017 Governor’s Cup.
Among them was Bryan Haines, who will soon take over as race director for the event following Janet Robinson’s retirement from the role this year.
A University of Montana graduate in journalism, Haines has served as the administrator of the Care Van program at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana for the past two years. The Care Van program is a community partnership and outreach program that provides vaccines to Montanans, with an emphasis on under-served populations.
Prior to coming to Helena in 2010, Haines served as an assistant sports information director for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Working in media relations for a college athletic department tapped into his personal interest in sports and also gave Haines a taste of the challenges that awaited him with the Governor’s Cup.
Since arriving at Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2015, Haines has actively participated in the Governor’s Cup as a volunteer. From helping with course set up and tear down as well as the kid’s marathon, he’s developed a feel for the behind-the-scenes efforts that bring the event to life. Soon enough he will be leading those efforts.
For the past seven years, Janet Robinson, communications consultant for Blue Cross Blue Shield, has served as the race director for the Governor’s Cup. Her contributions and dedication have helped grow the event each year and will no doubt have lasting effects long after her exit from the role.
“Janet has reinforced the vision of the event, which is to provide an avenue for physical fitness and wellness by developing the Kid’s Marathon, which has grown from about 500 participants in 2015 to nearly 1,500 this year,” said Jesse Zentz, assistant race director and manager of community relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“Janet has also helped make the Governor’s Cup a first-class event by improving the overall presentation and experience for participants,” said Zentz. “We’ve modernized results by working with Competitive Timing to improve accuracy and continually increase the reliance on online registration to ease packet pickup.”
The announcement of Robinson’s impending departure was difficult for many to hear. For Zentz, what he will miss most about Robinson is her energy and love for the event.
“Janet always says it’s a team effort, and if that’s truly the case, then she’s an amazing coach because anyone who works with her feeds off her energy,” said Zentz.
Replacing Robinson required finding another individual with energy, leadership and enthusiasm for the event. Thankfully, Blue Cross Blue Shield had a successor in house, as Haines applied and was eventually hired as the next race director.
“I thought it sounded like an intriguing position,” said Haines. “I thought it would be fun, but also knew it would involve a lot of work.”
After accepting the position in April, Haines quickly immersed himself in the planning process and committed to learning as fast as he could and as much as he could from Robinson and her team.
“She’s all about teamwork and has been a fantastic resource,” said Haines about Robinson. “Hopefully she doesn’t mind taking phone calls from me next year.”
From asking questions, attending all planning meetings and being a constant observer over the past few months, Haines has gained greater knowledge about the logistics of planning the event.
“You have to be super organized,” said Haines. “There are so many moving parts and you have to make sure you stay on top of it all and tick off everything on the list of things to do.”
With an average this year of 2,300 combined participants in the marathon, half marathon, relay marathon, 10K, 5K, and Fun Run, over 1,000 kid participants in the 1-mile run on Friday, and several hundred volunteers, organizing the Governor’s Cup is never a one person job. Haines will have to take a lesson from Robinson’s playbook by relying on help from his team.
One of the largest moving parts in planning the event is the coordination of volunteer efforts. On Saturday alone, approximately 200 volunteers lined the course to make sure the races went off without a hitch. At the front of the volunteer pack keeping everyone in line was Meredith Veltkamp, who returned for her fourth year to serve as volunteer coordinator. She was responsible for the recruitment and organization of all the volunteers for the event. From packet stuffers, set up/tear down, water stations, crossing guards, fence construction, and bus attendants, volunteers are needed at every stage of the race to ensure a smooth, fun and safe experience for all participants.
“Volunteers are the chain that keeps things moving,” said Veltkamp.
With full intentions of returning to assist with the 2018 event, Veltkamp can’t help but recall the race standard that Robinson set for all those working alongside her.
“Janet does an incredible job each year,” said Veltkamp. “Each year she tries to make the race better than the year before. She, along with the Blue Cross Blue Shield crew have done an exceptional job at putting this race on the map.”
And with 50 percent of 2017 race participants heralding from out of town, including representation from 38 different states and three Canadian Provinces, people literally came from all over the map just to run under the Big Sky of Montana.
Before most racers’ running shoes have cooled from this year’s Governor’s Cup, Haines and his team will start making preparations for the 2018 event. All stand optimistic about the new level of leadership Haines will bring to the event next year.
“I believe he wants to continue making the race better every year,” said Veltkamp about Haines. “It will be exciting to see what he puts into the race as he sees new needs.”
“Bryan is a people person and being a race director means working with a great variety of different people — volunteers, law enforcement, assistants, runners, walkers, and on and on,” said Zentz. “He also understands the importance and purpose of the event and is enthusiastic about its future. I think Bryan can bring some new ideas and a perspective from someone who isn’t an avid runner, but understands the needs of the event’s audience.”
Haines admitted feeling fortunate for the opportunity to take the helm of such a well-run event.
“I’m excited for this new challenge, for the opportunity to get back in touch with athletics, and to be able to work with the Helena community to make the Governor’s Cup the event that it is,” said Haines.