Times changes, course does not
Few assets help more than experience, which should be evident in the faces of everyone involved with the direction and presentation of the 41st Firecracker Fast 5K, scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The race, a Fourth of July tradition in Little Rock since 1977, will wind down along city streets from the Heights neighborhood in Little Rock to its finish near War Memorial Stadium and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Husband and wife Sean and Noelle Coughlan, the Firecracker’s lead sponsors and race directors since 2013, took charge of the race when they purchased the Easy Runner store from race founder Gary Smith and changed the store’s name to Fleet Feet Sports Easy Runner.
Noelle Coughlan said she was at first primarily concerned with how many would show up for that first race. It was a worry that remains four years in the past.
“It’s actually awesome,” she said. “Generations do this race. Parents did it, and now their little kids do it. I think we’ve even had four generations
run, with great-grandparents. People come in and sign up their entire family. One woman came in and signed up 13 people, but at first, it was like, ‘Are we going to get anyone? Is anyone going to come to our race?’ ’’
Sean Coughlan emphasized that it is not easy to put on a race to 1,500 or more runners and walkers, but he said each race gets easier. He and his wife have learned from each of their first four Firecracker experiences, and enlisting a dependable group of volunteers has helped.
“When we first moved to Little Rock a few years ago, we didn’t have people that we knew that we could call and ask for help,” Sean Coughlan said. “Now it’s really cool because all of our volunteers are part of our training groups and training programs. They’re extensions of our store now. It’s still a lot of work for us getting the race going and organized, but it’s great knowing all these people who can come and help us out.
“I don’t want to say it’s become easy. That’s the wrong word, but it has become easier with all these people who have become friends and like to help out.”
“There is always something that comes up, but it’s much easier now,” Noelle Coughlan said.
Smith directed the Firecracker through each of its first 35 runnings. He oversaw all of its significant changes, notably from a 7-mile distance with a start and finish in the Heights for the first race to the downhill point-to-point course he mapped out and introduced in 1988.
About 60 runners finished the first race. Since the race’s move to the Heights, 1,000 finishers has been the standard, topped by the 1,666 out of 1,767 entrants who finished the 2014 Firecracker.
That was the second race overseen by the Coughlans and their hired help for timing and results, Start2Finish Events Management based in Memphis.
Smith’s tools for results for the first Firecracker were limited to a silver-plated, handheld mechanical stopwatch, a few dozen wooden tongue depressors with orders-of-finish numbers written on them, and a clipboard that held several sheets of paper torn from a spiral notebook.
Such antiquated tabulations were painstaking and prone to error as the size of the race grew.
The Coughlans and the technologically savvy Start2Finish crew provide finishers with instant results that include race pace and overall and age-group placements, all displayed on large video screens and easily accessible on the Internet.
Noelle Coughlan said her previous experience presenting road races came when she and her husband worked in Florida, but that nothing had made the task easier than the technological advancement of timing.
“I had done races before, and I knew how they were run, but we didn’t have such a great timing system,” she said. “Remember the old-fashioned way, when we tore off bibs and everyone had to stay in order? Those are the kind of races I did. This is amazing now with Start2Finish.”