Times changes, course does not

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD - PETE PERKINS

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.”

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