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Wan's Column - Standard Chartered KL Marathon 2013 Drink Stations - Behind The Scenes

Runners would remember how the Chicago Marathon 2007 famously ran out of fluid, details at this link ( ) The suffering of the runners was well documented in that event. At the inception of the SCKLM in 2009, we too have a similar experience of fluid ran out at certain stations. Arising from this experience, the organizer of SCKLM took great pain to ensure it will not happen again. This story is to share how much work went behind to ensure this critical service is properly delivered as anything less could be fatal given the very hot climate of Kuala Lumpur.

I have been asked by Tammy Lim and Linda Trivino, (Editor of Footloose) to write about my experience in managing the SCKLM drink stations for 2012 / 2013 to be published in the Footloose as part of the series on “Behind the Scenes” I have a few reasons on my own for writing this documentary article and they are;

  1. Runners these days tend to vent their anger in the social media whenever something did not go so right. It is their right but they also ought to have a better understanding into the challenges in bringing the services to them during a large race.
  2. I would go on to encourage more volunteers, especially runners to come forward to help out during events and this article gives them an insight into what is needed of management & volunteers. I always tell runners; for every 6 runs they take part as a runner, volunteer one time!
  3. I would like to share some experience into the meticulous planning, precise execution, communication, co-ordination and most importantly the human resource management that went into the whole drink stations project. I hope event organizers can use this as a reference point for this critical service of providing adequate hydration to runners in all run events.

Some Facts and Figures
The SCKLM despite the first year’s problem in 2009 recovered strongly and has grown into a 33,000 runner event in 2013. The facts and figures for the drink stations support service is mind boggling. Here are the figures;

If you look into the above numbers, can you envisage the planning and execution of the task?

Some key considerations that featured in our planning;

  • Several water stations were located along busy streets and would not allow us to set it up early or sending the drinks there any earlier. Moreover, the drinks can go missing.
  • The drink sponsor 100PLUS will only send the sponsored drinks and cups to one single spot and we have to manage the logistics of delivering the correct quantum to each station along with the tables, chairs, cooling basins, ice boxes and cups

Therefore, the logical plan is to have all the drinks, tables, cups to be centrally deposited at one single location as the Central Depot and then redistribute out to all the 29 stations on the morning two hours before the event. This Central Depot selected was Padang Merbuk Car-park and the delivery of all the drinks will have to go to this place on the eve of the event. We have this decided early as the best operational model and planned around it.

Lorries, Drivers & Loading the Lorries
The next issue to address is the transportation of the drinks etc. We were fortunate that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is the co-organizer of the event with event owner Dirigo Events Sdn Bhd. They are able to support us with the lorries, water tankers, fork lifts and drivers that we need. The mayor of DBKL was extremely helpful and he issued a letter to all the relevant departments, instructing them to assist the organizer in making a success of the event. I can’t imagine how we could manage an event of this magnitude without their participation! We had two meetings with DBKL Transport Division about one month before the event and we put forward to them our transportation requirements. The game plan is that the DBKL lorries would come in batches to Padang Merbuk to be loaded with specific quantity of drinks, tables, chairs etc on the eve of the event. Thereafter, they return to their depot at Cheras. At mid-night they return to Padang Merbuk and will be guided by our supervisors to their respective allocated stations. Simple as it may sound, it needs meticulous co-ordination and communication on my part and that of the DBKL officers.

Loading the lorries was not as simple as I first thought it to be even with the help of two forklifts. I learnt from the experience of the DBKL officers who were with this project the last few years. They correctly pointed out to me that we need to allow time to unload all the crates of drinks and cups from the 100PLUS lorries before we do any uploading to the DBKL lorries. They were right, it took us nearly 2 hours to unload the 3,420 crates of drinks from six trailers / lorries and another 250 cartons of cups from 3 lorries even with the help of 2 forklifts.

It was only after 10am, we could start loading the DBKL lorries with the exact quantum of allocated drinks based on my prepared summary schedule . In addition to the 2 forklifts, I have a team of 6 to help me. Jimmy Tong and Jeffrey Kok took care of the two uploading lines. After the drinks were loaded, the DBKL lorries move to another section for the tents contractor to load the tables, chairs , cooling basins and table cloth. Please see diagram below on the workflow.

If you have not managed 44 lorries and water tankers in your life, this is how they are like; it is like an army going to war with 44 engines running loudly with the smell of diesel. The ability to direct them to the correct drink station takes some systems and processes. The naming and zoning procedure came into play. Each station has a unique number, the road name and the zone (A to F). We label each of the lorries with a sticker label to identify the lorry or tanker. At mid night they arrive and park at the correct zone such that our zone managers can take stock of their presence before moving out.

Drink Station Master Summary Sheet
Predicting how much drinks needed in each station is both a science and an art. It is also a function of the weather during event day that would affect the consumption.

Dirigo did the first Drink Station Summary Excel spreadsheet and shared with me a two months before the event and seek my views and input. Dirigo did not have any documented consumption data from their agency appointed for 2009, 2010 and 2011 SCKLM. During the 2012 SCKLM when I was first appointed as the Drink Stations Director, I collected the data and did a consumption compilation for each station. This year we have some basic data to work with. However, we knew our figures may not be correct as the SCKLM 2012 was ran in one of the best weather, it was a cool and cloudy day throughout. We have to err on conservative planning. This Drink Station Summary Sheet was the basis to negotiate with 100PLUS. By and large 100PLUS did follow our figures with some minor variations. I used the Summary Sheet as the master and start analyzing the numbers and using my own experience as a runner and a run event organizer, I made several adjustments to the Summary Sheet till I got what I considered the best fit and the most realistic Final Summary Master Sheet. The document spelt out exactly what goes to each station; how many volunteers, crates of water / 100PLUS, cups, tables, table cloth, chairs, bananas, gel, sponges, basins, ice boxes, mobile toilets scissors, blades, gloves, rakes and PVC Boards.

We have also initiated our nomenclature in naming our station; 1FM means 1st Station Full Marathon, 6FM / 3HM means 6th Full Marathon Shared Station with 3rd Half Marathon Station, 1HM / 1 10K means 1st Half Marathon Shared Station with 1st Station of 10Km) These Station Names were used consistently in all our communication.

I derived several sub-sheets from the Final Summary Master Sheet as it is far too complex to read for most people. We also do not want to bother them with details not relevant to them. These sub-sheets are given to various service providers such as Alam Flora, the tents supplier, Hivelocity the volunteers recruiter, Quick Release, the volunteers logistics provider, Toi Toi, the mobile toilets supplier and Atlas Ice , the ice supplier. All these suppliers need to get an accurate piece of written information from me such that they do not make any mistake on their part. I would elaborate on each of their role when I discuss their involvement in the later paragraphs.

Managing Human Resource
The next very important piece is to find 31 reliable individuals who are prepared to report at 1am in the morning on event day, ride with the lorry to the assigned station, manage the station and return with the lorry and left over drinks / tables from 10am onwards. My recruitment was challenging in 2012 as most of the volunteers I have been working with wanted to run in this iconic event. It was quite close to the event before I got the number. It was much easier this year as about two third of the 2012 crew were agreeable to help in 2013. Even with the postponement to 29 September 2013, only one was unable to stay the course.

We had one briefing session for my supervisors one week before the event together with the volunteer leaders recruited by Hivelocity at Bukit Jalil and other instructions came from meticulously documented job description that I send out. The role of the volunteer leaders is to lead the team of volunteers to each of the stations via buses. The zone managers took the supervisors to their respective stations after the briefing.

I divide the route to 6 zones (A to F), with each portion managed by a manager. I personally took charge of Zone F as it is around Padang Merbuk Area where I am needed the most. The supervisors report to their respective zone managers first.

My contract is to recruit my supervisory staff for event day and the loading / unloading crew on Saturday & Sunday, the volunteers recruitment was done by Hivelocity, they need to recruit more than 1,000 volunteers, including 430 for the drink stations. The volunteers were to report at 10pm, eve of the SCKLM at TM Convention Center @ Bangsar. These volunteers along with the marshals will be deployed by another contractor, Quick Release from about 1.30am by buses. The drink station volunteers are to report at the drink stations from 2.00am onwards. The earliest batch will report to 1FM, 2FM, 3FM, 4FM and 5FM. They have about 2 hours to set up the station as the first batch of leading pack runners from Kenya will reach 1FM Station at precise 4.42am. These professional runners run at a pace of 3min per km throughout the 42km race! I am pretty confident of both Hivelocity and Quick release as I personally know Mr CG Lim and Ms Melody Tan, the key figures with more than 8 and 10 year experience with their respective companies. There were no surprises as the required number of volunteers arrived on time!

There are two types of stations; Refreshment Stations and Water Station. The difference under IAAF rules is that only at Refreshment Stations we can provide items such as gel, bananas and isotonic drinks. In Water Stations we can only serve water and sponge. You can see from the diagrams below that there is a slight difference in the set up. The Water Stations in the full marathon route will have water tankers to provide the water to soak the sponges. Each station is provided with portable loos and a medical team to treat runners. Where possible this set up is implemented as directed by Dirigo.

Tagging the Drink Stations
There are several parties need to know precisely where are the drink station are besides the 31 supervisors. They are the mobile toilets supplier, the tent supplier, Quick Release, the volunteer leaders, the FTAAA officers and the medical crew. About 2 weeks before the event, we went round the route, tagged all the stations such that all parties knew exactly where are the stations. I drove on the routes at least 6 times for various reasons.

Alam Flora & the Cleaning Up
The city of Kuala Lumpur is busy even on a Sunday morning. The organizer pledges to open the road as early as possible in order not to inconvenient the public. The critical point here is how soon the roads can be clean up of the huge amount of garbage generated by the runners; 3,420 carton boxes, 45,360 bottles, 500,000 cups, 58,000 sponge, banana skin and gel wrappers. These garbage need to be cleared before the road can be opened as we do not want vehicles to run over the garbage and make cleaning up later even more difficult. The company contracted by DBKL to clean up the roads during SCKLM is Alam Flora. In our meeting with them, I provided 2 sub-schedules; one schedule on the quantum of garbage at each station and the second schedule is the location of each station and the expected time the first and last runner passes through. For example at 1FM, the first runner arrives at 4.42am and the last to leave at about 5.06am. This station can closed early and the section of road at Jalan Syed Putra heading to Petaling Jaya can open by 5.30am. However, for 22FM, the last station of the full marathon at Bank Negara, the first runner arrives at 6.35am while the last runner only come in at 10.35am or even later. This section of the road, Jalan Sultan Salahuddin was only reopened after 11am.

Alam Flora needs the information for their resource planning and execution and they did well for most of the stations, able to open up to traffic shortly after the last runner passed through. This would not be possible without the rapport they have with us and DBKL Solid Waste Management Department.

Managing the Ice Supplies
Supplying the ice is a tricky consideration as they melt if supplied too early. We need ice in each station to chill the drinks in the cooling basins. We arrange with the ice supplier to come in at 11.30pm on the eve of the event. Their job is to load the ice-boxes onto each of the lorries based on my schedule; each lorry gets between 2 to 4 boxes of ice. These ice boxes are pretty large and store 5 large bags of ice in each of them. We did not anticipate one key point, some of our lorries were so loaded and cramped that the allocated ice boxes cannot get onto the lorries. By 1am, the supervisor from the ice supplier told me that 16 boxes were not loaded as six of the lorries were so full that they could not find any space for them.

I need to make a quick decision then, do I just forget the 16 ice boxes and let these stations be without chilled drinks? By then, the lorries started to leave Padang Merbuk car-park in batches and those six lorries left without the ice boxes loaded. I spoke to the ice supplier supervisor and asked if he is prepared to send the ice boxes to the 6 stations with me guiding them. He reluctantly agreed and I told him we need to get back to Padang Merbuk before 3.45am as the roads around Padang Merbuk will be closed by then. That decision took me on a ride that I never forget as I can witness Kuala Lumpur on a Sunday morning between 2am and 3.30am that there is a lot of life, especially in Brickfields where the football crowd was converging at their favorite mamak stalls watching the life telecast of the EPL Football matches. By 3.20am, we unloaded our last 3 ice boxes at Station 2 10Km in front of the Islamic Museum and we are done just before the total road closure……phew!

Problem Solving via SMS
Starting from about 4.00am, I have been getting sms from each station supervisor that their station is up and ready. I in turn reported the status to Mr Rainer Biemans of Dirigo. We had a few little problems with certain stations, the most severe being 5FM where the lorry broke down and unable to bring the stuff back after the station was closed. I was a little busy, attending to those sms and solving the problems along the way. I was based mostly at 22FM to cheer on the full marathon runners.

After A Tiring Long Day
By 10am, I drove back to Padang Merbuk Car-park. The lorries started to come in and each lorry driver wanted their stock to be unloaded first but we only have so many pair of hands. It took a full 3 hours before all the left over stock, tables etc were unloaded. 100PLUS came in with their truck at 1pm to take back the unconsumed drinks. The tables, chairs were left inside the tent for the tent contractor to pick them up. Dirigo send in their team to take back their stuff to their store and by 2.30pm I finished my work after paying all the supervisors their allowance. I went home for my lunch and a much needed sleep. I was up from 6.00am on Saturday and did not sleep till 4pm on Sunday. I appreciate what is “On Call 36 Hours” means……… After breaking my sleep with dinner, I slept till next morning 6am and I was refreshed with my morning swim. I spent the rest of the morning checking out the Facebook to see if there is any negative comments on the event; by and large none……..It was a sense of accomplishment to be able to support this iconic event and I feel proud that as a former banker who is used to sitting inside a meeting room having several meetings in a day, I could go down to the field to direct an operation like this. Would I do it again? If my team is willing….I would…

Lunch at Lala Chong Seafood Restaurant
I always believe the team should get together for a meal after a good job done, we had a good lunch at Lala Chong Seafood Restaurant one week after the event. As a team, we need to cultivate a relationship and I knew very well none of them served the event for the money. Thanks to Dirigo, each supervisor gets a SCKLM 2013 vest and towel in a sling bag as souvenir. My four years with the SCKLM taught me a lot of things that I can apply to other events that I am managing……managing run events is now my vocation!

Wan Yew Leong
20 November 2013


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