From baby steps to one of the top road races in the nation.
That's the perspective that Steve Lobdell brings to the Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon, which he founded in 1981 when it attracted fewer than 200 runners, and continues to serve as race director for this year's field of 4,500 competitors.
The half marathon was recently named by Active.com one of the Top Ten Destination Races in the United States. Despite the large field, however, it all appears to run like clockwork.
But the job of organizing the event, despite the intervening three decades, remains a highly demanding and detailed task that Lobdell carries out with poise and purpose.
The 65-year-old retired firefighter took to the streets Sunday hours before the runners did, accompanied by assistant and niece Rebecca Cook in a loaned Fire Department cruiser, to canvass last-minute preparations along the 13.1-mile race route to ensure everything got off to a smooth -- and fast -- start.
"I was on the beach at 5 and opened up all the gates," said Lobdell, a Fairfield resident. "I looked around and removed a little garbage. The morning is all about setting up, getting ready, getting the cops in place and getting all the cars in the right slots. The trick is to not overload the lots, by using diversionary tactics."
By 6:45 a.m. Sunday, traffic was already backed up from the South Benson Marina to the Post Road, a logjam that Lobdell immediately set about untangling, instructing police officers at key intersections to redirect cars to other lots. Besides police, YMCA volunteers with flags and reflective vests help direct traffic.
"Until the cops come in, I take matters into my own hands," said Lobdell, as he jumped out of the cruiser at the intersection of Old Post and Beach roads to fill in for an officer who hadn't arrived yet. Along the way to the Jennings Beach staging area, he got out more than a dozen other times to help re-route traffic, as well as coaching volunteers, instructing police, guiding fire trucks and directing pickup trucks carrying water tables.
"Though we try to get people to carpool and shuttle in, most are coming in as singles," he said. "You have to anticipate anything. This is the hardest part of the event for me. Things can go wrong quickly if people aren't in place. Once everyone's in, I can sit back more and the race just unfolds."
Lobdell compared the logistics of organizing the half marathon to emergency planning. "In fact, we use a CERT team to help coordinate buses and traffic at every minor intersection out there," he said.
He uses a two-way radio to stay in constant communication with nine other contacts around the race route. Eleven officers help with traffic flow, and are periodically shifted from intersection to intersection.
Many people might buckle under the pressure-packed demands of race day, and all that leads up to it, but not Lobdell, according to Cook, his assistant. "He has a natural way of keeping calm under pressure," she said.
"He's good at handling people and knowing what to do and say at the right time."