Firstly, wow am I glad that is over! Christopher and I (with a few bits and pieces of help from a few other people and some fantastic design work from Kurt) have been in turbo-mode for the last few months getting ready for this years FM24: FM.24.09. It's really been a year in the making from the moment FM.24.08 ended, when we debated doing FM24 a 5th time at all.
This thing always starts to get cobbled together later than I would like which causes me more stress than is probably reasonable and likely does some harm to some of my relationships with some of my friends, but somehow it always works out in the end as all the details finally come together sometime around 11:30am on the Sunday of the event as riders finish their laps. Here's a few of the big things this year:
Insurance! We actually got insured this year, just in case something went wrong. I worked with an Insurance company to tweak our waiver and put together an extremely detailed "Risk Management Document", and we were covered for several million dollars of possible oopses. This was the biggest line-item in our budget and thankfully we didn't need to make any claims.
Christopher got a phone call from the City after several people called them asking for a copy of the "permit for our race". This led to e-mails back and forth with the city of Atlanta and to Christopher meeting with some people downtown to go over what we "should have done" and what we should do next year to make this event more legitimate. A copy of this email correspondence actually prevented ~20 cars from being towed on Sunday so that's a good thing. Assuming FM24 happens next year, we now know how to get all of the necessary permits.
To avoid possibile problems during the event relating to the prior point, we switched our primary venue at the last minute from Jack's Pizza to Elliott St Deli and Pub. Thousands of printed postcards, hundreds of posters, and several websites all had the wrong information on them. Mike and Pete of Elliott St were a great help getting details ironed out for their location and we somehow got everyone to show up at the right place. Elliott St ended up being the perfect location for FM24 with ample parking and camping space, tons of great food, tons of beer, and no neighbors to complain about noise all night long!
We wanted to encourage people other than serious racers to participate, so we put considerable effort into coming up with scavenger hunt style "missions" that got teams points. This also led to several other major things happening throughout FM24 that would usually be considered events by themselves (Sprint competitions, Trick competitions, Goldsprints, Bike Polo, Hill Sprints, etc) which all had to be scheduled and operated. Thankfully we had people to run most of these that did an excellent job, but the schedule wasn't complete until the day of FM24.
Lastly, pre-registration was pretty quiet until the last day at which point ~150 people pre-registered bringing the grand total of people pre-registered to ~250. We were only planning on having 200 people participate, and this was a bit of a shock 3 days before FM24
The list could go on and on, but those are the big ones (that I know about). I don't know anything about finding checkpoints, prize sponsors, figuring out prizes, or any of that madness!
Early Saturday morning, I headed to Eliott St to set up the start/finish checkpoint and open up onsite registration. The spoke cards hadn't arrived, nor had the event packets with details about missions among other things, but people lined up to pay regardless. By 11:30am we had an additional 100+ people registered, bringing our total up over 350. Um, wow? Almost twice the size as last year. We no longer had to worry about breaking even if enough people bought t-shirts (they ended up completely selling out) and were able to do things like free breakfast for everyone. And most importantly, somehow everything worked out! Riders looped around the city for 24 hours completing laps and missions, and several fierce competitions developed. Eddie Odea fought to catch a team of two riders from South Carolina including David Hall; Jüggernaüt and DREADNOK were no longer battling with each other and instead were fighting against several teams from out of town and a team of local ringers that ended up getting first; Several teams fought very hard for points doing crazy things like bringing back a "photo of you with Jimmy Carter", bringing back a dead rat, and making it to an I-285 sign; and a lot of people simply tried to have the most fun. I was too busy dealing with some racetracker things (that I will explain below) and general organization to even take any photos this year, but here are some photos and videos to show a little view of what some of the festivities were like:
More photos, links, news stories, videos, etc, will all be linked from http://fastermustache.org/fm24/2009/ as we collect them. Now that it's over, it's pretty obvious that this was the best FM24 that there has ever been with a huge number of people having a good time. Several people have used the term "epic" and I think thats accurate. We had a few minor issues with the 2 portapoties overflowing (we were supposed to have 4) and people having to move cars to make space for tailgaters to park in paid lots Sunday morning, but those are the only two issues I know about which is not bad for an event of this scale. Volunteers showed up to direct (bike) traffic and man registration (Thanks Eric B!) and the tracking table, and the overall experience was smoother than expected. And oh yeah, there was the live metal show with two bands in the basement at Elliott St, multiple kegs of beer at multiple locations, and tons of sweet prizes given out. Over 1787 laps were ridden which is over 21444 miles. Crazy.
My primary contribution to FM.24 each year is the racetracker which lives at racetracker.fastermustache.org. This system serves to both record all the laps (via RFID card swipes by each team at each checkpoint) and to provide these results on a live updating website for participants and spectators. Each year it gets a healthy round of improvements that lead to more accurate reporting with less involvement from participants and people managing the tracking table. This year brought some big changes:
flickr and twiter streams on the live tracking page - we had the racetracker up on a 50" TV at Elliott St for most of the event and the live results combined with the social network feeds were very well received
the new bonus points system including admin and tracking for participants/visitors
a rewritten admin UI using jQuery to replace the 2 year old and somewhat cumbersome YUI based one. While a lot better than years past (like in-page reloading of data for individual teams and laps without requiring reloading the entire page), there is still definitely room for improvement)
a brand new lap-detection algorithm to prevent many of the manual adjustments required in the past and fix some severe performance issues as the number of RFID swipes climbed into the 10,000s
New lap approval workflow - instead of requiring each team to come by the tracking table after each lap to "verify" it, an "accept" button shows up next to team names each time a lap is completed. If the time looks like a reasonable time, the person at the table just clicks "accept" and teams could come by at the end of the event and associate names with riders. Solo riders names are automatically associated with their laps.
Vastly improved ways for teams to see where they stand up against other teams.
Seth was again responsible for the RFID hardware side of things and this year we went with laptops with wifi cards to simplify checkpoint installation, survive brief power outages, and simplify troubleshooting (no need to carry around a monitor and keyboard). The laptops worked great, but wifi ended up being an issue and the 3 wifi checkpoints dropped in and out during the race. Thankfully the new lap detection algorithm was alright with this, but it didn't work properly until each team had 2 laps in the system so the first few laps for each team required manual adjustment. More RFID cards died this year than last, but that might have simply been because there were twice as many in circulation.
While the new lap approval workflow saved a lot of people a lot of time, it also meant that some problems (like two laps being combined into one due to funky ordering of swipes that didn't make it over wifi, and dead RFID cards) weren't noticed immediately and required manual correction that only I was able to do, which meant that once again I only got about 4 hours of sleep and was constantly tinkering with the database. Only a few people got worked up about incorrect results in the racetracker, and with all the flaws, I still think it was a much smoother experience for everyone (including me) than years past.
Are we going to do FM.24.10? Who is we? Will registration be capped at some number around 200, 400, higher, or open? It's really pretty tough to say at this point. Everyone talks about the things they're going to do next year at FM24 to do better, have more fun, etc, but the only people that have said anything about helping out next year are the few people that ran the show this year, and we've all talked about how there isn't really a reason to keep doing this. Thanks to the huge turnout this year, we'll each have a few hundred dollars in our pockets, but we're obviously not doing this for the money. I enjoy hacking on the racetracker each year (it's how I learned YUI and this year was the biggest jQuery project I've done) but there is a lot of pressure for things to work 100% and the budget (both time and money) for 100% correct software is a lot bigger than what I can squeeze in between work and riding bikes! Most weeks I get close to 200 miles of riding in and thanks to this bike event, the total for the last 6 day is right at 3 miles. Each year a few more people drop off the FM24 organization team, and at this point if one more person drops off, it's just not going to happen. Christopher and I are going to meet up on Thursday to close out finances for this year's event, and perhaps decisions will be made about next year.
If you want to see FM24 continue, now might be the time to consider what you're willing to put in to make it happen.