A blog by Jakob Larsen, the director of the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships.

So we’re back at it…
5 years ago we were getting ready for the IAAF World Halfmarathon Championships 2014 in Copenhagen — a championships which evolved into the IAAF Gold Label race ‘Copenhagen Half Marathon’ (cphhalf.com). We learned a lot from that — and it seems like we forgot how much work putting on a championships really is.. 🙂

Prelude

But how did Aarhus 2019 come to happen?
A few days after the IAAF World Halfmarathon Champs in 2014, the Board of the Danish Athletic Federation had a discussion — “where do we go from here?”
There was a brief discussion about a potential cross country bid, but based on our internal event profiling, it was decided to let it fly.

The idea stuck though — we just needed the right angle..

In the spring of 2015 we were working on an idea about launching a National School Cross Country Championships with local and regional qualifiers — a dream and ambition for more than a decade. One day in April that year, I was attending a conference in Aarhus, which featured a presentation about the Moesgaard Museum — our future venue.

Moesgaard Museum — venue of the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships 2019

Inspired by the presentation, we penned an event-concept based on 5 elements:

  • European Cross Country Championships
  • School Cross Country Championships
  • Mass participation
  • Cultural element
  • Bridging the gap between ‘running community’ and‘Cross Country’ as well as between ‘current Cross Country’ and ‘original Cross Country’

Thus we started preparing an event concept based on a total ‘rethink’ of the packaging of a cross country championships. Simply put we do not believe you as an organizer can ‘win’ a championships on technical delivery; you can most certainly lose it — but winning is about all the stuff that goes on around the actual competition and the technical delivery.

In other words — an event for the ages would require something besides perfect technical delivery. It would require the XC-version of the ‘Monty Python Spanish Inquisition’; something no one would have expected. You may not agree — but that is our M.O.

The Worlds

So we started preparing for a future European bid. There was still plenty of time, so we moved at a steady pace. But then we got an e-mail..

A month after the Rio Olympics we were approached about the 2019-edition of the World Cross Country Championships. Sounded interesting — only thing was, that we had 6 weeks to finalize a formal bid. This may sound trivial — trust me; it’s not. But we made it, and long story short: On December 1st 2016, 10 weeks after the very first e-mail, the Danish Athletic Federation was entrusted by the IAAF with hosting the 2019 edition of the World Cross Country Championships.

Where we at?

20 months of preparations at a steadily increasing pace has involved:

  • An idea phase involving among other things inviting Chuck Norris (I kid you not)
  • Official launch at the ‘SportAccord 2017’ (that was nice)
  • A lot of unforeseen happenstances such as the ‘Royal Run’ with 71,000 participants
  • Signing ‘Mikkeller’ as the official Title Partner (and this is soooo much more than just a traditional partner — more on that later)

And now we are here. 150 days to go, meter-long task lists, and everything about delivery.

A year ago the team counted one staff member — as of today the team count is 6 (excluding those lured into assisting…). We are split in two locations; the federation office in Suburban Copenhagen, and the local event office in Aarhus.

My amazing colleagues Thomas (technical), Katrine (coordinator) and Henriette (communications) after a “XC-quiz-run” thing. Re-hydrating with (you’d ask if I didn’t say) Mikkeller non-alcoholic. The team has grown since then — they will be properly introduced in my next post.

There’s a LOT of ‘hidden’ work involved in event organizing. Logistics, accommodation, team services, marketing regulations, broadcast planning, accreditation and venue-flow planning to name a few.
And then there’s the stuff which isn’t really in the ‘manual’ — evolving the World Cross Country Championships, evolving Cross Country, designing fan experience on-site, getting regular people fired up about the notion of paying attention to:

The Battle for the title of ‘The World’s Toughest Runner’

We aim to present

A very tough course

The course is unforgiving, totalling almost 350 meter cumulative elevation gain for the 10 k distance. The roof of the Moesgaard Museum in particular could very well be a decisive factor.. But study the profile below and trust me when I say “there’s nowhere to hide on this course”. Ondulating, technical and just plain out mean — in a good way of course 🙂

A highlight-packed course

On each lap the runners will pass through:

  • The water pit (named the ‘Water Splash’ in honor of the Thames Hares & Hounds in London, and styled as a celebration of the history of Cross Country running.
  • The mud pit (labelled #MudisOurTattoo) which will be styled as a celebration of the many incarnations of tough and innovative running activities known today (trail and OCR comes to mind)
  • The sand pit (labelled “Runner’s Grit” referencing the toughness of distance runners). To be perfectly honest we are still trying to figure out how to make this part spectacular. If you have any ideas, feel free to ping me at [email protected] or on Twitter.
  • “The Roof” — think “Cross Country meet Alpe d’huez, Tour de France style”.
  • The Banked curve — think mountainbike track. As the runners descend the roof, the will enter a 180-degree turn. The curve is there to assist and create an additional ‘unknown’

The course and select challenges, power zones and highlight areas

Power zones 

The course will pass through the ‘Mikkeller Tent’ — a 50×20 meter fan zone operated by our Title Partner, the Danish Gourmet brewery, Mikkeller.
Mikkeller has startede more than 240 chapters World-wide in their ‘Mikkeller Running Club’ concept. And you think this sounds somewhat like a revamped ‘Hash House Harriers’ concept, you may not be that far off.
We are very excited about the tent. We are planning something like a “Frankfurt Marathon finish line” meet “Indoor track” meet “October fest”. Trust me — this could be something truly spectacular..

The course will also pass through the ‘Club Zone’ which will be the area dedicated for our clubs and their members. We are planning for a tailgate-like area in order to ensure a ‘day for the ages’ for our members. And then of course there’s the ‘Viking Gauntlet’ — Viking styled cheering zone, where the runners will be greeted in style by our local Viking Community.

“Vikings?” the IAAF said. “Will you have Vikings at the Worlds?”

The order of the day

As said there’s a lot of things going on right now. We are in the midst of planning for next week’s Technical Site Visit, where Seiko, IAAF Broadcast and Event Presentation to name a few will join us for detailed discussions about the technical stuff.
Also joining us are our favorite “Technical Jedi Knight” David Katz. We have been working together since Copenhagen 2014, and it will be great having here with us again. We’ll also get to chat with Jason Henderson of Athletics Weekly, who will join us for the visit in order to get some insight in Aarhus 2019.

We are also working on final Gantry layouts, Venue Dressing, Detailed Event Presentation plan, story boards for screen productions, items such as sleeves for all participants, Mikkeller tent layout, and most important: proof-checking our budget. Putting on this event is not for the financially faint of heart, and we are still working hard to ensure that we can make all our plans come to life. No easy matter..

So why don’t you join us?

As I hope you can see, this is not going to a run-of-the-mill WXC. In fact — I don’t see why you’d want to miss this 🙂
And aren’t you the lucky one? You can join us in Aarhus on March 30 — not only as a spectator, but also as a participant in one of the many races on Race Day. So check our web site and read all about it.

I will be back with a new update when we hit the 125-days-to-go. Until then feel free to ping us in any way you like. We’d love to get your input, ideas and comments as we prepare for the big day.