COMMENT: IMRA matters…

The blog has been a bit quiet as I have several half-written articles on various topics saved on my hard-drive, neither of which I seemed entirely committed to completing last week.

On the injury-front, I had an unfortunate setback as my 3-hour bike-ride from Glendalough to Ferns with Jason aggravated the inflammation in my tibia more than any run managed to do in the last few weeks. This was both surprising and unwelcome as I it is one thing getting injured doing what you love and something else entirely to worsen your injury doing something out of necessity.

It was instructive nevertheless and convinced me to eschew any form of cross-training for a few days as the incident has at least given me some new insight into the injury, namely that it is not impact but pressure that worsens it and my weight and cross-training over the last three weeks have probably helped delay the recovery curve we expected.

Any lingering hope of running my planned pre-season double of Little Sliabh Bui (the obligatory low-key/low-stakes race to get started) and the Wicklow Way Trail (a nice endurance affair early in the season when the speed is not there) was, of course, snuffed out but I had more or less abandoned them in my mind a week prior anyway.

Wicklow Way Extended

I am not as disappointed missing out on the Wicklow Way Trail as I might have been, however, despite the race having been a firm favourite of mine the two years I ran it (2007 and 2008).

The old course had a better race dynamic than the new one as far as I am concerned and the distance was more appropriate as a pre-season race at least from the viewpoint of someone competing below the marathon distance during the summer season.

Thus I was glad to hear some very strong opinions to the same at the Little Sliabh Bui race and it made me think about a fundamental problem that the IMRA committee face each year – the fact that perhaps less than 1% of the membership actively provide their opinion on the internet (and less on the official forum) and at the AGM (where an attendance of 50 would be high).

I do not want to debate the merits of the longer versus the shorter route as this is obviously subjective. It’s clear that there has been little said on the matter, however, especially by those opposed. so why is this and is there a way to improve the voice of the membership in a way that does not stifle the committee?

The same trend was apparent to me when some other significant changes where launched such as a new scoring system on the website. On the surface an important change that the membership should feel invested in but treated largely with indifference and most of the little debate that occurred happened on rather than the IMRA forum itself. I am guilty of not giving my opinion myself but am reserving judgement for now out of respect for the work involved in putting it together as that demands I well-thought out write-up, something that has not made it far enough up my list of tasks yet sadly.

Committee work

I have myself not actively partaken in discussions around IMRA in the later years and do not plan to make a habit of it again in the future either. Being a committee worker can be a thankless task and if you were to throw every decision out to referendum you would get nothing done.

Likewise, after two years on the Committee, I had ample time to get my suggestions in front of a fair hearing so it seemed appropriate to step back and let new people with new ideas shape the organisation without meddling from the outgoing committee.

However, a healthy democratic association needs debate and after some of the recent changes such enthusiastic or spirited debate seemed conspicuous by its absence. I can only speculate for the reasons. Certainly things got very heated in the latter parts of my own tenure on the committee and the nature of the debates that ensued left me feeling burned out. I can only imagine it left other parties or “bystanders” feeling likewise and perhaps the pendulum has now swung to far the other way.

There are probably many reasons and they may be different to the stated above, but the symptom is there, regardless of the cause and whatever it is people make choices on how to invest their energy. I made my own choice in focusing on training, coaching and reporting and leaving association work behind. This leaves me in the group who hold opinions but will not be willing or able to take on committee roles in the future, that is, a slightly hypocritical one. I have also, due to running career choices, had to limit my hill-racing compared to 2007/08, at least for the immediate future.

The IMRA Annual Survey

During my first years with the association from 2006 to 2008 (I am a complete IMRA newbie in chronological terms), Barry Minnock did a good job soliciting as broad feedback on calendar arrangements as technology allowed.

As mentioned earlier, the challenge for a committee is to try and act in the membership interest without restricting itself unduly. As most organisations in the Western world it works through indirect democracy, not direct, so our representatives take away a mandate and go to work. The problem is that as a committee member it is very hard to understand what that mandate is apart from trying to uphold the spirit and objectives of the Constitution (which are broad).

So my suggestion is simple: Conduct a Survey using an easily accessible online tool every year that allows members to rate and comment on a number of general points (that would carry over year on year, such as “quality of news items” etc.) and a number of specific points to that year (which should include all major changes made). The survey would be best conducted before the AGM so results could be available there. The opinions carried there-in would contain clear and unanimous information for the committee to draft their strategy for the new year on.

If published in advance, it may also allow for the drafting of motions necessary to implement the “Voice of the Membership” (for those familiar with the “Voice of the Customer” methodology from private enterprise).

Clearly, many more people use the IMRA website than share their opinions through it, so it is realistic to expect a much higher degree of feedback through this route than from the forum and sticking your ear to the ground at races where social convention may also depolarise general opinion.

With such a strong statement of the memberships wishes to base their strategy on, an incoming committee would have the equivalent of a bullet-proof vest for any arguments purporting to represent majority opinion when in actual fact they may be minority. And the association would target the memberships needs and wishes better than ever.


The format should obviously be such as to encourage constructive criticism while allowing for complaints with the way the association is being run. The reason most forum discussions can get side-tracked has to do with the informal tone of the internet which is not well-suited to constructive debates and get easily ignited.

Ideally, every debate would be as cordial and truth-seeking as when two professors sit down to debate physics or similar topics (that is because they are conscious of representing facts as facts and sentiments as sentiments). In a competitive world where winning debates, point-scoring, showcasing superior intellect, ad-hominem attacks, straw-men and other rhetorical tricks are part and parcel of human discourse, you cannot expect to get this, however.

A survey, with result compiled by a neutral party easily side-steps this inherent flaw in human communications.

This is a suggestion for my readers anyway, and perhaps something I would consider raising as a motion at the end of the year. In the meantime, take it for what it is, a piece of opinion from just another IMRA member and please feel free to discuss and comment (constructively Winking smile).


Eoin said…
Hey Rene,

Why not fire off selected highlights from this onto the IMRA forum and see if it gets any debate going?

Renny said…
Hi Eoin,

It is not a bad idea, I thought to "vet" it here first as the post I find myself writing was a bit long-winded for the forum.

Let me take a few days to see if I can solicit a few more opinions and then I will try to draft something more easily digestible for the IMRA forum.

James Higgins said…
Rene, Excelent idea. I feel the same way about the Trail. I feel it has been lengthened for the sake of the ultras and nothing else. A case of the tail wagging the dog!

Your broader comment on the lack of debate and the survey are spot on. Time to bring these to the IMRA forum (or maybe)

I agree that the debate and points made need to be respectful and constructive. While I haven't served on the IMRA committe I have on other organisations and the biggest pain was the hurlers on the ditch.

Rgds James H