Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Race Organization Criteria

I recently received an e-mail requesting my input on what is most important for organizing a quality race event.  I said sure.  As a veteran runner who has completed half/full marathons in 25 states, 10Ks in 10 states and 5Ks in 5 states, I’m certainly qualified to evaluate the overall quality of a race so here goes:

Type of course:
It can be a loop, point to point or out and back.   My preference is a loop or point to point course but it’s a fairly minor consideration for me.  If it is point to point, I expect the shuttle service to be included in the entry fee or have easy access to public transportation such as MARTA in Atlanta.  I do not like having to pay an extra $15-20 for a shuttle ticket.   In terms of scenery, I like to see a variety of downtown city streets, parks or river and lakeside scenery.  Residential areas seem fairly nondescript unless it is a neighborhood with million dollar homes. 

This can vary depending on the organizers.  Locally run races tend to be a bit cheaper than nationally recognized series such as Rock n’ Roll events.  In Economics, we learn that the availability of substitutes will increase the elasticity of demand.  I am not going to pay $50 for a local 5K when I can run a similar event the next weekend for half price.  However, when it comes to big races, I am willing to pay a little more for better schwag and more goodies.  Also, if the race donates its proceeds to a noble cause such as medical research or missionary work, I don’t mind a higher entry fee.

A band or DJ at various points on the course is a nice touch but only a minor consideration because I will only hear the music for a couple minutes at a time.  A nice after party with music along with food and beer tickets will be more memorable.  If possible, there should be an indoor area nearby in case of inclement weather.

Nowadays, a shirt made of technical fibers is expected instead of cotton especially in a large marathon or half.  A special finisher’s hat or shirt is a nice touch.  Finisher’s medals are expected only at distances 13.1 miles or longer.  I’ve received a couple from 10Ks but really don’t value them as highly.  A good medal will be nice and thick with a design that represents something special to a particular city such as a guitar in Nashville, or a peach in Atlanta.  I’d like to see different medals for different finishing times such as a gold for a sub-3, silver for sub-4 and bronze to all others.  If it is a fairly large event, I will also expect age-group awards such as a plaque or trophy for the top 3 in each division.

Expectations for Organization:
I want plenty of port-a-johns at the start as well as a few on the course.  I’ve never had an unfortunate accident during a race but I did have a couple close calls. 

I expect the race distance and mile markers to be accurate.  I know that a GPS is not 100% but mile markers should be within 1-2% of 1.00 even if there are some turns.  If I see a couple miles measured at 1.05 followed by 2 more at 0.96, it’s a good bet that it’s inaccurate, which can throw off your pacing.

I want aid stations well stocked with water and either Gatorade or Powerade, which are the sports drinks most commonly used in training.   You should never try anything new on race day and a drink with a formula that is unfamiliar is asking for trouble.

We need volunteers at turns and clear course markings especially when the pack is sparse.  If the course is open to traffic, it must be well marshaled by police or other volunteers.

Planning a race is hard work and a very time consuming process so be sure to thank the RD and the volunteers especially if it’s a well done event. If you're thinking of planning an event of your own, Eventbrite is a platform which allows you to create, plan and host an event!

Favorite races:
Naturally, my favorites are the ones in which I achieved a personal record.  My top 3 are Mercedes Birmingham, 3M Austin and Memphis St. Jude.  I also liked Baton Rouge, 13.1 Los Angeles and Montgomery, AL.  Blue Nose in Halifax, Nova Scotia was a very well done race that I did appreciate in spite of a poor performance.  Race reports of each can be viewed on the side bar. 

Bad experiences:
Only a few fit this category and were unrelated to my performance.
1.       Nashville Country Music- I was doing okay through Mile 10 then had to try an unfamiliar sports drink called CytoMax.  My body shut down due to an ingredient that I could not tolerate.  I had to walk/jog the last 5K and barely finished.  Entry fee was steep and I was charged extra for a shuttle but I did get a nice medal and post-race concert out of it.

2.       Run For Life (Madison, MS)- I placed in my age group but there were no awards.  The RD advertised it as a flat course when it contained a brutal hill in Mile 12.  It didn’t help that I injured my knee here as well.

3.       Spinx Runfest (Greenville, SC)- I hate to include my former home on this list but the complete lack of Gatorade is a major flaw.  Fortunately, it was not terribly warm but it made those last 2 miles much harder.  I require electrolyte replacement at distances longer than 10 miles.

4. CoeurD’Alene- Beautiful area but the flaw was inaccurate mile markers and by the RD’s own admission, a long course.  The last mile was 2 tenths too long.  I ended up with a mid-1:33 instead of a low 1:32 so I wasn’t too upset.  If I was denied a sub-90 or a Boston Qualifier, it would have angered me a lot.


Melissa said...

Nice post! I have to agree with RnR Nashville as one of my least favorite races (and as a glutton for punishment I've run it twice). I personally find excessive "out and back" sections boring (and sometimes, borderline "lazy" planning) and I ran it a few years ago where it was hot/humid and they actually ran out of fluids at some of the later aid stations. And for the record, this was someone starting in a middle pack corral with a middle pack time so I wasn't "sweeping the course" (or anywhere close to it) but of course I wasn't carrying my handheld for this race and I've decided not to do a longer race without it for that very reason.

My absolute favorite was NYC Marathon and it far exceeded my (high) expectations. A combination of great race organization, amazing people (runners, volunteers, crowds) and a unique experience---I think it would be hard to "top" that race for a marathon. In contrast I also really liked Chickamauga is a beautiful course with great history, a small field and it almost feels like a paved trail race. Would highly recommend if you are looking for something in GA in the fall.

Crazy J said...

Thank you Melissa. I'm seriously considering the NYC half next March. It starts in Central Park then goes through Times Square on the way to the finish near Wall Street.

I've looked into Chickamauga and have been there just for a tour. Seems like a good race but I've already got Georgia checked off with Atlanta.