Monday, July 25, 2011

My Rant at Race Directors

I am not a race director. I have never been one. Unless I take it up as a hobby after I retire in 15 to 20 years, I don't anticipate becoming a race director. Under all of that, I understand it's a little ballsy of me to direct criticism at these folks, especially because I freely acknowledge that they work very hard at what they do. Nevertheless, I think this stuff needs to be said and as a paying consumer of their product, I think my right to criticize is well established. BTW, I have to give complete credit for this idea to Ray Maker on the DC Rainmaker blog. He's done a similar post here which is worth a read. While my list is (mostly) different, the idea behind it is the same.

So hear goes:

What I don't like:

1. Poor communication: In an age when e-mail, social media and just plain old websites are almost literally everywhere, there's no excuse not to have frequent and complete communication. I'd love to see regular tweets on race day about my aquathalon. No one can control the weather, but sending regular updates (which take all of two minutes to write and post) would be a helpful. Likewise, any pending changes in race day directions. The upcoming Creek Streak said they might be allowing prior day equipment check-in to avoid the issue of taking both racers and their bikes on the shuttle buses. Check the website for more details they said. There are no references yes or no about this. If it can't be done, that's unfortunate, but SAY SO! I can't read your mind.

2. Meager course details: This one is part and parcel with poor communication. When there are several free mapping sites out there such as Map My Run, Running Ahead and my personal favorite, Gmap-Pedometer there's no reason not to have a detailed map of the course including an elevation chart. The Competitor Group who are responsible for the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series and the TriRock triathlon series have been especially lacking in this area. The Denver event is in just over two months and there is still no course map. That's absolutely inexcusable.

3. Disorganized Race-Day Logistics: Like it or not, there is very much a cat herding aspect to running a race on race day. Directors are responsible for marshaling both their volunteers and competitors alike. The average crowd of people is just not that bright which means instructions have to be made clearly and often. Pre-race meetings are a really good idea (especially for triathlons) but telling people where they need to be and when is an absolute must. At the Greeley Triathlon in June, a call was made to line up the first half of the swim group for the time-trial-type start, but I never heard a call for the second half. Additionally, when you have several different races going off in rapid succession, which wave is starting needs to be both visually (as in unique bib color) and audibly (as in announcements from a bull horn) clear. I nearly started the wrong wave of the Pueblo Spring Runoff due to this confusion.

4. Slow Results: Electronic timing systems are nearly ubiquitous nowadays, but even if a race can't afford one, there's no excuse not to have results of a morning race posted by the end of the day. Period. Better still is to have preliminary results printed and posted in an easily accessible location at the venue as they come in. The excuses not to have this ready are getting thinner every year.

5. Rewarding Bad Behavior: I'm sure race officials are doing all they can to enforce USAT rules, but there are a lot of things they could do that prior to a race that would reward those of us who make their jobs easier. For starters, give priority parking to those who show up early. We're the ones that have our cars clear of your race course hours before the start. Don't give a priority parking place to the slacker who shows up 30 minutes prior to the gun. I've also seen runs where pre-registered runners get the shaft on their t-shirt while "day of" registrants get the prime pick. Horrible, just horrible.

What I like:

1. High Quality Volunteers: Getting people to come out and give away their time for free is, I'm sure, no easy task. So I'm really impressed by engaged, enthusiastic and helpful volunteers. No doubt, offering incentives like food or a free race entry helps in this department.

2. Tech Shirts: Given the choice between a cotton shirt that my wife probably won't let me wear out most places and a tech shirt that I can use in workouts, I prefer the latter. My guess is so do most people.

3. Finishers Medals: I know there is something to be said for finishing in the top three of your age group or even more impressive, in the overall race. However, most of us don't fall into that category and if we've devoted the time along with the mental and physical effort to complete a triathlon, half marathon, or marathon (fun runs and 10k's are exempt on this one) it means something to have a little piece of hardware to take home.

4. Easy Packet Pick-Up: Whether its on race day or at multiple venues around a larger city, being able to get my packet without driving forever or only at a narrow window makes a difference. Probably no one can come close to the BolderBoulder which allows you to select the nearest Dick's Sporting Goods store, either offering multiple pick-up locations or race-day pickup is a nice thing and I encourage it.

5. Post-Race Entertainment: Whether it is live music, or just an expo with vendors giving away plenty of free stuff, an after-race party supports the notion that you've accomplished something and it is time to celebrate.

So there you have it. My guess is that most people would agree with this list as well as have a few ideas of their own. Race directors should keep this in mind. None of it is too suggest you don't work hard enough, but perhaps one or two of these suggestions will indicate how you can work smarter.

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