Runner’s World Asked, so I’m Answering


I probably haven’t mentioned it, but I’ve been running.  What counts as running for me, anyway.  No one is even chasing me.  Bizarre, right?

Anyway, some of you may have read the awesome article by Heather at Relentless Forward Commotion about the reality of the back of the pack at the Heartbreak Hill marathon.  You may also have read this awesome article by Patty, April, and Amanda at My No Guilt Life wondering why it took a regularly speedy runner to bring attention to this issue, even though regular back-of-the-packers have been writing about it for a long time.  If you haven’t seen it, take a moment to check out Heather’s follow-up about the flap the two ideas have generated.  Runner’s World, showing that they actually care about what happens to EVERYONE running their races, posted this article asking for input on what to do to make their races more workable for BOPers.

OK, Runner’s World.  There are a ton of things you can do to become relevant to ALL runners, but especially BOPers.  Here’s my list, in no particular order except the order I felt like writing about them.  None of them apply to only you.  Some, in fact, apply more to other race sponsors or magazines, but you get all of it.  You’re the only ones even asking.

These things are about races.  Remember, you asked.  

  • Give a generous finish time and state it clearly before we register.  Leaving it open-ended doesn’t help us.  It just leaves us confused about whether or not this race is for us.  Of course you have practical and perhaps theoretical limits on what is a reasonable time to compete the course.  Figure out what those are and make your stated maximum finish push all the way to the envelope of those practical and theoretical limits.
  • Explain why you chose that as your limit – the city needs streets open by then, you are concerned that runners will not be safe in the weather longer, you think that longer is beyond a reasonable endurance test, you really want to cater to faster runners, whatever it really is.  Tell the truth.  Of course you don’t owe anyone that explanation, but it might help us see how generous your limits are and why they’re important.  That would help us see your limits as reasonable, even if they are under what we feel comfortable attempting.  That’s going to help us have a nice warm fuzzy feeling about you, even if we don’t register for your race this time.  We’ll remember that warm fuzzy when we are fast enough to be ready for your race.
  • Explain before registration exactly what will happen if we miss those maximums.  Will we be asked to run on the sidewalk, but find the course otherwise still open?  Will we be left to our own devices, but the finish line, etc. will still be set up?  Will we be unceremoniously scooped up by aggressive sweep vans?  Will we be rounded up by rabid wolves?  Whatever the answer is, just let us know what to expect and we can make a reasonable decision about whether or not we want to risk it.
  • Have an easily-identifiable pacer run that race-maximum pace, so that it’s easy for us to tell whether we are ahead of it or behind it. That person could also serve as a handy reminder for volunteers, medic tents, police, spectators, and sweepers to tell whether or not they’ve seen the end of the official finishers.  
  • Start that pacer in the last corral, so that they aren’t finishing when later starters still have time left under the limit.
  • Make sure you tell us how to identify this pacer, and that this pacer is distinct from all other pacers, runners, volunteers, etc.
  • Make sure your police, volunteers, etc. know that they are expected to stay at least until that pacer passes, or longer if that fits your policy for over-maximum “finishers”.  
  • If your over-maximum policy says that runners get support on the course longer, make sure it’s there.  Remind anyone and everyone you hire or recruit that they are expected to cater to slower runners, too.  Remind them that a 12-minute mile is the same distance as a 6-minute mile, but you spend twice as long running it. 
  • Have volunteer shifts that start when the back of the pack is expected.  Volunteers aren’t on an endurance challenge.  Give them a chance to have fun and be excited when the back of the pack is passing and they’ll likely be excited when they cheer on that back of the pack.
  • Have each volunteer shift restock water, Gatorade, energy, medical supplies, etc. as they arrive at their station.  Overlap shifts enough to give outgoing shifts time to clean up and incoming shifts time to set up.  That will make it more likely for us to find clean, inviting, well-stocked stations as we progress through the course.
  • Keep your finish line and timer open as long as you can.  Well after your last expected finisher, if at all possible.
  • Consider starting your slowest corral first.  You could set them so that most folks are finishing at the same time.  In the days of electronic timers, there’s no need to have the fastest finisher be the first to cross the finish line.  It will be completely clear at the awards ceremony, and everyone will be there for it.  I know this one is controversial, but it would be a bellwether of slow-friendly race organization.  I know it would also create a new set of problems related to the crush when the faster runners catch up to the slower runners, but you can mitigate that if you…
  • Include a brief primer on running/race/course etiquette in the registration confirmation letter or email.  Everybody learns it somewhere.  It would probably make the entire race more fun for everyone if all the slowpokes and beginners knew the “unspoken” rules from the get-go.
  • Give every finisher a medal or whatever your finisher marker is.  OK, we want a medal.  Give every finisher a medal.  Give the winners trophies – they’ve earned them and we want to aspire to winning them someday.  Even if you have to charge us a few bucks more to get them.  We’re already paying $25-75 to enter your race.  Bumping that to $35-95 won’t cost you more registrations than it gains.
  • Plan a longer after-race party so that slower runners get to participate.  We want to party, too, even if we are beat to Hell and look like we’ve just wrestled sweaty wolverines.
  • That reminds me, take pics BEFORE the race, too.  I wish I had a decent pic of me racing, but they all bear a striking resemblance to the above-mentioned sweaty wolverine wrestler.  Maybe that’s just me.
  • Make your giveaways true-to-size.  That means whatever size we order fits like that same size in other stuff.  Then we don’t order an XL and get something that fits our kids.
  • Ask everyone to stay and cheer for later finishers.  If possible, locate your after-party next to – instead of around the corner from or down the street from – the finishing chute.  Then as we head towards the finish we pass that excitement and fun.  We can even pretend it’s all about us if that’s what keeps us running. 

These things are about magazines.  I understand that you should probably take it as seriously as you do any other unsolicited advice.  Just some ideas to consider:

  • Include a column written by a REAL beginning runner.  Hint:  someone training for his first marathon, but who has 25 half marathons under his belt, is not a beginning runner.  No one wants to have a beginner give advice.  Oh, except for the people who are only a few weeks or days behind that runner in their training.  This might not be the source of great experience and information, but it might be a great source of inspiration, especially to those who otherwise will not hear a voice like theirs.  Sure, there are plenty of blogs out there.  If you don’t want to run a column, we can go read those blogs instead. It’s like Barbie:  yeah, you can play with ones that don’t look like you, but having one that DOES look like you is a lot cooler.  
  • Include a Q&A column for newbies and/or slowpokes (many of us are one and the same) where we can ask questions and get answers that don’t make the questions sound stupid.
  • An article on race and/or training etiquette.  
  • An article on what to do when you realize you’re not going to make it in under the race maximum.  
  • An article on how to pick out your first (inexpensive) pair of running shoes.  
  • An article on qualities to look for in basic-level running gear.  
  • An article on how to find or recognize slow-friendly races, or even just a note on race listings pointing out which ones might be slow-friendly.  At least give us their course maximum times.
  • An article on how to time yourself to learn your pace.
  • Articles on how to evaluate a hurt or injury, how to tell the difference, when to see a doc, and what to do to take care of yourself.
  • Articles on how to train after an injury.
  • Articles on how to get back after a break from training in general.
  • Features on pros and cons of various brands of various gear, including when and why you need it at all – things like hydration systems, clothing, shoes, training apps, energy options, GPS watches, compression gear, socks, headbands, electrolyte replenishers, etc.
  • Most important:  accept that as long as you are including slow and/or beginning runners, speedier old folks might be less excited.  That might not work for you.  Figure out whether or not it will and go confidently forward.

Is all this hard-core running?  No way.  Most of it might not even be considered real running by a lot of folks.  It is real running to the scads of people out there plopping one foot in front of the other, regardless of speed (or lack thereof ).  It’s real running to the new guy.  Think of this:  as soon as the new gal learns about compression gear, she might go buy some.  Ka-ching, advertiser.  Maybe the slow guy will stop running on the left and mucking up the course for everyone who needs to get to the front of the pack.  Maybe the slow ones pay for more race entries and buy more gear.  Maybe more races and gear become available.  Everyone wins! 




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