Most races would work well if it wasn’t for the runners!
The basic technical objectives of a race: running a measured distance in a defined time, is hardly rocket science, but the fundamental challenge for race organizers is to convince a mass of individual runners to follow an ordered process for entry, registration and results that has been defined by the available logistics, resources, marketing, and a budget.
We have all experienced the frustration, irritation and demoralization of poor race organization, but sometimes we need to look at how we, as runners, contribute to the chaos and mayhem that often invokes our ire and reaction.
Unfortunately as road runners we tend, especially at 05:00 on race morning, to prefer to follow Sinatra; doing things our way!
This is not always the way the race organizers had planned and allowed for. The resultant conflict of procedures can have significant impact on the event. In post race analysis race committees should be excused for thinking that their ‘Race would work perfectly well – if it wasn’t for runners!’
Each year experienced organizers close loop-holes, and oversights, in search of the holy-grail of perfect organization, and with each event, runners, (hopefully unwittingly), uncover new and innovative angles that disrupt the tightly budgeted balance of resources, and administration that underpins good race organization.
It’s not that runners intend to cause mayhem; it’s simply that their actions tend to be self orientated, and are undertaken without truly acknowledging the potential knock-on effects.
Placing my tongue firmly in my cheek, and without malice, I have compiled a few of the favoured ways that runners initiate and set up race organizers and officials for criticism and failure:
- Ignore pre-entry dates, or leave to the latest possible date, to ensure it’s impossible for the organizer to accurately order medals, T shirts, water, Energade and other key resources, and then be first to complain when there is a shortage.
- If faxed entries are taken, deposit the money and fax the entry after the closing date. It will cost the organizer time and money to return your entry, so it’s easier to accept. In addition to ensuring short ordering of resources, you have a double whammy as your entry data may be too late to be captured, making results a nightmare to resolve. At least this way even if you finish last you will be in time for the lucky draws!
- Ignore any question relating to previous times or seeding. If you do complete this section submit an “in my dreams” time, so you can stand and block, the start for those who truly can run that time. We all pay the same entry fee, so why not? In any case if someone does trip or fall trying to get round me, it gives the medical crew that added to the organizational costs, something to do.
- Time your arrival to the start for the last possible time, after all many other people do, which is why a third of the field are in a traffic jam on the race route with minutes to go.
- When the traffic queue, and your pre-race nerves, become too much, abandon your vehicle at the closest point, even if that means disregarding marshals, breaking or ignoring taped off areas: Fear not runners can side step around the car in the first or last kilometers and don’t forget to complain if the start is delayed while late-comers enter, or the roads are cleared.
- Even if on-the-day entries are being taken: Arrive in the last 20 minutes and expect some person to be specially allocated to deal with your specific entry 5 minutes before the gun.
- Assume that everyone knows you – simply write your first name, giving a hint as to your club, on the entry /result slip. Add intrigue to results by ticking the wrong gender. As a potential prize winner the officials should know you! You mean reciting the date or birth, gender, license number and ID numbers of all 1000 plus runners isn’t part of the officials / referees exam?
- Treat any tape, fencing, or marshals, across the front of a start as an invite to front load. This way you ensure that runners can start before the line; that any available space at the side is crowded; and there is a dangerous bottle-neck of runners to increase the risk of tripping and injury when the gun is fired. After-all isn’t that why organizers spend ever increasing amounts of entry fees on fencing and security instead of handouts to runners?
- If there is an announcement that the start has had to be delayed, assume this is for no good reason, start clapping and motivating for action until the crowd just go. Overlook the fact that the Police may have ordered the delay on the grounds of safety; remember you have already paid your money and you want your race now!! In any case if there is an emergency, it’s the Organizer and the Chief Ref who will be sued for negligence, not the runner.
- It’s important not to read, or know the rules of road running, so that if an official wants to warn or disqualify you, then you can argue the merits of the rule and tell them they are just spoiling the sport. This is great fun because the officials never wrote the rules, so even if they understand your ranting, they still have to implement them.
- If by mistake you read the rules, get equally upset when the official points out your infringement when running with a 2005 number, or not wearing age category tags. This will give you something to complain to friends and club members about after the race, and hopefully no-one will notice your slower than expected time! Remember officials enjoy this abuse; it’s why they attend races at 04:30 on a Sunday: What else do they have to do with their family time?
- If there are two race distances with the one start, enter the longer one, then pull out to finish the shorter one but don’t tell anyone. The referees, timekeepers and spotters won’t notice until they attempt to do the results. This gives them hours of fun playing Sherlock Holmes investigating age group and team prizes. Then you can recruit the announcer and other finishers to complain about the late prize giving.
This limited, and somewhat cynical, selection, The Dirty Dozen, of runner race behavior can be spotted virtually every week in varying degrees. While most of these are initiated before the gun has been fired, their greatest impact is often felt on the route or after the finish line, with the blame laid at the feet of the organization or officials.
All race organizers know there is no such thing as a perfect race, there can always be improvements, (or its time to retire). There is no attempt here to defend poor organization, rather an appeal that, as participants, we consider if our actions are helping or detracting from the event in the way we enter, arrive and run the race.
Perhaps we should all run a mile in the organizer’s shoes!