Running Races: what I expect

This post is based on two things:
1. A local runner is planning on putting on a 10K this April and was polling runners over what they would like and
2. A new marathon is being put on in Peoria this May; I’ve signed up.

The new marathon is being put on by an outfit called RC Race Management:

The racing game is changing – and race planners are changing with it.

“Consumers want more than a race these days. They want an event,” said Adam White, owner of Running Central, 4450 N. Prospect Road in Peoria Heights, who just set up a second business with partner Brad Henz to stage those events.

The “Detweiller At Dark” cross country run that drew 800 runners to Detweiller Park last Friday night is an example of the work of RC Race Management, the company that White and Henz set up.

“People are looking for a high-octane experience,” said White, adding that there’s more to staging a race than simply mapping out the course and handing out T-shirts.

“Around the country, you’ve got zombie runs, warrior dashes and rock-and-roll runs where a different band plays every mile,” he said.

Henz, the director of Web sales and development for Peoria-based Publishers Service Inc., said the company formed at a good time. “The running boom is happening again,” he said, referring to the first big boom in the 1970s, when the jogging craze took off.

“There are more weekend warriors now. It’s all about uniqueness now,” said Henz, who produces the Web pages that provide information for each race the company stages (,,,[…]

Note: Adam White was a national class runner and, as recently as 2007, ran a 31:14 on a certified 10K course.

Topic One: I do lots of running races. What is most important to me?
To put in context: I am a slow-to-middle of the pack sort of guy (25 minute 5K run; 15:00 for the 2 mile)

1. Traffic control. Nothing sucks more than having to dodge an angry motorist. Note: I understand a marathon over low traffic roads with wide shoulders but this is essential for short races where it is impractical to run single file.

2. Organization: check in. This sounds strange, but there is one event in which it took over an hour for some to check in. What happened is that the race director had the old “computer set up”: the person in line logs in, gets signed in and assigned a number then (even if the person had preregistered!) and then gets a number, and then the race bag is made up (chips, swag, etc.) This might be ok for a sparsely attended race but not for larger races.

2. Organization: course start. there was one 10K that went to a “chip mat start”. I LOVE chip starts…but…in this case, they had one narrow mat and they had to funnel too many people through too small of a starting area; that made of an unnecessarily chaotic start and a lot of broken field running dodging the “12 minute a mile, race number on the back” bozos that are showing up in droves these-a-days.

And please, start on time (or at a reasonable approximation to the published start time), though I understand that sometimes, the unavoidable happens when one is coordinating with volunteers, police, etc.

3. Course accuracy. Yes, I know that not all courses can be USATF certified or wheel measured. I’m ok with a “5K” that is somewhere between, say, 3.09 and 3.12 miles. But I recommend that if one, say, uses “google maps” to measure a course, that one measures the “tangent” course. If someone wants to use parking lots as part of the course:


Consider putting cones in the corner of the parking lots and telling runners that they have to run around the outside of the cones; that removes ambiguities for the runners. One doesn’t have to line the course with cones but just put them where runners have to turn; that way you are guaranteed to get the proper distance (at least) if you run around the “corner” cones.

Now if it is inconvenient to have a course that is “exactly” 5K, 10K, 4 miles or whatever, that is ok. Just tell the runners the “nearest 1/100” of a mile distance: e. g. 3.2 miles, 4.27 miles, etc.

That is no big deal; when I ran on the east coast, races such as “7.2 miles, 7.3 miles, 11.6 miles” were common.

Note: I am talking about ROAD courses here, NOT trail courses. Trails (the non groomed ones) are, by definition, only approximately measured.

4. Aid (longer races, say 5 miles and up) I don’t care about water stops in 5Ks. But if you are talking about the longer races, I’d like to know (in advance) what aid is out there and about how far apart the aid stations are. And if you say that there is aid on the course, make sure it is there; none of this “running out of water at marathon aid stations” stuff.

Now personally: all I care about is water, though lube and ice (during the summer) is nice for marathons. I am fine with aid every 3-4 miles in marathons but I often carry a bottle for the long ones.

5. Time limits: I’d like to know what they are; I’ve seen the course actually close on someone (she was the only walker in a race that billed itself as a “run/walk”…NOT as a “run only” or as a “5K run, shorter walk”. Incredibly, I’ve seen a case where the leader got to a part of a course (a sports stadium) that hadn’t opened in time because he got there too quickly! (no, it wasn’t me).

So please, honor your published time limit. I promise to not do your event if I don’t have a bona-fide chance of finishing within the time limit (e. g. if I want to walk and the time limit for the marathon is 5 hours, I’ll choose a different marathon or do the half marathon instead …if they offer one).

(6.) this really doesn’t apply to me in most races, but it is nice to have the course marked and course monitors at turns. If the course is only marked by arrows on the ground at turns, please SAY SO on your application and at the pre-race briefing (marathons mostly). Note: this is mostly an issue for the front of the pack runners…which was never me. 🙂

Of Lesser Importance But Still Nice
1. Race Scoring: I prefer chips/smart race tags or “cards”: one gets handed a card with one’s finish order on it, and one writes your time and name/AG on the card. Reason: this gets the results faster and easier. As far as chips: I sure LIKE the start mat (which records everyone’s individual start times), PROVIDED it is wide enough to not hinder the start. Otherwise, I am happy to deduct my own “time to start line” via my watch. I am also ok with a race offering an “no official time” option, as some large races do.

2. Results: it is nice to see the results on the internet, so I can see if I beat a rival or how I placed among a group of friends, etc.

Of even lesser importance

1. Photos: it is fun to put photos on the internet. I don’t mind paying a reasonable price for a download (say, 10 dollars).

Stuff I don’t care about

1. T-shirts: I have enough to last a lifetime. I admit that a cleverly designed shirt makes my “keeper” drawer when I do my yearly “donation of t-shirts to charity”.

2. Age group awards: who friggin cares. Yeah, if they are being offered, I’ll stay to clap for the winners (and see if I “won” one); they make make nice things for my stuffed frogs to play with. Note: this might well be an artifact of my personal athletic incompetence and the fact that I do lots of small races where my age group “deserves”, at most, probably one award (if the RD wants to give them at all). One race I did gave “top 10 women, top 10 women” finishers, and I was ok with that.

3. Finisher’s awards: ok, I sort of like these for marathons but I am happy to do without them. But for things like half marathons (well…maybe the first completed half might be special to some)…but 10Ks or less? Are you kidding me????? What next: finisher’s medals for our training runs or walks?

Special comment for trail races
My biggest issue here is course marking; remember that what is “obvious” to someone who is familiar with the trail might not be too obvious to a tried, possibly sleep deprived runner/walker. Make it easy to follow the trails; a bit of chalk on the ground, tape and pie plates really helps, as well as a “not this way”.

I admit that since my knee operation, I’ve shied away from trails as slippery mud is tough on my knees.

Special Comment about Walking Divisions
Unless you have a carefully monitored event (say, the We Walk Marathon) where you have monitors/judges who know what they are doing, or a formal judged racewalk, I just as soon do without these. Reason: if the even is unmonitored, there will ALWAYS be clowns who think that mixing jogging with walking counts as “walking”. Really.


December 10, 2012 - Posted by | marathons, Peoria, racewalking, running, walking | , , ,


  1. Good points. I agree with them all. I recently ran a race (the Canton Turkey Trot) and they only did races by age, not divided by sex. I don’t have tons of race experience, but I found that to be odd. Men won every award, other than a little girl in the 10-and-under group. I consider myself a feminist and while I suppose some would argue that it’s sexist to split out the sexes, it seemed really unfair. While some women can beat some men, the average woman can’t beat the average man. (I hope that makes sense. It does in my mind, but I feel like I can’t quite put it into adequate words.)

    Comment by jenjw4 | December 10, 2012 | Reply

    • For physiological reasons, the ability distribution of the two sexes is different. When looking at LARGE populations of runners, the 50’th percentile of males will be faster than the 50’th percentile of females, the 90’th percentile male will be faster than the 90’th percentile female and so on. Now, at times, you might get a female university runner who beats all of the guys, but that is because she might be a 99.9 percentile female and the best males at that race might be, say, 85’th percentile performers.

      I saw one example of this at a half marathon where a former (by 1 year) University of Iowa runner (female) beat everyone.

      Another example: at last year’s Race for the Cure, the top 3 females in the 50-54 age group were faster than the top 3 males in the same age group; the reason is that something like 10 times more women than men showed up for the race.

      Of course there are other factors in play.

      Of interest is that, if one goes by the age grading tables, a 50-54 age group male can compete on even footing with 30-34 year old females. I noticed this when I found myself consistently finishing around women that age; I was fascinated when I found my observations were borne out by the age grading tables/calculators.

      Comment by blueollie | December 10, 2012 | Reply

  2. Ollie, that is exactly what I was trying to say and not really able to put into words. I think by having age groups, they’ve acknowledged that age plays a role in performance, so why not sex? Honestly, though, I don’t think it was an intentional slight, as it was a first year race by inexperienced planners. I think they simply didn’t think it through.

    Comment by jenjw4 | December 10, 2012 | Reply

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