By Coach Lora Erickson, BlondeRunner.com
So, what are athletes looking for when it comes to races? After doing hundreds of races over the 30 years I have competed in running, cycling, swimming and triathlons events and being a race director myself; as well as a coach I have heard the complaints of unhappy race experiences. I think it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about what athletes are looking for or expect on race day.
Athletes want a well-organized race
This might seem obvious but races need to be well thought out and planned with a website that is easy to navigate and that provides complete information; like race start time, route map, packet pick up information, registration link etc… The more details the better. I am surprised to see so many races miss including obvious information. A well-organized packet pick-up is also helpful.
Trained Volunteers & Clearly Marked Courses
We have all heard the horror stories of volunteers sending racers in the wrong direction. I have raced in events when this has happened; and yes while it’s the responsibility of the racer to know the route, many do not, and rely on volunteers directing them. The worst feeling and performance killer to have in a race is not to be sure where to go. Clearly marked signs that point the right way are helpful in addition to having trained volunteers and staff on the route. An updated race route map should be available on the race website and preferably downloadable so athletes can study and understand the course.
It’s sad to see race directors take the time to plan everything out only to have their efforts foiled by a poorly trained volunteer pointing people in the wrong direction. I understand that good volunteers are hard to come by but please be certain to put dependable volunteers or even paid staff at critical points like major turns and turn around points. Taking a little time to train the volunteers properly will undoubtedly earn you return racers year after year.
Note to Athletes: Call to Volunteers
If you are an athlete that enjoys races every year then I encourage you to volunteer to help out at least once a year. Races don’t happen without volunteers and even small races may need over thirty volunteers. I urge you to do your part to contribute to the racing community. Also, be dependable for the race director. I know the frustrations and last minute scrambles because of no-shows.
Well Stocked Aid Stations
Races that skimp on aid station refreshments will find unhappy racers. Not only are they unhappy because there is nothing left when they get there but it can also be dangerous for racers. I have see poorly planned half marathons in the heat run out of water only to yield heat stroke victims and more liability concerns. Stock the aide stations and get nutrition sponsor support if needed. It’s much better to have left overs than not enough food. Let the athletes get all they need and more and you will have return racers. Note to athletes: Be reasonable in your “helping” size. There are others after you.
Communication & Accessibility
Sending out a reminder email with details, even if outlined on website can help racers feel more confident understanding critical data like were to be on race morning, where to pick-up their number, timing chip etc… This can serve to get them excited about the event and can eliminate excessive emails with questions. A link to a FAQ section is helpful to avoid excessive calls or texts. Make it easier for athletes to attend the event and they will have a better experience and want to come again. If they have a question, they should also know how to get ahold of someone to ask it with an available email address or question form. Volunteers should also have a phone number to call in case of an emergency etc. on race day.
If you state that no-headphones are allowed then enforce it. I realize nobody wants to be the “bad-guy” and enforce rules but doing this usually gains respect and establishes rules to keep racers safe. I enjoy triathlons that enforce USAT rules much better than the free-for-all races. I also appreciate race management companies that don’t allow spectators into the transition area. This is dangerous and often spectators in the transition area get in the way of racers and I have even seen many tripping over them and running into them. Under the USAT rules outside assistance isn’t allowed (handing them water bottles, shoes etc…), so it makes sense that spectators should be just that and not aide the racers any more than cheering for them. Keeping people that shouldn’t be in transition area out also helps ensure the safety and security of racers equipment. I have heard about a very expensive bike that was stolen right out of transition and the event company had no way of tracking who took what out of transition. I think its great when races make you show your bib number and make sure it matches up with the number on your bike when you exit with it and your gear. This makes me feel more confident that my bike will be there when I get back.
Note to Athletes: Follow the rules. Don’t try to “get-away” with things. Rules keep everyone safe.
Start on Time
I realize there are some things out of the control of race directors that might warrant a change of the start time (trains keeping people from getting there, weather issues, timing equipment issues etc…) but for the most part racers are anxious to start. Often they time their nutrition and warm-up based on start times and when they are delayed this can be frustrating. So, do you best to start at the time that was indicated on the event web site. Also, make acknowledgements and instructions before the event brief. People are nervous and just want to get started.
Support a Cause
In Utah the market seems to be saturated with race events. There are so many to choose from each weekend and I find that racers are wanting more than just a race. They want an experience and want to do something more valuable that just race. Many athletes want to help someone or be part of something great. For instance, the annual Memorial Day Race For Grief event I organize each year helps raise awareness for those coping with grief and helps me honor a daughter I lost many years ago. The number of participants has grown each year, while many other events are losing participants. There are many athletes out there that want to do something for someone else and honor others with their efforts. Sometimes it’s nice to be part of an event because it’s more than just a race.
Make it a Social Party
Many athletes race to enjoy the camaraderie, music and great vibes that racing brings. It’s fun to share experiences with others and feel like you belong to a community of athletes. It’s a place to meet up with others that share the same passion. Offer things that allow people to share their experiences, like race finish metals, Instagram contests, tattoos, face paint, picture posing opportunities by a banner or fun sign etc. This is all great for marketing too.
About the Author: Coach Lora Erickson aka Blonde Runner is a USATF certified running coach and triathlete who loves to help people get fit and train for racing events. She also offers a variety of community classes and on-line training programs. She has a true passion for coaching and health promotion. To learn more visit www.BlondeRunner.com