Running at the Back of the Pack

Yesterday, I happened upon a Facebook post made by the folks at Runner’s World Magazine:


I was curious, so I followed the link to the blog post they were talking about, written by Heather Gannoe at her blog:

I read the post with a lot of interest because I am a slow runner. I have a first place age group award for a 2-mile race and a second place age group award for a 5k, both of which had a very small field. But those two races are exceptions for me; I am consistently 30% away from the back, no matter what the distance. Judging from the number of comments on both the FB post and the blog post, Heather’s experience struck a nerve. It certainly did for me.

I typically have a chin up attitude about running and racing, knowing that I’m on the slower side and also knowing that I don’t train to be on the faster side. But even so, I’m pretty good at reading the fine print and I’ve been running long enough that I know what to pay attention to before signing up for races. For example, I know that if I am going to squeak by with a 4:50 marathon time, I shouldn’t choose a race that has a 5-hour cutoff. That’s just cutting it too close.

That said, I’ve still experienced:

  • aid stations with no water
  • aid stations with water, but no cups
  • aid stations that still had food and water, but the volunteers had packed up and gone
  • a trail race featuring a looped course with a complicated crossover section; a volunteer was standing by to point everyone in the proper direction, but had gone home by the time I ran my last loop (exhausted, I ran off course)
  • a marathon finish with no heat sheet when I actually really needed one
  • a race that I was excited to run, but when I reached the finish and went to get my picture made with my medal, I was told I was too late

That last bullet point was from a recent race, the Brooklyn Half Marathon. It has a 3-hour cut off; I finished at 2:20. How could I possibly be too late to have my picture taken? And what about the couple of thousand people behind me?  (To add insult to injury, there were no pictures of me on the course either.)

And that brings me to the point of this post. RACE DIRECTORS, YOU NEED TO TAKE A LONG HARD LOOK AT TWO THINGS:

  1. your cut off times
  2. your pre-race communication

For example, I finished the marathon with no heat sheets in about 4:55. This was a training run for a 50k, so I wasn’t worried about time at all. Why should I be? The race website had no mention of a cut off time. But when I got to the finish things were clearly wrapping up. I received a very nice medal, but there was only water left. I was told later by another runner that he was pretty sure they expected everyone to be done and gone in about five hours. If you want people gone in five hours, SAY SO.

I have zero problem with cut off times, no matter how short or how long they are, but I shouldn’t have to dig around on your website or wherever you have online sign up to be able to figure out what your race day expectations are. I am a web content manager and information designer, so I am probably a little more sensitive to how information is presented on any given website, but seriously. If runners need to be off the course by a particular time, SAY SO. If aid stations are going to shut down at a certain time, SAY SO. If runners should bring their own fluids and nutrition “just in case,” SAY SO. If the course will open to traffic a certain point, SAY SO. It’s ridiculous–and borders on shady–to not provide this kind of information and risk a poor race experience for the back third (or more) of your field.

As for my fellow slower runners: hang in there! I’ll see you at the back.

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