This past weekend I worked the Gulf Coast Half Marathon Pensacola Beach. A lot of people think when I say I “worked” the event that I really mean I “volunteered” at the event. While I in no way want to take away from the awesomeness of volunteers (after all, volunteers are what allow any group to actually make a race happen), I will put it out there that I am actually on staff with this particular race series. For this and other races I work on, it means that outside of race weekend, I spend many hours (in addition to my “real job”) helping get course certifications, city permits, coordinating packet pick-up, and all the other myriad of things that go along with planning a race. Often, for a big race (half marathon or longer), we start planning about a year out. That being said, I can assure you that for any well-produced race, there are dozens of people behind the scenes that work many hours…usually at the oddest times of the day…to help ensure an exceptional race-day experience by every runner.
Having been on both sides of the registration table allows me to have a unique perspective when it comes to planning/managing a race. As someone who has done a stupid amount of races, I feel like I have a good understanding of what a runner expects, what a runner is impressed by, and what makes them want to come back again. As a race director/manager/member of staff, I also know what is/is not feasible and what things are/are not under our control.
That being said, I wanted to share a few things about what it is like to be on the staff side of the registration table…
- If you did not register online ahead of time, please do not fuss at me if the race is sold out when you arrive at packet pick-up. Most races publish online registration links MONTHS ahead of time. Additionally, throughout the online registration period, you will often see discount codes published to further encourage online registration. If there is a race you really want to run, go ahead and sign up for it. Once online registration closes, we will open the remaining spots to registrants who sign up in-person at packet pick-up. For a successful race, this may mean only 10-15 remaining spots, and those are on a first come first served basis. If you show up in the last hour of packet pick-up on the day before the race and we say we are sold out, I assure you, we are sold out.
- If a race is sold out, please do not beg and plead for me to register you. Look, I *hate* being the bad guy. However, permits from the city only allow a certain number of people. If we ever hope to have a race in that city again, we simply CANNOT go above the number allowed on our permit. If we do, this could involve legal ramifications beyond what you are aware of. I promise to do all I can to find a way to get you in this race, but if I cannot get you registered and I have no more entries left, please respect that.
- If it is highly advertised that there is no race-day packet pick-up, please do not fuss at me on the morning of the race if you see me standing there with a bin of packets. As a runner, I totally understand how convenient race-day packet pick-up is. And for smaller races, perhaps a 5k with only a few hundred people, that start later in the morning, race-day packet pick-up is totally feasible. However, if a race has over 1,500 people and starts at 7:00AM, there is simply no way we could get everyone’s packets to them and have the race start on time…even if we started packet pick-up at 3:00AM.
- If you have an extenuating circumstance, please e-mail/call the race director/staff ahead of time. We are not bad people. We are generally willing to work with you on your situation. However, we cannot work with you if we do not know about your situation. Letting us know about it after that fact does not help us help you before race day. If you have special needs, we really do want to accommodate you! Drop us a line or give us a shout and give us the chance to help you make arrangements for race day!
- At the end of the race with a certified course, please do not complain that the course was too long/short. If a race has been certified, I PROMISE you that it is the correct distance. If you are running a half marathon, the only way your Garmin, RunKeeper, or other GPS device will read exactly 13.1 miles as you cross the finish line is if you hit every curve in the race course at 1 foot off from the tangent. If that makes no sense to you whatsoever, check out this post regarding running tangents.
- If you feel like you are so sick or injured that you will not complete the race or the race will have a tremendous negative impact on your health, please do not race. Before the start of Sunday’s race, I was approached by a woman who asked at what mile she would find the first sweep vehicle (ambulance). She said that she had been having terrible hip pain, and while she had gotten half way through her training, the last several weeks were not as dedicated to her training as they should have been. Basically, she started the race fully expecting not to cross the finish line. I understand there is a fine line to teeter on when deciding whether to push on and race through an illness/injury or pulling a DNS. However, if you are thinking of starting a race with the plan of not finishing, I encourage you to rethink the race. Take the time to get well and heal. There is always another race.
- If you did not earn an age group award and you notice that we have extras, please do not ask if you can have one or offer to purchase one. Age group awards for this past Sunday’s race were these cool glass drinking jars. Everyone really seemed to like them. After all of the age group awards were given out, we had a handful left over, as some age group winners had already gone home before the awards. Those who did receive their awards happily filled them with beer and continued on with the post-race party. One gentleman noticed we had extras. He asked if he could have one. I politely told him that we could not just GIVE him an award. He then asked to purchase one. I again told him that we could not make the glasses available for purchase on the same day as the event. After all, the people who won them fair and square deserve the right to revel in their accomplishment. Just giving out the extras (or worse, SELLING them) would only cheapen their award. When I explained this to him, he walked away. Moments later, I overheard this gentleman call me “the B word.” Sigh. You just can’t win with some people.
- If you have an AMAZING time, please tell us! We work hard for months to make sure you have the best race experience possible. If we are successful, please tell us! When something goes wrong at a race or if there is something that runners really hated, you can bet we will hear about it. However, if something is overwhelmingly awesome, we want to know about that too so that we can make sure we do it again or incorporate it into our other races (if possible). If you have a great time at a race, please reach out to the race director/staff via e-mail, facebook, or Twitter to tell them about your experience. We love hearing from happy racers!
All in all, it was a fantastic race weekend in Pensacola Beach and I am already looking forward to our next race in the series, the Gulf Coast Half Marathon Louisiana Northshore (Mandeville, LA). I am also working on several other big races outside of the state (more details on those coming as soon as I am allowed to spill the beans!) so this summer and fall will definitely be busy.
Have YOU directed/managed a race? How do you feel it affects you as a runner? What issues have you encountered in the past?