What is your criteria for a great or a horrible race experience? I’m not talking about your performance, getting a PR, or crashing at an event. Today I want to discuss what factors about a race make for a good experience or a terrible one. This topic came up the other day as we were figuring out our Turkey Trot plans and I thought it was worth a post and wanted to hear your thoughts.
Aid Stations: One of the best races, in my opinion, is the Chicago Marathon. Race Director Carey Pinkowski has worked to cover all of his bases to ensure that every runner has a great time on the course. Several years ago the weather was terribly hot and as the race went on, they ran out of water. They also had a shortage of port-a-potties on the course one year. Now he makes certain they have more than enough water and there is an abundance of facilities throughout the course.
Chicago has so many aid stations and so many options that you almost feel like they are the cheerleaders of the course. Even if there wasn’t a single spectator along those 26.2 miles, the amenities alone would have you covered.
Swag: A great way to start a good experience is to hand out sweet swag at packet pickup. Grandma’s Marathon had custom socks. The Cherry Festival Half Marathon handed out wine glasses. Give me something sweet before I even get to run and you win my heart over.
Post Race Goodies: Hand me just a water bottle at the end of a race and unless I got to run for a very low registration fee, I am going to be super disappointed. One of the first races that my husband and I did together was the Hudson Valley 15k in Upstate New York. The race finished in the parking lot of a restaurant. There was an awesome spread of eggs, pasta, sausage, and garlic bread. Feed a hungry runner and they will definitely leave happy.
Beautiful Courses: Even if there isn’t a lot of support along a course, if the scenery is great, I will definitely enjoy myself. Both the Charlevoix Marathon and Run For The Red Pocono Marathon are smaller and head into quiet areas where there are very few crowds. However both races have gorgeous and very different views. One rolls through the mountains and the other along Lake Michigan.
Show Your Racers Some Love: The Chicago Spring Half Marathon has first aid support via bikes along the race course. While coaching one year, I had multiple people ride by and ask how I was doing because I was 20+ weeks pregnant. The Pocono Marathon had age group awards and I had to leave before they were handed out. Within days, my award arrived at my door and was big and beautiful.
Where Did The Facilities Go?: Runners have one thing in common. We all have to go and we all want to hurry up and go. Nothing is more infuriating than waiting in line for an hour and nearly missing your race because there aren’t enough restrooms. Grandma’s Marathon in 2016 was one giant hot mess. They actually had plenty of facilities but placed them in such a manner that half of them were unreachable. It also happened the year before too!
Congestion: You are going to see a theme here in the next few bullet points. Several years ago I ran the Hot Chocolate 15k in Chicago. When a race has almost as many participants as the Chicago Marathon, zero corrals, and 5k and 15k participants running the first two miles together, you are going to end up with some very pissed off runners. I love the 15k distance, but don’t expect a PR at this event unless you shimmy yourself up to the front of the line. The finish was slightly redeeming with chocolate everything.
Painful Packet Pickup: While I lucked out and did’t have this experience, many of my runners had a horrible experience at the Hot Chocolate packet pickup one year when the computers went down and people were waiting in line for hours for their packets. The Chicago Marathon again takes the cake for this one when you walk in and out of there in 5 minutes with your packet and shirt at the giant expo. No one needs to be on their feet all day before they run.
Annoying Crew On The Course: My first experience was actually at the Charlevoix Marathon when a volunteer nearly tripped me running across the course to hand someone water. Next, it happened at the Hot Chocolate 15k when the aid stations created narrow tunnels to hand out marshmallows and other goodies. Stand to the side and give people space. If we want sugar on the course, we will come up to you!
Not Taking Care Of Your Runners: Look out for a huge rant here. Ram Racing (the same company that does the Hot Chocolate races) hosts the North Shore Turkey Trot 10k on Thanksgiving and it has become a family tradition. Every year a large group friends and family meet to do this event. I love to eat and this is the perfect way for me to break a sweat and feel a tad less guilty about my overindulgence later in the day.
This is a pricey race for a 10k ($50+) and you don’t get a whole lot in exchange. As their signature, they do give you something cool at packet pick up. In years past it has been a bright yellow fleece hoodie, turkey flannel pants, a crazy furry hat, and last year a black pullover. I will hand them this.
However, amenities on the course have become sparse. The first year there was coffee and hot chocolate before the event. Runner’s World raved that you receive a small individual pie at the finish.
Last year there were no pies, no coffee, and no hot chocolate. There are no medals at the end and the only thing you can look forward to is someone handing you a bottle of water as you walk to your car. (Note that I am okay with no medals at the finish of a 10k).
I personally am pretty bitter because two years ago I placed 2nd in my age group and was sent a great medal in the mail. Last year I PR’ed the 10k and placed 3rd in my age group. After I inquired about my age group award, I was told to wait a few weeks and it would arrive. After a few months I e-mailed and was told there was a hold up in China with their medal distributor and to please be patient and not e-mail again. Finally, I e-mailed 10 months after the race and never received a reply. For a pricey 10k with sparse amenities, one nice piece of swag, and no age group award, I can’t justify doing another Ram Racing event.
This year we will be doing a much smaller event with our family and friends and keeping it chill. But I am still going to be bitter about that age group award!
What are your criteria for a great/bad race experience? Care to share your best and worst race experiences?