Race Directing today is a lot different than it was ten years ago, before the Facebooks and Twitters, changed the way feedback was provided for races. What was once a well thought out email or letter to the RD after the race is now an emotion driven one liner visible for all to see before the RD can respond. Knowing that reality, and seeing it play out over and over again after races on the internet I’ve gotten more frustrated about the way my fellow runners handle their complaints. Before I go any further let me say that I’m not perfect and have issued a complaint before but I would never call out someone on a public forum for the way a race went. I issued a complaint earlier this year after a race, but did it through email directly with the RD. I explained the situation, the RD apologizing for the slight mishap, the incident was resolved and we both moved on. Does this make me any different than anyone that has ever complained? Yes, because I chose to keep my issue between myself and the Race Director and not cause the internet world to become a buzz about an issue that was mostly my fault.
Over the last five months I have participated in several races and have volunteered at others and the underlying issue seems to be that everyone thinks they’re entitled to getting a 100 mile buckle. I’m not sure who said any hundred mile race was easy let alone some of the races that take place in elevation or on rough terrain. These Race Directors put their heart and souls, money, and time into putting on a race and some of the comments I see and hear just blow me away. In order to even have the opportunity to become an RD you must have a passion for the sport of trail running, be extremely organized, not be a person worried about making a dollar but instead be okay with losing a few dollars, have a great bond within the trail community, and be willing to sacrifice yours and your family’s time in order to put on an event. I’m an organized person but I can’t read a map let alone produce topography maps and set up a 100 mile point to point course through a mountain range. I’m not going to go over any specific examples that have come up but I do want to touch on a few topics that always seem to come up with a few runners.
The Aid Stations Were Terrible and the Volunteers Weren’t Helpful
You can’t fault the Race Director for not knowing what each individual eats and drinks for a race? They allow drop bags at several aid stations as a service to help the runners out in case they have special dietary needs or are partial to one item or another. Most Race Directors go out of their way to buy several different types of food so everyone can enjoy something. Remember you’re paying $250-$300 for a race so you shouldn’t expect prime rib.
We’ve all heard people say that the volunteers weren’t helpful or didn’t know anything but let’s remember what they are. They’re volunteers who have given up the day or night (often times both) with their family to help you, the runner succeed throughout the day. Yes, some aid station workers are better than others but when you’re an RD it’s not always easy to find enough help. There are so many things that we can do as a runner to assist the volunteers in getting us in and out of the aid station but very few people realize it. If you’re wearing a hydration pack, don’t just hand it to the volunteer, explain to them where the bladder is and how to open it up. Those things stick together and some are buried deep into packs so it takes a little extra time for the people to figure them out. If you have bottles tell them exactly what you would like in your bottles such as half Gatorade/half water. Don’t expect that they will know what you want because you’ve been to that aid station before. We all change our minds during a run and sometimes certain drinks or foods no longer taste good. If you have a drop bag have your pacer call out your number and bag color so they can easily access it. They want to help you and get you your items but with 200 bags it is not always a quick process.
The Course Markings Were Few and Far Between
Again let me start by saying I’m one of the worst, if not worst navigators in all of trail running so I’m careful about my selection of races. There are races that I know require navigation skills and there are races where I know they will idiot proof the course and I will probably still go off track. I try to avoid courses that are extremely long between aid stations because I like confirmation that I’m going the right direction. Most trail markings are done on a volunteer basis and the RD explains certain areas to look out for but remember that the person marking the trail often does a section by what they think will be the most valuable to the runner. I’ve seen markings around cairns on the ground because the section was so steep and they knew no one would be looking up, flour at junctions, flags, and usually there are no markings or confidence markers along forest roads until you need to make a turn. This is usually done to keep you from second guessing yourself and it allows the runners to relax and make up some time over that section. If you’re constantly looking for markers along a road it will slow you down and a missed marker or two can lead to serious confusion. Race Directors have pre-race meetings to go over areas that might be questionable, so if you’re like me make it a point to be there and listen. Don’t just assume the person in front of you knows where they’re going because it could be me. Before I conclude on this topic it is important to remember that navigating the course and course knowledge is the ultimate responsibility of the runner.
The Cutoffs Were Too Tight
I only bring this issue up because it’s a common complaint amongst runners but let’s face it most cutoff are extremely generous. I ran Javelina Jundred last year and the cutoff was 30 hours which is 16.5 hours after the winner came in but yet I still heard people say they needed more time. I understand that only the elites are going to run a 13.5 hour 100 mile race but for the safety of the runners they have to set cutoffs. As I said earlier signing up for a hundred mile race does not guarantee you anything and any given day you could DNF. I had to DNF at mile 67 of Pine to Palm and I was in the best shape of my life but I just couldn’t pull myself together. I was sick and while I had 16 hours to finish the last 33 miles I thought it was in the best interest of the RD and me to make the decision to drop. I’ve been at races where the 50 mile cutoff is 16 hours and people are coming in around 17-18 hours and are complaining that the cutoffs are not fair. I don’t think an RD can send you back out with a good conscious because they don’t want you to get hurt or end up in the hospital. If you do the math on some of these cutoffs they’re giving you an average of 20 minutes a mile. Most of us will have a few of those during a race and maybe even a 40 minute mile if you include a hard climb and an aid station but the rest of the miles will not be run anywhere close to a 20 minute per mile pace. Very few runners will start a race at 20 a minute pace and finish a race. Most start around 12-15 minutes so getting 20 minutes is more than sufficient. Aid stations seem to be the biggest killers for most runners, spending just 3-5 minutes at 18 aid stations results in a 54-90 minute slow down in your race. I think it’s important to race plan before hand and decide which aid stations will require you to spend more time at them and which ones you can be out with just a change of bottles. I’ve seen so many people lay down or go to their car for a few hours and then rally to finish a race but if you miss a cutoff because you decided early on to rest it is no one’s fault but your own. Remember to avoid the chair, it’s a death trap and is the number one cause of DNF’s in my personal beliefs.
I realize this seems entirely like a big rant but as a trail runner I want to see Race Directors succeed because without their time, money, knowledge, and inspiration we have nothing but fat ass runs. I know we all have a gripe or two sometimes and as I said I’ve said things before in private but respect the volunteers and if you have an issue bring it up with the RD after or during the race. It’s not fair to the race or the race director to air your grievances on Facebook or Twitter before they even have a chance to fix the issue. They want everyone to succeed at their race, not just the elites. They’re always open to suggestions and most of them welcome them. We need to remember that if running a hundred miles was easy, everyone would do it. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments in running so be proud of yourself for just toeing the line and if it’s not your day, don’t crush the people whose day it is.
Don’t be afraid to sign up and volunteer for a race because it’s through giving back that you learn just how much Race Directors put into race planning, how much they love the sport and want to give us all the opportunity to compete against friends on the trails. Their job is not exactly fun or profitable so why do they do it? They do this because they have a love for the sport and want to give back to the trail community by providing a place for us to compete and have fun with our friends.
My Questions to You
What do you think is the best way to provide feedback to future runners? What is the best way to provide feedback to the Race Director? Have you had poor experiences at races that required the RD to address? And how did you handle it? (Race names not necessary here so it’s not repeating the same wounds for those RD’s)