What Makes a Race Great?

I’ve run a lot of races.

By "good results", I mean finishing. Well, that's what it means for me, anyway.

My recent collection of medals. Some are JB’s. I need some more…

Certainly not as many as some. I have friends who have run A LOT more races than me who are much more qualified to answer this question.

Like Laura who is actually in the world record holder for being the youngest female to run a marathon in all 50 states. Actually, she’s done almost 100 marathons by now. And several ultras. She’s a badass.

And Brian who seems to be running a race every other weekend.

But I’ve run a few and here’s what I learned makes a race great:

1. Organization

It all starts with the expo and bib pick-up. If this aspect is disorganized or poorly staffed, it does not bode well for race day. The last thing you want to do on race day morning is run around because bag drop is a mile away from the corrals. Even worse, when the course isn’t clearly marked or properly marshaled.

I love that there are Marines on the course at the Marine Corps Marathon. No one runs a race like a bunch of Marine Corps officers.

MarineMarathon 021

The OCS Marine Lieutenants man the water stations. They don’t cheer, they shout, “Oorah, ma’am!” as you run by. It’s awesome.

2. Safety

Most race courses are run on closed roads. I mean, duh. Right? When you’re out running a race, you sort of expect that the race organizers have made your safety a top priority. Yeaaaah, not all races directors.

The Hamptons Marathon and Half Marathon are not run on closed roads. And it sucked. I wrote to the race directors to let them know it was a dangerous situation for runners and they basically blew me off. Not running that race again.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

3. Race-friendly course

It’s not that anyone loves a straight-up out and back. That’s boring. But I think most of us also don’t want a loop-di-loop course. You can’t find a groove when you’re constantly making turns and I’d say the majority of us are out there to run our fastest race possible.

My favorite courses: New Jersey Half Marathon (NOT the full) and Marine Corps Marathon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.30.18 AM.pngScreen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.32.53 AM.png

4. Race support

At the Chicago Marathon a few years ago, it was beastly. It was so hot that they cancelled the race. That’s HOT. But they also ran out of cups for water. I mean…WHAT?!?!?! I have also heard about races running out of post-race snacks. I gotta tell ya, after a marathon I. NEED. FOOD. Like now.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It's true.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It’s true.

A race that runs out of promised fuel and fluids along the course is unacceptable. Medical tents and bathrooms need to be exactly where they say they’re supposed to be. And there can never be too many POJs.

5. Reasonable pricing

There are half marathons out there charging $128 for race entry. To put that in perspective my first marathon, the ING NYC Marathon, cost $125 in 2002. Now it’s $228. I gotta tell you, if you’re charging me that much for a race, I expect a hot shower and a massage at the finish line.

I heard they ran out of medals at the Miami Half this year. Bummer.

Don't be fooled, it's all about the money.

Don’t be fooled, it’s all about the money.
(Image courtesy of Esquire.com)

Some races are great and have fantastic expos, course support, swag bags, and fuel before, during and after the race. But if you’re handing me an ugly cotton t-shirt and a cup of water with a bagel after your race, it better not cost me more than $2/mile. Seriously.

Esquire ran a great piece about the money making business of road races.

And that’s what I want. It’s not too much to ask, is it? I don’t need a personal cheerleader who follows me along the race with a boom box or anything (that would be sweeeeet!) but…

I do need to feel safe.

I do need it to be affordable.

I do need the course to be reasonable.

I do need it to be organized.

And I definitely need the promised support on the route.

What do you need? What’s the best race you’ve run? I need to make a list of people’s favorites so I know what to register for next year! Tell me all about it.

Now go out and run

8 thoughts on “What Makes a Race Great?

  1. I just did my first half marathon, The national breast cancer marathon was exactly what you mentioned in your points. i enjoyed Jacksonville 26.2 with donna

  2. I have only ran one race last year “The color run” it was a 5 km and at the half route there was unlimited water- there were fun motivating colors and music at every corner. it was and oval with one hill and 4 curves. and there was food at the end and then an after party. Best race I have ever did mind you it was the only race :p and this year I’m planning on doing it again with a few others.

  3. I just ran my first Run Disney race for the Wine and Dine half in November, and now I’m a huge fan. Their expo was awesome, and the course was nice and had volunteers the whole way to guide and cheer you on, along with plenty of water stations. Now my mom and I are signed up for the Tower of Terror 10 miler in October!!

  4. I did the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto last spring. They had 2 major problems: 1) they closed the course, but didn’t properly close or marshal all the small side crossing streets to pedestrians, so you had pedestrians trying to cross the course and 30,000 runners playing frogger. Not good. 2) the finishing chute wasn’t wide enough, so it backed up across the finish line, and many runners ran into a wall of people 500 yards before the end and couldn’t get across the finish. Hard to get a personal best that way!

    I would add Volunteers to your list. I find good volunteers can make all the difference at a race. It’s one of the things that makes it memorable for me.

    Great post!

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