Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lessons from the other side of racing


I took the day off yesterday to hand out water at the mile 18 hydration station of the Boston Marathon. It was a fantastic experience, inspiring to watch both the elite and the age groupers compete. I did come away with several lessons both for myself as an athlete and also for race organization.

As a runner:

  • Connect with your water volunteer - make eye contact, nod or even point to show them that you're coming in. We had one guy who essentially just knocked cups out of 7 or 8 volunteers' hands as he ran by, he just wasn't trying. If you surprise the volunteer, you're much more likely to lose the cup entirely.
  • If you're going to walk through a water stop, then pull behind the volunteers if you can. Especially, if you're keeping up a good clip when you're running, other runners will be trying to run through and grab some water. Walkers blocking the cups make for some serious traffic jams.
  • If you're not going to drink the whole cup, pour it out first, then chuck the cup.
  • Thank the volunteers, they love it! So many runners were so grateful when they passed through it was really awesome.
Race organizers:
  • The single most important change they could have made was to have different colored cups for water and gatorade. Sure the gatorade cups said "Gatorade" and the water cups said "Poland Springs" but they were both green. I mean come on, how many athletes are going to read the side of the cup to determine the contents, not to mention international runners who may have no idea what "Poland Springs" is.
  • After that, having gatorade on one side of the street and water on the other would also make sense. Our water stop had tables on the right side of the street followed by tables on the left. Consistently telling people you will always have gatorade on the right followed by water on the left would be easy to implement and would eliminate confusion.
  • Signs on the giant trashcans that we fill the water cups with would be a welcome addition. It's hard to blame people for trying to throw their trash in the trash cans. A "no trash" sign, or just roping them off would help keep runners and spectators from contaminating them with rubbish.
Finally, watching the marathon did make me think a bit more about "racing" versus "participating." The world of marathoners has grown substantially over the last 30 years. Boston allows people to finish within 6 hours of starting. Does it undermine the people who actually train and actually push themselves to finish to allow those who walk the majority of it? Every one still gets the same medal.

PS. Best spectator sign read: "Go Everyone!"

1 comments:

Kevin April 20, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

I do not think that walkers undermine the integrity of those who push themselves. That's the beauty of running. It's an individual sport. There is no 'scoring' or baskets or goals per se.

Running is all about personal motivation and personal achievement. If I set a PR and still end up 1.5 hours behind the first place finisher for my age group, I still consider it a great race.

If it wasn't so logistically expensive I'd like to see race times extended to make the sport more inclusive. It would be great to see people who are intimidated by the thought of running 2 miles get out and try a marathon. To have them accomplish something they never thought possible is very uplifting and motivating...even if they have to walk half or more than half the time. To me, marathoning is more about persistence and drive than it is about physical ability.

So I think anyone who can push themselves 26.2 miles deserves a medal.

PS I agree with your notes for runners, I always call out what I want [water vs gatorade] then point to the exact cup and make eye contact with the person holding it.

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