My requests to race directors

Over the past couple of years, I’ve come up with a list of things that I like – and don’t like – about races.  I’m going to keep it bulleted, just to simplify things.  I’m hoping that at least one race director somewhere will read this and contemplate just one item on the list.

Things I like:

  1. I like same day packet pickup – primarily for running races.  The reality is that going to pickup a packet can sometimes be a serious pain.  I love it when races offer same day pickup.  Especially for smaller races (tri’s included).  The Sprint Tri I’m doing this Sunday has same day packet pickup – and it’s got about a 700 people.
  2. I LOVE good local food at the finish line.  Some races partner with local food joints for creative options – burritos, crab cakes, BBQ, etc…
  3. Posting of results at the finish line (paper).  It’s a very simple thing to do – and doing it quickly makes everyone’s lives easier.  I like how some races will post duplicate copies on multiple sides of a truck – that way people all aren’t trying to crowd around a few sheets of paper.  Even better I saw at the GW 10-Miler they had 42” Plasma screens up in a tent showing real-time results.  Sweet!
  4. I love it when races use electronic timing that uploads to an internet site in real time.
  5. I like how more and more races are offering a choice in getting a technical shirt, or a plain cotton shirt (and thus charging more for it).  My only request is please show an image of the shirt design prior to may laying down more bucks.
  6. I love races that offer reasonably priced photos.  The best example is the photo company that does the Backyard Burn series.  It’s just a small single person company – but their rates are reasonable. High res photos for only $3 via e-mail.  I’ll actually pay that much.  (Regrettably, since writing this draft, just last week he announced he has to take a break from doing just photography due to the economy).
  7. Prizes!  There are a few races that give away TONS of sponsored prizes.  The Steelman Tri I did in 2007 was this way.  As was the Patriot’s Tri in 2008.  And I’m not talking to the winners.  Nope – I’m talking random drawing of prizes to random people.  Or just throwing them to the crowd.  That works rather well in my little opinion.
  8. Certificates.  I like how the Philly Half/Full Marathon send you a little PDF certificate of your race.  It looks pretty.  It cost them nothing since it’s downloadable, and then you can print it out yourself.  Sometimes it’s the little things.image

Things I really don’t terribly enjoy:
This is my list of things that annoy the crap out of me, or drive me crazy.  If you want me to never come back to your race again – just do one of the below.

  1. My #1 biggest complain is race results taking days to post.  In this day and age there is simply no excuse for not having race results posted the same day.  None.  No really – there is no excuse.  Never.  Did I make myself clear?  Never…ever.  Plan for it.  I’m not kidding…really.
  2. I HATE when races make you wander around town on a scavenger hunt as part of a packet pickup process.  A perfect example is the Nation’s Tri last year.  Packet pickup was just dumb.  First you had to pickup your packet in the worst traffic area in the middle of downtown (mind you, you couldn’t realistically use Metro – and you had to pay $20 to park).  Why couldn’t you use Metro?  Because you had to check-in your bike numerous miles away on the other side of town.  Dumb.
  3. Getting shafted for photos.  Look race directors – you chose your photo company, chose one that the athletes might actually buy photos from.  Some day I’ll post the mother of all rants on sports photos and pricing.  I just don’t understand why they charge as much as they do for the downloads (or any photos).  Decrease price, increase volume.  Ever heard of iTunes, or the Apple App Store?  Sell it like candy, not like gold watches.
  4. Not enough porta potties.  I’m not sure why this one is so difficult to grasp.  It’s not as though the human race has dramatically changed in their desire to go to the bathroom in the morning before a race.  Please – have lots of them!  The Philly Marathon/Half Marathon does an awesome job at this.  They have enough porta potties to let half the city go.
  5. Did I mention not having race results posted the same day?  I can’t remember if I expressed how critical this is.  It’s just a text file – copy it over and upload it.  If your website requires some special web admin to upload a text file – then you need a new web site/company.  It’s alright if the first day they aren’t super-special-searchable.  Just upload the text file.  It’s the one which ends in the .txt extension.  Occasionally in .csv extension.  Got it?image

Ok, that’s it!  That’s all I can think of for now.  There are of course little things that I really like or hate that I’ve forgotten, but when I sat down to write this – these are the big ones that keep coming to mind over and over again.

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38 Comments

  1. Can I add- they need to specify if the women’s shirts will be women’s sizing or not? It’s usually about a size different and about 1/2 the races now have women’s specific shirts…but you never know.

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  2. Dan

    I’m with you all the way on same day packet pickup. There are two races in Santa Cruz (northern California), the Sentinel Olympic and the Big Kahuna Half, that I’ve done once but will never do again until they offer same day packet pickup. I’m convinced that the race directors have some sort of under-the-table deal with the city fathers, somethings along the lines of “If you’ll grease the skids for the police and permits then we’ll do everything in our power to get the athletes to arrive the day before, stay overnight, and spend hotel and meal money in your city.”

    And as to the porta-potties, this was the scene at the Vineman Full in ’07. Almost comical, eh? :)

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  3. I’ll second Maggs’ point about ws shirt sizes. And add (from someone who can get lost on her own street) it is sooooo helpful to have volunteers or policeman at cross points – ESPECIALLY if, say the half goes one way and the full goes another. My brain is not always up to seeing much less processing a tiny little sign or bizarre spray paint symbol on the pavement at that point in the race. A real person telling me where to go is a blessing!

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  4. wow, i love this post-and coming from a techy who KNOWS how easy posting the results is is even better. i’ll add just HAVING women’s shirts sizes at races makes me happy. i don’t understand why races i sign up for 9 months in advance can’t order me a woman’s shirt that i can wear again.

    good post. thx ray.

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  5. Nation’s Tri was a TERRIBLE set up last year, and it doesnt look to be any better this year.. I’ll probably metro down during lunch to pick up my packet, and then bring my bike down later. Should I feel the need to make 2 trips before the race? no.

    My race day complaint is directors that toss too many people on the bike racks. I’ve been to a race where we had 10 bikes on a rack designed more appropriately for 6… our bikes were touching, and it was a fiasco. Plenty of space to add more racks and remedy the problem, but I haven’t gone back to find out.

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  6. Agree with you on packet pick up race results and pics but the packet pick may be done at a place (like Nations) just because of sponsorship YOU WOULD HAVE 3000 athletes visiting the hotel and that may help sell but I am with you. You no what I wolud add have good music on the transition area before the race.. something to pump you up before a race ..many races put country music or YMCA and hate it
    good luck at lake Anna this Sunday

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  7. I could not agree more when it comes to race food. Don’t make me stand in line with the masses for what amounts to an orange slice and some old juice. I will forever love my first half marathon (Santa Cruz 1/2) because they handed you a box of food at the finish – no standing in line – with everything included (bagel, peanut butter, juice, fruit cup, bag of trail mix, etc etc).

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  8. Beautiful, Ray.

    I honestly couldn’t think of anything more to add.

    It’s these things that make me seek out the small races more and more.

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  9. I honestly can’t understand where a company gets off trying to sell you pictures of yourself for as much as $100. Seriously, do they think people will pay more for a picture than they did for the actual race?

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  10. I’m with Maggs, they need to specify women’s shirt sizing for sure (and if more races could offer women’s shirts that would be amazing, because a men’s short sleeve tech shirt…may as well just give me a cotton shirt instead).

    And race day package pick up is great… But… The race I am doing in a few weeks has race day package pick up, but the pre-race meeting is at 5 pm the day before. Pain in the rear since race site is about 1.5 hours from where I am staying.

    And yeah…don’t get me started on the pricing of photographs!

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  11. ABSOLUTELY on women’s sizing for the shirts- that was one of the only good things about the Nike Women’s Marathon.

    And I seriously do not understand, for the life of me, how snapfish, etc can sell you prints for oh, .10/ea and race photos are $20. I’ve NEVER purchased a race photo mostly on principle about how ridiculous that is.

    Another thing that makes me absolutely insane is aid stations that have only sports drink and no water. It happened once and I paid dearly. It was not cool.

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  12. My big complaint is races that only have size XL shirts. WTF were you thinking??? Small, fit people do 5K, 10K, half mary, full mary and triathlons. There are probably a greater number of small fit people who would love a size small or medium shirt than the Clydesdale and Athenas who would like a large or XL shirt. SO ORDER MORE SMALL SHIRTS AND DON’T MAKE ME WEAR A XL RACE MINI-DRESS.

    Oh, and I love races where the volunteers have your bike ready for you as you are running through transition and take it from you as you head into T2…it makes me feel like a pro racer.

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  13. Um, yea. Agree 100%. The race I ran on Sunday still has 2008 information on the main page. Results have been posted on another site, but there is no link from the actual race site. I only found it out through the magic of google. Who cares about results anyways, right? No excuse.

    BTW – the best feature of the GW Parkway setup was the text messages that actually were sent in real time. I’ve signed up for that at Marine Corps and other races and they are delayed by 5-10 minutes. Big brownie points earned in my view for whoever thought up that feature. It was critical to trying to get photos of people during the race. Now if they could only do that for triathlons…

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  14. I like it.

    I like door prize raffles. At my last race, I put in for one of those athletic strollers (I obviously have no children).

    One thing that goes along with not posting results right away… is when they don’t tell you WHERE to find the results! I’ve had FIFTY people come to my blog looking for times and photos from our last 5K.

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  15. Oh! And how EVERY time I go to a race, I end up with an XL Tshirt even though I asked for a M!

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  16. You got me all riled up now. Gurrr…

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  17. Love the list of likes and dislikes for races. Oh and what about the races that only have big size shirts… even for us little peoples… what’s up with that????

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  18. My #1 complaint is not having enough volunteers on the course telling us where to go. Or maybe they’re out there but just stand there dumbfounded. Be looud and obvious. When we’re going balls-out, we can’t think, so treat us like children.

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  19. I totally agree w/all of those things. The race picture prices annoy the crap out of me. I also HATE disorganized race sites where you have to hunt to find info or it’s not updated properly.

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  20. Dan

    I have one. The Deuces Wild Triathlon in Show Low, AZ has wet suit strippers to help you out after the swim. It is great!

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  21. i concur :-)

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  22. Sweet post – I agree with all of this, especially the packet pickup thing. And I can’t wait to hear your rant on race photos – you know you have a sympathetic ear from me.

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  23. Hahaha spoken like a true racer! Who would have thought that it would be such a big deal to post results on the same day, oh and toilets too, that would be my biggest issue! We all want to use them, who would have thought that you should have more than two?

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  24. Agreed on all points! Also, note to RDs:

    Women do not want white technical shirts that turn transparent when wet. Honest, we don’t.

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  25. Couldn’t have said it better.

    Last year at Mohican 100, it took like 3 WEEKS….to get the results posted on the website. Unreal to have to wait that long to see their results. Plus the RD didn’t have awards (Buckles) to hand out to anyone at the awards ceremony.

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  26. amen. Where do i sign.

    I’ll add mine. Water. Oh, and cups. How HARD IS IT TO HAVE ENOUGH CUPS? AND ENOUGH WATER? DO YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MANY PEOPLE REGISTERED? REALLY????????? NO IDEA WHAT THE TEMPS WILL BE??????????

    If it happened only once, i’d say it’s a fluke. but it’s happened too many times.

    NOTE TO RDs: PEOPLE NEED WATER WHILE RACING.

    and photos. don’t get ME started. there’s a reason everyone steals them!

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  27. Working PT for a race management firm, I’m part of a team that works hard to post race results soon after people finish. But there are times when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d like do to technical difficulties. And occasionally a race bandit (someone running with someone else’s bib) will mess up our results and cause delays too if they place.

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  28. Anonymous

    I agree with the porta johns, but also can not stand when there is no soap or purcell. The Augusta 70.3 had very few porta johns, and othing for sanitation. It was the worst I have ever seen at a tri or road race.

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  29. Cheap photos means that you don’t make a profit which means that you can’t stay in business very long.

    You sooooo don’t know anything about the BUSINESS of professional photography.

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  30. Hi Delane-

    I’d love to hear your perspective some more. Are you a professional sports photographer? Understanding sports photography is very different than being a ‘normal’ professional photographer. Both from a composition perspective, as well as from a client perspective.

    In my mind it’s being approached the wrong way. The simple reality is I’m not going to buy overpriced photos that are generally crap. Whether or not I’m familiar with professional photography is entirely besides the point. There are in fact some great sports photographers out there that I would pay for a photo from. But it’s up to the Race Director (which was the title of my post) to determine which photographer/company to hire. Hiring local photographers that offer reasonable prices over the ‘big box’ type photographres is something that some races do, and I support thoes races. Simple as that.

    Professional photographers have to change their methods given the accessibility of higher quality cameras at lower price points. Go visit any photographers forum where the pro’s hang and you’ll find endless debate on how this is changing the face of the professional photographer. Any professional photographer who thinks they can continue to use the business practices of the 1990′s, will soon find themselves without a business. They have to re-think how they do business, and their pricing structure. In the same way so many other organizations are re-thinking business over the past few years. For example, applications that from a function standpoint used to cost $30-50, now cost $1.99 on the iPhone. Volume over pricing.

    Thanks for dropping by!

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  31. I hate when they sneak in a 10% online “convenience” fee at the very end of registration. Paper registration is just as easy for me, and only costs about 50 cents. Any race associated with a charity will be getting a donation from me if they don’t charge an extra fee to register. If I was a race director, I would want people to sign up online to prevent errors and exceeding capacity, so I’d make it cheaper than paper registration, or at least not tack on an extra fee at the end.

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  32. Ray, I like to come back to this post every now and then because it crystalizes for me what I do and don’t like about the races I participate in. I finally put my own list up here:
    link to firsttimertirathlete.blogspot.com
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  33. I agree with all the stuff listed already.

    There are a few things more I personally like:

    1. In some races you can get your registered bib times sent as a textmessage. This is the case in the Copenhagen Marathon, and they send both the half-marathon time and the finish time. This allows you to know that the time your watch recorded is correct, that the bib worked, and allows your friends to have realtime update. They did charge around $1 for more than one textmessage, but I still like it!

    2. Drinks at hydration stations. The runs I have been to usually supply drinks in small cups that makes you spill half the content. It´s sticky and annoying. In the Barcelona Marathon last year you could choose to take a half litre disposable drinking bottle instead at the stations. That was perfect and resulted in a much better hydration of me (and most of the other runners i suppose). It is ofcourse a bit more expensive, but the entrance fee is pretty high anyway…

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  34. EJ

    I know I’m late to the rant party, and maybe this is a normal thing for trail races I just never noticed before, but a few weeks ago I ran a trail race that was billed as a 25k. I like that distance, it’s a good, easy distance for me, very comfortable to follow a half marathon a few weeks earlier. When we’d run that distance (measured by all the various GPS and foot pod devices of the 4 or 5 people around me, simultaneously), we happened to also hit an unmarked (like most of the decision points) lovely flat road within sight of the finish line, roughly 200 feet away… Did the race end? No. It added another lovely hill. And then another (it was actually one of the prettiest parts of the race). Rather than a 25k, it was well over 30k. Granted they said it would be “about” 25k… but off by over 3 miles? I don’t like crossing the finish and feeling not only like I just ran a 30k trail race but ALSO like the victim of a particularly rude in-joke.

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  35. Vanilla_Thrilla

    Cycling events – drink stations on the hills please, not on the flat. Nothing worse than having to stop while you’re in a sweet bunch with no chance to get back on.

    If they’re on a hill you can fang it up ahead of the group, stop and refill, and then at least have fighting chance of getting back on

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  36. Hello, I love the site and I have been reading it all day due to a slow day at the office.

    I agree with all you have listed in this article except the part about photography. I am a professional photographer of 14 years and split my shooting time between photographing races and wedding/portrait photography. I also compete in running races and recently was bitten by the tri bug and will mostly be competing in tri’s now.

    I agree that some photographers are expensive. I shoot for Brightroom, one of the largest event shooters in the country. The prices are fair, $12 for a 5×7 or 4 for $20. They do charge too much for digital copies, $30. Even with these middle of the road prices, they were bought out/merged with another company last year.

    The thing that most people don’t realize is the massive amount of work involved in shooting and organizing these events. As an example, say I shoot a tri with 500 participants and I shoot every single racer in each sport, impossible shooting solo. If I only took 1 image for each sport I would be sorting through 1500 images to properly tag them so they could be found when you search for them. In reality, I shoot 3-4 images of each person as they come by. That would give me a range of 4,500-6,000 to sort and upload. Lets assume that it takes me 5 seconds to properly tag every image. Based upon that I am looking at 3.75-5 hours just to sort and tag every photo. This doesn’t include the time needed to upload to my website, 3-5 hours and the cost to host these photos and pay the lab percentage when ordered. Also, most of the races I shoot require me to have special liability insurance. Additionally, it seems that 1/2 the races I shoot are in inclement weather. Equipment risk has to be built into the cost or I won’t be able to function if I ever lose a camera due to weather, hasn’t happened yet (knock on wood).

    So let’s assume that 20% of all the racers order a digital file from me. I charge $9 for the file. To conduct this transaction I pay 10% to my website hosting company leaving me with $8.10. 100 orders at $8.10 = $810. Reduce that by 33% for income taxes and I am left with $542. Then lets subtract the cost of gas, say $30 and $30 for event specific insurance. So now I have roughly $482 left over. I shoot every racer so lets assume a sprint tri lasts 5 hours and then add the additional time to work on the photos. That would be anywhere from 11.75-15 hours of time invested leaving me an hourly rate of $41-32/hour. This would be if I was the only shooter for the event. If I had another shooter, I would be making roughly $25-18/hour.

    These numbers are an ideal situation. Most times the sell through rate is much lower lower, sometimes as low as 5% for a race of 100 people. Add to that the cost of equipment, roughly $10k for me and hopefully you see how the cost to do business is much more than charging a couple bucks for a file.

    I will concede the point that there are a lot of poor photographers trying to make a quick buck thinking this is the way to do it. They buy the cheapest slr they can get with the lowest quality lens and shoot on program mode. When I run a race, I can pick these photographers out when I see them. I take great pride in my work. While I am not the cheapest or the most expensive, I feel I charge a fair price for the quality I provide.

    Sorry for the long post but this is an issue not only affecting race photography but wedding and portrait photography as well. Everyone with a camera thinks they are a wedding photographer.

    Reply
  37. I enjoyed this post. I pretty much just run 5Ks, but adding in a couple 10Ks this year.

    The Toilet issue is definitely a big one, I ran a race that had 50-100 people and they had 1 porta john and nothing else. That made the race start about 20min late.

    My biggest pet peeve is races that only allow mail-in (paper) registration instead of online registration.

    Reply
  38. Sonia

    Enjoyed reading and agreed on all the points listed above.

    The result delay happened once when I first ran my 15km race last year in Paris. I ran with the time-chip the organizer handed me in a pack with my bib. I finished in 75 mintues. Somehow, right after the race, I read on my phone an SMS from the organizer that said “you ran in 53min, bravo!” (We had an SMS option where you can get result soon after your finish.). I emailed /SMSed the organizer, saying there must have been a mistake. Apparently the 53min-runner also complained rightfully, and it turned out that my time-chip and his were wrongly numbered in a swapped way (Our bib numbers kind of looked alike, like 1523 and 1253). I understand it’s possible when organizers reuse the time-chip for different races and workers re-number or re-pack the time-chip chitchatting and drinking.

    It was a morning race, and the correct race result (with him appearing at 53min and me at 75min) was up on the internet later that evening, so it was not too bad, but the waiting was hard and having the fear of a wrong result was even harder.

    Reply

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