As the most recent running revolution has blossomed, so too have the number — and types — of races. The standards still beckon runners — 5Ks to half marathons to full marathons. At the same time, other varied races have also grown in popularity. It’s not difficult to find color runs, obstacle course racing and ultras virtually every weekend in communities across the nation.
Different runners, of course, have different preferences for races. And not just expectations for the type of race, but everything from the ease of sign-up to the expo to race swag to the actual event and the post-race party.
Today’s race directors face varied challenges just to recruit participants, given the ever-growing list of options for runners. RDs also face tough decisions on what to prioritize — a huge medal, race shirts (cotton T-shirt, tech shirt, or long sleeve) and post-race celebrations.
While every runner has his or her own personal ideas of what’s important, here are five experienced elite runners who weigh in on what makes a race special to them.
“I always tell race directors: Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver,” says the recently retired Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World who started race directing in 1980. “I always like to deliver a little more than what I promised a runner. When you promise something and not everyone can get it, that’s when you get blowback from runners. If there are some extra things, it makes people even happier.”
Yasso recommends that race directors should form a committee, whether it is paid of volunteer, that represents who will run your race.
“If your race is 50/50 gender, your committee should be that,” he says. “Have some older and younger folks on your committee so you can hear what older and younger folks are looking for. At all the races I do, I always try to do something that has never been done before. Try to come up with some crazy idea. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The worse thing is to be status quo. You’ve got to try different things and reward people who do your race every year.”
In her world-record setting year of 2017, Camille Herron ran a variety of races: Comrades Marathon in South Africa, Tunnel Hill (a certified road course) in Illinois and the Desert Solstice track meet in Phoenix.
“I’ve done some really good races this year and they have all been special in their own way,” she says. “I think it is really good to get media exposure, whether you can get iRunFar involved or using social media. I know social media is important. IRunFar was doing updates when I ran Tunnel Hill. That’s amazing for the sport — to use social media to let others know what is going on.”
Herron encourages race directors to find their own niche to make the experience special. “Every race has its own magic to it,” she notes. “Whatever the race director wants to give to it to make the race special. Lots of ultras want to be the hardest, the most gnarly. But at Tunnel Hill, Steve Durbin wanted it to be fast. He set it up so that every three to five miles you get aid. Every race director needs to find their own niche and then how to make it accessible to the masses.”
(Photo by Derrick Lytle)
Michael Wardian frequently participates in all sorts of races — ultras, marathons, treadmill challenges and even the Barkley Marathons in 2017.
“I think some of the coolest things I have seen race directors do is to really crush the details,” says Wardian, who won the World Marathon Challenge last year. “Some examples would be cheer stations at aid stations, handwritten notes in the packet pick-up bags or on bibs, something besides a T-shirt as a giveaway (blanket, hats, Racedots, etc.), gel at aid stations. It’s also cool for the announcer to say something about each runner at the finish line and give a social media shoutout.”
Wardian also mentioned a perk most runners crave: “Free race pictures.”
For 2016 Western States 100-miler champion Kaci Licktieg, it’s the simple things that matter most.
“In my experience and what I really admire is the race directors who will be out on the course and at the finish line the entire time, congratulating the finishers and putting the medals around their necks,” she says. “That is by far the best thing I have ever witnessed. I would highly recommend that because it makes everybody feel special and feel important. It’s very classy to me, it’s the completion of the race for me.”
The winner of the 2017 Ultra Race of Champions, Chris Mocko, looks forward to the festivities after the race.
“I think the most important aspect of a successful race (outside of the basics) is the after party!” he says. “Having plenty of food, live music and a comfortable place to relax goes a long way to making a race more memorable. And it encourages folks to stick around the finish for some time instead of immediately rushing off to their hotels.”