Preview The Course Before Getting On The Start Line

A close friend of mine is a recreational runner who trains sporadically and enters the odd Turkey Trot or 4thor July Celebration race.  Prior to our local St.Patty’s day race in the park, my friend had actually been training with some consistency and was pretty confident that he would be able to shatter his ‘adult 5k PR’.  I decided to do the same festive run with my mom who was visiting, so the three of us were decked out in green from head to toe and ready to test our fitness.  About 1km in to the race, I was certain the 5kers were supposed to loop back around but when told by the race marshal to continue on straight, I ignored my instinct and assumed that I must have misread the course map when glancing it over the night before.  Seconds later, my fear was confirmed when I saw my friend swimming upstream through a sea of runners pointing in the opposite direction yelling, “they sent us the wrong way!”.  My friend abandoned his original goal of running a personal best, and ran the remainder of the course with my mom and me.  While our picture crossing the finish line holding hands is frame worthy, I couldn’t help but feel crushed for my friend who had done the training, paid the cash, only to be lead the wrong way.  Being the more experienced runner between the two of us I informed him that this is a rare case and that this shouldn’t discourage him from participating in subsequent races.

Find a St. Patty’s Day in your area, they are outrageously festive with great after parties!

I was wrong.

Slightly perturbed but not defeated, my friend entered a Memorial Day race and had a blast!  With his St.Patty’s day race well in the past, my friend asked me to pace him in a 4thof July race.  We arrived early, registered, and before we knew it we had completed the first of three loops (1 large, 2 small).  Like many races this race offers two distances, a 5k and a 10k with a common start time and first few kilometers. There were clear markers directing the 5kers and 10kers at the breaking point.  In fact, the course was so well marked that my friend even commented on the excellent course markings.  If only he knew his fate.  We completed our second loop and all was well.  Leading into our third and final loop we were ready to turn right and head home; however, to our surprise the course marshal was directing everyone to the left.  A couple in front of us negotiated with the course marshal in an effort to persuade him that the 5kers who had already completed 2 loops were to go right.  They were unsuccessful.  The husband and wife ahead actually split—one went right and one went left!  Let’s hope this split isn’t permanent.  My friend who now makes a hobby of reviewing course maps, sternly told the marshal that we were to go right.  After a brief squabble my friend and I stuck to our guns and headed right.  When we crossed the line my friend was more happy about being correct than he was about running a “personal best”.  Why the quotations?  Unfortunately the actually time that will show up in results would not indicate a personal best, but after taking off a conservative 15 seconds off his time due to our hold up with the marshal it was a clear PR.  As far as I’m concerned my friend was robbed of the glory that accompanies a personal best performance, and not to mention his $35 entry fee.

Thank course mashals...they are volunteers!

Who’s At Fault?

At the time my friend was angry with the marshal for not knowing the course better.  He had every right to be; however, upon further discussion we agreed that this course marshal was probably a volunteer, and was likely given very brief instructions from a frantic race director with a gazillion things on his mind.  So is the race director to blame?  At first thought yes; however, again upon further evaluation we decided that without the race director this fabulously festive race to celebrate America’s independence wouldn’t exist and besides the poor marshalling, the event was organized, efficient and fun. So perhaps we can forgive the race director as well and simply be grateful for his vision and continued commitment to hosting this celebratory event.

Then who else is there to blame? The runners?

When a runner registers for a race, should they accept some responsibility for knowing the course? Most runners would argue that they should be able to relax and focus on their performance, while trusting that the course marshals will lead them in the right direction. While I agree, I have learned from my friend’s experiences that whether or not you think it is your responsibility or not, it is definitely wise to review the course map the night before your race to ensure you take the proper course and prevent being robbed of a personal best performance.

Rock the Road 10K offers a course map, a course tour video and written instructions on their race website

Avoid Going the Wrong Way

  1. Review the course map the night before the race, and if possible, try completing part of your warm-up on the course
  2. Arrive early to ask the race director or staff any questions about the course that may have posed confusion.
  3. Avoid registering for races that host two or three distances on the same course with a common start. These races are especially prone to poor race marshaling.
In order to avoid being reamed out by several unhappy, oxygen deprived finishers, it is important that race directors: 1) make sure a well drawn course map is available to all participants, 2) provide clear instructions to their volunteers, and 3) make sure the course is well-marked and easy to understand. For the upcoming Olympic Games the host city of London put thousands of dollars into staging a mock race on their proposed marathon course in an effort to uncover any flaws prior to the big event.  Perhaps race directors should consider staging a mock race with their volunteers the night before the event.  It is equally important that volunteers take their duty seriously and ask questions to clarify anything that is unclear about the course. Finally, whether or not runners feel they should take some responsibility for knowing the course, it is in their best interest to review the course map and get all their questions answered prior to the start of the race.
If all else fails, run track!
Turn left.

Author: Chantelle

Chantelle is a member of the New Balance Silicon Valley racing team and a proud lululemon athletica run ambassador. Chantelle earned herself a scholarship at The University of Hawaii where she went on to captain the Cross Country and Track & Field Teams. A few months after graduating and getting married to her biggest fan, Chantelle qualified to compete for CANADA at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships. In the spring of 2010 she placed 5th at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in her debut race at this distance and in the spring of 2011 ran a time of 1:16 at The NYC Half Marathon. She is currently coaching at Santa Clara University in California and preparing for her marathon debut in Chicago.