Friday, August 24, 2012

Managing Expectations

Yesterday it was announced that there will be no baggagecheck at this year’s New York Marathon. Now, this isn’t a little race, according to, in 2011 this was the largest marathon in the country with over 46,000 finishers. Needless to say, the internet exploded when this came out. I’ve never done the race, and am not familiar with the logistics involved, so I’m not going to debate it, but it does raise questions in my mind of what we as runners can reasonably expect and demand at race, especially when registration fees can vary from a few dollars to a couple hundred.

A safe course – This is perhaps something some people don’t think about. Your race registration fee covers permits, police and medical support, and everything that goes into planning a race itself and ensuring that you not only have fun but, most importantly, are safe at the same time. When the Annapolis Ten Miler was canceled in 2011 due to Hurricane Irene, some people immediately said, “Oh, no race means I should get my $ back, right?” Um, no. If you actually read that waiver you sign when you register for a race, it pretty much says that there’s no refunds if the race is canceled due to “Act of God.” That $ was spent long before race day, Hell, it may have been spent before you even signed up and paid.

Water – Yup, I like water, and I like to drink it during and after a race. And, I think race directors like to have it, too, to keep from causing greater issues. Now, sometimes I am more the exception than the rule. A lot of people don’t think they need to drink a lot of water on the course and rely on whatever is out vs. carrying their own. I personally carry water with me at pretty much every race. I guess it’s kind of a security blanket and knowing that if/when I want it I have it with me. This is also important as a back of the pack runner, when sometimes water is gone by the time I get to a designated water stop.

Believe it or not, having water on the course is controversial, too. Last year it came out that the organizers of the Rock n Roll Las Vegas Marathon relied on water from fire hydrants and those who later got sick blamed this. I have volunteered at and run races that I know rely on water from garden hoses and have never had a problem or heard of one. So, do we have a right to expect water from freshly opened bottles?

Bathrooms – I think most people would agree that this is a basic requirement every race must have. I admittedly criticized the organizers of the Iron Girl ½ marathon in Columbia this past May for what seemed to be an insufficient number, especially given that it was a women’s race. Due to the long lines just prior to the start of the race, I saw women heading to the bushes/trees in a mostly residential area. And, the only bathrooms on the course were around mile 6.5. For me that would have been nearly an hour and a half into the race, and pretty painful if I hadn’t been able to go prior to the start.

Food – Do we have a right to expect food post race and, if so, what kinds? Most races provide a bagel and/or banana. Others have practically a buffet of choices, which many runners (and their family and friends) treat as such as well, but that’s a whole other issue for another day. One of my favorite races has a plethora of pizza after, and another bbq pork sandwiches. Yum! But, honestly, there are some races where I want to eat everything in sight and then there are others when I just want to grab a bottle of water and head home. It’s all a matter of how I feel on that day.

Shirts/bling/goodie bags – Cotton tshirts vs. tech shirts, bling vs. no bling, samples in goodie bags vs. virtual goodie bags, all of these items are things you may hear runners debate upon considering a race. Yes, I do take some of this into consideration. The Celtic Solstice 5 miler in Baltimore always has a top notch item, usually a long sleeved tech shirt that has the same $ value as the race registration. (It also has great food after including vegetable soup and warm wassail – the race is in December after all.) On the other end though are 5K’s I’ve done for just a few dollars, and with no goodies outside of a banana and bagel at the end. I think I’ve gotten kind of eh on the goodie bag issue. I’m sure I have thrown for more away than I’ve ever use from these over the years. And, for the most part I rarely wear a tech race shirt – unisex ones fit odd, and women’s cut always seem to show lumps in an unflattering way, unless I see shirt measurements ahead of time and can order appropriately.

The bottom line is that given the number of races I’ve done of the years, I think I have gotten to the point where I try and weigh the whole experience rather than just one signature thing to get me to sign up.
Bag check – The NYC issue has made me think back to some of my races. I would say I only use bag check about 25% of the time, generally when I know I will be hanging around for some time after rather than heading right back to my car or hotel. I usually check a dry shirt and a pair of shoes (usually Crocs or supportive sandals) to change into. At my first full marathon, Disney in 2010, there was an unusual cold spell. Having a bag with warm clothes after was necessary. At my second full, Marine Corps, also in 2010, I was staying at a hotel about a half mile from the finish line. Once I finished, was reunited with my family, grabbed my snacks and headed the comfort of my hotel room.

I’ve seen bag check go very well at some races – the Marine Corps uses UPS trucks for both the Marathon and 10K to transport everything from point to point and your truck is numbered according to your race bib #. I’ve also seen it go horribly wrong. The inaugural Disney Wine & Dine in 2010 was a disaster. I don’t know all of the specifics of why it failed, but many of us were stuck in a very hot room waiting for bags to be distributed and people were fainting and ill.

So, there’s a few of my thoughts. What do you do expect for your registration $?


  1. I've never needed bag check because I always have someone waiting at the end with me, I park near the finish line, or I wear running clothes with a small pocket for my car key, Metro card, and money. As long as they have some kind of food and drink for me at the end, I'm a pretty happy camper. Well, I take that back. The goodie boxes at the end of Princess were crap. I'd like a Gatorade and a bagel/muffin/banana after a race.

  2. I think I expect the amenities of a race to match what the race is charging for an entrance fee.

    Having run NYC, I can say that the finish area is a nightmare. There is more congestion there than at any other race that I have ever done. Given the large number of runners, there isn't space for bag check, I can understand that. I did, however, check a bag, which I rarely do. Why? Because of the insane amount of time that I had to spend on staten island before the race. Most of the crap I had in the bag I used BEFORE the race, not after. I don't think they're doing much for those of us waiting for wave #3 - oh, wait, now wave #4!! to start at 11am or later, when we got to staten island at something like 7am or earlier.

    Anyway, I hadn't heard about this, so I'll have to think about it more.

    1. I've been waiting to hear your comments on the NYC issue, Kim, lol. They did say that they are trying to work with UPS so runners can basically buy a box and mail anything they may want from the start home.