Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Know The Course

After reading several race reports from this past weekend’s triathlons, one thing seems to ring clear.  Knowing the race course is very important.  This holds true for pros and age-groupers alike.  Age-groupers are hopefully less likely to go off course than would say, a pro averaging 25 mph on a bike course.  Everyone knows that it’s the responsibility of the athlete to know the course however, race directors should take some responsibility as well.  It seems to me that it’s the minutia that can make or break a race. The extra turn sign or a volunteer with healthy lungs who's not afraid to use them can make all the difference.
Often times a race director is working with volunteers and municipalities that are unfamiliar with an event or even the sport they are charged to support.  Most Americans have owned a bicycle at some time in their lives.  How many Americans have competed in a bike race or even watched one on TV?  I would guess the answer is very few.  Take that point a little further and ask the question, how may volunteers know what it’s like to ride a bike at 35+ mph?  Again, I would guess the answer is very few.

My point is that race directors have to make sure that their volunteers are knowledgeable about the course.  In many cases, volunteers are locals and more familiar with the specifics of a course than the race director.  Conversely, the athletes are often not locals and only familiar with the course as represented in race literature.  Volunteers should also be educated as to what riders might be experiencing and might expect as guidance during a race. I must say that most volunteers are awesome.  I couldn’t be more appreciative of the sacrifices that they make on and often before race day to help ensure that the athletes are safe and happy.

Taking from my own experience, I ran a 10K race this past weekend.  The front runner and I were neck and neck for the first 10 minutes of the race.  We were about 50 yards behind a police officer on a motorcycle.  As the motorcycle stopped to block an intersection we both hesitated for a second before we saw an orange course marker about 150 yards in the distance straight ahead.  That was the right turn we were both looking for.  I had reviewed the course and even created my own MapMyRun course map prior to the race. In the middle of a competition it’s easy to make a mistake.  We were on foot and not on bikes.  Had I been on my bike, that first intersection turn might have been it for me.

So, what can be done?  1) Design the course(s) accordingly.  2) Mark the course well and make sure those markers remain intact and are correct.  3) Educate the volunteers and police.  4) Provide the volunteers with the tools they need.  I like to see volunteers in identical race t-shirts.  5) Educate the athletes.  6) Educate area residents and business owners.

Mistakes will still happen and athletes will still go off course but hopefully that won’t happen often or with any dire consequences.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I've included a map that I created for my next 5K foot race on May 28th. 

After I registered for the race I was unsure of the course and unable to find a map on the organizer's website, MapMyRun, or the USATF website.  I e-mailed the organizers, the Peachtree City Running Club, and within 48 hours I had a jpg map of the course in my inbox.