What Makes a Good Race?

author : alicefoeller
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Criteria for a triathlon you would recommend to others

Beginner Triathlete members weighed in on their experiences with races, good and bad.

As a participant in many triathlons short and long myself, and can say the leadership is critical. Another often-overlooked item is buy-in from the community at the race site.

The races that seem the "warmest" in my memory are the ones where either:

  1. The entire race took place in the middle of nowhere, with only sheriff's deputies and state police looking on OR

  2. Triathlons where the community really turned out for the race. I completed the Muncie Endurathon years ago, and I still remember the neighborhood children pulling wagons filled with power gels and drinks. Residents of the nearby homes were manning large vats of ice water. One group would pull out an ice-water soaked rag and put it on you, and a quarter of a mile down the road, someone was waiting to recover the towel and take it back to the ice water. In contrast, I've spectated an Ironman race where the residents of the city threw tacks on the road during the race, and triathletes riding the course in the months leading up to the race were run off the road or had full soda cans thrown at them.

But those aren't the only factors. Here are contributions from our members.

Member Barkeep from Kansas says, "Like in life, or a person's job, or as a student, or as an athlete, etc. it's the attention to mundane, everyday details that make people/organizations successful. These are the ones that stand out in my mind. Before the race, race management should be keeping the participant reasonably informed with what's happening. They aren't leaving registered athletes left blowing in the wind as to what's going on (especially if an unforeseen event happens close to the race date, i.e. weather, road closure, etc.). Before/during the race: considered parking and inflow/outflow of traffic (even while the race is occurring). Properly stocked/staffed aide stations; boring to ponder but it will generate complaints like no other if done wrong. Is the course properly marked and/or staffed so that no one can possibly be confused about which way to go? (I'll save the "know the course beforehand" rule argument for another day.)"

"I also it find very helpful/awesome if there is an announcer letting people know what's going on (chip pick-up, transition closing, etc.) Someone to disseminate information. I can't think too many things that can lead to frustration with a race than confusion among participants and lack of communication with race management," writes Barkeep.

Member Burchib enumerated some details that make for a tough race:

  1. Adequate number of porta potties for the number of entrants. Once attended a DU that started in a state park. 230 entrants-2 bathrooms. They were telling people to line up for the start with 30 people still in line to go that one last time. 

  2. An announcer saying that the bikes really have to cram into the racks, as there are so many entrants. Hello! Get more racks! 

  3. Delays. If a race is supposed to start at 8:am, it should. Delays are horrible and burn a lot of nervous energy. 

  4. When a race is over at 11am and the awards are at 12:30pm Why? 

  5. Accurately measured courses. In one race my run time was so horrible I literally couldn't believe it. This was before I got a GPS. So, when I got home, I did mapmyrun to it and all of a sudden the 2.5 mile run was 2.9.

"The number one thing I look at is nice people who are organized and trying to do their best," writes Burchib. "Being nice covers a multitude of hiccups. Kind of a sidebar, but I also like events that do stuff to take in later. For example, a triathlon I like always puts together a short 5-6 minute video of the race that they put on their site about a week after. I also was in a Tri last year where they had unbelievable quality of footage from a drone as the race was happening. So cool. Felt like ESPN and it only had 200 entrants."

User Rooster519 of Davenport, Iowa, offers valuable advice to triathletes and race directors alike.

"For me it has been a learning experience from the get go. My first triathlon was extremely disorganized. They "required" you attend the pre race meeting the day before, but when we arrived, no one, including the race director or the info table, could tell us where to go or when it was. It was 20 minutes later than it was written on the packet," writes Rooster519.

"An organized race is an amazing thing. Everything just flows, it feels good. Most pre-race nerves are eliminated by an organized race. It has taken me a few years to find this out for myself," he says.

"The first thing I look for is information about the race. A well organized race gives you every bit of information you need early. Take an Ironman for example, you sign up early, and 6 months before the race they flood your inbox with information. Yes, it's annoying at times, but with that, there is always valuable information if you know where to look. Local races are no different. We have a local race here that is going into its 40th + year. I've been getting emails from them since January, the race is in July," says Rooster519.

"The second thing I look for is the after party. Yes, it may not help me get through the race, but it's important. Every participant deserves the same level of reward. Whether it's a hot dog, cookie, or beer. Knowing that there is a party to celebrate your achievement with friends and family is very important," he continues.

"The third thing I look for and is sometimes the hardest thing to find, a race director that actually cares about the participants. Last year I ran a local half marathon, my third year at this one. I was done and had chosen to hang around for a while with my fiance cheering on other participants who were finishing. We knew of one person who was running the full marathon, it was her first. She finished in over 5 hours, and was grateful for our support. We hung out with her helping her around and chatting. The race officially ended after 7 hours as memory serves me. Timing mats had been rolled up. Most of the early aid stations put away. As I left I noticed the director still out front. Having known him a little from helping him with OW swimming I went to talk to him. Shook his hand, thanked him for another wonderful race. I asked him how long he would stay there, his exact answer "as long as someone is still out there trying." He personally shook the hand of every participant at that race. The last finisher was somewhere around 9 hours. Their time didn't count, but I know without a doubt, that when they went under that arch, he shook their hand, put a medal around their neck and thanked them. He knows his race exists because of us. Any race he is involved with, I will run or volunteer at. Not every director will do that, he doesn't do it at every race, but it resonated with me."

Read reviews and race reports here at BeginnerTriathlete if you are researching a specific race. Most triathletes will give honest feedback about the management of the race, and how well they were supported on the course.

For big races, you might also consider how spectators are treated. I had a pretty unpleasant experience spectating a major iron-distance race, where the run course was not symmetrical and I needed to know what mile I was near, but none of the volunteer knew, and the athlete tracker was not working. I was prepared, with spreadsheets and a clipboard, and new the window of time to watch for, but I couldn't get accurate information about whether I was at mile 7 or mile 9. Many big races don't care at all about spectators, while others make an effort to produce a race where the athlete can relax knowing his or her family is not miserable waiting and worrying. Some destination races are even staged at amusement parks, so family members can enjoy their day while waiting to meet their loved one at the finish line.

Overall, different factors are important to different athletes. As you race more, you'll come to understand what is important to you, and gravitate toward races that provide that.


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date: June 23, 2017


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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