Guidance for races: Patience, Rules and Appreciation

A couple of weeks ago I talked about my experience volunteering at the Run For The House and how fun it was. This is a continuation of that post to talk about having a better appreciation for race committees and volunteers (and a reminder to follow the rules!).

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Chalking the course the day before

I’ll start by saying that every runner should be required to serve on a race committee, or at the very least, volunteer for a couple of races. It provides a different perspective on the amount of work, energy, frustrations, and confusion that goes on.

RFH Volunteers
A few of the awesome race volunteers from Team RWB!

While most racers are fantastic, kind, understanding and appreciative, there are always a few who:

a) seem to think they are more important than everyone else
b) have no patience
c) can’t/don’t want to follow the rules
d) are all of the above

For example, here’s what happened at my recent race.

Issue #1 – Delay in official results

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Setting up the registration table at 6 a.m.

There was no awards ceremony at the race. Awards (the typical: overall, top 3 age group, masters) are kept at the registration table and — once the official results have been posted by our timer — are handed out at the table. The race is chip-timed; the timer will start posting unofficial results as runners finish so they can see their finish time, but usually waits a bit to give official results because there’s always a chance a runner who started at the back of the pack (it’s about an 850-person race) could run faster and place higher than someone who came in earlier.

What’s normally an easy and calm process of going to the table, giving your race, age and last name to the volunteer and being handed a medal turned into a hectic scramble (or as one of our other committee members said “a down-right clusterf**k) to get the medals handed out before being mobbed.

For some reason, people got super impatient this year when the results weren’t being finalized as fast as they thought they should be. Due to some errors in the timing system (see below for issue #2), we had to get those fixed before we could issue official results.

Unfortunately, racers saw the unofficial times and immediately started lining up at the table and were being downright rude to our poor volunteers about how it was taking so long or questioning why they weren’t getting a medal (it’s only the Top 3 folks, sorry, not everyone’s a winner). The line was close to 100 deep at one point.

I lost track of time trying to help troubleshoot the errors, but there was probably only a 15- to 20-minute delay in finalizing the results. That’s not the end of the world by any means. But you would think it had been hours from the comments we were hearing. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say it was demoralizing for the volunteers.

 

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Committee members discussing set-up instructions

Issue #2 – Bib swapping

One of our timing system errors was a handful of folks in the wrong age categories. Since you register for this event online, it mostly boils down to operator error during the registration process, but it’s hard to tell the racer that when he’s in your face complaining. You just do what you can to get it corrected and hand him his medal.

However, the bigger issue was runners switching bibs. This is not allowed but it happened anyway. We had at least two instances that impacted the results. (There may have been others we don’t know about, but if they didn’t place they fell under our radar.)

In the first case, a husband and wife accidentally swapped bibs when they got dressed and one of them placed so we had to fix it. Frustrating, but an understandable, honest mistake.

But in the other case, a teenage daughter took her mom’s bib when the mom decided not to run that morning. Instead of coming to the registration table to tell us and correcting it beforehand, she just ran the race and then came to tell us afterward when she realized that based on her time, she should have placed in the 15-19 category but she wasn’t listed. Of course not, because the results had her placing first in the Women’s 40-49 category, where her mom was registered. That meant we had to totally change everything on the backend since the teen wasn’t even registered for the race in the first place.

That was just NOT COOL! We could have been mean and told her she broke the rules and didn’t get an award, but this is supposed to be a fun, family race for charity, so we didn’t want to do that. But it sure got on everyone’s already frayed nerves.

Moral of the story

Just like any customer service job, and a race is essentially that, you put on a smile and make the customer/racer happy, even when they’re wrong or being disrespectful.

Now, not everyone was rude. We did have some legitimate issues people brought to our attention and did so very nicely and waited patiently off to the side while we addressed the concern. Those people were awesome.

Having been on both sides of a race now, I feel more than ever that all runners should have to volunteer to help organize a race so they would understand the magic happening behind the scenes. Or at least be a little more mindful that the volunteers are just that, volunteers. They got up extra early to set up and are working their butts off so you can go run your best and earn a shiny medal. Please say thank you, smile at them, and be extra nice to them if you do have a legitimate issue. And remember, patience is a virtue, and above all else, follow the rules!

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The Committee celebrating after the race!

 

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