From the other side of the race registration table…

18 Apr

This past weekend I worked the Gulf Coast Half Marathon Pensacola Beach. A lot of people think when I say I “worked” the event that I really mean I “volunteered” at the event. While I in no way want to take away from the awesomeness of volunteers (after all, volunteers are what allow any group to actually make a race happen), I will put it out there that I am actually on staff with this particular race series. For this and other races I work on, it means that outside of race weekend, I spend many hours (in addition to my “real job”) helping get course certifications, city permits, coordinating packet pick-up, and all the other myriad of things that go along with planning a race. Often, for a big race (half marathon or longer), we start planning about a year out. That being said, I can assure you that for any well-produced race, there are dozens of people behind the scenes that work many hours…usually at the oddest times of the day…to help ensure an exceptional race-day experience by every runner.

Start line! This went up at 3:00AM.

Having been on both sides of the registration table allows me to have a unique perspective when it comes to planning/managing a race. As someone who has done a stupid amount of races, I feel like I have a good understanding of what a runner expects, what a runner is impressed by, and what makes them want to come back again. As a race director/manager/member of staff, I also know what is/is not feasible and what things are/are not under our control.

That being said, I wanted to share a few things about what it is like to be on the staff side of the registration table…

  1. If you did not register online ahead of time, please do not fuss at me if the race is sold out when you arrive at packet pick-up. Most races publish online registration links MONTHS ahead of time. Additionally, throughout the online registration period, you will often see discount codes published to further encourage online registration. If there is a race you really want to run, go ahead and sign up for it. Once online registration closes, we will open the remaining spots to registrants who sign up in-person at packet pick-up. For a successful race, this may mean only 10-15 remaining spots, and those are on a first come first served basis. If you show up in the last hour of packet pick-up on the day before the race and we say we are sold out, I assure you, we are sold out.
  2. Me and @RunningWithSass!

  3. If a race is sold out, please do not beg and plead for me to register you. Look, I *hate* being the bad guy. However, permits from the city only allow a certain number of people. If we ever hope to have a race in that city again, we simply CANNOT go above the number allowed on our permit. If we do, this could involve legal ramifications beyond what you are aware of. I promise to do all I can to find a way to get you in this race, but if I cannot get you registered and I have no more entries left, please respect that.

  4. If it is highly advertised that there is no race-day packet pick-up, please do not fuss at me on the morning of the race if you see me standing there with a bin of packets. As a runner, I totally understand how convenient race-day packet pick-up is. And for smaller races, perhaps a 5k with only a few hundred people, that start later in the morning, race-day packet pick-up is totally feasible. However, if a race has over 1,500 people and starts at 7:00AM, there is simply no way we could get everyone’s packets to them and have the race start on time…even if we started packet pick-up at 3:00AM.
  5. My favorite race day buddy, Ms. Diane!

  6. If you have an extenuating circumstance, please e-mail/call the race director/staff ahead of time. We are not bad people. We are generally willing to work with you on your situation. However, we cannot work with you if we do not know about your situation. Letting us know about it after that fact does not help us help you before race day. If you have special needs, we really do want to accommodate you! Drop us a line or give us a shout and give us the chance to help you make arrangements for race day!

  7. At the end of the race with a certified course, please do not complain that the course was too long/short. If a race has been certified, I PROMISE you that it is the correct distance. If you are running a half marathon, the only way your Garmin, RunKeeper, or other GPS device will read exactly 13.1 miles as you cross the finish line is if you hit every curve in the race course at 1 foot off from the tangent. If that makes no sense to you whatsoever, check out this post regarding running tangents.

  8. If you feel like you are so sick or injured that you will not complete the race or the race will have a tremendous negative impact on your health, please do not race. Before the start of Sunday’s race, I was approached by a woman who asked at what mile she would find the first sweep vehicle (ambulance). She said that she had been having terrible hip pain, and while she had gotten half way through her training, the last several weeks were not as dedicated to her training as they should have been. Basically, she started the race fully expecting not to cross the finish line. I understand there is a fine line to teeter on when deciding whether to push on and race through an illness/injury or pulling a DNS. However, if you are thinking of starting a race with the plan of not finishing, I encourage you to rethink the race. Take the time to get well and heal. There is always another race.
  9. Me and @Atha75!

  10. If you did not earn an age group award and you notice that we have extras, please do not ask if you can have one or offer to purchase one. Age group awards for this past Sunday’s race were these cool glass drinking jars. Everyone really seemed to like them. After all of the age group awards were given out, we had a handful left over, as some age group winners had already gone home before the awards. Those who did receive their awards happily filled them with beer and continued on with the post-race party. One gentleman noticed we had extras. He asked if he could have one. I politely told him that we could not just GIVE him an award. He then asked to purchase one. I again told him that we could not make the glasses available for purchase on the same day as the event. After all, the people who won them fair and square deserve the right to revel in their accomplishment. Just giving out the extras (or worse, SELLING them) would only cheapen their award. When I explained this to him, he walked away. Moments later, I overheard this gentleman call me “the B word.” Sigh. You just can’t win with some people.

  11. If you have an AMAZING time, please tell us! We work hard for months to make sure you have the best race experience possible. If we are successful, please tell us! When something goes wrong at a race or if there is something that runners really hated, you can bet we will hear about it. However, if something is overwhelmingly awesome, we want to know about that too so that we can make sure we do it again or incorporate it into our other races (if possible). If you have a great time at a race, please reach out to the race director/staff via e-mail, facebook, or Twitter to tell them about your experience. We love hearing from happy racers!

Finish line! Also went up at 3:00AM!


All in all, it was a fantastic race weekend in Pensacola Beach and I am already looking forward to our next race in the series, the Gulf Coast Half Marathon Louisiana Northshore (Mandeville, LA). I am also working on several other big races outside of the state (more details on those coming as soon as I am allowed to spill the beans!) so this summer and fall will definitely be busy.

Have YOU directed/managed a race? How do you feel it affects you as a runner? What issues have you encountered in the past?

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16 Responses to “From the other side of the race registration table…”

  1. lifeisarun April 18, 2012 at 10:34 AM #

    Great post! We’ve only really volunteered at races, but did volunteer at one that was sold out, had people begging for spots and people whose registration hadn’t gone all the way through so they weren’t registered. But definitely the whole running the tangents thing we learned from your blog – weird that there isn’t more awareness of this out there!

  2. Carrie April 18, 2012 at 10:47 AM #

    Really interesting stuff to read! I’ve never been on that side of the fence so I like hearing about your experiences and your viewpoint.

  3. Leah April 18, 2012 at 10:59 AM #

    I learned some things from this: the tangents (totally makes sense) and why a race “sells out”. I must be super inefficient because my Garmin said 13.25. I am not complaining a bit, but I’m glad I learned that fact. I registered for this race the day after I finished it in 2011, so no worries on me wanting to register the day before.
    Since you are “in the know” with this event, I will give you my feedback. I LOVE the soft t-shirts. They are my favorite race shirts as most others just make a woman look like a box. I would be willing to pay a few extra dollars for it to be a tech shirt, but I love the soft feel of the shirt.
    I know a lot of people had a bad experience due to the weather. I crashed a bit from about 9.5 on and had to do lots of intervals. I felt like I was going to have a heat stroke. I loved when I finally found someone with a bucket of ice. I grabbed a handful and wiped it all over me. Is there a possibility that the race could be held in March?
    I would love it if you can explain also why the timing in some races are off. I don’t get near the front because I am not a fast runner, but my watch had me 1 minute faster. I never stopped or paused my Garmin in any way.
    Again, not complaining a bit, but trying to learn more about the process.
    Last thing: Any chance we will have the opportunity to do the series for $100 like was offered after Mandeville? I’m ready. I love to run 13.1.
    Thanks for your help in understanding from behind the scenes, very interesting.
    P.S. I wish I would have known you would be a the expo. I want to get my picture made with a famous blogger. 🙂

    • katieRUNSthis April 18, 2012 at 11:18 AM #

      Thanks for the awesome feedback!!

      I hope that I can provide a little additional feedback…

      I’m so glad that you like the soft t-shirts. Our goal with the shirts is that we wanted to offer a nice-looking GOOD shirt that people would actually wear. So far, we have not opted for tech tees because when most races offer a tech tee option, it is low-end (read = cost-savings for them, not you) shirt that holds the STANK. Everyone on staff for this race is an athlete, so we take tech tees seriously. We would not want to offer a shirt that we felt was cheap. In order to provide a high quality tech tee, we would have to increase the price of registration. While having this as an option is certainly not off the table, we just haven’t made that leap yet. However, we are still mulling it over and knowing that people want it helps us hone in on a decision!

      In regards to the water stations…inaccessibility to COLD water was definitely an issue and proper hydration is something we take very seriously. In the future, we will make sure that colder water and sports drink are available earlier on in the course. Making sure cool/cold water is available is a stickler for me. At the end, you may or may not have heard me yelling at the people who were handing out water bottles to make sure they were good and cold. I, personally, had my arms in ice up to my elbows for the first half of the finishers…making sure those bottles were getting good and cold. I think I have finally regained feeling in my fingertips. 🙂

      We have explored the idea of having the race in March. However, McGuire’s Irish Pub has their annual St. Patrick’s Day 5k (which has thousands of runners) also in March. The restaurant group that owns McGuire’s Irish Pub also owns Flounder’s…which is one of our major sponsors. So, we choose not to compete. However, we are working on expanding the series to include a March race somewhere nearby, so keep your ears and eyes open for that info!

      When it comes to timing, there are so many intricacies that go into your final race time. It depends on whether the race is scored by chip time or gun time, via sensors or timing mats, etc. This deserves its own post. I’ll get that up later this week.

      And, yes, after the Mandeville race later this year, there will be information about signing up for the entire series for one low price!

      I’m sorry I missed you at packet pick-up! I’ll definitely be around for the race in Mandeville, so maybe we can connect then? 🙂

  4. Abby April 18, 2012 at 11:16 AM #

    Thanks, Katie, for the insight! I love hearing about the Staff’s point of view. I will admit, I gripe a lot about races (none for the reasons you have stated, and if I did, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize), but if I would get good explanations for the way things are run, I’d be more understanding. I just don’t think people realize sometimes that it’s not always about them (me included!)

    • katieRUNSthis April 18, 2012 at 11:20 AM #

      Don’t worry, when I race, I can always find something to gripe about too! Ha! That’s the thing…when you don’t understand something or are curious about the way something works, all you have to do is ask. Odds are, someone else is curious too. Sometimes, as race staff, we forget to mention things (we are human too!) or we don’t explain ourselves clearly enough. And usually, when someone has an issue, if they are just given an explanation (whether that resolves things for or against them), they are generally understanding. 🙂

  5. nycrunningmama April 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM #

    I’m always amazed at people when they complain about things they are CLEARLY indicated in the race rules. If they don’t like any of the rules or can’t meet them, then they shouldn’t sign up for a race. Unless, as you said, extenuating circumstances arise.
    This is a great post. I feel like anyone who races needs to read it to see what it’s like on the other side =) =)

  6. Carrie April 18, 2012 at 3:58 PM #

    Good to know. I’m running my first 5k this weekend… but I think running on Pensacola Beach would be much nicer. My husband and I were married there!

  7. Michelle @ Running with Attitude April 18, 2012 at 4:33 PM #

    Love this Katie! I’m serving as race director for a local 5k and there are moments I’m ready to pull my hair out! LOL! I can only imagine how crazy things get with bigger races!

  8. runningwithsass April 18, 2012 at 9:32 PM #

    great post! I can’t believe someone wanted to BUY an age group award then made you to be the bad guy. ug. Some people. I know I complained about the heat but I totally understand this was not in yalls control (although I wish y’all would consider moving the race to march or Feb!) The only other thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t see gatorade until mile 4.5 ish and my body really needed electrolytes. Maybe for super hot race days have it at every water stop? (if it was at a stop before then I totally didn’t see it and kept yelling “gatorade!!”)
    I think gulf coast series puts on a great race with great post race parties and has good organization and water stops (and medals!) I can’t wait to run Mandeville again in October! Loved that race!

  9. triing2survive April 18, 2012 at 9:59 PM #

    Great post! This post has inspired me to send an email to the company that directed the triathlon I did this last weekend. 🙂

  10. Atha April 19, 2012 at 8:05 AM #

    I think (hope) I told you this at the post race party but if not here goes. I love this race series! Yes it was hot but there’s nothing the race staff can do about that. It is one of the best races around! I love the shirt (please dont change it!), the finish line was well stocked with water, and the post race party was awesome! The course support was great and all of the water stations were well stocked too. The medal is the best and my fave! Although I’ve never worked a race but I have volunteered at a few. Every runner should so they can see all that goes into it. You guys all work hard to put on a great race and it shows. Thank you!

  11. elizabeth April 20, 2012 at 7:33 AM #

    LOVED reading this. really cool to hear about the other side. i have volunteered but never done as much as you. i’m curious how you got involved…i’m not sure if you have mentioned your “real” job but i don’t think it is in the running community-or maybe this is it?? reason i ask is I am at a cross roads at my career and trying to figure out “what i want to be when I grow up” and have thought about something in the industry-or at least doing it on the side.

  12. Nicole W. April 23, 2012 at 11:55 AM #

    Thanks for sharing this Katie! It’s a perspective that not many others see (or care to see!). I volunteered last week to hand out bibs/shirts at a really large (sold out) race here in AZ and it amazes me how people act! They always want something more – and I personally try to take time to thank volunteers and I realized that not many people do that!

    People like you make sure that runners have really awesome races! Even though I havent run any that you have put on – thank you for all of your hard work!

  13. Ellie April 24, 2012 at 2:37 PM #

    Hi Katie!
    I ran this half–great race! I might have even picked up my packet from you. You keep up a good site!

  14. David H. April 25, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

    My company was the expo sponsor of a race this past weekend – it was definitely a different perspective that gave me a new appreciation for how races come together.

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