Moe Johnson | Running with Moe
Races feature different tasks, details that competitors may not be aware of
There are many different tasks and details to put on a race that most runners are not aware of. Some of the preliminary work starts about four months or more before the race is scheduled. Advertisement, shirt order and design, awards and the cost are things that need to be decided well in advance. Day of the race tasks such as the course set up, registration, refreshment table, and parking location personnel are all part of putting on a race. One of the seemingly easiest duties is that of a direction person to make sure runners follow the correct route. And while this is just a matter of standing at a critical intersection or possible side road it is one of the duties that can cause a race to be a disaster.
One of my first examples was a 10K in San Antonio that I thought I could run under 40 minutes in. As I passed what I thought was the six mile marker at 37 minutes I figured I could run that last quarter mile in plenty of time to break 40 minutes. As I rounded the curve I looked ahead and thought that the distance was the longest quarter mile I had ever seen. Well, 40 minutes came and went, then 41 minutes, and on up to 46 minutes. I asked an aid station person how much farther to the finish. He said about another mile or so. It turns out the lead person took a wrong turn from a direction person and the result was the 10K distance was a little over eight miles long.
A race in New Braunfels had a ‘Y’ in the road. The lead runners took the right side of the Y. As a second group came to the intersection a direction person arrived and said we need to take the left side. It was too late to catch the lead runners. At the finish line runners were coming across the finish line from both directions. I am not sure how the race director figured out who were the award winners.
We had a bicycle race out on county roads east of San Marcos. I had one point that had a turnaround point. I had painted a large circle and a semi-circle arrow on the road for the riders to see and turn around. I sent a group of direction people out to the area as a precaution. Just as a check I went out to see if all the direction people were in place. At the turnaround nobody was there. I went back to the next aid station to see if anybody was at that location. The direction people were there. They said they couldn’t find the marks in the road. I just could not understand how a two foot white circle and a large semicircle arrow painted in the road could have been missed. As it happened there was a critical turn for the bike riders. I asked the race director if there was a direction person there. They said they had taped a sheet of paper on a tree with an arrow on it for riders to see. Fortunately the lead motorcycle and bike discovered when they came to a major highway that they had missed the turn. Now all of the blame does not fall on direction personnel. At one bike race I had painted arrows in the road about 30 yards from the turn. I had placed direction arrows before the turn. I had a direction person standing in the road telling bikers to turn at the intersection. A biker came flying down the road and kept going straight. When the direction person yelled the biker finally slowed down and turned around. Sometimes a runner or biker gets in a “zone” and is so focused on their effort that outside interference is not observed.
There was a race out on the county roads several years back. I was directing a race in the area also. I had my cones and direction arrows in place and several people at critical turns for the runners. A sheriff’s car came alongside and asked if I had seen any other runners in the area. Evidently the other race did not have sufficient direction people or direction arrows on the course. The deputy said that he and the fellow who was supposed to be timing the finish line were out looking for lost runners that were running down several other roads in the area. It sounded like there were a number of runners lost on the back county roads and they were out trying to find them. The deputy came back and said he had found an aid station table and cooler at a turnaround point in the race on the road but nobody manning it. Just a table with cups and a cooler on the side of the road.
While the seemingly unimportant duties in race management can be accomplished by any direction person standing in the road this reminds race directors that there are no unimportant duties.