Running, Training

A Dream Race…

This is an open letter to race directors.  It solely reflects my own personal opinion.  It is not meant to bash anyone or anything, nor am I begging every race I go to make it “perfect” for me.  I am just stating in a dream race situation this would be a winning combination for me.

It’s not a secret I like to run.  As well as running solo I like to participate in a lot in road races.  If I could race every weekend without the possibility of injury or mental fatigue I would.  I would love it.  That being said there are several things that I find to make the perfect race for me.  I’ve briefly listed them.


There should be an option to do this beforehand online as well as at the race (for smaller races).  I understand bigger races or marathons and even some half marathons this is dumb idea…but to arrive at a 5k only to find out there is no race day registration is (in my opinion) silly.


Some races are overly expensive because of the name attached.  Some clothing is overly expensive because of the name attached.  NYCM was 200+ dollars.  NYCM is the Gucci or Prada or Road Races…you do it once and then buy most of your clothes on clearance at target for a while.

That being said, I do not think no name 5ks, 10ks and races with minimal support and swag should be 50 dollars.  5ks should not be 50 dollars period.  Unless I’m getting a lot of free swag or a good tshirt, sweatshirt, COFFEE MUG, or something…5ks should not be 50 dollars ever.

Here are the prices I am willing to pay for a basic and nongoal race:

5k-9.9k: 30 dollars (the absolute max and I try and find 20 dollar 5ks as much as possible)

10k: 40 dollars

Half marathon: 75 dollars (unless it’s a goal race and falls on a specific date I want…)

The race:

If there is a corner there should be a volunteer or it is clearly marked to tell you where to go.  Nothing is worse than getting lost on a course when you are on a PRing pace.  Even a giant sign that says this way…just please don’t think people know.  I personally catch the dumb when I run.  2+2 begins to equal 3 and my mind becomes even less directionally intelligent.  You think my grammar is bad now imagine if I wrote while I was running.  I would be better off writing while I was drunk.

I normally don’t care as much about water stops.  Unless it’s especially hot, I need 2 cups of Gatorade per half marathon (mile 5 and 8 are my dream stops).   Just please have the appropriate amount of water or stops.  (I realize everyone is different in this issue and essentially it is the runner who should review the water stops…if you need more…carry your beverage of choice) I do think races should have one water stop (yes that even counts 5ks…not every runner is running a 15 minute 5k, some people are running an hour).  We as runners will thank you.

Finish line:

Have a clock at the finish line.  Always have a clock…unless it’s “not a race” I payed to race and have to have some sort of time.

A bit of water at the end is good too but I personally normally have ten water bottles in my car.

Race awards:

I’m sure there are a lot of different opinions on this.  I don’t race to win and pick up awards.  I’ve actually never won a race with a cash prize.  (That’s fine).  I’ve won a few gift cards, lots of trophies, medals and plaques (which I keep every single one) but at least do something for the overall winners.  Even if it’s a certificate we like the extrinsic motivation.  Nothing is better then instagramming a sweet prize.  It makes you look good, me look good and the race look good.

There has been one race that I’ve been disappointed with race awards and that was the Nike Women’s half marathon.  For a 160 dollar half marathon, you would have thought I would have gotten a certificate for winning my overall age group.  Since it was such a large, expensive race I guess I expected too much.  Maybe if I had a terrible race I wouldn’t have been so upset.  Other then that I race for me and have never had an “issue” with race awards.

That being said if you give me a free entry for next year’s event,  that is number one.  I will probably sing your race songs and come back if I’m around. In my dream world, every race I have won, I would get a free entry for next year.  (that’s just me though).  If I get any sort of award, whether it’s a baby medal I’m generally very happy.

One more thing:

What you do for the top male do for the top female.  Yes I understand the top male is winning and there is no one else in front of them but it really stinks when the top male breaks the tape and the top female does not…or the top male gets 3 cyclists and the top female does not…is that selfish I don’t know but I am a woman and I work hard.

In summary:

I love to race and if anything of this really upset me I wouldn’t race.  I do realize that putting a race together is hard work and I will always be in awe for those who do.  I’m just saying if race budgets were not an option and every race was tailored to my style…this would be a perfect race for me.

Question for you: What is a perfect race for you? 

55 thoughts on “A Dream Race…”

  1. Haha I have had exactly zero of your winner problems and I would just be happy to have them someday 😉 but I totally get that it’s lame when a female doesn’t get to break the tape, I would LOVE that. My perfect race would involve properly spacing runners. You can’t do much about the idiots who lie about times to move corrals but not sending half marathoners, marathoners, and 10kers all at the same time sure helps a ton. I’ve done marathons where you can barely move at a decent speed the first 4 miles but it turns out none of those people are running the marathon and by mile 14, I’m all alone. I don’t see why it’s so hard to send them off 30 minutes apart.

  2. I think all races should include something with the name of the race on it whether that be the bib, a t-shirt, mug, just something that you can take away and remember hey I ran that race. Along with that completely agree with pricing, there are so many races I would love to run but it is just outrageous prices that makes it not worth it.

  3. That is a great description – my only other thought would be to have SOME way to do ‘day of race’ packet pickup. I did a marathon last year that was over an hour away, and required day-before’ pickup. So that meant heading there the day before, going home, and turning around the next morning and heading back.

    I like what one of my local half-marathons does – two-tier pricing. Want a shirt? Pay more. This one also gives no medals, but has plenty of water / gatorade / gu stops, food at start and tons at finish. And did I mention that even WITH the shirt it is $45 … for a half-marathon?!?

    Another thing – race directors need to make your website with the information presented as though the person reading has never been to the area … ever. I had one last year where the overall elevation gain/drop was totally incorrect – the site specified Start-Finish, rather than cumulative change (one was 200ft, the other was more than 6000!). I think I STILL feel that one in my quads 😉

    1. I really agree with that two tier pricing that is a really awesome idea. Having them write the directions to someone who hasn’t been to the town is super beneficial too. I normally race in different towns that I’ve never been too. Telling me it’s at a bank without giving me the name is not helpful…especially since I rely on GPS

  4. I actually had no idea you drank gatorade during a race. gosh that stuff rips through my system. I wish races were cheaper. I think all runners will say that. I mean I would sign up for way more if that was a possibility.

  5. I’m with you on everything.. add food to the equation, something simple is fine. Water is a must for me, I have water in my car too, but I need it now. Good sign directions also a must, I get pretty useless in that sense when I’m running at a hard effort, no mental power left.

  6. I agree with you sentiments wholeheartedly. For better or worse, races have become a business and, like most businesses, they are concerned with the bottom line. In the end, that tends to mean increasing the entry fee and trying to provide less swag or support. I suppose that to a certain degree that is market-driven, so as long as they have folks willing to pay higher prices, they will continue to charge them. Having said all that, my perfect race would be one with a reasonable entry fee, a guarantee of seasonable weather (not 70F in December) and lots of crowd support!

  7. I’m 100% with you on cost. Also with you on females getting the same benefit as males!

    My biggest pet peeve is unorganized races – all aspects (packet pickup, registration, location, parking, course, etc). I went to packet pick up for a race one time and got there about an hour into the pickup time and they had already packed up and LEFT. I had to go super early race day to pick it up. I was very annoyed (Flat-Out Events, I’m throwing you under the bus here).

    I know people have a thing against this mentality that everyone gets a medal. I get it, I really do, but I worked DARN hard for my little 5k, and I want a medal! 🙂 I’ve been to races that give medals to the half marathoners and the little kid fun run; and not to the 5kers.

  8. My pet peeves: 1) Not having enough porta-a-johns or sufficient bathroom facilities at the start. Not a big issue for me on the course but the ladies may feel differently here 2) not promptly posting the race results. 3) no corrals for larger events. this is a safety issue as i have seen kids and adult walkers freaking run over at the start. Oh and if i want a “fun run” I will run with my peeps in my hood or FLSP. If I pay money, I expect a professionally run (and accurately measured) RACE.

  9. You bring up so many good points. I think the one that bothers me the most (not that I’m ever in the lead anyways..) is that the lead female doesn’t get cyclists/ribbon to break for the majority of races. Women train just as hard-make us feel like winners too!

  10. I so agree with all of this – races are way too expensive! I especially agree with the different treatment for men and women. There should be equality, and in running, I’d always rather see the women who are running anyway!

  11. I agree with all of your points. There have been many 5Ks I have skipped out on because the entry fee is as much as a half marathon. I understand a week-of registration fee being a little higher, but the fees starting at half marathon level pricing is ridiculous.. My sister recently ran a 5K that also had a 10K component – the race volunteers did not direct them where to go and many (including her) ended up going onto the 10K course which obviously ruined their race results. Clear courses are so important! I also once ran a 5K that had no mile markers. I don’t care it it’s only 3.2 miles, I want to now where I am since GPS isn’t always completely reliable.

  12. I’m so glad I found your blog! I’ve recently started running and finished my very first 5k yesterday. All of your tips are so helpful, and I’ll use them to train for future runs.

  13. Ummm my perfect race would be all of the above, I agree with what you posted 100%!!! But if you were to demand an answer out of me, I’m a big stickler about having enough field marshalls, or signage on the race course so that you know where in the world you are going or where to make turns. This is a sore subject with me because the best race/5k I have ever run to this date REALLY wasn’t my best 5K. It was about 45 seconds slower than what it should have been because of lack signage and/or field marshalls. I ended up turning the wrong way and got nearly a 1/4 mile off before someone told me to turn around. Also, medals are nice.

  14. The price is huge. I pay way too much for races. I don’t like to but I have a hard time finding the less expensive ones. These are all such good points I didn’t think about though. As for prizes, my favorite was a $50 visa gift card I got for winning a tiny race a few years ago but most races I’ve done just give out things that were donated to them. I love the ribbon cutting. Someday…

  15. This is a fantastic post – you’ve basically covered everything I would have asked for as well 🙂 I honestly can’t think of anything else!

    ‘I personally catch the dumb when I run. 2+2 begins to equal 3 and my mind becomes even less directionally intelligent. ‘ Oh God, this is me as well – I’m dumb enough when I’m stationary, but when I’m running…oy, I can get lost at the drop of a hat.


  16. Glad to have read this – As a Race Director for 4 races the only thing we don’t do that you request is day of registration – Of course, our races are trail races, and capped, and have all sold out in advance thus far… We have no races over 30 bucks – including our 1/2 marathon – which is the USATF Regional Championship race — – The trail community is way different than the road community when it comes to expectations as well – – Interested in coming out and racing for glory on July 19th? could be encouraged to comp you on elite status…… but you gotta sign up ahead of time 😉

  17. I was actually the first female finisher at a race that gave the top 3 overall… overall. Well, obviously they were all men. So technically all the ladies who won overall just won their age groups. Needless to say I’ll never do that one again. They have since changed that policy but once a race burns like that, I will say no. There are enough race options out there.

    I agree with you 100% on everything in this post. I would like to add about the awards, that those who place overall should get something more than age groupers. I placed 3rd overall in a race and got the same medal as the age groupers… which also said “age group winner”. I know they pre-order awards but maybe they could have thrown something else in? Or had a different ribbon on the medal at least.

    I’d also like to add that races need the option for XXL shirts. I have done a few that stopped at XL. My husband is a size XXL and sometimes those don’t fit him bc they will do a very small cut. My race shirts never fit because I’m tiny but that’s fine with me, I am going to race anyway. But I could see where a bigger person or someone who is beginning, losing weight, etc, might get discouraged if their size is not on the list (especially an XXL, that is a fairly common shirt size). Especially if the person preregisters… if they register late or day of that’s a different story with pre-ordering shirts. It doesn’t discourage Clay… he still runs races… but I could see a first timer starting out could get upset to not get a shirt at their first race due to their size, especially when that person may be the one who needs the encouragement the most.

  18. I agree with all your points although I’m not winning any races, haha. I will pay the outrageous prices because I am a sucker, 😉

  19. Great points, especially about “catch[ing] the dumb,” LOL. Also on my list would be post-race massage. I don’t care what the scientific literature says, if it’s a half marathon or below, I love a good post-race massage. Also, one of my pet peeves is when they give the top 3 males/females age-group awards as well–as in, if the top 3 females get gift cards for being top 3 and are all in the same age group, the age-group gift cards should go to the next fastest 3. Share the love!

    1. To my knowledge road racing rules state there is no double dipping. If it’s a certified course they should not be allowing overall wins to dip into age groups! I agree with that completely.

  20. Oh, and race-day packet pickup is a must. It’s expensive enough without having to get a hotel the night before if you’re traveling from out of town to an early race.

  21. Here here on the clear race markings. We got so lost in one of my 10ks last fall that half the runners either ran 5 miles or 7 depending on the path they took, which sucked a lot

  22. I agree that race prices have gotten way out of control the past few years. And a lot of them are doing it for profit instead of benefiting a charity. I am currently rebelling against them and I plan to stick to smaller, cheaper, locally controlled races this year.

  23. A) if you have water stations, make sure they have enough water & volunteers to last through the last runner. There’s nothing worse in my mind then having to scrounge for water when you’re at mile 10 because you take more than 2 hours to finish the race.
    B) if it’s a big race, I know you’re getting sponsors to cover food and drinks at the end, but please please please have bananas and something with electrolytes that is cold.
    C) make a big deal out of every corral and finisher. I loveDisney races because whether you are the first or last corral, you get fireworks. The choir sings until that last person crosses the finish. It makes everyone feel special.
    D) also, women’s shirts if you have race shirts. Or lower the price if you turn down a shirt.

    1. I agree that I think there should be a tier system with races. If you want to pay an extra fee and get a tshirt, that’s great! If you don’t then lower the price a little bit for us that don’t need to hoard anymore!

  24. I’m definitely with you on the fees. They just keep climbing! I keep looking at races to sign up for and then opt out because I can’t justify a $100 half when I’m not even going to be “racing” it.

  25. I agree with fees! A lot of races are getting too damn expensive!

    I also agree about treating male and female runners equally. It always feels like men are the highlight and us women are just secondary. Like we’re not really competitors, we’re just hanging out or something. Ugh! We work hard and rock too, dammit!

  26. I love what Cherry Blossom does- you get a regular t-shirt and your race bib with the entry fee (I think it’s only 45 dollars for a TEN MILE race!) and you can pay more if you want a finisher’s medal or a technical tee. I also really loved the Three Bridges Marathon in Charlottesville- I think it was $40 for the marathon and even less for the half. The whole thing was very low-key but they had plenty of fluids on the course and nice prizes for the winners.
    I am a big fan of the cash prizes vs gift certificates, but I really like when races give out free shoes. It’s good business for the running stores too because you have to go to the store to pick out your free shoes and most people will end up buying something else, too.
    And… I love J & A races just because, even though they are more expensive, it’s totally worth it especially as a goal race 🙂

  27. Corrals Corrals Corrals! Unless you are a small race please, don’t have little kids (speedy as they may be) getting run over/ causing issues at the start of a race!

  28. Those all make sense!
    My list includes: race-day packet pickup, real prizes (I don’t want a trophy, but I’d swoon over a gift card or some running gear!), unlimited beer (just being honest – most races here have this, only RocknRoll doesn’t and that’s annoying), clocks on the course for long races, and YES to well-marked courses. I’ve gotten lost in two marathons that weren’t well-marked and didn’t have volunteers! On my list of stuff I don’t care about: you can skip the medal, you can skip the bands on the course, and you can skip the T-shirt and I’ll still be happy.

  29. I agree with these.
    I personally think the race shirt should be by choice. I personally don’t think it’s fair that I have to pay for a cotton t-shirt, when I don’t want it.

  30. Dude this was so insightful- I must admit, the only races I do are ones which go for a charity..well those are the only ones I’ve done!

    The aspect of attaining a T shirt at least would be awesome! FREE of course!

  31. “NYCM is the Gucci or Prada or Road Races…you do it once and then buy most of your clothes on clearance at target for a while.” <– Wowza, you're right! Triathlons aren't cheap (most cost at least $150), and like you wrote, if you sign up, then you cut expenses elsewhere. And really, since my money goes toward gear/races and food, then that just means no shopping/eating out, which is fine.

  32. I love this post and the great discussion you got started : )
    I agree with the name dropping of certain races and how they have become seriously wallet robbers.Yet, I still fall for them, I still include them in my annual budget. Recently, I have been able to run some $5 races through a local running club and they have been the best so far. Free gatorade during the race. Free food at the end. No shirts but that is okay…love how affordable they are.

  33. I this is horrible but when I get shirts I hate when they are beastly monster cotton messes. I do not need another boxy race shirt.

  34. Haa- love this- so many things I agree with. Most importantly- do the same thing for the female winner do for the male! I ran a decent sized race last year (not huge, 800 or so) and took 2nd place and they gave absolutely no recognition to any of the top 3…. not even the winners (except they got to break to tape…. which is amazing as you know!) They gave the top 75 runners pint glasses but I worked hard to keep that 2nd place and damn it I wanted a gift card or something haha. Also- totally with you on prices. I will not pay more than $30 for a 5K… although I guess it depends on what city you are in as it’s much more expensive to put on races in some cities. Great list.

  35. completely agree on all of these things. I hate when courses are not clearly marked with people! Or mark the ground. Who looks for signs? I also don’t know why race day reg is more expensive when volunteers are doing the reg. Why should it be more? That has always baffled me. I also don’t like price hikes. I have to decide a year out if I want to do your race of I pay $150?

  36. I’m 150% with you on race fees. The entry fees for runDisney, for example, are just out of control. I won’t be doing one of those again for awhile. I am trying to stick to cheap races – they aren’t easy to come by, but at least I get different experiences that way!

    My perfect race also has endless porta potties. Heck, I’m even willing to pay money to have access to select, private porta potties. I feel like that is something that could easily be accommodated, but no races (at least none that I’ve seen) do it!

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