Five Things that Will Make Me Love Your Road Race

As someone who races a lot, I’ve figured out what I personally like and don’t in a race.  Of course, I understand, races are never geared towards one racer, but certain qualities will lead to more runners coming back.

Similarly, some qualities will make me never sign up for your race or even recommend it.

Five Things to make me love your road race

First and foremost, it takes a long time to prepare a road race.  It takes much longer than the actual length of the run, and most directors have blood, sweat and probably tears in their races.  With the new boom of “fun” and “themed” races and regular timed races have declined. However, just thinking, there are a few key components that separate the good from the not so good races.

I’m neither elite nor a celebrity so in reality, who really cares about what I like in a race right? 

So enough about that…What makes a road race good?

Enough Parking and Bathrooms

Races should have plenty of bathrooms.  If the hosting facility does not have enough bathrooms, porta-potties should be rented.  The last thing racers should be worried about is the bathroom or the parking situation.


Like any runner, I like unusual things.  I have close to 50 plain t-shirts.  I donate 90% of them. If your race provides anything other than a plain t-shirt, I’m already excited.  Even if it’s a long sleeve shirt or a neat graphic, I’m more likely to wear the shirt.  Bonus points if it’s a hoodie or jacket.  Many races can get away with charging more for a hoodie or jacket.  

Good Course Marking: 

I’ve run several races that I’ve wondered if I’m running the correct way.  I’ve also run races that I’ve been directed the wrong way by a course marshal.  Last month my husband was led the wrong way at a race. Yes, I realize at the end of the day, it’s the runner’s responsibility to know the race course. However, the race marshals/volunteers should be aware.

Age Group Awards: 

In this day and age, it’s important to give some age group award or recognition.  The pure joy of a racer who receives an age group award is usually contagious.  Runners remember when there is no award ceremony.

Post Race Food and Drinks:

Believe it or not, I ran a race last summer where the end temperature was over 80 degrees, and there was absolutely no water or drinks for the runners. Luckily I had brought my own Nalgene, but that was dangerous.  Even just a few bananas, Gatorade, and snacks go a long way.

Minor details:
  • USATF Certified: While this typically applies to longer distances and those looking to qualify for Boston, having a recognized approved course often makes the difference of whether I chose the race or a different one.
  • Lead Cyclists for Both Men and Woman: If there is a lead cyclist for the overall male, I do think there should be a lead cyclist for the overall female.  The same goes for “breaking the tape”.  I’ve run races that the lead male has had three cyclists the female has none.  Do I think it’s fair?  Not really…

This isn’t an “end all” list, and it’s tailored towards aspects I prefer in a race.

Questions for you:
What makes a quality Road Race in your opinion?
What is a dream race for you? 

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  1. I look for a draw of good competition to run against or race against in triathlons. I have tons of shirts in the upstairs closet and even found some in the attic the other day, got too many race medals just thrown down in the basement, so I don’t care about swag anymore.

    On my bucket list is Norsemen in Norway, I starting to focus more on travel and location over anything else

    1. i second the thoughts on awards – no medals, no trophies a $5 coffee gift card will make me happier!

  2. Corrals by pace. Even if it’s up to the racers to sort themselves, it’s a nice reminder that hey, you’re walking, you need to be in the back.

  3. i ran a race where you could choose between a shirt or a mug, the mug is awesome. Also, i used to run the radnor steeplechase every year and one year they literally had only 1 bathroom available more than a 1/2 mile away for 200+people I think. it was stupid. This past Thanksgiving, I did a race where they spent an hour doing a raffle before doing the awards, this was frustrating because I had been the first female and it was Thanksgiving morning and here were non-race participants getting priority. You weren’t entered into the raffle bc you ran the race – you had to buy tickets.

  4. Agreed with all of these. Also an organized start line and if the race is chip timed, mats at both the start and finish.

  5. Agreed to all of this.

    When it comes to swag, I tend to not really want anything. I just throw most of it out or it clutters my house. If the shirt isn’t a tech shirt and isn’t offered in women’s sizes, I have no interest. I won’t wear a unisex shirt and have little use for more non-tech t-shirts.

  6. I guess I hold certain races to a higher standard, but mostly I want to get a good value for what I pay. I’ve seen people say things like “cost per mile”, but I mostly run 5Ks so that doesn’t matter a whole lot to me. If a race only costs $15-20, I really don’t mind if the course is short or the t-shirt is plain, but when a 5K costs $30-35, I want a correctly marked course, nice awards, nice swag, etc. With the shirts, I think most runners would be OK not receiving a shirt but having a lower entry fee. Or, some sort of swag option that isn’t a shirt, such as a finisher’s medal, a tervis tumbler, etc. You know, things that fit everyone :).

    One huge thing around here is Masters, Grand Masters, and Great Grand Masters awards. That’s not on our radars yet, but we have a LOT of older runners in Charleston. If your race doesn’t offer those categories, many runners will not come. Also, runners will complain if there are not age group awards for up to 80 years old. Most races here actually let you race for free if you’re over 70 and they provide age-graded times to keep the older runners coming out (although if I got to race for free, I don’t think there would be much of a question, I would race).

  7. Well-marked courses are the best. I like to see each mile marker so I can segment in my head how much longer I have to run. Races have been really expensive lately 45-65 for 5k-5 mile. I would love to do race every other weekend for 20 bucks.

    In terms of swag, I am happy if they have a ladies’ shirt.

  8. Every race director needs to read this. It amazes me how the most simple stuff like mile-marker placement and course measurement can be off. I feel like those are the bare minimum! To me, the most important things are accurate measurement and that the race starts on time. Races that start late mess with the schedule I set for warming up, fueling, etc.

  9. I live in CT and a lot of the local races are not USATF-certified. About 3/4 of the races I run are the advertised distance, but about 1/4 are a little short – 2.95 mi. for a 5K, 6.08 mi. for a 10K, etc.. It is extremely frustrating when you run a PR time but your GPS watch (and other racer’s GPS watches) reads a slightly shorter distance, so you know in reality you didn’t really PR; or you ran a pace PR but since the course was short, you don’t have a new 5K or 10K PR.

    Also, I win 5-10 races every year and I have yet to break the tape. Just once, I want a race to hold up the tape for first female!!

    1. I hope you’re able to break the tape soon. It’s such a small and minor detail but I do agree that it’s definitely special.

  10. As a back of the packer, I hate it when races run out of water/snacks at the end. I’ve even had it happen on-course when the water stop was empty- totally uncool! Races should be able to plan ahead well enough that this isn’t an issue, and the large majority do, luckily!

  11. These definitely make a lot of sense to me! I seriously can’t believe that about a race not having any drinks or snacks at the finish though – definitely dangerous. And with my tendency to wander and get lost, a clearly marked course would definitely be a top priority for me.

  12. Agree with adequate bathrooms and with the commenter who said starting-line organization — particularly for larger races.

    Also, the course has to be able to handle the race. Did a 5k recently where the start/finish was in the middle — so you went south 1.25k, then north past the line and another 1.25k, then back. It was also a 10k, where the runners did the whole thing twice. And it was way too narrow for the 1000 runners who signed up. The poor 10K elites were weaving through the 5k stragglers, and even the 5k people were having trouble getting around people.

  13. bathhhhhhroooms!!!! I swear that’s always my biggest frustration at the start and then I’ll finish and need to pee because i don’t stop and there are none to be found!

  14. I generally run marathons and it drives me crazy when they give you bagels, water, bananas, etc. but nothing to put them in. When I’m hobbling around after a race, I don’t need 10 things in my arms, then inevitably, they ask to take a photo and I have to try and set everything on the ground, take a pic, then try to bend over and pick it up again. I don’t know why more races don’t give out bags at the finish. You hold one thing instead of ten, its easier to pick up off the ground if you need to, and you have something to throw up in if that is necessary at some point (it’s happened to me). Oh, and bathrooms. There can never be too many bathrooms or porta potties. If they come with hand sanitizer, even better.

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