Surprise! We’re Out of Water! And How to Handle Other Race Day Fails
You key in your information, pay your money and it’s official: you registered for a race. Participating in a race comes with a set of expectations for the race itself. An accurate course, fluids, timing, bathrooms and post-race fuel are the bare minimums. And some types of expectations are set and stated from the inception. We’ve all run on open courses versus closed courses. Some races promise flat and fast courses and some even go so far as to taut “amazing average temperatures” if they can. Others don’t provide shirts or charge extra for one. Again, all of this is usually set in stone and any race participant is aware if they take one look at the race information posted online.
What happens when a race falls short and fails to provide as promised? I am not talking inaugural races, although anyone running an inaugural race should be aware that there will probably be snafus. Usually larger issues can occur in years 2-5 of a race, although it can occur at a very seasoned race as well. Although it is less likely to have big issues at a large size race, it can happen. What do you do if you run into an issue during the race?
For me, this is the most crucial part of a race. This is more important than the course, timing or any other race factor, probably because I never carry fluids. But even runners running the a short distance race need water. And unfortunately, there are races that run out of fluids. It happens and it can be really scary. The trick here is to pay attention to you. If the heat has a tendency to get you and the race is hot, go ahead and carry your own fluids. Got a cool temp 10k on the books? Maybe you don’t need to carry fluids as backup. In any case, if a race runs out of fluids and you are in desperate need, hit a medical tent or ask a spectator. I can also almost guarantee that if a race runs out of fluids once, it never will again. So have no fear in returning the following year. If one or two water stops has run out of the sports drink and are only serving water make note of it in the post race survey. However, that is more of a miscalculation or potential drink mixer error than a danger. Hate carrying fluids? Ask your spectator to have one on hand or stash a bottle or two on the race course in case something does happen. Another option, carry a disposable water bottle that you can ditch at a point.
Always wear your watch. I’ve stood at finish areas more waiting for corrections on timing. Timing is a tough gig but this is the one I admittedly get really upset about. When I cross the line I save my run. I have assisted officials by having my time and number. I’ve seen races where the right place was assigned but wrong times. I have seen races where the names and number don’t sync. There are so many things that can go wrong, so I suggest (again) wearing your watch. Confirm your number is yours with your correct age when you pick up your packet. If possible, check a second place to confirm. And above all else, be nice if an issue occurs. Ninety-nine percent of the time your race has been recorded they just need some time to figure out what went wrong.
This warrants the hashtag #racefail. Too short is bad because inevitably what you thought was a PR is now a junk run. But too long of a course is even worse. Rarely is this the fault of the actual race organizers. It’s the case of a good (but wrong) soul guiding the course. During a local closed course half marathon race one year, one of the nice officers had the direction incorrect and the front half of participants ran an extra .25 of mile. In this situation, or any time the course is not the correct distance (Race Directors take note!), I think it wise to offer the runners that it affected an olive branch. A discount off next year’s race would go a long way. As a runner however, this one is just going to have to make a good story. There is no way to prepare for an actual incorrect course distance. I will mention, had any of the runners in the local half I was referencing even looked at a map, they might have known where they should have been going. We can circumvent the incorrect Good Samaritan pointing us in the wrong direction by knowing the route but the incorrect course will have to be a sacrifice to race Gods.
A good rule of thumb is to never bank on a race to provide your nutrition. Plan on using what’s provided as a backup or supplement but always carry you own. I have found that even in the biggest races the nutrition is not where it is scheduled and is some wacky flavor. (Cucumber Mint Gu anyone?) This is especially important in marathons. A lot of us can fight through a half marathon without nutrition but a nutrition error in a marathon is like a death sentence. It’s nice you might be able to grab a Twizzler at mile 22 but have something on you in case you drop it or the race runs out or the volunteers don’t show up to hand them out. Besides, it would be an insane stroke of luck if the race even provided exactly the same nutrition you trained with and no one wants(or should) try anything new on race day. Better to err on the side of caution for the sake of needs and your tummy.
It all boils down to this: be prepared. Issues arise on training runs so we can handle them precursory or on the spot in a race. Protecting against potential issues that will affect our bodies is no one’s job but our own, no matter if we are training or running a race.