Part 1: Outrunning the course organization
Most people take it for granted that when you attend a race, there will be no questions regarding the course. Liberal use of cones or chalk, friendly volunteers directing participants, and maps posted at the registration table are all irreplaceable directional aids for a seamless event. But what happens when one or more of these factors are forgotten by a race director? Or more commonly, signage is missing and volunteers are unprepared for the front runners?
The latter is an issue I personally have come across several times and can turn a strong race into a heartbreaking event. Coming across a turn or vaguely marked area at race pace while volunteers are either on their phones and not paying attention, or even hurrying to the very location I am already at and trying to make a quick decision as to which direction I should take, can be quite frustrating. An issue like this can be easily smoothed out in a 10K or longer race, but in a 5K, seconds count.
Another race I attended actually almost made the mistake of failing to have the finish set up before the winner came through. It was fifteen minutes after the start of a 5K and my fiancée had to let the RD know that the finishers should be coming through rather quickly before they actually started getting ready for the winners.
There are many ways to physically mark a course and any of them work as long as a couple key points are realized. The first is, the more obvious the marker, the better. Big chalk arrows are easy to see and follow, index card signs posted on street poles are not. When traveling through a neighborhood, even if not making a turn, it is reassuring to see some sort of marker or signage at every other intersection. This allows participants to notice sooner when they get off course.
When preparing volunteers for directing duties and anticipating the time participants will be through a certain area, it is best to assign a fast pace, like four minutes a mile. It is highly unlikely someone of that caliber would be on the course, but it is definitely better to be safe than sorry. Most front runners pay for the race experience with set time goals and efforts in mind, and a poorly coordinated course will make it unlikely for them to return.
Thankfully, situations such as these are a rarity and not the norm. We are all out there to have fun, whether the goal was to finish the race, or win it. Everyone starts and finishes at the same place, and if the event is set up correctly, we know we have traversed the same amount of ground between those two points. That is the beauty of running. Regardless of age, sex or talent, the journey is the same.