Three friends of mine who are race directors were recently put in a situation that they never expected. They had to go to city council meetings to fight to retain permits for their races. These were not new events. They were long-standing, well-attended races held in the same community and on the same course for years. So what changed that made the permit approval process more difficult?
Some cities and towns have become stringent when approving races in their areas. Communities are restricting the number and size of events allowed on their roads to reduce the impact on residents. In some cases, there is a risk that great races will not be allowed to continue or to grow because of complaints from people in the community. Unfortunately, these town councils often only hear a handful of negative comments from residents who live on the race route, yet don’t hear all the positive aspects of having a race in their area. The bad behaviors of a few athletes leave a negative impression with residents, local government or town council officials. As a result, race directors have to work harder to secure a permit.
There are many things race participants can do to highlight the positive aspects of a road race. Runners also need to be aware of behaviors that impact local citizens and do their part to respect the communities they run through.
Here are some simple things athletes can do to help show appreciation for host towns and cities, and help reduce the impact races have on a community.
Many races have limited parking areas in public lots, fields or on side streets. The more athletes ride share together, the fewer cars there are to take up spots. Fewer cars mean volunteers will be able to direct you to parking spots faster. There will also be less of a backup of cars waiting to enter a parking area or leave a race site.
Park and drive legally
Follow all street signs, especially one-way signs and no parking signs. Know the rules about how far you can legally park away from a stop sign or a fire hydrant. Residents are understandably frustrated when race participants park illegally, such as parking on a permit-only street, in a restricted lot, blocking a driveway or ignoring traffic rules.
Race-related litter is one of the biggest complaints residents have about events. Most races have a few garbage cans right after the aid stations. Aim for them if you can, but if you miss, drop your trash right nearby, not a half mile up the road. Don’t drop your used gel packages or energy blocks wrappers in the middle of nowhere. If you’re consuming your race fuel away from the water stations, carry wrappers or packets with you until you can throw them out in a proper receptacle. Above all do not throw your trash on someone’s property or toss it into the woods. Also if you’re wearing a throwaway layer after the start, try to drop them near the mile marker signs versus scattering clothing all over the road. Disposing of your litter properly also makes post-race clean-up significantly easier for race directors and their volunteers.
Say thank you
Thank all the police, EMS, volunteers and spectators you see on the course. Remember that the emergency personnel and volunteers are often out on the course for hours to ensure your safety. Thank them for their time and support. Also wave to drivers who stop for you, even if you have the right of way or the car was stopped by an officer. Show your appreciation to everyone who helped make the race possible and safe.
Don’t run with your earphones in both ears on full blast, making you oblivious to the traffic around you. Be aware of traffic that needs to pass you on an open road course.
Support local businesses
Local races do more than serve as fundraisers for regional charities. These events can also have a huge positive economic impact for local businesses. Off-season races can fill hotels and resorts in a seasonal travel area. Many athletes stay in the area after an event for lunch, shopping, sightseeing or visiting tourist spots. If you can, have a meal at a locally-owned restaurant. Visit a tourist attraction. In addition, tell people that you are there for the race. This helps point out the financial benefits a road race can provide for the community. Races bring in visitors that would not have come to the area or state otherwise.
Races held in small communities or in resort areas may have limited roads in and out. If there are hundreds or thousands of athletes heading to an area for an event, roads and exits will back up. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive and leave a race site.
Don’t go to the bathroom on someone’s property
This goes for both the men and the ladies. Most races have portable restrooms on the course. If they don’t, look for a portable restroom at a house or business that is under construction. Or look for a gas station or a fast food restaurant that will let you use the bathroom. If you have to go that badly, go into the woods—at your own risk—and stay out of sight. Getting to the race site at least an hour before the start will help give you the chance to get in the bathroom line for a final pit stop before the race begins.
Post the positive
If you see a news article online about a race you participated in, post a positive comment with your thoughts about the event. Leave positive reviews on social media for great races as well. Thank the race director, the town/city, the emergency personnel, and the volunteers. If you live in the area, you can also write to your town officials about how great the race is, and why you participate.
Respect the course time limit
Many race directors do everything they can to accommodate athletes of all paces and abilities. However most races have to set time limits to reopen roads to traffic, accommodate local needs, and ensure the safety of both participants and volunteers. Only sign up for events where you can make the require time limit or pace.