This is a work in progress. Suggestions on how to make the material more clear are welcomed. On our to-do list already are a photograph of a sample sign, a photograph of our finish line frame and our club banner hanger, a photograph of a coned turn-around as well as creating on-line versions of the forms we use.
Racewalkers need judged racewalking events to improve, but there are not very many of us. Even the national championship events draw less than 100 racewalkers. Is there a way to put on local racewalking events that are self supporting monetarily and place reasonable demands on the volunteers and the event organizers? Of course, the answer is yes, or we would not have written this article.
Overview of a Solution
What follows is a collection of ideas and suggestions that have worked. Most of the ideas come from our experienced race directors that have a combined 40 years of experience in putting on running and race walking events. Others are successful techniques that we have either observed, or that were related to us by other event directors. You will have to apply the ideas described here to your specific situation, but the ideas will give you a place to start.
You will notice that we put time into planning and one-time activities so that what happens on race day is simpler or easier.
The most important trick is to learn from each event you put on. Look at what is taking time, or effort, or lots of volunteers, or anything else that is annoying or error prone. Once you see what the problem is, you have to be creative and come up with a resolution that does not create more issues. The management types call this continuous self improvement. I call it common sense.
Twin Cities racewalkers does not lay claim to any of the ideas presented here. We borrow good ideas from any event we see using them. Some of the ideas we learned so long ago we don't have any recollection where they came from. Please feel free to use these ideas, or versions of these ideas, for putting on your own events.
If you come up with other good ideas, please send us an e-mail describing your idea and include a note on how it works in practice. We'll add it to the web pages, and give you credit as bringing the idea to our attention.
Put on an annual series of judged racewalks, targeting local racewalkers, that have reasonable entry fees, that are monetarily self supporting, that consume 3-4 volunteers per event, place easily do-able workloads on the volunteers, and provide a good experience for both beginning and experienced racewalkers. Oh yes -- we need to follow the USATF rules too.
Selecting a course is the most time consuming part of putting on a racewalk. It sounds like it would be easy, just look for a nice flat place to put a 1km loop, and you are done, but there are other considerations that can save you lots of time and money in the future.
You want a course
We use light-traffic rail-to-trail paths that do not have road crossings.
We made an arrangement with the railroad that owns the path for our use, then took that arrangement to the park district that issues the permits, and got a steeply discounted rate (free at one of our courses and $1 at the other), because we already had the railroad's support and permission. It helps to have a railroad buff on your side!
We picked a section of the trail next to a lightly used city park, and then talked the city into providing a port-a-potty at the park to serve the park, the trail, and, of course, us. We picked a small suburb - that may have increased the chances that the city would be helpful. But most cities are interested in increasing "correct" use of their parks. You just have to find the right way to approach them. Port-a-johns cost about $100 each here, so this is a significant savings.
Layout a 1km loop course (for races up to 10k) and a 2km loop course for longer races. Any other distance makes giving understandable timing splits to people too hard to do. With a 1km loop course, it is easy for the athlete to get 1km splits. For the 2km course, put the start/finish line in the exact center - this way you can still get 1km splits. It works best to have the start/finish line in the middle of the 1km course too.
It is worth the time, trouble, and expense to have the course certified by USATF. A certified course gives the racewalkers a course that is a reliable length, and you'll need it to be certified when you start to report results. If you have a little engineering background, or are adventuresome, you can do this yourself and save some money. Contact your local USATF Association course certifier for assistance.
Be sure to tell the person certifying the course that you want to minimize the number of cones needed.
Have the person that certifies the course clearly mark the turns and the start/finish so they are easy to find in the wee-hours of the morning when you are setting up. Here, they use "PK" nails (just a nail with a large head) driven into the pavement to mark points on a certified course. At the start of each year, we paint a "dot" about 2" in diameter on top of each nail head with brightly colored spray paint to make them easy to find.
Because it is a rail-to-trail path, and our section is really straight, the only cones we need are at the turn-arounds. A simple painted semi-circle and 4 cones at each end, and presto. We use landscape spray-chalk to mark the pavement for the turn-arounds. It washes off in the first rain, so the park district doesn't mind, but gives a clear border for the walkers at the turn.
Because we picked a lightly used trail without road crossings, we don't use any road guards at all. We just put some signs up at either end of the course warning non-racewalkers that happen to come our way to "watch out for racewalkers", and we share the path with them. We purposely pick an early start time on Saturday/Sunday morning for our races to keep the number of other users of the path low.
If you are expecting people to come that need a hotel, it is good to have a hotel adjacent to your course. We have that at one of our courses, but not at the other. We have a recommended hotel for each course, but we don't make any arrangements with the hotel for discounted rates. This allows people to come to our race from far away, but doesn't make it a hassle for us. Except, of course, for the one big race we hold each year, when we do the whole event hotel, pre-race dinner thing.
We went to the local farm store and got some plastic fence poles used for holding move-able electric fences. We found black plastic poles with a pointed metal rod sticking out the bottom, and a small step sticking out the side. Just perfect for holding signs at about waist height.
We printed signage using a computer, laminated them at Kinkos, then affixed the signs to the electric fence poles. Once built, we just stick them into the ground where we need them. We never take them apart - just keep reusing them.
This year we built a finish line frame out of 3" PVC pipe that holds our club banner over the start/finish line. We made it so that it breaks down into chunks that easily fit into the back of a pickup truck or van,. I just store the thing on my garage wall when we are not using it. It takes about 5 minutes to setup at the race, provides a nice place to hang the club banner, a good site for pictures, and a little advertising to all of the people that use the path while the race is on. It also makes us look official rather than fly-by-night (which is useful if the neighbors or the park district workers or the police happen by.)
A finish line frame also provides a spot to hang banners from sponsors -- when you are lucky enough to have one.
If you decide to build a finish line frame, make sure you design it so that it will handle the wind.
A cheaper and lighter alternative, which attaches easily to a tree or lamp post, is a couple of pieces of 1" PVC pipe that are slightly longer than your banner is wide (we have a 3'x3' club banner). You tie it to the top and bottom edges of the banner, then tie the PVC pipes to a light pole or small tree. It holds the banner flat so it can be easily seen. Best of all, you don't have to untie the PVC pipe from the banner. just roll it all up. It doesn't hang the club banner over the trail or over the start/finish line, but it is a lot simpler to setup than a finish line frame, and almost as effective.
We setup the course by dropping a few cones at the turn-arounds, a little spray chalk to make the path for the turn more obvious, sticking "racewalkers crossing" signs a few meters further down the path to warn the roller-bladers, bikers, etc., stick some "racewalk" signs with arrows out along the roads to direct participants to the parking, hang up the Twin Cities racewalkers banner, put some duct tape across the path at the start/finish line, and course setup is done.
We use a bike to get to the ends of the course to speedup setup - you'll need one with baskets for cones and signs.
For a water station, we bring an aluminum card table. They are light weight, impervious to water, and stable. Set it up near the start/finish line, bring a water jug, pre-fill some water cups and space them out on the table so they are easy for the race walkers to grab. This gives the racewalkers easy access to water every lap. On hot days, it is good to put some ice in the water jug.
We also provide an aluminum card table on the other side of the path for walkers that want to bring their own water bottles, sports drink and food.
On Course Music
Me, I'd rather walk in the quiet of the morning dew, but if you look at the number of people that are walking around with headphones on, you'll quickly come to the conclusion that music is important to people.
It is so important to one of our regular judges that he brings his Bose CD player, an inverter to produce 110v power from his car, and parks along the course and provides up-beat music for that end of the course. We always get good comments about the music when Gary Westlund of Charities Challenge comes and judges.
Safety & Security
We do not allow headphones. We are using a shared use path, and it is important for people to be able to here when a bicyclist or other faster moving person is overtaking them.
Make sure people lock their cars. You may be in a small town. There may not be many other people around at that time of the morning. But you never know when an opportunistic thief happens to notice your group.
Make sure at least one person has a cell-phone in case you need to call 911.
We keep it simple - just some fruit which we purchase at the local grocery store on the way to the race. Racewalkers and volunteers take home what we don't eat at the race. Some event directors get a sponsor for this, but with small numbers of participants, it seems more trouble than it is worth. We never eat more than $5 with of bananas and apples.
Sanctioning is important because it provides insurance for the event. The park district or land owner may require evidence of insurance.
We get all of our races at one location during the year sanctioned by USATF for one sanction fee, and we get the local USATF association to waive the association portion of the sanction fee. This is much cheaper than sanctioning each event separately.
Talk to the person that does USATF sanctions for your association and they should be able to tell you how to fill out the form so this happens. You have to ask the local association to waive their part of the fee - just tell them you are trying to grow participation in racewalking and need some help while the numbers are small.
This is usually not a problem for small races. With small numbers, almost anything will work.
We have an entry form on our web site, but do not offer on-line registration. Remember to bring blank entry forms and pens to the race for race day registration.
Price & Money
Price your race to minimize the type of change that you need to bring. We charge $10 and accept cash or checks. The standard unit of money is $20 (thanks, ATMs). This makes it simple for everyone.
Setup a bank account for your events. Funnel every entry fee and every expense through it. This way you can keep track of profit/loss, and have a clear record just in case someone needs to see it.
We only use bib numbers on the front of each participant.
You can usually get bib numbers for free, if you are not too picky. Just go to a local running store that sponsors running races and talk with the manager. They will most likely have some left-over bib numbers they would be happy to give you. If you are good at chit-chatting, you might even pick up a race sponsor or volunteer.
Put up a web site for your events. The web is a common method that small groups of people with a common interest find each other.
List all of our events on the USATF calendar and on every other online service that runners, cross country skiers, tri-athlete, or other endurance sport participant in your area uses. These services are free.
E-mail or talk to other racewalkers in the area. Word of mouth is a powerful tool.
It is worth the effort to put up a banner along the trail that has your club name on it. People will stop and talk, and you might gain a member.
We give water and fruit to anyone that stops and asks. A little thing, but why not?
Volunteers & Judges
We do some races with 3, and some with 4 volunteers. You need at least 3 because you need at least 3 USATF certified racewalk judges for a judged racewalk event. This means that the judges, or the race participants, need to help out with everything else, and during the race, the racewalk judges have to be willing to do other duties.
All of our racewalk judges work as racewalk judges, lap counters, course marshals, umpires, red card runners and public relations specialists. If you have someone that is used to just judging, they may resist the extra workload, but it really isn't that much more work, and it makes the job a little less boring. And judging small races can be boring because there just isn't that much going on.
We position the head racewalk judge at the start/finish line, while each of the other judges takes an end of the course (remember, our start/finish line is in the middle of the course).
Either the 4th volunteer or the head racewalk judge also works as starter, timer, water station, verbal lap board and verbal DQ board. It takes a bit of practice for the head racewalk judge to multi-task all of this and judge too.
We built a special judging form that is actually a lap counting form that has space for each judge to write down cautions and red cards too. The form has a row for each walker and two columns for each lap. Our course is an out-and-back loop, so each judge sees each walker twice on each lap. Each time a walker comes by, the judge writes the time of day down for this lap before the walker enters the judging region, then judges as normal, noting any cautions or red cards in the same square as the time.
As the judges wander around, judging at different locations on the course, they eventually return any red cards to the head judge at the start/finish line.
We don't use a physical DQ board. Instead, the head judge tells the racewalkers about the red cards as they are received (for example - "you have 2 red cards now - both for bent knee").
We use a time-machine printing timer. We enter the bib number of the walker and collect that with the split time.
One thing that helps the head judge multi-task is that you don't have to be "precise" on split times. You can be 20 meters away from the start/finish line, and still press the button when the walker is "at" the start/finish.
When a racewalker is finishing, you just take the time machine over to the start/finish line and capture an "exact" finish time.
In between racewalkers, there is enough time to pick up cups and to fill new cups as needed for the water station.
We bring plastic trash bags and work gloves. A quick trip picking up trash on the trail before and after the event ensures that we are good users and don't irritate the park district or city or neighbors.
In small races, almost everyone wins their 5-year age-group. To some people, the award is very important. Even if it is not important to you, it is important to have an award. For events that are USATF/MN championships, we get medals from USATF/MN to distribute at no cost to us. They only cost about $1 each anyway, but every little bit counts. For events that are not USATF/MN championships, we give out ribbons that I found at Crown Awards.
The most important award we give out is the reading of the times and ages and places for everyone at the end of the race. Everyone likes to be congratulated, and they like to have their improvements noted. This is easy to do in a small race ... hard to do in a big one.
If you have a company that makes or distributes bread in your town, and you can talk them into sponsoring your awards, you can give loaves of bread to the winners. Yes, I am going to say it -- it makes them bread-winners. Thanks to Charities Challenge for this idea.
At most of our events, there are multiple distances being competed. Its really not a problem for the volunteers, with the only one that has to know is timer, as you want to capture that "exact" finishing time.
Find some really big clear plastic bags. We use clear plastic garbage bags. Put a box of them in with the stuff you bring to the race. When it looks like rain, put the time-machine inside one, and give one to each judge to keep their paperwork dry.
Racewalk Judges are Racewalkers too
Next year, we are adding an additional wrinkle. Our racewalk judges are racewalkers too, and they would like to compete. So, on the shorter races, we are going to hold two races, one after the other, and switch who is judging and who is racewalking. This means we have to train most of our racewalkers to be judges (but that is not hard, and we think it will be good for them).
This year, on longer races, when we had more than 3 judges, we let the judges walk 5km or 10km at some point during the race. There would always be 3 judges working as judges, it just wouldn't always be the same judges. Since judges take port-a-john breaks during long races anyway, it seemed like an OK extension to us.
Feedback to the Walkers
We run most of our events in "training" mode - where the judges that are also racewalk coaches/instructors are allowed to coach athletes during the race (watch your left knee, stand up straight, keep your turn-over up, etc.) We tell all of the racewalkers what is going to happen during the pre-start instruction - so they know what to expect. You have to be careful with this one -- but if done right, the athletes like it because they learn what the judges/coaches are seeing.
In a similar vein, one of the judges usually video tapes each participant for a lap or two. After the race, we often go somewhere and schmooze, and then we pull out the video and show everyone what they looked like, and the judges explain what they saw. We make it clear at the start of the race that the video tape is for post-race analysis not for judging.
We offer racewalk clinics before the event - just the basics about how to racewalk legally. This has not been particularly successful in gaining new racewalkers for us, though we have had several newbies come and racewalk legally, but slowly, after taking the 15 minute clinic.
We also offer Racewalking 101 clinics a few times a year. We use 4 one-hour sessions to teach people the basics of racewalking and to get them out trying it. They work pretty well for attracting new people.
If you have any questions please email a Twin Cities Race Walkers event director. We am interested in what you learn about putting on events in your area.
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