Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Safety Expectations in Races

As you may recall, I have been not running due to my silly femur, so I've been getting in some quality spectating hours cheering on friends and strangers.

I'm finding that you get a totally different perspective on a race's organization when you're spectating instead of running.  As an entrant, I am most aware of the organization of the expo, packet pick-up, the starting area, water stops, and crapper availability.  All of these things together, plus route, crowd support, and swag contribute to my overall feeling about a race, and I'm pretty easily satisfied.

A few weeks ago, I cheered my mama on when she ran the Zooma Great Lakes Half Marathon.  My mom did awesome.  The race organizers did horribly.  This race was unbelievably dangerous.  

The course was beautiful - steep, rolling hills on roads surrounded by trees in their autumn glory.  But the scenery wasn't what took my breath away - it was the shock when I realized the roads weren't closed to traffic.  The course was not well marked, and the runners were not protected.  Vehicles were flying over blind hills, around blind corners, and I don't doubt that most of them had NO IDEA there was a race.  I can't even count all of the close calls I saw that day.  

Outraged, I posted a stern note on Zooma's facebook page, and when I was contacted by the race director, I didn't mince words with my thoughts on their glaring safety issues.

This past weekend, I spectated for Rachel and Falon at the Tyranena Beer Run.  This was a really fun run to watch, and according to my pretty runner ladies, the course was beautiful.  

However, when the race started and the speedy runners charged towards my first spectating spot about a mile in, I couldn't believe that not only were the roads NOT closed to traffic, there wasn't even a police car escorting the leaders.  They were running down the road into oncoming traffic!  

I want to make it clear - I don't think this was a very dangerous situation.  There were maybe three or four vehicles on the road when the runners approached, and they all slowed way down, and then either pulled a U-turn, or just pulled over to the left side of the road.  It was actually pretty funny to see the look on the drivers' faces.  "Uhhh, are these dudes just running right at my car?"  There were no close calls, and the drivers were respectful of the runners (a stark contrast from the fine residents of Lake Geneva who cursed at me and Rachel for closing the roads.  That weren't closed. )

This has gotten me thinking... am I expecting too much?  Do I run races where the roads are open, but I just don't notice since I'm a middle-of-the-packer?  I have gotten a lot of blog traffic recently with queries like
"Zooma race traffic issues" and "Zooma race safety", so I'm thinking I'm not the only one that's pondering this stuff.

SO!  Here's what I want to know.

What are your expectations when you enter a race on public roads?  

Do you watch for traffic during a race?  (I don't.  I'm pretty sure I'm too busy scaring other runners with my throaty panting and the wild flailing of my arms.)

Do you yield to cars?  (We saw a lot of this in Lake Geneva - runners stopping and waving cars through).  

Have you had any close calls during races?  

Lay it on me - I want to know what you think.


  1. I expect police presence, and clear information from the race people about course closure. Some races are open, and that's fine and understandable if the race is small, but I expect to be told about it. If the course is open, I expect some kind of course marking (orange cones on the road) to indicate to drivers that something is going on. I also expect the course to be very, very well marked. Mile signs, painted arrows on the road and/or arrows marking turns, volunteers at places where the turn/not turn isn't abundantly clear.

    Most races I participate in are closed courses, but the few that I have done that are "open" didn't really seem very open if you know what I mean. I think some of it depends on the race organizers and their relationship with the community. In GB, for example, the marathon is a huge deal and people are informed about closures for WEEKS beforehand. In small towns, people tend to embrace local events (especially when they are for local charities/organizations) and will steer clear of courses or tread carefully on them.

    Wow. This got wordy :)

  2. this is a really interesting and important topic. it honestly has never occurred to me because I, like you, am usually in the middle of the pack and just assume that regardless people will notice me. however, i also assume that the race has done their part in assuring our safety. i think its terrible that this would even be an issue. if anything...it should be the first thing addressed when planning a race.

  3. I definitely expect the police presence. However, I've participated and spectated in plenty of races that are open to traffic. But then again, the race web site in each case has warned of this, so I'm never surprised.

    In NH, they recently cancelled the annual White Mountain 1/2 Marathon because the local police deemed it unsafe (the Nor'easter weekend). So without the police presence, the race was cancelled.

    Ideally, closed roads are safest, but I believe, if done well, vehicles and runners can co-exist.

  4. When I pay for a race I expect roads to be closed or at least have police or volunteers out. I would be upset if I had to stop for a car..but I would be more upset if I got hit by one I guess. I would much rather have a closed course than a cool shirt or medal.

  5. Wow. I was sorry I missed the Zooma half in LG but now not so much.
    I've run many races where roads are at least partially open but I've never felt endangered (except at the Soldier Field 10 mile when we were on LSD with only a couple of cones separating us from whizzing traffic).
    The blind hills part really scares me.
    I ran a turkey trot last fall where a car simply drove out among the racers, even though the road was closed. He was going really slow but still.
    Great topic!

  6. I have never been in a race where the roads weren't closed off. Even the small one here in town closes the roads for a race to go on. I think that is crazy.

  7. Interestig about the Zooma Great Lakes 1/2 marathon. I had thought about running that race - but it didn't work out. I think I am glad that I didn't!! I guess I would have thought that at a minimum there would have been signs posted and notices for the roads. Since the route was pretty much around the lake - I would have thought that the traffic was limited - but it doesn't sound like it.
    I guess I have really never thought about it - and most off of the races I run are closed courses. I don't think I would have even thought about it - UNTIL NOW. I was involved in one run that was along a road and it wasn't closed but it was well marked and is pretty much a straight shot - so there are no blind corners - or hills for that matter.

  8. Hey girlie! I absolutely love your blog! I used to run all the time. I use my twins as an excuse not to now, lol, but you inspire me. I just picked you to be a recipient of the Liebster Blog Award! I know, I know, it was the least I could do. lol.... Stop by We Got Kidz to see it.

  9. What are your expectations when you enter a race on public roads? ****safety, signs posted

    Do you watch for traffic during a race? ***YES. I am never so "in the zone" that I block out what's around me. Keeping ME safe is being alert and proactive, otherwise I wouldn't taken out the chick in the race on saturday who decided to come right up on my right side and stay there for the 100 years before and up to the turn around for the 5k, she was running the 10K that went straight.

    Do you yield to cars? **depends on how the driver is acting. Most will realize the number on the chest means something, otherwise, yes, I have stopped and then the driver waves me on.

    Have you had any close calls during races? **during races, no, during training, yes, which is why I have an interactive Road ID

  10. Oh, and I run in plenty of races on "open roads" where the course director announces it's an open road course, to obey the road rules, and even then, there are PLENTY of police and signs and intersection 'guards' to ensure a safe race.

  11. New follower from Finding New Friends Weekend Blog Hop!

  12. Good for you for letting the race director know your thoughts. I've only done one small race that was open to traffic, and it was awful. I felt so unsafe. When you are racing you should NOT have to worry about traffic and cars!


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