10 Race Fails for Walkers and Run-Walkers

Beware of These Walker-Unfriendly Race Day Problems

Are you are part of the back-of-the-pack at 10K, half marathon or marathon races? You pay the same entry fee as the fast runners, but you're in for a different event experience soon after the starting gun. Some parts of that are good -- the crowd is thinner at the tail end, so you can choose your own path easier. But even the most walker-friendly races often fail to provide all of the amenities to the slower folks.

Do your research before entering an event to be sure you can finish within the time limits. Study the race's web site and instructions to know the course, water stops, and start/finish areas. Prevent your own race mistakes so you have whining rights when the race organizers fail you in these 10 ways.

The Bands and Cheer Groups are Gone

Autumn Marathon
Autumn Marathon. Toshi Sasaki/Stockbyte/Getty Images

While the pack is racing, the on-course bands are playing. Cheerleading and dance groups from local schools perform. Family and friends roar and wave signs. Home owners bring out their lawn chairs to watch the race. But by the time you amble by, they are stowing the amplifiers in the van. Your sister sent you a text that she needs coffee and will see you at the finish line. You feel foolish and random wearing your race costume.
Whining Rights: 5

Trailed by the Sag Wagon

Along Lake Washington on the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon
Along Lake Washington on the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner © 2009
Races often have a "sweeper" following the tail enders. It may be a "sag wagon" to pick up people who need to drop out. But it may be a police vehicle, a volunteer on a bike, or a team of volunteers walking/running behind the final racers. It is demoralizing to be going your top speed and feel like you're being stalked by the sweepers. Know the race time limits and don't let them intimidate you. It's even worse if they pass you and start closing down the course, so be happy they are there!
Whining Rights: 1

Where's the Water Stop?

Water Stop at the Finish Line of the Livestrong Challenge
Water Stop at the Finish Line of the Livestrong Challenge. Wendy Bumgardner © 2008

We slow folks learn to carry our own water and snacks, even for the best-organized races. At best, the stops have run out of energy gel and gummy bears. At worst, they have packed up and you won't even get a cup of water. The sweepers are supposed to ensure the course volunteers know when it's safe to pack up the water stops. But you may come to stops who jumped the gun. At least they usually don't pick up the porta-johns till long after the race.
Whining Rights: 8

Route Markings Disappeared

New York City Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Walkers
New York City Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Walkers. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You reach a point where you have to make a turn, but there are no signs, markings, or volunteers showing you which way to go. The organizers took down the markings before you got there. This can happen if the sweep team gets ahead of you. I've learned carry a print-out of the race map just in case. It's also a good reason to carry your smart phone. I've learned to always track myself with an app such as MapMyWalk so I can see the route I've taken so far and I can navigate back to the start/finish -- or call for help. Many races also have an app or their map online that you can access with your phone.
Whining Rights: 10

Move to the Sidewalks

Wait - Walk Crossing Signal
David Wasserman/Stockbyte/Getty

When a race course is closed to traffic, the organizers have to open it back up at some point. If they are trying to be walker-friendly, they will allow you to continue on the sidewalks. This means you have to stop at intersections and obey the walk/don't walk signals like a non-racing pedestrian. Concrete feels harder on my joints than asphalt, and the stops, curbs and driveway cuts are tiring. You have to take extra care for your safety when the course is open to traffic. Don't think drivers are going to yield to you just because you're wearing a race bib. If you're in a busy part of town, you will even have to dodge around the other pedestrians. You only get full whining rights if they open the course earlier than they announced in the pre-race instructions.
Whining Rights: 2

Cut-Offs Cut Off Too Soon

On courses where they pick up stragglers in a sag wagon, you may be forced off the course ahead of schedule if they are getting antsy. It rarely works to argue and may be dangerous to continue if they open the course to traffic. Other races have points where they direct you on a shorter course to the finish if you aren't on pace. They may start the cut-off too early and you'll be stuck taking a DNF - Did Not Finish.
Whining Rights: 10

Medal Please!

Medals. Rachel Spanks ©

Finishers in the main pack are met by a cheering crowd and perky volunteers handing them their medal and a heat sheet, while photographers snap their finish line photos. Finish at the tail end and you may have hunt down somebody who knows where they've packed up the medals, and warm yourself with a used heat sheet found draped on a garbage can. Even worse, they may have run out of medals. If they award finisher shirts at the end, you may be stuck with a size that doesn't fit. Photos? You'll be able to save money and snap a selfie.
Whining rights: 10

Finish Line Food and Drink Scarce

Wendy Bumgardner ©

You've burned through your calories on the course and are looking forward to the bagels, bananas, chocolate milk, chips, cookies, and other post-race snacks. But the last finishers may find the cupboard bare, the tables folded up and the garbage cans overflowing. The post-race buffet they advertised is out of pasta and you have only wilted salad and stale garlic bread. If you really want to ensure there is still food, enter a multi-distance event at one of the shorter distances. If you finish the half marathon at a walking pace, the marathon runners are still finishing and the snack tables and buffet should be fully stocked.
Whining Rights: 7

Finish Line Festival Folded Up

Party at the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon
Party at the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©
Earlier finishers had a band concert, sponsor giveaways, door prizes, and a beer tent. Slower racers can spot their car as one of the few left in the parking lot and can make friends with the clean-up crew. If you are walking the longest distance offered, just expect that there won't be much left of the fun at the finish line. Plan your own after-party!
Whining Rights: 5

Gear Pick-Up and Shuttles

School Bus
School Bus. Wendy Bumgardner © 2009
If you checked a bag at the gear check, the pick-up spot may be closed when you finish. Find an official to point you to the right place. Never check anything valuable -- like your car keys! If the race has a shuttle from the finish back to parking or transportation, it may cut off too soon for the slower finishers. Know the schedule and ask the organizers at the finish if it seems to have ended too soon. Be prepared to find your own way back or be bold to beg a ride from the race organizers.
Whining Rights: 10

Using Your Whining Rights

You have choices with how to exercise your whining rights. You can write off the race as unfriendly for slower racers and not enter it again. You can post negative comments on social media. But it's more constructive to send your critique to the race organizers privately and to give honest feedback if they ask for it in post-race surveys. Most organizers want to improve the experience for all of their customers and want to treat every racer as a winner. Cut them slack if something went wrong one time and they vow to improve it for the next race. I've learned to love it when things go wrong so I can add that to my lessons learned and my war stories of races gone bad.

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