How to Make Your Race Walker-Friendly - Or Not

Ft. Vancouver Run Starting Line Walker's Corral
Ft. Vancouver Run Starting Line Walker's Corral. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Many races, charity walks/runs, marathons and half-marathons are opening their arms to walkers, at least in their advertising, and welcoming them to enter at the same price as runners. More: How to Find a Walker-Friendly Event

Sometimes that does not carry through to their actions. It's "Buyer Beware" when registering for these events. I participated in a half-marathon that was billed as welcoming both runners and walkers.

It was for a worthy charity and sponsored by many good companies. But some things definitely made me feel less than welcome.

How To Irritate a Walker

  • Call Everybody a Runner: During the pre-race announcements, call everyone runners. Never mention walkers, unless it is a joke about how some may end up walking to the finish when they run out of steam. Walker-welcoming events instead say: racers, marathoners, half marathoners, participants, runners AND walkers. It's one of the 10 Things Not to Say to a Walker
  • Insult the Walkers: During the pre-race announcements, insult walkers. I have heard of announcers saying, "You walkers stay out of the way of the real racers at the start."
  • Run Out of Food and Drink On Course: Run out of supplies on the course once the runners have passed by. At the half-marathon in question, I was ahead of several hundred other walkers, but they were running out of cups at the 6 mile checkpoint and were out at the 10 mile checkpoint.
  • Early Cutoffs: Close the course too early to accommodate moderate to slow walkers. If an event is billed up front as a run/walk, it should be able to accommodate walkers who do 20 minute miles, a standard easy pace. While faster walkers will walk 10-15 minute miles and some racewalkers will go as fast as runners, if they advertise for the general public to participate they need to keep the course open for them. Alternatively, make plain in the advertisements and instructions that walkers must move to the sidewalks if they do not maintain a given pace.
  • Starve the Walkers at the Finish: Run out of the free food items at the finish before most of the walkers have finished. Walkers pay as much as the runners at most of these events, yet they arrive at the finish to find the free items picked-over or gone. It was galling to come up to the finish of a half-marathon and encounter the previous finishers taking crates of yogurt, bagels, peanut butter and water to their cars. Only sliced bananas and oranges were left, and I was ahead of several hundred other walkers. When questioned, the food booth worker said the volunteers wanted to go home, "And the course closes in half an hour anyway." Never mind that the race started 15 minutes late and was billed as both a running and walking event.
  • Ignore the Slower Finishers: Announce all running finishers, but not the walkers. Walkers paid the same price, and their achievements should be recognized. The half-marathon in question did a great job of staying open and announcing each walking finisher just like the runners, but I have had different experiences before.
  • Leave Walkers Out of the Results: Publish ranked results for runners, but not for walkers. Again, for the same price I would like my official time published. It is OK for the list to be in alphabetic order, but I would like to know my official time.

How to Encourage Walker Friendly Races

Check for Walker-Friendliness Before the Race

  • Call or email race organizers and talk to them about how long the course and finish is kept open, and let them know how long it may take walkers. Often, they simply don't know.
  • Ask how walkers will be recognized. Is there is a separate category for walkers or they are included in the overall rankings?
  • Ask if walking is enforced in the walking categories, especially if there are separate prizes for that category.
  • Ask if there are staggered starts or different routes for walkers vs. runners.

Give Feedback on How Walker-Friendly the Race Was or Wasn't

  • After the race, email or call the organizers with any legitimate complaints. Check first to ensure you understood the race cutoff times and what was actually promised. Check race message boards or the Facebook page for the event to see if your observations and expectations matched those of other participants.
  • Understand that the best-laid plans can go awry, and be constructive in your criticism. The organizers need to know where things were lacking so they can review their plans for upcoming races.
  • You do the organizers a favor by sharing your observations. The biggest growth potential for races is adding slower runners and walkers. They need to know how they are serving that segment of participants. As many organizers started out as competitive runners, they may not know our mind-sets. Many of us don't want to run fast, we just want to finish and have our participation celebrated.

    Be Part of the Solution

    • Volunteer to advise their race organizing committee. This worked well with the Portland Marathon. Many years ago, walkers were poorly treated. They were so irritated that they volunteered to work with the event to make it a walker-friendly event. Now it is top rated for first time marathoners and for walkers.

      Vote With Your Feet

      • If a race organizer consistently treats walkers and slow runners poorly, take your time and money elsewhere. In most areas, there are many other events you can support.
      • Support events designed mostly for walkers. Volkssport walking events and IML Walking Association events can be run, but 99% of the participants walk. As a result, the course is designed to be enjoyed by walkers, start/finish times are reasonable even for slow walkers and the walker is treated as the real customer.
      • Start racewalking and participate in judged racewalk events. The benefits are great - you are likely not only to begin winning awards, but you will be welcomed and treated as an athlete by the other competitors.

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