How the Smallest of Detail on Route Design and Management Can Make or Break Your Mass Participation Event

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I woke up on Monday morning to news of runners at the recent Bangkok Half Marathon clocking in an extra 6 kilometres after a small mistake on the organisers part.

This highlighted the importance of attention to detail and how something as simple as a wrong turn can cause such a profound impact. So I reached out to Dave Cundy, one of Australia’s most experienced race directors for some of his opinions on race routes.

As Vice President and Technical Director of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Racing (AIMS), Dave is no stranger to designing routes for mass participation events, big and small including the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He believes that there are three key elements to consider when designing a route:

  1. Be clear on the objectives of the race – this is a no brainer but many a time, organisers fail to tie the race course back to the objective of the race. You don’t want boring routes for a fun run and neither do you want erratic roads with lots of twists and turns for competitive ones. Recognise that the more complex the route is the more risk there is of runners taking a wrong turn.
  2. Work closely with authorities – involve them from the beginning. Know what’s possible, what their concerns are and plan around that. Treat the authorities as partners and with respect and they will be a great asset.
  3. Seek iconic start, finishes and/or other components of the course– play your cards right and these iconic locations or sights can spur your participants on and provide a great way to showcase your city on TV and on the multitude of social media platforms that are now so accessible in real time during events.

Event organisers would know that designing a route has to come in hand-in-hand with measuring it and that produces another set of challenges. Many people are not aware that measuring a marathon course is a detailed and complex process that can take days. In his 30 years of experience, Dave lists his top three challenges:

  1. Educating authorities on what’s required to measure a course – it is not their job to know everything about mass participation events. It is essential to keep communication with the authorities simple and clear – be upfront with your intentions.
  2. Factoring in traffic – not every road can be completely closed to traffic for the duration of the race. Always factor in how traffic could impact your race course and distance and what can be done to maintain the participant’s experience.
  3. If a course has a fixed start and end point, such as the Singapore Marathon which starts in Orchard Road and finishes at the iconic Padang, there needs to be somewhere that the length can be adjusted to get the exact distance. Sometimes this is overlooked in the initial design process.

Why is it so important to accurately measure a route for a sanctioned running event? Dave cites that:

  1. Paying customers deserve two key elements essential to any race over a standard distance such as a marathon or half marathons – an accurate time on an accurate course.
  2. If you are paying a timing company to time your race but you don’t accurately measure the distance, you are wasting your money because the times are irrelevant.

Dave Cundy will be addressing these questions and a lot more in his 30 minute presentation on Designing and Measuring the Best Course for Your Event at the upcoming Mass Participation Asia Conference 2015. Details and tickets available at http://massparticipationasia.com/

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