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Immediate Gratification
Awarding Excellence Is Not Always As Simple As It May Seem

Immediate Gratification

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By Dave McGillivray
Posted Saturday, 1 October, 2005

By Dave McGillivray

Those of us from the Greater Boston area who were running road races back in the 70’s and 80’s certainly remember the omnipresent character, Fred Brown. Fred lived only a block from me in Medford, Mass. During my workouts, I use to run by his house almost every day. As I ran by, I would regularly see Fred in his garage tinkering…tinkering, that is, with putting together small trophies which he was preparing for his next road race.

At most North Medford Club races, you were faced with making a major decision upon filling out the race application. Do you want to pay $1 to enter the race or pay double the amount (that would be a whopping $2) if you want to “win” a trophy no matter where you finished! That’s right, you could actually guarantee yourself a trophy by paying for it in advance. You don’t see that happening too often nowadays, do you?

As a race director, one of the most perplexing decisions I am constantly faced with from race to race is what to give away for awards. Awards can range from trophies to plaques to medals to merchandise to gift certificates to prize money to almost anything imaginable. If you ask ten different runners what they prefer for an award, you probably would get ten different answers. And, just because runners may prefer one over the other, that doesn’t mean a race can necessarily afford to purchase any of these items that will end up in our “ego” room at home. Many times what is awarded is simply a matter of what the race was successful in getting donated.

The uniqueness of the award and its direct connection with that particular race can be an attraction, too. What the awards are and how deep you go in distribution can sometimes impact someone’s decision to come or not come to your race. The Feaster Five Road Race is held on Thanksgiving Day each year in Andover, Mass. At the finish line is the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. Once the holidays are over and the tree comes down, it is cut up and disposed of. I once had a “brilliant” thought and asked if I could have pieces of the tree carved out in the shape of a runner so I could give them away as awards the following year. Whereas I thought that was a neat idea, perhaps the recipient didn’t appreciate getting a chunk of wood.

Often, the same runners win their age group division from year to year. If you happen to give out the same awards, especially merchandise, from year to year, don’t be surprised to get an email or phone call from them asking you to come up with something different as they may have a closet full of those items already.

It is equally as complex for race directors to determine what the exact breakdown of award categories should be. Of course, male and female categories are a given. Do you award every 10 years or every 5 years? How deep do you go in each category…just first place, or top 3 or top 5? Then there seems to be countless other categories that the industry is now requesting…local awards, fundraising awards, weight division awards and on and on. If you add all these awards up, they can easily total 130 plus awards. If you have to purchases all these awards, that can easily soak up a huge chunk of the race budget depending on what you give away. Remember, generally only about 3%-5% of participants win awards so you don’t want to be spending 50% of your budget on 5% of the field.

Then you have to consider the actual award ceremony itself. If you have 130 awards to distribute, how do you go about doing that (while thanking your sponsors and acknowledging all the important folks involved) without asking everyone to book a hotel room because this is going to last until the next day? And which awards do you hand out first, the elites and then work your way down to the older divisions or do you start with the older divisions and work your way up to the elites. Decisions, decisions, decisions. And each race seems to do it differently, thus giving mixed messages and confusing the process even more. And, oh yeah, now add a raffle to the proceedings and the madness goes on and on.

And, to add further to the complexity of all of this, a race director also has to make the decision as to whether or not to “double” award a runner or not who places in more than one category. For example, if a male runner who is 44 years old place third overall in the race and first in the 40-44 category, should that runner be given both awards or just one or the other. I actually posed this scenario as one of my previous survey questions on CoolRunning. To prove how you sometimes can’t always win in this business, 59% of the 628 responding to the survey said they feel that the runner should not be given both awards, just one or the other. But, 41% said they feel the runner earned and should receive both. Go figure.

The presentation of awards is always the last activity of the race experience. Even if everything went well and the race was almost flawless, if you mess up on the awards or the awards ceremony, that is the last impression that the runners leave the event with. Most event producers don’t give this aspect of the race the upfront time and attention it needs. Runners are people, most are kind and considerate, others will let you have it if they don’t get what they truly feel they deserve.

I’ve been directing races for 25 years and have produced or consulted on over 750 of them worldwide and even I am still not sure to this day what people want in terms of awards. Perhaps the survey questions I’ve asked here along with this article will help us both understand each other better. Race directors need to know what runners want and runners need to know the complexities of the entire process.

Dave McGillivray
DMSE, Inc.


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