Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Frederick Half Marathon: 2011 vs 2010

After Saturday's half marathon, it's safe to say the Frederick Running Festival is one of my favorite races. I mostly run big races, but I love the small, hometown feel of the Frederick half marathon.

I ran it last year.
2010 Frederick Half finish

I ran it this year.
2011 Frederick half finish

And I'm planning on running it again next year.

One of the things that keeps bringing me back to this race is just how well organized it is and how receptive the race organizers, Corrigan Sports, are to ideas from runners.

The race organizers made a lot of changes from this year to last year. Some of the changes were awesome, but some still need some more finessing.

Change: Dropped the full marathon and had a new half marathon course.
Last year: Parts of the half marathon course were great, but the last couple miles were nothing special. Running through a Wal-Mart parking lot was really weird and the last couple miles finished on rolling hills on a back road in the middle of nowhere.
This year: The new course kept the best parts (miles 4-8) and revamped the beginning and end to spend more time in the downtown and running through cute neighborhoods. This was a huge win in my book. I loved the new course and hope it doesn't change too much for next year.

Change: Moved the race from Sunday to Saturday, held remote packet pickup.
Last year: The traditional race expo was on Saturday, where runners picked up their timing chip, bib and race shirt.
This year: Packet pickup was held throughout the week leading up to the race at local running stores. I loved the idea in theory, but it was hard for me to find a time to make it to one of the stores. Next year, I would suggest having a few more running stores near the D.C. metro and extending the hours of pick up. I loved not having to make the hour drive to Frederick twice in one weekend though.

Change: Race start time changed.
Last year: The race started at 6:30 a.m. It was brutal to wake up so early but it helped beat the heat.
This year: The race started at 7:30 a.m. I enjoyed the extra bit of sleep, but I actually prefer earlier start times. I think a 7 a.m. start would have been a happy medium here.

Change: Picking up the race shirts after the race.
Last year: Shirt pick up was at the traditional expo.
This year: After the race, runners had to go into another building and wait in extremely long lines to get their race shirt. The building was jammed full of runners who had just finished racing. We were smelly, tired and wanted to be able to go stretch. I read that some people had to wait more than 30 minutes in line to get their shirts. This was the biggest fail of the day. The race organizers already know this and have promised to figure out a way to do it better next year, and they're open to suggestions on how to do it.

They say it's too much work to have people pick up their shirts when they get their bibs because it's really tough to cart the shirts from store to store during the week. I think a better solution would be to leave a certain amount of shirts in each size at each location early in the week. If runners don't get the size they registered for, they can swap at another location or at the race on the day off. At least giving some of the runners their shirts in advance would ease the flow of traffic on race day.

Another suggestion would be to move the shirt pick up outside. Have longer tables, more volunteers and maybe that would keep the line moving better.

Great Race Directors and Customer Service:
I have to give the race directors credit though, they are being extremely proactive in soliciting ideas on how to fix the things that didn't work as well this year. They also recognized there was a glitch in the sizing of the women's premiums and they're going to offer runners the opportunity to swap their race premiums for a different size at local running stores.

I'm hoping there's a location close to me. This was hands down one of the best race premiums I've received, but it is way, way too small. I'd love to get my hands on one that actually fits.

I really can't say enough good things about this race and how the race organizers are handling problems. They are receptive to ideas and know the race wasn't perfect for everyone. I don't think I've ever received such fabulous customer service from a race before, and that's what keeps bringing me back.

I can't recommend this race enough. If you're in the Maryland area or are looking for a fun low-key race to travel to, put this one on your calendar for next year.

Do you have any great ideas on how to make the shirt pickup process run more smoothly? I'll pass the best ideas on to the race directors.

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