Several weeks ago I blogged a request from Shel for some feedback on the Manitoba Marathon. I've designed a very simple rubric to frame my thinking in response to Shel's poll. Here's goes:
5 points: exceeds expectations 4 points: consistently meets expectations 3 points: usually meets expectations 2 points: rarely meets expectations. 1 point: unacceptable quality 0 points: not applicable/ not observed
On-line registration: (3 points) The online registration for the general public is excellent, but for school groups it's complicated and time consuming. This year I gave up after registering 10 students and ended up having to manually register the remaining ten. The system kept locking me out for 24 hours at a time due to some hyper-sensitive security issue with me registering children. I respect the issue of safe-guarding children, but man, it's not at all user friendly and many would have given up. I wasted approximately 3 to 4 hours. They gotta work the bugs out. It's presently a time waster.
Countdown 26 Program: (5 points). This is where the MB Marathon really shines! Their commitment to education and fighting childhood obesity is second to none. They provide incentives to student runners and teacher kits to school coaches. They offer subsidies for financially strapped families. Upon request they will send a team into the school to drum up some excitement. They provide the coaches (me) with prizes, tee-shirts, and coaching kits. The course is accurate in distant and appropriately challenging for the young people. Many of my students have participated in the 10 k run or 2.6 Super Run for many years. I have them track their chip time on the back of their bib to compare times from past years. They are always challenged to shave 10% (math) off their time. This helps them with setting achievable goals. I've had three 14 year old students run the half-marathon. The phone support is fabulous and the workers are always friendly, always cheerful. Of the 14,000 runners, I estimate at least half are under 18. A shout out to School Coordinator, Tiffany Cooke, for a job well done. The FUN RUN is fun and inclusive of all children.
Cost: (4 points) I just paid $125 for Chicago Marathon and about the same for Minneapolis so $70 for a running event of this calibre is affordable and more than reasonable (talk to me when it reaches $100). The trick is to get the early-bird price. Also, remember this is a charitable event to raise funds for Manitobans with Intellectual disabilities. It's a good cause!
Port-a-potties: (3 points) This is a difficult one to mark fairly. There will never be enough port-a-potties at the start because there's way too many runners with nervous pee syndrome. At 6:45 the line-ups are 20 deep, at 7:15 you can have your choice of ten empty port-a-potties. I think the race committee does a good job in the port-a-potty department at the start line, but it would be very helpful to have more along the course. Would it be elite to designate some port-a-potties as "full marathon only"? I suppose it would be impossible to monitor, but the point being that most port-a-potties on the course are lined up 10 deep by relay runners and their parents. Some relay runners will give full marathoners cuts in line, but many won't. Any full marathoner with a time goal often will pass the port-a-potties because of the long line. Then they stop hydrating because they're bladder's full causing dehydration. Not pretty.
Manual: (5 points) I love it. It's the only race I've been to that gives all race information in a nice little booklet. It's detailed, interesting, and tracks the winners of the full and half (male and female) annually. It's also a nice keepsake for my student runners.
Web Page: (4 points) No complaint from me, but I have heard grumbling about it not being current. I have always been able to find everything I've need including answers to some of the more complicated issues around registering school groups. I'd be interested to hear your beefs if you have any.
The Course: (2.5 points) The course winds through some of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in the city; stately Wellington Crescent, Assiniboine Park, the foot bridge, Wolseley, Broadway, and River Road to name several. These neighbourhoods rival the best of Minneapolis, Chicago, and Toronto Marathons. Unfortunately, there are a few ugly bits that seem to fester a little deeper and grow a little longer with each passing year... Portage Avenue, Bishop Grandin Boulevard, and St Mary's are completely exposed to the elements and just plain buck-naked ugly. I appreciate there's only so many roads and setting the course is very complicated and challenging, but it's long overdue for a makeover. This is perhaps the most common complaint one hears about the MB Marathon.
Vibe/ fan support: (2 points) This is a difficult one for me because I love my city, but sadly our community has not embraced the marathon like Fargo, Regina, Minneapolis, Chicago, and other cities of similar populations. Heck, the entire community of Treherne (all 900 of 'em) shows up on race day! I don't think there's 900 fans along the entire marathon course in Winnipeg! There's pockets of community spirit (yeah Wolseley), but it's far and few between. Full Mary runners thrive on the vibe because it lifts our sinking spirits. When we see and hear a noisy crowd, or drums beating, or funny signs, we instinctively straighten our postures and slap on a goofy smile, it may be a fake smile, but it's a smile nonetheless. The vibe pulls the tired runner. It makes us forget the pain and focus on the good. The vibe is good for the community; it makes us one. I encourage the Race Committee to take leadership in this area, advertise, get on talk shows, drop off pamphlets on the route a week ahead of time, offer prizes for the best community spirit, encourage school groups to get involved, have a competition with Fargo and Regina (a little friendly trash talk between communities is fun and team building). We're a good community, a caring community, we all know that, but we just haven't yet learned how to embrace this amazing event and call it our own.
Medal: (3 points) It's a good medal... not outstanding, but it meets criteria: attractive, solid, heavy, with a sizeable lanyard. The half-marathon is similar, but smaller. Now Ottawa... there's a medal worth 5 points!
Tee-shirt: (3 points) I like it this year. It's technical quality and attractive. It's a little "potato-sack rough", but it a good one. Many people thought the sizing was small, but mine fits perfectly. In previous years the tee shirt has been on the boring side and the fit was large. I also like receiving the tee-shirt after the race. You really feel like you earned it.
The Volunteers: (5+ points) I can't say enough good about the volunteers. They were plentiful, cheerful, and very encouraging. We have the best volunteers ever... take that Fargo!
Organization: (3 points) Any committee that can organize 14,000 + runners and another several thousand parents is ok in my books. Sure there's things that could be better, but nothing really comes to mind. Last year I had significant difficulties with 30 student chips not matching the bib numbers so the times were inaccurate. That was frustrating and no-one apologized for the error, but that was last year. This year things went off without a hitch.
Finish Line: (5 points): The finish line is exquisite. As you enter the stadium your name is bellowed over the p.a. system. As you approach the finish line there are volunteers every 40 or 50 feet monitoring the runners looking for signs of dehydration and exhaustion. As you approach the line all you can hear are hundreds (thousands?) of fans cheering from the grandstand. As you cross the line you're immediately embraced by one of a dozen or more smiling high school kids from Dakota Collegiate. They congratulate each runner and escort them down the shoot to the medal stand. The whole while they provide support and ask critical questions: how do you feel?, are you ok?. These amazing teenagers then pass you off to a waiting medical person who checks you out a little closer and asks a few more questions. You then enter the field which is reserved for full marathon runners only and, in my case, head directly for the popsicles! At the Toronto Marathon you cross the line and there is NO official person other than one lonely volunteer handing out medals. No medical, no volunteers directing traffic. No nothing. You empty out into Queens Park with thousands of others. I felt lost and confused after the Toronto Marathon and cared for and embraced after the Manitoba Marathon. A huge shout out to the Dakota teenagers!
Police Support: (5 points). Excellent, excellent, excellent! Some of them even smiled this year!
Medical Support: (4 points) Fortunately I've never needed the services but It's comforting to know that they're there if needed. Medical support is all over the course from para-medics on bicycles, to fire fighters, to ambulances, trained volunteers, and a full blown emergency hospital on site. Most of us have never seen the hospital because it's situated off the track behind the stadium. I had my echo-cardiogram taken there after the race (I'm participating in a research study on the effect of full marathons on the heart.).
Total Score: 70/90 or 77%
After Burn: Is there room for improvement? Yes. Is the Manitoba Marathon good for our community? Absolutely yes. Is it easy to be critical and focus on the negatives? Unfortunately, yes. I hope this rubric has presented an objective and fair assessment of the Manitoba Marathon. Did I miss anything? I'd be interested to hear you opinion.
It's a good day to be alive.