Let’s get one thing out of the way first: there is no running involved. None. Now that I have calmed your nerves and let you exhale, let’s get down to The Non-Runner’s Guide to Marathon Preparation.
When your town puts on a citywide event that draws folks from the local area, the region, other sides of the state, surrounding states, and even some from different time zones, you need to pay attention. An event of that size will affect your plans during that time, so you need to be ready.
Runners are indeed a different breed. You don’t see many stories of basketball players or skiers who push themselves so hard they literally cannot see what’s right in front of them. You only see that about runners. Runners collapse in pain on the pavement while still trying to claw their way forward to the finish line. The people who are about to descend into Fort Smith for the marathon will be some of the toughest individuals you will ever meet.
So, let’s roll out the red carpet for them! Here are the steps we will cover: Welcoming, Friendly, and See You Next Time.
Welcoming—Making These Tough Runners WANT to Visit Your Town!
What Businesses Can Do: Sponsor the Marathon! Any dollar amount helps, AND runners may see your name on the registration website! When there are only a few sponsors…it can be concerning. When there are lots of logos on the screen, runners think, “Oh wow…there’s lots of support at this event,” and they feel more encouraged to register. And local runners will remember your support…and return the favor.
What Organizations Can Do: If your church, your book club, your hiking club, your art class, (or whatever you’re into) has an event going on while runners are in town…invite them! Ask if the information can be added to a calendar on the marathon website or ask to include a small invitation in the runner race packet. Runners are an extremely diverse group and enjoy things like lectures, art exhibits, cooking classes, chocolate tastings, wine tastings, etc. The race actually takes up a small amount of time that might actually be spent in town—runners are looking for additional activities to tack on to a great race weekend!
What Individuals Can Do: If you travel for business or pleasure, and meet a runner (I promise…we’re EVERYWHERE.), tell them about the fantastic race your town has! If you have an out-of-town relative who runs, invite them to participate!
Friendly—You Convinced Them to Come…What Do You Do With Them Now That They’re Here?
What Businesses Can Do: Hang up signs and banners that say, “Runners Welcome!” Offer discounts to runners who present their race bib or ask to put a coupon or ad in the runner race packet. Despite our proclivity to getting up early and running long distances,…we can be normal people, too, and we love a great deal! If your business is along the race course, hang encouraging signs in the windows or place them in the landscaping outside, or if you have a sign that allows you to change the message—let it say something encouraging! It can be as simple as “Go, Runners!” If you are a food or beverage distributor, offer a product to be available at the finish line, or along the course. Bagels, granola bars, fruit, cookies, candy, doughnuts, muffins, chips…many runners run so they can eat. And they do not replenish themselves with green beans. Not even the most disciplined runners.
What Organizations Can Do: Volunteer to man a water station or set up a cheer station, or help out at a relay station. A water station consists of a table, cups, and water. That’s it. Just pour a little water in the cups, set them on a table, and hold out the cups for runners to grab. It’s literally that simple. Offer an encouraging word as the runner grabs the cup! It’s more fun if you have loud music so that you and those with you can move to the beat! If you have some old pompons or bells or noisemakers—bring those out, too! Wigs, costumes…all of it is encouraged at water, cheer, or relay stations. THIS is where you can get downright wacky if you want—runners will remember the loud and funny stations! There are water stations I’m still talking about years later…they were THAT amazing!
What Individuals Can Do: Roll down your car windows, honk, wave, and cheer! It’s a MUCH better way to spend the short amount of time you may be stuck in traffic due to runners crossing your path. I promise you, we want to get out of your way as fast as we can—because that clock is ticking for us, too! We can see your faces behind the windshield as we pass by. We can tell if you’re angry that we’re here or if you’re excited to have us in town. Don’t be THAT guy, Fort Smith! Show us your smile! If you live along the course, grab your family and stand in your yard or pull out the lawn chairs, waving and cheering the runners as they go by. If the runners go through a neighborhood devoid of people, it is a cold and unfriendly feeling. You feel unwanted. I try to wave or high-five every child I see along the course.
See You Next Time—Make Sure Runners Want to Return, and Bring Their Friends With Them!
What Businesses Can Do: If runners are visiting your business, make sure they know you appreciate them. A simple conversation, or a little thank you card handed to them when they make a purchase, is all it takes.
What Organizations Can Do: Ask runners to vote on Best Water Station or Best Cheer Station. Lots of races do this, and the stations can earn a nice trophy or another type of award. This competition keeps the stations “one-upping” each other, making it more exciting each year!
What Individuals Can Do: Don’t treat the runners as “invading outsiders in your way.” Treat them as you would a guest in your home. Because, we are, really. You don’t want your town to be known as a rude and unwelcoming place. I happen to think Fort Smith is pretty awesome. Let’s prove it to a tough but wacky group of people known as Endurance Runners.