Thursday, 23 July 2015

So - what can we learn...

Dear Phil,

I am very encouraged to hear that not only have you guaranteed that no-one will be disqualified on the day, but that those runners who will take longer than six hours to complete the race have been contacted individually and advised of the cut off. This is a good move, and I very much appreciate the time you have taken to do this.

I am not unsympathetic to the amount of work and logistical difficulty there must be in organising a marathon. I always make a point of thanking marshalls and volunteers at any races I take part in (arguably this is one of the perks of being a slower runner) - even if all I can manage is a 'thumbs up.' Without volunteers running events wouldn't happen. Incidentally, I have had at least six people approach me to say they would be happy to marshall at the event and would be very happy to stay longer to encourage the slower runners to complete. I think there is a real appetite to support slower runners and you are missing a trick (not to mention a profit) if you don't cater to them. 

My experience of the running community in Hull has been that it is mostly very encouraging to slower runners, and, if you asked the clubs to come together to help put on a fully inclusive event, I bet they would rise to the challenge.

I understand that the route cannot be changed at this point and you have made it very clear that you are not prepared to extend the six hour cut off.

At this point then, I wonder if it's worth thinking about 2016?

Inclusivity is important; I am encouraged that you have acknowledged this. Hull is a city with issues surrounding obesity, disability and lack of opportunity. However, it is also a city focussed on positive change - and is blessed with a vibrant and close-knit running community and a wonderful general public who are down-to-earth and proud of their city. These are great raw materials for anyone entrepreneurial and passionate about social change!

The 2017 City of Culture is just around the corner, and you are organising a new event. Why not take the opportunity for this to be a benchmark festival of running that promotes physical activity? You could host events all weekend - 5k colour or zombie run (how much fun would that be? Especially at somewhere like Fort Paull), an old-school style sports day event for teams from local businesses in one of the parks, childrens' events involving schools - there are a multitude of suggestions that could make our 'Festival of Running' fun, vibrant and - most importantly - celebrate everyone's achievements. It would really set Hull apart from the other city marathons. Why not look at setting up an organisation that supports local runners to work towards their Festival of Running / Hull Marathon goals all year? 

If you harness the bigger picture you will be contributing massively towards improving fitness levels in the city - and improving your profits at the same time. Slower runners pay just as much to enter races as faster ones, and just think how many more of us there are. You may even find you are eligible for lottery funding, because of the improving health outcomes aspect.

I am passionate, however, that the marathon, as the main event, becomes properly inclusive. There should not be a glass ceiling for us slower runners who train just as hard as those who complete under 5 hours, but are just not that fast (yet - or older runners who have been faster but are slowing down, and still want to compete.) There are plenty of other big city marathons - would it not be a great idea to set Hull apart by it's inclusivity?

With regard to the route as it stands, I understand what you say about running through private land. Going forward, I think there are three suggestions I would make on this point:

1) Plan a route that does not run through private land, so that any runner needing to take pedestrian status would be able to run on the paths and complete their marathon.

2) The opposite - plan a route whereby a lot of the final miles of the route is on private land at the end of the race, but with an expectation that it would stay open for longer, thus minimising road closures. Brighton Marathon has a very similar policy.

3) With regards to Hull specifically, if you wish to keep the same route next year, would it be possible to run the race the opposite way round - so that ABP's Albert Dock and Sirius Academy are cleared and able to close at the beginning of the day? It's not good enough that you can't guarantee that everyone can finish, and may cause problems on the day. Imagine running 24 miles and finding the gates shut to the next bit!

Cut Off Times:
With regard to cut off times, I can honestly see the argument for no cut off at all, but I understand that this is logistically impossible. So, why not set the cut off slightly longer - say 7 hours (ideally 8) - but have a policy to enable us slowcoaches to finish? I believe it's perfectly acceptable to say that you expect runners to be able to at least jog significant parts of the route. It's fine to delineate that it's not a walking marathon as there are separate events held for walkers. There are not separate events for slower runners, sadly.

Summing up some of the other suggestions that have been made to date:

- set the slower runners off first, ensuring that everyone completes at around the same time.

- ensure the route has footpaths so that slower runners can complete by path, if they cannot complete within the cut off time. This means that roads do not need to be closed any longer than necessary.

- ask marshalls if they would stay longer to support the slower runners, and put these people at the stations in the final few miles of the race? Arguably, this is where the party is, and slow runners really need and appreciate marshall encouragement. It is likely to be a lot of fun.

- organise marshalls to work shifts with some starting later than others, to cover all aid stations. 

- I receive the parkrun newsletter and it was suggesting that marshalls in the early stages of the race will be finished by 10.30am. If their volunteering ends at 10.30am, could you ask if some would be prepared to go to the later stages of the marathon to support the slower runners?

As I hope you can see, there are lots of ways the marathon can become more inclusive, and these do not extend road closures or inconvenience volunteers.

Race Information:
Whatever you decide, it's vital that information is clear, consistent and in the places one might expect on the website. In future, can I suggest that cut off information is clear in the Terms and Conditions page, the Runner Information Page, and especially on the payment mechanism (currently hosted through 

It's also vital that the systems of the website don't undermine these policies - for example, being able to estimate a 7 hour+ finishing time when you pay, when there is a 6 hour cut off. This should bring up a call-out box highlighting the cut off time. I am sure this would be easy to programme.

Can I also suggest that you add a FAQs page? This could include a question about being a slower runner, and would give you the opportunity to showcase your commitment to inclusivity.

As our sport becomes more popular, the way slower runners are dealt with is going to become a hot cookie and you have an opportunity to be a market leader in this regard. My personal belief is that marathons should be about *effort* rather than time; with an acknowledgement that the back of the pack runner has to work harder to achieve a 12 minute mile pace than someone who can run faster. We're not slow because we're lazy or don't train!

I also believe that adults should be able to set their own goals.

In future, I'd be happy to help, if I can. All I want is to maximise participation. Give me a call if you would like to ask the perspective of a slowcoach. My power-to-weight ratio may be a Bentley with an 800cc engine, but I am as keen as a bean (a runner bean. Geddit?) 

Let's do this!

I'll see you on the 13th September - and I hope to have a double thumbs-up just for you, Phil. Thank you for taking this on board, as busy as I am sure you are.

Best wishes


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