Awards and more awards


One of my jobs as a race director and race consultant is to determine the type and number of awards for an event.  The awards for most of the events that I direct were established long ago, but I still find occasion to tweak them a little.  When working with new races or even existing races that want to grow, one of the most often questions that I get asked concerns awards;  what type of award should it be and how deep?  Do we offer top overall or just age group awards?  How about a masters or senior masters category?  Are the age groups top one overall or three or five, etc?

It is not as trivial a question as you might think.  If you don't have enough awards then the participation count will go down.  If you have too many awards then you raise the cost to the event as well as require more time to distribute them at the ceremony.  Runners not as much, but coordinators and others involved in the race always compain about how much time it takes to announce all of the awards at the end.  If you do top three male and female in 5 year age groups as an example, it can 15 or 20 minutes sometimes just to get through them all. 

I had to laugh about the award time recently when I attended my daughter's dance competition.  I'll never complain about how much time a runners award ceremony lasts now.  A dance competition definitely gets the prize in that arena.  The number of awards borders on the absurd.  They have an incredible number of categories, classes, styles, etc.  I kept expecting them to announce the best hair style, best school name, etc.  The awards took well over 45 minutes to get distributed.  It's like going to a tee ball game where everyone is a winner.  Seriously, the question begs why so many awards?  The answer is that the organizers are playing to the psychology of the participants.  Just like running or any other competition, the more chances you give to people for winning an award, the better your participation numbers will be.  People want a fair chance at getting an award.  Most races that I work with will either do 10 year or 5 year age groups.  5 year is the most prevalent as it is used in the larger events, but 10 year is a good starting point for new races.  Some races though will have some odd age groups.  It's almost like the race director sat down with some paper and then drew random numbers to put down.  As a timer, I'll look at those and wonder what they were thinking. 

This is not to say that everyone who participates in a race cares about the awards.  Many people show up for these events purely for the enjoyment.  They are sometimes the ones who sometimes place in a category and yet don't stick around for the awards and never contact us about getting it.  They are just there for the fun.  Others just run it and don't care about their time or place but just to finish and enjoy the atmosphere.  Personally, I've never been able to do that because I'm too competitive but my hat is off to those who do. and Honestly without the casual runners' support, many of these events simply wouldn't survive.  What do you think is the ideal age group breakdown?  Does it make a difference to you whether you will participate or not?  Let us know.  Maybe Athlete Guild can influence some of your favorite events.

Awards and more awards

Great post! Great questions! I primarily search for races where my kids can compete. IMHO there is a shortage of well-organized kids races in our region. It is disappointing to see great events like the River Road Time Trial not include a Junior division. Will it affect our participation? Likely. What do I think is the ideal age-group breakdown [for kids races]? Most local Junior USAT races use 2-year age groups, e.g. 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, etc. However, there can be great physiological and emotional variation using 2-year age groups. USAT Nationals is 1-year age groups. Other races use grade levels, e.g., 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, etc. A the end of the day, my kids don't care much about trophies or medals, but they do like to compare themselves to other competitors close to their age or grade level. Thank you,

  If 5-year age groups


If 5-year age groups attracts more runners to an event, the answer seems clear: Yes, it makes a difference. As Scott wrote, if people do not care about the awards, they leave. The 5-year age groupings provide well-matched incentives with tokens of accomplishment to an appropriate number of runners. Not too many, not too few. 

And to a related subject, I recently participated in a local run and found out during the awards ceremony that the age groupings had been changed. I found myself in a group that included runners more than 10 years younger. The race had been described as a run with 5-year age groups. These changes should have been posted on the website and also announced before the race. Ideally, once the rules for the run are posted, they should not  change. I was not the only runner who wished they had been informed of the changes in advance.

All that said, I want to extend my appreciation for Athlete Guild and what Scott and his group do. I recently returned to running after a 15-year hiatus. The web site and race services that Athlete Guild provides to runners and race organizers is outstanding. Well done. Thank you.