The Pros and Cons of Winter Races

Cold weather and bad conditions present challenges for race management as well as runners.

By: Dave McGillivray, for Runner's World

Ski resort managers might like working in the cold weather, but I don’t know too many race directors who savor it. There are many challenges and few upsides to directing a race in sub-zero degree temperatures. I’ll start with the challenges:

Entries. Not a lot of folks enjoy running in the frigid weather, so your numbers will skew lower, which is usually not a good thing.

Volunteers. The same goes for volunteers. Not many people want to stand around in really cold weather, pointing runners in a specific direction or handing out freezing cold water. If you have a high percentage of no-shows on the volunteer end, that can cause a lot of problems.

Spectators. If the weather is nasty, forget about getting a record number of spectators, as most are usually fairly intelligent people.

Ice and snow. If the course is even partially covered, conditions become dangerous for the people racing.

Water stations. Even in the cold, runners need water. However, spillage from the cups can turn to ice quickly. Many times we have to place sand or salt at each water station in case this happens.

Workers. Trying to hang banners, erect scaffolding, set up fencing, or perform almost any necessary race management function can be so much more uncomfortable and be challenging in really cold weather.

Equipment malfunctions. Some electronics—including timing clocks—don’t work as well in freezing temperatures. If it’s cold enough, the air horns many races use as a start signal won’t work.

Venue. During every other season, you can have outdoor registration, awards ceremonies, and other activities. When it’s cold, you have to find indoor facilities large enough to accommodate the masses. Those facilities also must have ample bathrooms—no one wants to freeze their buns off in a porta-potty.

Daylight. You’ll have to start later in the morning to accommodate the late sunrise (and to let it warm up a little), which makes for a longer day.

So, what are the positives of directing a race in the cold weather? I’ll list them all now:

I guess it is pretty obvious that I am not a huge fan of directing races during the winter months (except Thanksgiving morning), unless, of course, the race is in Florida, California, or the Bahamas!

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Dave McGillivray is president of DMSE, Inc., and has been Race Director at the Boston Marathon since 2001.