Sports Columns

May 5, 2013

Doug Hawley: Customer service is key

Repeat business is not only vital in the workplace but also when it comes to foot racing on the roads. If a person feels good about first-time participation in a race, a repeat return the next year seems likely. Friends also could be encouraged to run.

With additional people, the event stands to earn more money, which often means extra dividends for charities. If that same event leaves a sour taste, an encore seems unlikely. The good word will not be circulated.

So, what factors can directors help attract people to races? Some ideas:

• If the race is priced higher than necessary, that will scare away runners. Do not undersell the race, but do not overprice it.

• A race that provides a picturesque setting can set it apart. Think Berry College in Rome, the country’s largest land grant institution, which sometimes has deer galloping adjacent to the runners.

• Starting races on time is important. Many runners warm up with the idea of being ready to go at the appointed time. If given before the event, a prayer and/or the national anthem needs to occur before the designated race time.

• Make sure the course is accurate.

• Road guards or sentries must be utilized at key spots. They ensure participants are making the right turns and not getting lost.

Unlike team sports, road races cannot be restricted to a small, compact area. Some years ago, an area race had all participants finishing at the correct spot. Unfortunately, they arrived from various directions — north, south, east and west.

• All races also need liquids on the course to aid the runners. Water long has been considered the most popular drink of choice to keep runners from dehydration.

• Most modern-day races now have computer systems to accurately clock finishers. Those people volunteering at the finish chute must gingerly guide tired runners after they cross the line.

• Good door prizes can add quality to the event. The best time to give these out is the lull as runners wait for the awards ceremony.

• During the ceremony, the emcee always should announce not only the placers by their various divisions but times as well. A beauty of running is the time posting. Some non-runners in this particular position do not understand the importance of times to younger and older runners alike.

Mentioning the recipients’ hometowns — when available — also can provide pride.

Nearly all events start the ceremony by honoring the youngest performers first. By the time the oldest people have received their awards, most people have left. In respect to the older people, consider giving them their accolades first. Then they can have a head start on soothing their weary bones.

• Most moderate-size events now have preliminary runs — usually one mile — and these too are helpful. Some come before the main event and others afterwards. They are often for people just getting started as runners who are not quite ready for the longer runs.

• Directors would do well to keep overall records for both male and female. New marks provide incentive. First-time races can add some interest by keeping records for the various age divisions.

• Friendliness should be utmost for all people connected with a race. If several people are available, they could circulate through the crowd — before the race and afterwards — and serve as greeters.

To get the mood of the participants, have them fill out forms regarding the event — the good and the bad. Email could serve the purpose.

BOSTON THOUGHTS: Some obviously wondered whether I had been at the recent Boston Marathon in the wake of the tragic bombing. One high school classmate from South Georgia even called me on the phone.

No, I was not there. My last trip came in 1981, the finale of five trips that started in 1976.

My heart goes out to the various people affected. I am thankful that the participants from the Dalton and Chattanooga areas returned home safely.

DIFFERENT LOOK: When the Grizzly Trail race takes place May 18 at Raisin Woods in Dalton, it will include a 10K for the first time. It is being added as a complement to the 5K.

This will represent the fourth of 12 Runner of the Year races being coordinated by the Carpet Capital Running Club.

Doug Hawley has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. You can write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.

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