Running solo is one thing, running with a chair is another, but it’s a completely different thing if you enter a road race with other runners. Not only do you have the usual problems and challenges that solo runners have, but you have additional challenges.
In a race there will be runners all around you and a lot of them will be supportive but there will be a few that think you don’t belong in “their” race. We’ve had runners cut into my lane, stop and then blame me for running into them. I’ve had runners refuse to make way for us to get to the start line or purposely block us when we try to pass them. We’ve had race marshals try and pull us off the course. If you can imagine it, you can bet we’ve experienced it!
How do you deal with these issues? Well I think that most bad race experiences fall into a few categories and that there are steps you can take to minimize the impact and problems with other runners.
Remember that the team is different than all the other participants and you should minimize your impact on the race in general and other runners you are sharing the road with in particular. There are jerks out there that will go out of their way to make your life difficult but most runners will be supportive and helpful if you don’t do anything stupid.
Registering For The Race
Communicate with the race director and ask for permission to participate. Most races forbid the use of baby joggers and MP3/Walkman’s with headphones for safety and insurance reasons. If you just show up on race day you may be denied a race bib or pulled off the course during the race. So far we have been turned down by the Corning Wineglass and Chicago marathons, for safety reasons, but most race directors will be supportive if you state your intentions up front. Be prepared to pay the price of publicity for participation.
We’ve been very lucky. We have always been a welcomed part of our local running community. VRPro events based in Burlington, Ontario have been very supportive over the years and let us participate in all their races as sponsored runners.
Starting The Race
If there is a wheelchair division, try and start at the back, with them. If not, try and work your way as close to the starting line as possible. I know that you are supposed to find your place in the pack (faster to the front, slower to the back) but it’s safer for the runners and the team if the bulk of the people go around you, instead of the team trying to work through slower runners.
During the first kilometre or so, try and stay to the outside of the course route, avoid the center or curb lanes. This gives you options should you get cut off or run into slower runners. If you are on the inside, and something happens, you will have no place to go and someone is going to get hurt or upset.
In the past, in big races I have had friends run in front as blockers to keep people from jumping into the space we need clear. I always warn people that get we might clip their heals or ankles if they get too close. Most people are pretty good about it.
If on the other hand you aren’t there to race, feel free to start at the back of the pack and have fun with the crowd. Just be aware that you’ll be running with and passing a lot of other runners, so you have to be extra careful. We have a number of races where we do this and have a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s not about finishing fast, sometimes you just want to make the experience last.
Running The Race
Always signal your intentions to the runners around you. You are most likely to run into issues on corners. Be aware of runners and never cut corners sharply. Set your line and follow it around the corner in a predictable fashion. That sometimes means that you have to take corners wide to avoid other runners.
Use your bell or horn and communicate with the other racers. Smile, thank the runners that give way and never respond to anger. The team stands out in the crowd and if you cause an incident, chances are it will be reported to the race director and you will not be welcomed back.
Water stations are a concern, for traffic reasons. Be aware that in shorter races you probably won’t be able to use them. Five to seven feet of buggy and runner will effectively cut all other runners off from the water station if you use them. This is another case of thinking of the other runners first, don’t use them if you don’t have to. My recommendation is to have a support crew hand you water between water stations or have water bottles in a water bottle belt or mounted on the chair.
Heavy traffic is always your enemy. Throw in tired runners, crowds, sudden stops and you have a recipe for trouble. You have to anticipate the reactions of other runners and react accordingly. There will be people that want to out sprint you to the finish line (who wants to be beat out by a guy pushing a baby jogger?) and there will be people that cross the finish mat and collapse in front of you. You will have to use judgment and be prepared to slow down before the finish to control your speed and be able to come to a complete stop quickly. Also be prepared for people behind you not expecting you to stop.
My usual plan is to try and hug one of the sides of the finish chute, not to sprint down the center, ringing a bell all the way. This gives people an opportunity to finish beside you and not to cut you off.