Race marking, recommendations

Race marking, recommendations

13 May 2020 Off By Carlos Ultrarun

Today we will talk about Trail races and specifically about Marking, which is my business.
Now unfortunately there have been no races for a long time and therefore not work, perhaps it is the free time that gives a lot to think about and to cherish some more or less disastrous anecdotes when it comes to marking the race that is to say to signal it properly so that people don’t get lost.

I think there are few aspects in which every organizer CANNOT make mistakes and if you rush me they become just one: the runners safety, with all that this implies, that is, surveillance and control in technically complicated sections, placement of the medical service at the right points and perfect MARKING if only to avoid having to look for half the participants in the mountains somewhere.

Marking a race is the typical thing that is often neglected and I know it well because I dedicate myself professionally to it. Most of the races leave it in the hands of friends, local people or volunteers or whoever can do it, since everyone is running out of time at the end, that there is a lot to do and marking the race takes hours.
At the end, is to tie some plastic and ready.

It is one of those jobs that seems silly and at first it is not complicated, if it is done with head, but if not, it can turn a perfect race into chaos.

The idea is simple, a series of people who surely do not know the area are going to put themselves in our hands following a few pieces of plastic or chalk or whatever material we use to complete a certain route in the middle of the mountains/deserts/forests.
As I said, it seems easy, right ?, the problem is that things get complicated since the signals can have a thousand extrinsic problems:

  • A neighbor does not like them because the pantone does not go with his t-shirt color and removes them.
  • A neighbor does not like them and removes them.
  • A neighbor removes them.
  • Any animal eats them
  • The wind blows them away
  • Some clown thinking that it is very funny removes them and places them pointing in another direction.
  • Natural disasters (Unlikely).

And many others intrinsic to the signals themselves. We will talk more extensively about this facts in another article.:

  • Plastic is sometimes not visible if it’s sideways.
  • A piece of plastic is not directional, so mark alignments must be used to indicate direction (Multiple signs in line).
  • Chalk, if it rains it goes away, just like lime.
  • Runners usually look at the ground, if we put them very high sometimes they do not see them.
  • Deviating from a track is complicated, many will continue on it.

These are just some of the incidents that we may have before or during the celebration of the race that forces us, as organizers, to constantly review the route to guarantee the existence of all the signals when the start is given.

Sometimes we find on the race web pages a description of the route with a text explaining where the route will go trough….

Dear organizers, the effort (I know is high) is greatly appreciated and if the race is basically with locals I totally understand it although then, there is no need to mark it, but if we talk about a national event, not to mention an international one, really something like: “you cross the old house of Uncle Ben and go up the small path on the right” do you think it is of any use? (Apart for uncle Ben,… .if he runs, or so he knows when to go steal the signs)

It is usual for the organizers to prepare the typical slideshow of the route before the race. The same of the same. If the race is Madrid, think that there will be (hopefully) runners from Burgos, Barcelona, ​​the Canary Islands and there may even be from outside Spain if the race is known. Is it really necessary to put a photograph of each crossing? I think it is much more sensible to place a volunteer, if the crossing is SO conflictive and if not, mark it correctly.

Something that I say so that someone who helps me mark a race for the first time understands it is that you have to imagine that runners are idiots (and no offense) and I explain myself.
After several hours in the mountains, going up and down and especially the first ones at a high speed, our reasoning capacity decreases considerably and as fatigue progresses even more, so the marking must be carried out in the most unequivocal way possible and if possible , increase it at the final part of the race. The truth is that if the sweepers, which are picking up the marks to clean up the route and accompany the last participants, do not get a little angry with me, it seems to me that I have not done my job properly.

There are some new streams that advocate less signaling, with markings exclusively at junctions, minimal marking type, although in my opinion only a few runners are prepared for something like this, at least for now.

In short, this only wants to be a wake-up call to the importance that this “little piece of plastic” can have when 500 guys (or more) in shorts are coming to a crossroads and don’t know where to go.
And by the way, I remind Mr. Organizer that although there is a brainless person who has decided to steal the signs, the person in charge remains the organizer, unless you find the offender and take him to the Police.

Carlos Ultrarun
Professional race marker.