Coach Mike Mead

It's All In The Numbers

In this month’s column space I’d like to address a little road race etiquette that is being overlooked by novice and experienced foot racers. With spring just around the corner, more and more folks will be getting out to local road races.

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” For runners, the question that may be posed is, “What’s in a number?” That is, what’s in a road race number?

It is very common that when you show up to run in a road race you are given a race number. Some big-time running events have gotten more personable in the last few years by having each runner’s name on their bib, rather than a cold, sterile, impersonal number. Some races do not want to stigmatize their racing field so they issue everyone a No. 1 bib. Races like the Peachtree, the bib number is special because you have to cross the finish line wearing one to get the coveted T-shirt.

Whatever the reason, the purpose of the race number is to identify you as a participant. Obviously, bib numbers are necessary in road racing to distinguish the participants from the spectators. I’ve been to road races where a local runner is out doing a run, but is not in the race and could be confused as a participant if it were not for a race number affixed to his or her chest.

But I think some folks don’t understand the importance of their race number. I help out with three or four road races a year and we always have a few knuckleheads who cannot follow directions. The obvious one regards the tear-off tag found at the bottom of the race number. DO NOT PIN TAG TO T-SHIRT, or DO NOT PIN TO SPINDLE HOLE means just that. Yet a few folks pin their tear-off tag to their clothing, which usually creates a little stress for the finish chute volunteers who must frantically work at removing the secured pull tags.

Then there are the runners – usually on cold days – who cover up their race numbers. Not good for emergency personnel or course marshals. It can also create confusion at the finish line because they don’t know if you’re in the race or perhaps a local jogger out on a morning jaunt.

Covering up your race number is hiding your identity. You have probably heard of a “Phantom Runner” well this is more like a “Stealth Runner.” Again, it is more for each runner’s safety that you have your race number in plain view, on the front of your body. Some folks attach their numbers to their backside. That’s fine if your competing in a pie-eating contest or the high jump, but you’re in a road race, mister, so get with the rest of the crowd.

It gets a little difficult for the guys who like to go shirtless (sorry ladies) on those warm days to have ample space to pin their bib number to their front side. While the baggy short crowd has room, the more traditional racing short guys are limited.

I use to fold my race number so that only the number was exposed. Some guys I use to race against cut their bib down to just the number for aerodynamic purposes. However, race directors do not like this because the bibs are either promoting the race’s name or one of its major sponsors. Most races rely on sponsor support and if participants are impeding on their ability to promote their sponsor, than you might pay more or get less at your next race should the race lose the sponsor.

So the next time you turn out for a road race, keep in mind the importance of your race number. Wear it proud, unless you’re a little superstitious (numbers 13 and 666 come to mind), pin it properly to your front side and enjoy the run.