Sunday, February 19, 2012

Message to all 2012 SURFERS WALKERS

The annual 2012 Surfers marathon in East London has been run - yesterday the 18th of February. Some participants entered as runners, some as paddlers and some as walkers.

Now it would be pretty obvious if paddlers lined up at the start in the runners area with their oars that they were starting in the wrong category, but when it comes to Surfers walkers and Surfers runners, things can get a little confusing:

A runner can walk if they get tired during the race, to take a bit of a breather before trotting off again. A walker HAS TO just walk. Now, when a runner is walking and a walker is walking, it can look pretty much the same - spectators may not be able to tell which Surfers participants entered as a walker and which Surfers participants entered as a runner.

It is also a little difficult for the walkers (who start their race 10 minutes after the runners start) to tell who is a runner and who is a walker. Many of the first few walkers catch up to and pass the back runners, and many of those runners are walking.

However, when walkers (who really started with the walkers 10 minutes after the runners started) are among the first few walkers in the field and along the route, it is easier to tell which people they pass are walkers or runners, even when runners are walking.

As these fast walkers start their Surfers walking race, they can clearly see their own position by counting the people in front of them along the dirt road before the first stretch of sand. Top race walkers in East London also mostly recognize each other.

Now let's say a walker recognizes his or her postion as being about 20th in the Surfers walkers race, soon after the start of the walking race, and instead of anybody passing that walker, that walker does all the passing along the route (passing of the back runners who are walking and who started their race 10 minutes before the walkers did.)

However, at the finish, their position amongst the walkers is about 40th.

So, what happened if nobody passed that walker? How did their position go from 20th to 40th?


(and their chip on their ankle registers them as a walker when they cross the finish line)

This happens every year, and although one year I swore never to walk the Surfers again because of it (and only enter as a runner every time I did the Surfers), I decided to walk again this year, but went into the race knowing I would try not to worry about position and simply just enjoy the race, try to treat it as a workout only, and try to finish in a time I could be proud of.

So I am not too worried that my 2012 Surfers marathon 17th lady walker position was probably not my true position. It wasn't quite like the year I won the lady walker's race, knowing nobody had passed me right from the start, being congratulated as the first lady walker all along the route, and again congratulated at the finish (as being the first lady walker), and waiting for prize giving only to hear somebody else get called up to receive the prize - somebody who wasn't even at the prize giving - or if they were, they didn't go up. (This was when I thought I'd never bother to enter the Surfers as a walker again.) What the chip on the ankle says, is what counts when determining the Surfers marathon finishing postions. If a person who entered the race as a walker, but then started with the runners instead, even running if they want to, and finishes before the first walker (who started 10 minutes later with the walkers), then they are recorded as the first walker.

The East London Coastal Challenge is just a fun race, and I'm over what happened that year - but had I for example won again this year (and had somebody who entered as a walker but who started with the runners instead cross the finish line before me) perhaps I would have been upset again.

Maybe not every Surfers entrant is as competitive as I am (or as I used to be), or doesn't care about their finishing position, but for those walkers who may be competitive and do care about their finishing positions, it doesn't seem fair that they are denied their true walker finishing positions because of some Surfers walker entrants suddenly changing their minds at the start and starting with the runners 10 minutes before they are supposed to start - and some of them even running part of the route.

Because the Surfers is a fun race more than a highly competitive race, one couldn't even really call it cheating, I guess. My message to people who enter as walkers in any future Surfers race is simply that when registering for the race, to please carefully consider what you want to do in the race - walk or run - and if choosing to enter as a walker, stick to that decision, and start with the walkers 10 minutes after the runners. For the sake of those walkers who do take all their races seriously.

How could the Surfers organizers deal with those people who enter the Surfers as walkers but then suddenly decide to start with the runners instead?

Well, last year some effort was made, which I was pleased to hear. I entered as a runner last year, and while waiting in the crowd of runners at the starting line I heard the announcement that any runners who saw a certain colour bracelet on anybody in the running crowd should send those people out of the crowd to wait for the walking race to start. The colour of their bracelets indicated that they had entered the Surfers as walkers, and that they shouldn't be standing with the runners who were waiting for the running race to start.

I was waiting to hear the same announcement this year (for the sake of the more competitive walkers) (I didn't really care about it for myself anymore, as I had entered the 2012 Surfers walking race just wanting to get a finishing time I could be proud of,) but instead of hearing that announcement, I heard an announcement shortly before the start of the running race that anyone who didn't yet have a bracelet should quickly go and get one, and that it didn't matter what colour bracelet they got.

I don't know how difficult it would be for the organizers, so maybe not a good idea, but for the sake of those more competitive walkers this would be my suggestion:

A time recording mat placed just 500 metres to 1km from the start. With organizers standing near to it making sure all competitors cross it. As the chips on the ankles of competitors register on the timing device computers, any competitors who should have only started their race with the walkers 10 minutes later, are eliminated from the race. (they can finish the race, but will be allocated a "non-finisher" next to their finishing time, and their finishing positions will not disrupt the order of the finishing positions of those who started and completed the correct race that they originally entered when they registered to compete in the Surfers Coastal Challenge.)

Because the Surfers is a fun event, perhaps my suggestion sounds a bit harsh, but why have both a walking race and a running race, if there is no true way to stop those who entered as walkers from starting with the runners instead of with the walkers as they should?

Why the fuss? Isn't walking just walking? How fast do these walkers really walk? Well, to give an example, last year I ran the Surfers, walking a bit when I felt tired, but mostly running. This year I walked, ONLY - in the walking section of the race. I improved on my last years' time (when I entered the running section and ran and walked) by 4 minutes. Many walkers can walk faster than some people run-and-walk the Surfers. Many walkers catch up to the back runners (who are walking-and-running) even before the Gonubie River, and even though the walkers started 10 minutes after the runners did.

To all those who did the Surfers marathon yesterday - and who stuck to the category they selected when they registered - well done! And if any of you completed your 15th Surfers marathon yesterday, like I did, an even bigger well done! It was a great event with superb weather conditions for the participants. Thanks to the organizers and spectators for making each race, every year, so special and memorable. Now just to sort out something to stop those who enter as walkers from starting with the runners instead.

© copyright Teresa Schultz 2012