What Makes a Race Great? (And a Recipe)

I am plagued by another respiratory bug.  For it being such a mild winter here in Kansas City, it has been surprisingly brutal for my family.  We have all been sick for much of the past few months.

Still, I got out and got in a great 4.25-miler on Sunday (my youngest son’s birthday!) during a quiet snowfall.  I timed it right (finished just as the roads were starting to get a bit slick), wore the appropriate amount of clothing (is there anything better than a toasty core and a cool breeze on your face?), and had the roads to myself.  It was a perfect run with less soreness after, which encourages me.  I’m shooting for 5 miles this Sunday, which would be my first 5-miler since last September.  These are baby steps, yes, but I’m so scared of injury and also have been attacked by a vicious strain of laziness.

We’ve been busy volunteering at the rehab center and living life to the fullest…


I mentioned in my last post that I am on the committee for the Trolley Run here in KC.  We meet once a month to talk about race planning, and I’ve written a few blog posts for the race (some really spectacular stuff…look for my upcoming gem of a post where I discuss why beans and booze are bad the night before a race.)

Yes, it’s unpaid, how did you guess? 🙂

SO, here is my question to you, blog readers.  I feel like as a new member of the committee, I haven’t contributed much, and I would like to offer some original suggestions.  This group of people is spectacular, and the race is a well-oiled machine in its 27th year, but I would like to be able to contribute some new ideas as an avid recreational runner (avid if you don’t include the last five months, amiright?).

Thus far, I did suggest a new incentive for signups in the first 48 hours–a drawing for a free ride to the starting line.  I thought that would motivate me a a runner to sign up early, not having to worry about transportation and catching the shuttle bus (runners park at the finish line and shuttle to the start.)  Other than that, though, I haven’t said much, and I would like to help.

So I am asking for your thoughts on what makes a race great.  Obviously we can’t control the weather, and much of the logistics are set in place, but I would love your thoughts on any little things that you find make a race enjoyable.  What do you love and appreciate about a race?  Could you share any great experiences you’ve had during races that we could implement?  What makes a great vibe?  What makes you want to run a race again year after year?

I hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts and experiences.  It could be something major, or even something small…like maybe you love a kickoff song that sends the first wave out, or a small thing that volunteers do during the race.  I welcome all ideas, suggestions, and recaps of special race moments.  I would like to do my part to help this fabulous race committee!

As a token of my appreciation, I offer this AMAZEBALLS recipe for spaghetti and meatballs.  It appeared in our KC Star Food section many years ago, but I don’t think it’s available online.  Some local Italian sportscaster said it was his grandmother’s famous recipe.  All I know is that it’s easy, spectacular, and one of the few things I can cook to make HH ignore the dust bunnies in the house and not regret marrying me.

Spaghetti Sauce

This freezes well (cool it completely first!) and makes a nice big batch of sauce (about 6 cups.)  I start the sauce and then begin the meatballs once the sauce is simmering for 45 minutes, and they finish cooking at just the right time.  The sauce is fairly spicy, so you might want to decrease the red pepper flakes if you aren’t feelin’ it.

  • 2T olive oil
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2T minced garlic
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1T oregano
  • 1 (15 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in a pot over med-high heat, then add minced onion.  Cook until onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano.  Stir.

Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water.  Cover and cook 10 minutes on medium.  Add basil and simmer on low 45 minutes, or until flavors are blended.


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please don’t use Kraft!)
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1T minced garlic
  • 1.5t salt
  • 1.5t oregano
  • 1.5t basil
  • .5t black pepper
  • .5t garlic powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk

Combine beef and pork in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, oregano, basil, pepper, and garlic powder.  Add to the meat.  Beat eggs with milk and add to meat.  Mix well.  Shape into 1.5-inch balls.  Place an inch apart on shallow baking pan/sheet (I spray mine very lightly with Pam first.)  Bake at 375 degrees F 20 minutes or until done, turning once.  I typically cook mine about 23 minutes, because my colon fears underdone pork.

Toss in with your sauce and treat yo’ self!

Happy running and eating!  I hope you’ll leave your race thoughts and comments!



25 thoughts on “What Makes a Race Great? (And a Recipe)

  1. Is the race a 5K? Do they offer a finisher’s medal? My small business makes a “My First 5K” medal. The runners who want a medal for their first 5k buy one when they register for the race. At number pick up their bib has a special “My First 5K” sticker on it. When they come across the finish line a volunteer gives them their medal.
    The race keeps a large portion of the price of the medal which helps w/ fund raising. My company provides the medals so the race doesn’t have to invest in medals or deal with designing them or having left over medals which can take a chunk out of their fund raising.
    I only do this for 5Ks since most people run a 5K as their first race. It’s a great way to add excitement at the finish line and possibly attract additional runners to your race.
    If this sounds interesting I can give you more details.


    • Oh my god, what an amazing idea. This is a 4-mile run, and to my knowledge they don’t offer a medal (which is terrible if true, because as you said 5ks are typical first races and this race also has that reputation.) I will suggest it and see if it isn’t too late, and I will be in touch if they bite. Thanks!


      • Cool. The medal does say “My First 5K” on it. I have them custom made so they are not those tinny cheapos you’ve probably seen at some races. My email is: info@omnirunning.com.
        I guess if they run 4 miles, they get their first 5K in there along the way.


  2. This may sound silly, but here goes: Last Sunday I ran the Surf City Half Marathon. I’d only done the full before, so I wasn’t familiar with the half’s course (and there was no printed handout with any race info this year, either). I’m usually pretty good with monitoring my water before a race so I don’t have to make any pit stops during, but this year nature called on PCH about 7 miles from the finish line. There was a bank of porta potties with fairly long lines, but I had no choice. The stop cost me a good few minutes because I didn’t know when the next opportunity would be. So here’s my suggestion: Signs by the porta potties along the route with a “next restroom break 3 miles” sort of message to help runners plan–kind of like “next gas 50 miles” on highways. It may be something middle-aged women appreciate!


  3. How are they with technology? Is there runner tracking? Some races now are including the photos for free. Do they have a hashtag? Do they have blog ambassadors? Is there a really fun afterparty? Free beer? Concert? Crowd support is important to me – maybe some incentives to have crazy creative people out there cheering? My Key West 13.1 the other week had great volunteers at the aid stations – they were very supportive. Do they play along with racers/spectators on social media? Anyways, just some ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is the afterbash to end all after bashes, and they do have some supportive neighborhood people, but we have been talking about trying to ramp that up and maybe have a sign contest. I will look into where they are with your ideas. You’re the best! Thanks for the input!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I see that there are waves in the race, but is there at least a loose corral system within each wave? Even if it’s only a couple volunteers holding pace signs, it makes a big difference in “encouraging” the slower runners to stay towards the back. I couldn’t tell if it is chip timed at the start or not, but if there is no timing mat at the start, it just makes the slower runners push towards the front. (Can you tell I’ve been tripped up by this more than a few times?)


  5. Sounds like you are taking your role on the committee very seriously. This is what I love about well organised races: I love it when the marshals and drink stop volunteer cheer – not all do that. I also love having specific cheerleader squads – that makes a huge difference. Last year I did a half marathon in the middle of Melbourne. I kid not, there must’ve been more than 15 different music stops on the course – it was so much fun. I also love a really thorough FAQ page on the race website. That way I don’t have to ask ‘dumb’ questions. Having designated start lines for runners and walkers would be great – hate getting tangled up with walkers who don’t realise they should be at the back. I’m guessing all this is pretty standard stuff.


    • Even the standard stuff is good to double check, and it’s nice to know that runners pay attention to it! Thanks for your input. They do have designated waves and a stroller/walker wave, which is perfect. They’ve also had a cheerleading squad before…I’m going to check and see if they are having them again. It’s such a fun local race that is really about community (more so than these recent themed corporate races), so that kind of thing is perfect for it! Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. 4 miles ey? Are you all giving out any type of awards to the top finishers (maybe by age group)? If so a nice medal just for those winners would be AWESOME SAUCE. I won in my age group once and a medal would have been icing on the cake!!!


  7. I know we don’t have many 4 mile races here. If they aren’t prevalent in your area, maybe do a 6.5K winners thing? Not sure about that on a standard race, but just thinking about making it special. Otherwise, I really enjoy the after race food and drinks. It makes the race stand out, I guess because it is the last “experience” of the race (and I love food).


  8. Let’s see, here’s what I think makes a good race: good pre-race communications, easy registration, pre-race mass warm-up to music if it’s a sizeable crowd, accurate mile markers, cheering marshalls, some on-course entertaiment if at all possible like music, bottled water (not cups), nice finishers’ mementoes (could be something quirky), something to eat/drink afterwards, quick and accurate display of results. Don’t ask for much, do I?? Oh, thanks for recipe, sounds great!! 🙂


  9. The best races I remember are not because of any gimmicks but are those that made my life really easy. Slick registration, quick bag check in, well organised start, good efficient feed stations, good after race food and drink and slick bag collection. The worst races are those that get those wrong……especially anything that involves waiting in long queues after the race. Good luck.


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