I ran my first marathon this weekend. It was an incredible experience, one I’ll never forget. Although the memory of pushing through the last couple of miles and sprinting through the finish line will forever be etched in my memory, there is something else I won’t quickly forget- the frictionless process of the entire weekend.
It takes a village to host an organized athletic event such as a marathon. You have a lot of moving parts- thousands of participants, hundreds of volunteers, dozens of vendors, multiple locations, and tons of technical logistics. And that’s just on race day. Not to mention it also takes months of planning to pull permits, reserve lodging blocks, secure vendors, promote the event, and communicate with registrants. My brain gets tired just thinking about it all. So much planning goes into a single event that lasts less than eight hours.
People pay lots of money to show up and have every detail taken care of for them. The beauty of racing is that you have a planned course with aide stations and support that allow you to merely show up and perform. Athletes expect a frictionless experience. Races that deliver on this well can charge premium dollar and see high enrollment.
The draw to choose the Big Sur International Marathon as my inaugural race was in part because of the epic scenery, but also because of the prestige that it holds within the running community. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to run the course. From the race expo to the By the Bay 3K shake out run, to the pasta feed and post-race celebration, there’s no shortage of activities and fun.
I arrived Saturday afternoon after having traveled all morning. I was able to pick up my packet within minutes and had zero complications. The sweet volunteer who gave my packet made sure to go over high-level details and answer any questions I had. Next, I picked up my transportation ticket, which was a couple of booths down from the packet pick-up. The volunteer at that station made sure I got on the bus that was located closest to where I was staying. Once the nitty gritty details were taken care of, I did a little shopping and was back to my car. The entire process took about 15 minutes and was by far the most frictionless expo experience I have ever had!
Race day came bright and early, with my alarm going off at 2:45 am. No one looks forward to being up that early. Yet, there were cheery volunteers on what seemed like every street corner providing directions to the bus line and answering last-minute questions. I boarded the bus and was shuttled to the start line without having to worry about a thing. Once we arrived at the start line, I was offered hot coffee/cocoa/tea, bagels and bananas. There was fun music playing and the energy was charged with excitement.
The start gun fired at 6:45 am on the dot and we were off. 26.2 miles is a long way to travel by foot and the race coordinators didn’t overlook a single detail. Every aide station was filled with wonderful volunteers- local boy/girl scouts, schools, faith groups, and non-profit organizations. Not to mention there was a classical pianist playing music on Bixby Bridge! The course was challenging but the seamless experience allowed me to focus on my race and not worry about a single detail.
Lastly, the finisher’s expo was great. The food we were provided was yummy and the space was well utilized. I received my medal, got photos taken, refueled, and reveled in my accomplishment. I will also note how awesome the medical staff was. My friend took an unfortunate digger in the asphalt and split her chin open. The medical staff was quick to respond and helped get her back on the course quickly. Although you never want to encounter the medical tent, it’s nice to know you’ll be taken care of so well when you need it.
What has my recent experience taught me? Friction matters, a lot. The less friction your customer encounters with your brand, the more likely they will continue coming back. An easy way to measure this is to become your own customer. Do you enjoy the experience? If the answer is no, then your customers most likely won’t either.
Are you a runner? Have you ever participated in an organized athletic event? What was your experience like? Leave me a comment or send me a tweet!