Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Great Number Debate.

This blog has been a while in coming- about a year to be exact. If I had run the Trigger last year I suspect I would have got on about it a whole lot more.
As it is, it has taken me a year to get around to running a long fell race in grim conditions to properly get a bee in my bonnet again, and chatting to other racers, its an issue which gets on their goat as well, but no-one really seems to do much about it except moan quietly at races while pinning numbers on.

If you are a fell racer, then I am sure that you are aware of the new safety rules that were implemented last year. The one I have most issue with is the number on chest rule - that is, your race number should absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt be worn on your chest. No exceptions. And if you do not, well, various things have been mentioned, up to and including being banned from races.

The reason for having race numbers on your chest is an intelligent one when you wear your vest, and the race is in good (benign) conditions, and the guys at the checkpoints need to know where to look for your number as you zoom past at a rate of knots.
Numbers on shorts in this case can be a little troublesome as the marshals aren't so good at reading numbers on legs that are moving fast - especially if the number could be on a right leg, or a left leg.

So far, so un-controversial.

However, when running a race like the Trigger, where bad/cold weather is likely, or indeed last years Long Mynd, or Sedburgh - where I was wearing a waterproof AND big mitts, (yes, I know, I'm southern), the whole "race number on vest, or you don't run" thing was a bit of a bugger.
Let me illustrate with a photo.

Here is a photo of me, ascending toward Black hill trig during the Trigger a couple of days ago. What number am I? 
No, thats right. You can't see. The Pennine runner over my left shoulder (Dave Soles, if you're interested), has his number on his chest as well, and because he is a hard nut, he isn't wearing a waterproof. 
I had my waterproof on for the duration of the race, and just about managed to not go hypothermic. 

However, when I got to a checkpoint - at the top of Black Hill - nice and exposed, with a vicious wind whipping along, ditto for Higher Shelf trig, and again for the Checkpoints on Kinder, I had to take off my mitts, fumble around with the zip on my jacket, realise it wasn't going to work, hoik my jacket up from under the waistbelt of my bumbag, get cold hands and torso while slowing down enough for the marshals to read my number before having to try and get clothes back to where they were. 
So the times when I was closest to getting colder than I needed to were on the most exposed parts of the course, where I had to prove who I was. 

Now. Let me illustrate this point with another photo. 
 This was the Old County Tops 2013. It was pretty damn grim all day. Al and I (in the centre) kept our waterproofs on all day. I challenge you - as a marshal, to tell me what number Al is in the Blue top, and what number Julien is (in the red top- on the left).

Despite the fact Al is wearing his number "illegally" on his leg, goodness me, you can see what number he is without any kit faff, without any exposure to the elements, though you might need to ask him to slow down for a sec to record his number... you'll have to do that with Jules as well - because you CAN'T ACTUALLY SEE HIS NUMBER.

Hang on a sec. Another pic.
Me and Jules running the Fra's. What team are we in - oh, hang on a sec, you can't see my number because its on my chest. Its on Juliens chest, and you can see it because he gets hot running up hills and always ends up taking his waterproof off.
Had I had my number on my shorts... you'll never guess what, you could probably quite easily tell what number I was.

And a final picture for your delectation and delight:
Me and Al again - pre leg 4 on the Ian Hodgeson Mountain Relay 2013. Again, I have my number on my chest. Al is "breaking" the new rules. What team number are we? How can you tell?
Its because the number is clearly displayed on my chest.

Hang on, no its not. Its because Al has it pinned to his shorts.

For goodness sake.
FRA people. I know you have your reasons for having a fascist (edited through respect to a friend who objected to the use of the word) dictatorial hold on us as runners, and that should any of us deviate from your lovely rules then we will be expelled from racing forever, but really, show a bit of fricking common sense for once.
Numbers on chests might be fine and dandy when the race is short and in nice weather. Its fine when you are a UKA runner and are running around a track, with cover just a short trot away from anywhere on the course. Its fine on a 10k, or a marathon, and its fine when we don't have to faff around exposing ourselves on the top of hills.
However, when the weather is grotty, and hey, we live in the UK and the races we run are fairly often not run in the nicest of conditions, we're probably going to be wearing windproofs or waterproof - and the reason for that is so that we cover ourselves so that we don't get wet or cold. Just like Mr Winterburn suggests in his fantastic Hypothermia article. (and while you're at it, tell me how many of the people on the photo you can identify by race number.... yup - only one of them... and I think I've hammered home the point enough here....)

So stop forcing us to remove that outer layer of protection when we are MOST likely to need it, and let us wear our race numbers on our shorts. Heck, even specify that it has to be on the RIGHT leg or something so that the marshals at least know which side they might have to stand on, but don't make us any colder/wetter/hypothermic than we have to be.


  1. A little soft board on an elastic strap around your waist?

  2. yes but there is also another scenario side to this debate especially if the team that is about to win race has a runner injured close to the finish and they are also the club who is running the race and the team member next in line to win it for them has a jacket on could 201 really get mixed up with 202 this could,nt happen with number on shorts unless there are no spectators

  3. Interesting point, anonymous. I'd like to think that fellrunners are a little more honest that that though....

  4. "Make your number to visible to the marshall" instruction leaves it to the runner's discretion, taking into account the consequences (undoing layers, or having to slow down to allow the number to be noted correctly. And generally, I am happy to wear the number wherever I'm told but it wasn't a sensible instruction at the Trigger I'm afraid.

  5. good point I must admit I have seen this done but only in uka events where the club has had 2 teams

  6. Maybe they could give you two numbers. Then you could go shorts and base layer top. Or base layer and jacket.

  7. Yes, I can read the numbers on the shorts when they are standing still in front of me head on. However, when runners are coming past a marshall in a race you can't always get them to stop and stand head on. If those two runners were to go past from left to right in front of me, then I can't see their numbers. The numbers are also folded up, so you don't have the full background to read against. It is also not misty or wet, so I can see clearly.

    If you are entering a race where the rule says you have to have your number on the chest, and that the marshall has to be able to see it, then you have to work out how to do both, or not enter. The best examples of this are seeing top runners appearing at checkpoints in bad weather, unzipping or lifting their jackets and making sure they are recorded correctly. If it takes a little longer, tough.

    I will accept any rule that the race organiser wants, if I want to run the race. You knew the rules, yet you set off in kit that made it impossible for you to show your number. Is that the race organiser's fault or yours?


  8. Lecky.
    Thankyou for making the point that people with numbers on their chests have to slow down to have their number read. Exactly the same as if they have it on their legs. Except they have to open their top to have it seen. This is not about speed. Its about not having to open a jacket. I accept that number recording is an important thing and it takes time. Surely. .. surely you can see that a number already in view is easier to see than one hidden behind a cag?

    Point 2 no I have never set off on a race in breach of the rules. All photos here were taken before the rules as draconian as they are, came into force. I deal with it and I follow yhe rules because I want to race.
    This doed mot mean I agree with them, and equally does not mean I shouldn't question and challenge them if I think they are a nonsense.

  9. Try wearing your vest over your jacket?

  10. Did that on long mynd last year after getting very very cold in the "counting pen" before starting. Then had a complete nightmare trying to remove both layers, putting the vest back on, and the waterproof in the bumbag while maintaining forward momentum.
    There is indeed a simpler solution, but a lot of people don't like it. Personally I can't fathom it, but I accept that they think they're right.

    I can't agree with them, though, as then we'd all be wrong.