How to write a great race report

It’s officially race season! With my first race of 2010 out of the way (and my body fully recovered), I have been extra motivated to read up on other folks’ race experiences as they start piling on. I LOVE reading about races. Sometimes it’s me living vicariously through someone else, and other times its me deciding whether or not I want to travel to that locale for my 50×50. I also love feeling like I was right there with someone when they were pushing for their marathon PR or racing their first Oly. And the really great athlete bloggers in the world know exactly how to make that happen.

One of my favorite race reports ever written is by Jordan Rapp after his monumentous win at Ironman Canada last summer. In his post, Rapp very clearly illustrated the race in an Alice in Wonderland-esque story. It was both entertaining and enlightening, and I could visualize the course as I read through his report. This unique and entertaining race recap was especially meaningful because it was the first experience of winning an Ironman for Rapp (and he then went on do to it twice in the same year, with a win again at IM Arizona). Not only was the report catchy because of its AinW theme, but he included a few key components that made his report a great one.

  1. Be explicit
    Name the race and its distance.
    Not everyone reading your blog knows your race schedule like the back of their hand. In fact, it might just be someone stumbling across your page that wants to read on. And what good is know what your time was if they don’t know what the distance? Not all Olympic triathlons are the same distances, and not all road runs are the same length. Make sure to be explicit about the race name, location, and length (Ironman and marathons can probably slide under the critical-review-radar without noting the distance, but a few more numbers on your blog doesn’t hurt. Hey, not everyone in the world knows how far an Ironman is – believe it or not!).
    What else was going on? What was the weather like? How big was the race? Were there waves, and if so- were they crowded or easy-breezy? You get the point.
  2. Break it down
    If your race was long enough for you to feel multiple emotions over its duration, break the report up into its respective parts. This method is true for multi-sport races, as well. Break up the paragraphs, use bold or italic or underline (or all three) to help the reader skip to the next part if they could care less about your swim, bike, or T2.
    Ways to do this:
    Break it up into swim-bike-run. If you just did a triathlon, break up the text into three parts- the swim, the bike, and the run. Talk about each event individually as if they were their own race (but you can include them all together in the same post).
    Break it up with images. Get your photo snapped at mile 2 of the marathon? Throw it up on your blog between the pre-race and early race discussions. Have a course map that illustrates the death-march-hill you stumbled up at mile 20? Put it right before your description of said hill as a good climax to the story.
    Added bonus- Include your splits if you know them (that is, if you want to share). Following along with your race progression is helpful for readers, especially if you had a surge in your race or you hit a wall. Seeing the progression can help the reader follow along. Describing the surge or bonk really helps, too.
  3. Tell a story.
    Remember in the movie Fight Club, when Edward Norton’s character was running in his boxers in the middle of the night to stop a building from being blown up? The narration of the movie said:
    “I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.”
    Those three sentences have so much meaning, and tell a story that perhaps five hundred sentences could portray. No, you don’t need to tell a five-hundred-sentence story. This isn’t English Composition. And telling a story in a few words can sometimes have more meaning than telling it in five thousand. Be clear, be concise, but portray your story so that the world can understand.
  4. Don’t be afraid to show emotion!
    I know first hand that racing is chock full of emotions. The longer the race, the more time you have to go through the whole gamut. There’s ups and downs, smiling and crying- its all there. There’s no need to encourage your reader into thinking you’re a robot. Write objectively, explicitly, and accurately, but include the ups and downs you felt during your race (like the emotional “wall” you hit at mile 30 out of 100, or the anxiety of an all-out sprint at the end of a 5K). And if a proper sentence won’t describe it, spell out grunts and groans. You’re reader will get the point.
  5. Discuss (and show) what you went through.
    Aside from the obvious course description that you obviously fought (or flew) your way through, talk about how the course affected you. Were the hills hard or easy? Was the gradual downhill easy-breezy or did it make your quads scream their way into survival mode?

    Everyone likes photos

    And since a picture is worth a thousand words, throw on the elevation map or the twisty-turny course map that had your head spinning in circles. Discuss the uphill mile that made you want to vom, or the flat mile that accelerated you past a dozen other racers. (if you use a photo that is copyrighted, make sure to credit its source!).

  6. Discuss what you liked and didn’t like about the race/venue/course/people.
    And don’t just list it as: I liked the popsicles. I didn’t like the bus ride at 4am.
    You’re (probably) not in elementary school. Tell us why! And you don’t need to be mean. If someone was being an extreme butthead, don’t call him (or her) obscenities on your blog with their race number and a description of his car with license plate in parentheses. Since we’ll know what race you did, we could probably stalkernet them to find out who they are and dislike them too. Or maybe realize that we are them, and then its a whole ‘nother can of worms.
  7. Don’t just copy and paste results and call it good.
    Give the reader a little more, or just wait to post. Tabulated lists of results into a blog ends up getting jumbled in formatting, and looks like a secret code to space aliens about the next invasion (it gives me a headache because my eyes are going berzerkers and I am a control freak). If all you have time to do is copy-and-paste the results in your blog, at least make sure it looks ok before you push the publish button. Use the format buttons again (b, i, or u) and make it somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
  8. Preview it!
    Is it something you’d want to read? Are there photos? Readers LOVE photos. But photos aren’t always necessary, especially if the story is good and the narrative is engulfing (like the Rappstar in Ironland post).
    Is your report one giant paragraph, or can people skip around if they get bored about reading your minute-by-minute dialogue of your first 50mile run?
    Is there meat to your report, or are you just regurgitating your race day? (eg: a bad report is similar to- “I ate this at 12min 30sec. I ate that at 30 min 20 sec. I passed a dude at mile 20. The end.”)

What’s your favorite race report you’ve read recently?

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4 thoughts on “How to write a great race report

  1. I agree with all of the above, and would add that it’s helpful to share your expertise. Most of the time, I don’t care what you consumed at each mile marker; if you’re a sports dietitian, I want to know your pre- and post-race diet, plus your Gu of choice. If you’re a local running a race many people travel to, I want to know what could have been better about the race course … and so on.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to write a great race report « in training -- Topsy.com

  3. Great stuff. Seriously, if people follow these guidelines, the race report sucks the reader right in so that they can feel your pain, your glory, and know exactly how you mentally held the physical parts together to perform to ability. And thank you, of course, for the shout out!!!

  4. Anton Krupicka is not only a phenominal athlete but quite the write. Its a joy to read his blog detailing his daily runs (including his daily summit of Green Mt in CO, 14,000ft). He provides breath taking photos and really provides great detail and insight into his running and what to do (and not to do) when out on the trails. He recently posted a race report accounting his Miwok 100k victory this weekend. Also, I suggest going back and reading his Leadville 100 race re-caps (one where he won the other where he bonked, hit the wall and DNF’ed) because both are stellar!

    http://antonkrupicka.blogspot.com/

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