Continuous Improvement Like Running A Marathon


Yours truly just prior to embarking on a 26.2 mile journey.

Yesterday I completed my seventh full marathon (26.2 miles) and just about the only part of my body that isn’t sore is my fingers.  I ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in my lovely home city of San Diego for my second time and the first time since 2010.

Being a customer of a number of races and now a repeat customer of this particular race, I enjoy the exercise of observing the race through the lens of the customer experience to see what we can learn.  Here are five things I observed from the day:

1. Flawless Transportation- Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon does a marvelous job of using public transportation to transport runners to the start line and from the finish line.  When I ran the race in 2010, the trolley was the only mode of transportation from the finish line, leading to long waits in the hot sun.  By moving the finish line to a downtown location, racers had more transportation options and the crowds were much more manageable.

2. Plenty ‘o’ Potties- I generally try to keep the bathroom talk off of the blog but with a bunch of nervous racers, porta potties are an essential ingredient for any race.  It’s not uncommon for the bathroom lines to take upwards of thirty minutes.  In the case of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there were plenty of potties and the wait times were less than ten minutes.

3. Logistics- Last year I wrote a post about how my bag exploded at the Big Sur Marathon.  In the post I talked about the amazing job the race staff did at cleaning up the mess and getting my stuff back.  We can all agree that it would have been better if my bag had never exploded in the first place.  Rock ‘n’ Roll has an amazing system.  They line up 15-20 UPS trucks in alphabetical order.  At each truck, a volunteer carefully handles your back bag and there are no lines to retrieve your bag at the end of the race.

4. Change of Course- Part of the reason I was excited to run this race is that I had heard they improved the course.  It was evident that the race planners had made an effort to feature some of the best neighborhoods in San Diego including Hillcrest, Balboa Park, Downtown, Little Italy, Old Town, Bay Park, Mission Valley and North Park.  This was a much better representation of San Diego than the 2010 race that finished in the Sea World parking lot.

5. The Little Things- I love it when folks get the little details right. So often when you pick up your race bib, there’s a big box of safety pins and it’s up to the racer pick out four and stash those little things in a safe place prior to the race.  Rock ‘n’ Roll instead hands racers a small, branded ziplock bag with four safety pins in it.  Normally this would be an unnoticed detail but this is the ONLY race that does that.  Those little things all add up.

Now the fact that the weather remained in the 60s for the entire race was amazing, but I’m not sure the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks had anything to do with that detail.

The mark of a great organization (or race) is their ability to listen to their customers and improve on the customer experience year after year.  Take a moment to observe organizations you frequent regularly and notice the improvements they do or don’t make year after year.  Chances are, you’re a staunch promoter of the ones that are gradually improving.

In all, I ran my best time ever for this course and am thrilled to have beaten the 92-year-old woman that ran the race.  But seriously–did you see that a 92-year-old woman completed a marathon?  I guess that just about eliminates all of the excuses for not hitting the road.  Happy running and happy improving!


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