Thursday, February 18, 2010

USA Track & Field (USATF) amended rule 144.3(f) – use of headphones at a USATF Race

Every once in a while, you see a sport make a bone headed decision that diminishes the sport for the everyday participants. Such was the decision in 2007 (and continued to current with some races) of not allowing any participants to use headphones while participating in a USATF event.
As someone that runs marathons, it is very rare not to have a race that is USATF sanctioned. This is because a number of runners use marathons that have the USATF accreditation to qualify for some of the national marathons such as Boston or New York City. When race organizers started to threaten to remove runners from the race (as they did in most marathons), it’s surprising that they didn’t get together and address this with the USATF instead of trying to police an obvious stupid rule. It is too bad that even when everyday runners began boycotting their races, the USATF still wouldn’t amend their rule to exempt everyday runners. Finally, on December 22, 2008, the USATF changed the rule, because it became too hard to enforce equally across all USATF races.
Here’s how the new amended rule 144.3(f) reads: “The visible possession or use by athletes of video, audio, or communications devices in the competition area. The Games Committee for an LDR event may allow the use of portable listening devices not capable of receiving communication; however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices." So, technically, if you are in a USATF race and plan on placing in an award position, your award could be withheld if you are found using a device.
I don’t like that they still allow Race Directors to make the decision of whether to allow them or not. I still find myself checking to make sure the races allow them before entering (For Minnesota races, Grandma’s and Twin Cities Marathons changed their rules to allow them starting in 2009). I think the onus should be on the race director to make sure that before anyone is allowed to enter a race, they have to check a box (either online or on an application form) stating that they are giving up that right. No one should have to worry which races are enforcing this rule and which ones aren’t.
I’ve heard the arguments about the questions of safety. I’ve run enough marathons and other races to have runners (right in front of me) pass right into my lane while crossing over to stop at a drink stop without hearing or stopping to look for other runners. But I am more than willing to tolerate that pet peeve vs. having all iPods banned from a race. What happened to running being fun?
I remember running Grandma’s Marathon in 2003 and following two sisters for a two mile stretch. For about one mile, I couldn’t figure out what private joke they were sharing as they ran. Both were wearing earphones and laughing each 4-5 minutes without really talking to one another. It wasn’t until I asked that I found out the reason. They had both loaded the other’s iPod with a song list that the other would listen to, for the 4 plus hours that they would be running. As a surprise song would come up, of course, it would remind them of something – an event, a favorite song, who knows – a former boyfriend? But the point being is that I’m sure it was as much a part of their memory of that marathon as the run itself.
So this blog is an appeal to any race directors that come across it to allow the use of audio devices for their race. In a 9,000 runner race, or for that matter, a 100 runner race, 97% of the runners aren’t running it for the prize money. Remember the reason that most runners are at your race – to participate with others in the running community in a social event that is supposed to be fun.

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