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Covering a marathon

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by MTM, Feb 4, 2010.

  1. MTM

    MTM Well-Known Member

    I'm looking for tips on covering a marathon. It is a fundraiser for a charity, so I don't expect it to be ultracompetitive, or fast.
    The best art is probably at the start (I'm shooting it as well), but the best stories will likely be at the end.
    I really don't want to spend 3-4 hours there, since it's a somewhat low-paying freelance gig.
    Any tips?
  2. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Stories at the end can be tough. Those guys can be in pretty bad shape.
  3. Shaggy

    Shaggy Guest

    Grabbing the winner is good. Grabbing the few guys who dressed in an outrageous costume is always fun. Go grab the race director, get quotes from him/her, ask him/her if there are any interesting stories regarding the racers that he/she is aware of (someone running their 100th marathon, someone 4 weeks removed from giving birth, etc). Get contact info for the race director ahead of time because they can be hard to find at the event itself. Warn them ahead of time you might want 5 minutes of their time.

    But as far as going out on the course and trying to "cover" it? Don't. If you're doing art and a story, go shoot the beginning of the race, go home and take a nap for an hour or two, then go back to the finish line. The first guy to cross is usually good art too.

    Marathons are hard to cover, but they can be fun. I went to our local marathon for a column idea I had and watched people cross the finish line for two hours, writing about what people did as they crossed after running 26.2 miles, many for the first time ever. A lot of people kiss their spouse they run with, some get down on hands and knees and crawl across, some break down and cry, etc.

    The sense of accomplishment they have is inspiring, and it was a very well-received piece. It was one of my favorite stories I've done.
  4. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Find someone running their first marathon ahead of time - get some stuff pre-race - make sure you can connect with them after the race - maybe get a few people like this (inspirational stories etc.).
    Covered one once and got to ride in the "press van" - other than being able to write down at what mile-marker the eventual winner took the lead - there wasn't that much benefit to it.
    Maybe interview some volunteers as well. Art at a water station should be good. And make sure you call organizers before you press "send" on your story to make sure nobody died during the race.
  5. Shaggy

    Shaggy Guest

    The race is too long for a press van to make much of a difference. Press vans are great for competitive 5K races, but marathon stories can't be loaded with details on when the winner made his move.

    Marathons are generally a participation event and the story is not that one guy beat 10,000 losers. It's a capture-the-atmosphere story and a chance to write about a few snowflakes in the crowd. But you SHOULD mention who won, of course, and maybe get a quick quote about how he did it.
  6. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    I covered maybe 20 plus Boston Marathons, but of course that was always a team event for the paper. If you're one guy writing multiple stories AND shooting photos, my advice is to just get as many different people's names in your copy as possible. Not to be harsh, but the people most likely to read a marathon story are the participants and their loved ones. This way, you make as high a percentage of them as possible.
  7. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Forget the idea of being there only 3-4 hours. Like others said, you gotta have the winner but the color of the story is in the midpackers, the stragglers, the clowns, etc. And you will have to wait out a few at the finish while they gather themselves. I enjoyed covering marathons, but had to make my peace with the absurdly early wakeup calls and the long days.

    Also don't leave without some kind of results printout and/or a way to get them promptly online.
  8. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    This is a small thing, but if you mention how many people participated be sure to compare the final results to the registration numbers. There's always people who register, get their goody bags and then don't run. Or they pre-register and then don't show because the weather is bad or they overslept or whatever. If the race director says 1,000 people registered, it's not uncommon for only 800 or 900 to run.
  9. Blitz

    Blitz Active Member

    Our staff covered the Run Through History in Vicksburg, Mississippi and it's a situation where you do tons of pre-race features then just go hang out on race day but don't try to get out on the course.
    One of the stories can sort of spotlight the sponsors.
    Get the winners and ask them about key points on the course. Throw in weather conditions or other intangibles and the story will write itself.
  10. bob

    bob Member

    I've covered a couple. you need to station yourself at the finish line. if you need the winner, get there early to see him finish--and then give him a chance to recover before talking to him. if you're looking for a local guy to feature, find someone wearing a shirt that has his hometown or some other local affiliation printed on it. if you're just looking to do a piece on the charity/fun aspect of the race, heck, you can talk to anybody. it's actually a pretty easy gig.
  11. Pencil Dick

    Pencil Dick Member

    My only advice is that if the marathon winner speaks halting English or none at all, ASK YOUR QUESTIONS IN A REALLY LOUD VOICE!!

    Also, stop off and grab a box of Krispy Kremes and eat them all as the runners take off.
  12. Mediator

    Mediator Member

    Covering a marathon is a lot like doing a fan story. You need lots of voices, quotes about why people are running, and then get the results. I usually quoted the top male and top female, and tried to get an age group winner or two. After that, you just want good stories, which you should be able to get from a charity event. Try to write the heck out of the scene. I'd lead with best story, results, scene and then a graph or two from each of the other runners with a good story.

    You really only need to be there for the end. The winners won't finish in under 2 hours, probably closer to 3 judging from what you said about the level of competition. Call the race director before the race but you should be able to get the rest of the facts on site. Unless you are doing a preview, calling the day before will give you a lot of stuff you'll never have space to write.
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