Sunday, December 04, 2011


What has gone on this past weekend for twenty-two thousand of us runner-types can only be described as the "epic failure of epic fails." Starting with an unclear registration process many many months ago and ending with a weak 'apology statement' that all but says "it wasn't our fault," I have to say the following:

If I wasn't there to experience this race first-hand, I would never believe that all of this actually happened. Truly.

I'm no newbie to the road race world. I've lost count of how many 5K's I have under my belt, but a conservative estimate would have me running five to ten 5K's each year. I've also run several 10K's, four half-marathons, and one full marathon. This past summer I ran the Warrior Dash in a torrential downpour through muddy woods and as a result suffered an extreme rash of poison ivy all over my legs that lasted for a solid month. That race was fun, but because of the medical issues that resulted I thought that was probably my worst race experience ever.

I had no idea how wrong I was.

Let me be clear that as I list the things that "went wrong," I do not blame the race organizers for ALL of them. Most? Yes. But not ALL.

When my girlfriends and I signed up online for this race over the summer, we each commented to one another that the registration process was confusing, arduous, vague, and far more complicated than any other race we had ever signed up for.

This past week, I kept getting emails from the race coordinators informing me that I hadn't yet selected my mode of transportation to the starting line. I navigated the road race website over and over again, trying to figure out what mode of transportation I would require. After all, I was staying at one of the hotels that the race recommended and even set up discounted blocks of rooms for runners. I emailed my friend who was doing the race with me and asked if she was able to figure out what sort of transportation we would need. The website was confusing to her, too.

Finally I emailed the race director and said "I am staying at the (yada yada) hotel and don't know which mode of transportation I need to select?" They responded to me by telling me that the starting line was a three minute walk from my hotel room, so I would not need transportation. I thanked them and selected "no transportation required" on the site.

When we arrived and went to the runner expo to pick up our bibs and jackets, we were horrified to discover that the jackets were too small and didn't fit us in the sizes that we registered for. It was not a problem, however, as there was a jacket size exchange table around the corner. Off we went, and we traded in our jackets for a better (er, bigger) size. When we got back to our hotel, we checked the race's facebook page and lots of people were complaining that the jackets were much too small (which made us feel better, since I was taking it personal and feeling like a fat-ass). The thing is, we were at the runner expo pretty early, around 1:00PM. By 4:00PM that afternoon (the expo was open until 9:00PM) they were out of some jacket sizes. People were PISSED because they were arriving to pick up their jackets and were being told that the sizes they registered for were gone. To which they responded (and I agreed even though I had benefited from this faux-pas) "how can you allow people to EXCHANGE their jacket sizes before they've been handed out to EVERYONE?" I remember saying to my friend that the race organizers were going to catch a lot of heat over that.

Ha ha ha. I laugh now just thinking that THIS is what I thought would be the biggest issue.

Ok: fast forward to race morning. We leave our hotel shortly after 7:15AM. We know it is 30 degrees out and absolutely frigid, and we are dressed in running clothes. We have on layers, yes, but we are NOT warm. We are dressed to run. Counting on our three minute walk to the starting line, we are trying to give ourselves more than enough time to be at the staging area as required for 7:45AM, knowing our race starts at 8:00AM sharp. We figure we can probably stand to be outside for forty-five minutes in the cold before we begin running and warm up.

The starting line, as it turned out, was a mile and a half away from our hotel. On a GOOD day, I can run a nine-minute mile. Meaning that if I was running at a good clip, it would take me thirteen and a half minutes to RUN to the starting line. Not three minutes. Oh, and this mile and a half walk to the starting line was uphill. So, that was the freezing cold.

We get to what is marked as the "finish" line, and find ourselves lost in a sea of people. There is a 5K race that is supposed to start at 7:30AM. On the same course as our 15K. Half an hour between start times seemed odd, but okay. The race organizers must know what they are doing.

7:45AM rolls around and we try to find the corral where we should be lining up. We can't find it. There is signage, but it makes little sense. We want to make sure that we are lined up in the right place and finally realize that we must be "good enough," as everyone around us looks as confused as we are. Then, we start realizing that some of the people standing with us have on 5K bibs.

"Shouldn't they have already been running for fifteen minutes by now?" we asked ourselves. I have never - NEVER - been a part of a race that didn't start on time. Well, okay, once I ran in a 5K that started five minutes late, and the race organizers were SUPER apologetic about it. We runners have certain rituals that we go through - we eat certain foods at certain times, based on when we will be running and when we will be finishing, etc. We also warm up and stretch out, etc, based on estimated start and end times. There are dozens of other reasons that races always start on time: the city or town has only granted allowances for road closures for a certain number of hours; people that are visiting from out of town have check-out times in their hotels that they need to adhere to; flights home that they need to be on time for, etc etc etc. Bottom line: road races start on time. Period. The end.

By 8:00AM, we were growing concerned that we were still seeing people in 5K bibs standing around. We were also growing concerned that our toes were frozen and it didn't appear that WE would be starting anytime soon, either. Everyone was standing around looking at one another. No one knew what was going on. There were volunteers all around us, but none of them had any idea what was going on, either. Furthermore, none of them had any radios or walkie-talkies or whatnot. There was no way for these volunteers to be informed of what was going on.

No one was making any overhead anouncements - none that we could hear, anyways. It was unclear which direction our start line was in. It was DAMN cold. And by 8:50AM, we were getting pissed. There were rumors that the 5K race had started, but we couldn't be certain of that.

.....I just realized that if I continue to go on and on at this pace, I'll be typing until morning. And no one will read this whole post. So, let's touch on some of the highlights, shall we?

* Our 15K race started WAY late. When I crossed the START line, my iPod read "9:24AM." For an 8:00AM race. No bueno.

* The first six miles of our 15K race was on a highway. A highway that WAS NOT CLOSED TO TRAFFIC. Yes, that is correct - the roads were not closed. We were running alongside cars and trucks on a freeway.

* We crossed the 5K mat a little over a mile into the race. For those of you keeping track, 5K is 3.1 miles. In other words, the mat was in the wrong location.

* We arrived at the first water station and there wasn't enough water. Really. We had to stand and wait while they poured cups of water for us (much much love to the volunteers at the water stations - this was NOT their fault).

* During the first six miles there were a grand total of five port-o-johns that I saw. Five. For TWENTY TWO THOUSAND RUNNERS.

* This course, on its best day, would have been hard pressed to fit four thousand runners. There were more than five times that number on race day. Overcrowded doesn't begin to explain it.

* Did I mention that this race was advertised as the "Sweetest Race in Washington DC?" and we were ACTUALLY running in Oxon Hill, Maryland? You couldn't see DC if you squinted.

* Around the six mile mark, this VERY hilly (not advertised as such) course looked like it was going to overlap itself. We later learned that this last 5K portion of our race was THE 5K course. With one giant difference - the runners for the 5K race were sent the wrong way at the first turn and wound up running the entire course backwards. Yes, really. BACKWARDS. Meaning there were no mile markers for the runner (because, of course, they were reversed now), and which also meant that the narrow SIDEWALK and TUNNEL in the last mile and a half of our course took place in the BEGINNING of their race. I can't even imagine the bottleneck. We heard that "runners" in the 5K were brought not merely to a walk but to a dead halt due to the crowding. The lead runner - the 5K winner - stopped running and asked which direction he was supposed to go (because it wasn't marked) and the police pointed him in the wrong direction. How does that HAPPEN?

* Mile seven lead us onto gravel, dirt, and - honest to God - seashells. Seashells. Have you ever tried to run on the beach, in the sand? Running in dirt mixed with gravel and seashells is very similar. Oh, and very tricky. This was never disclosed to us that we would be running on anything other than asphalt.

* The last half mile was a sharp uphill. This was not in any way against any rules, but I only point it out because it just added insult to injury by then.

* The "tons" of chocolate we were promised at the finish line was one small helping (one small scoop) of fondue. And though it was delicious, in hindsight it was a poor dietary choice after running 9.3 miles. A lot of us spent the rest of the day in bed, in the fetal position with stomach aches.

* The line for the shuttles to take people back to their cars were insane; we heard that people were in line for an hour and a half. Sweaty, wet, cold, irritated, angry, and sore - waiting to get a shuttle back to their car so that they could go sit in traffic to get to wherever they were supposed to be hours ago.

* The website for the race AND the facebook page for the event were getting all sorts of complaints and feedback from runners - people, like us, who experienced the day, and runners who never even made it to a delayed start due to the fact that they overbooked a race and didn't have a location that could handle that amount of traffic and parking. Local folks left their homes at 4:30AM, and missed the start of the race - which was supposed to start at 8 and didn't start until 9:15ish - because they were sitting in gridlock - caused by the race.

* Furthermore, both the facebook page AND the website began censoring and deleting any and all negative feedback posted online. Then, they shut access off all together. No one was able to comment, complain, inquire, or anything. The sites just went SILENT.

* Today, we received an "apology" email from the race director. In this email, they blamed two traffic accidents for the delayed race starts. Almost every account I have read online from people who drove in on the ONE access road to the race said they never saw anything that indicated there had even been one accident, let alone two.

* The apology email further went on to exclaim the race directors disgust and horror at the city for not hiring a proper car parking company; for falsely stating that they could accommodate a runner pool of over twenty-thousand runners; for not knowing the race course and sending one race in the wrong direction. I'm sorry, but don't all of these responsibilities lie with the race organizer? The people who charged us $65.00 per person to take part in this magnificent event? RAM Racing collected one million, four-hundred and thirty thousand dollars for this epic failure, and then when it comes time to issue their mea-culpa they can't even take any responsibility for ANY of it?


I had a lovely weekend with my girlfriends. I had a difficult nine mile run, difficult mostly because I didn't train properly - no one's fault but my own. I had a wonderful stay in my hotel and made some great memories this weekend. But I will never - NEVER - participate in another event held by RAM racing unless they can come up with something a bit more real and sincere than their lame ass "apology." It is shocking, that on the heels of their failure, they could fail even greater in their attempt to save face.

As someone so eloquently posted on one of the race sites (before it was deleted), "RAM racing can ram it up their......"