Saturday, December 3, 2011

JtFM: HC15KRR (Subtitle: An unnecessary acronym to lighten the mood.)

*JtFM: HC15KRR= Just the Facts, Ma'am: Hot Chocolate 15K Race Report

If you are a member of the DC sportz community, friends with anyone on Facebook who is a DC runner, follow runners on twitter, were anywhere near the bridge between Old Town Alexandria and Oxen Hill MD today, or tried to drive down RT 210 in MD this morning, you are well aware that there was a running event today at the National Harbor. You may also know that it did not go off as smoothly as it could have. Or, could it have? Was it doomed from the start? Let's examine some of the facts.

1.  One of the major problems for this particular event was transportation. Washingtonians are wary of crossing bridges, and for good reason. A bridge is a limitation - a narrow passageway that takes you one place. You can't bail out, you can't reroute, you can't do a U-turn, and they quickly get backed up when everyone is going the same place. A lot of people try to avoid this potential disaster and take public transportation. And here's our first problem. There WAS no public transportation to this event and on top of that, a majority of the racers were coming from VA and had to cross the bridge into MD, all onto the same exit, all funnelling into parking lots and limited garages.

Classification: Doomed from the start. The math on this is quite simple. There's no way 20,000 racers, plus spectators, plus race staff, plus volunteers, not to mention hotel and restaurant staff for the area were going to be able to get into this little village by the river this morning in a reasonable time frame, even witht he shuttle bus option. I actually got there quite easily, drove to Crystal City (which I did NOT have to pay for, despite their attempt to charge for it - I sincerely hope no one paid them for that), parked, walked outside and boarded one of probably 15 shuttle busses ready to roll out. The buses did hit the same gridlocked, bumper to bumper, miles upon miles of traffic that the other vehicles were in, but we took what I think was the HOV lanes across the bridge, drove past the Harbor and came in a back way. Very, very smart. So: if you left your house at an early hour and took the shuttle you were there with plenty of time to spare.

2. Something else that really upset racers was the very poor communication from race staff. Let's start off early this morning with the race officials announcing on facebook (and possibly over the loud speakers, though I didn't hear it) that an accident near the exit was contributing to the delays for the vehicles attempting to enter the Harbor. No one has been able to substantiate this claim. Either way, the traffic was clearly backed up for miles (it was easy to see) and it was ON the 5K race course. Yeah. This meant the 5K race, and therefore the 15K race was going to be delayed.

Lucky for me, I had friends with a car strategically parked in sight of the start and finish lines, so we waited, and listened, and watched, and checked facebook, and used the portapotties and waited some more. We first heard that the 5K race was going to be delayed for 15 minutes. We heard that several times. I think both races ended up going off an HOUR late.

There are a lot of other stories that I've read online that seem to be pretty ridiculous if they really happened, but I hate to put anything down that I didn't personally see. There are enough though that it seems like there wasn't a lot of cohesion from the race team.

Classification: Ugh. Don't lie to your customers. Not to say that other markets aren't, but DC folks are quite savvy and we have very little patience for bullshit. We know how to find out about traffic accidents (uh, follow DC EMT on twitter? ever heard of Dr Gridlock? WTOP Traffic Radio?), we know how to organize (there's already an angry facebook page set up - talk about grassroots organizing), and we know how to lead a good PR campaign (it's already a news story on one website, how long before the other healthy living news reporters pick up on it?) So, yeah, just a word of advice, play it smart in DC, because it's got the heaviest concentration of  type-A's on the entire planet. True story.

Also: Don't even get me started on the stupid Fun Fact Friday emails. How about a subject line of "Important Parking Information" or "Expo and Packet Pick up Details"? See above re: savvy, no patience.

3. But the race itself, how did that go? Oh the RACE! That's why we were doing this! That was fun! Well, fun for me. Remember, I was sitting in a warm car right up until the race start. We weaved our way into Corral B (our rightful place) and - after a few mins wait, boom, were off. Yeah, the course had some odd twists and turns, and yeah, there were way too many people on a far too narrow course which resulted in many people running into orange barrels and tripping over cones, but yours truly managed to avoid them since, after all, they were in a straight line so running in a different  straight line avoided the problem. (Math again!) While the first several miles were less than scenic (along a highway) and my vertigo didn't really care for the streams of people in each direction and cars everywhere, I was running a good pace, the weather was nice and shouting thank you to the cops and volunteers always makes me happy.

Here are some things the race did right:
-Each mile was marked with a clock (yay!)
-The volunteers were great and there were plenty of them.
-There was plenty of water and gatorade at each stop.
-Once you got on the back half of the course there was great spectator support and a much nicer view of the water and the Harbor neighborhood.
-There was a truck at one of the turnarounds blasting good music and a string of volunteers along the last long miles encouraging everyone and thanking them for coming out.

Here are some things the race did very wrong:
-The 5k point was on the back of an out and back. The timing mat was on the out part. So, we all have 2.2 mile splits instead of 5k splits. JV.
-The finish chute wasn't a chute, but a huge cluster f of people standing around just past the finish line. There was no fencing to speak of. This is not a complicated problem, just put up some fucking fencing. Also, fellow racers, get the F out of the chute after you finish racing, you KNOW BETTER than to clog that area. When people finish, they need a water and to walk around a bit, not to come to a dead standstill because people are all over the damn place and because the water bottles are not opened out of the plastic packaging yet. JV.

Classification: Barely passing grade. While this course was far to narrow for the number of runners (and shoot, in addition to the regular no-show percent, there were plenty who bailed out bc of traffic, so imagine if the actual number of registrants had shown up to run!) I personally had no problems. I was in the first 15% of people across the line though, so I am not sure how things went for the rest of the runners. I've read a lot of varying complaints, some of them are stupid (like, really, really, really stupid) and some of them are potentially valid, if they are true. All I know is what I saw. This race was oversold and that is a really stupid business move, espeically for a first time race in a new market.

4. Let's talk for a minute about hot chocolate. First of all, it was delicious. Second of all, it was hot. Third of all, they had plenty of it, and there were no lines. Win, win, win. Same goes for the fondue. They had prepared a tray with a few items for us to dip in a scoop of hot chocolate fondue. It was a good post-race snack, and plenty of chocolate for one person. The volunteers again were excellent, friendly and hard working. My problem was that the hot chocolate distracted me from the shuttle line. Remember how I had no problem getting to the race? Well, I was about to come face to face with a major problem.

The line for the shuttles back to VA slowly but surely wrapped all the way around the post race area, and started snaking around back into a spiral. I was wet, cold, and ready to get some dry clothes on and sit down. After all, I had been up and at it since 6. Thankfully, buses are large and I figured the line would roll along pretty quickly. After all, getting back out of the Harbor didn't present the same problem that getting in did. Right?

Wrong. An hour and a half and 3 new friends later, I was at the front of the line, where I was lucky enough to speak with a member of the race team. We chatted him up about the bus situation and a lot of other things. Turns out, he owns the race. Wow, now that's a guy who had a BAD DAY. His company is being bashed left and right online, on facebook, on twitter, and in media reports. He was very nice, and was doing a good job of managing the shuttle situation to the extent possible.

Classification: Just added insult to injury. We heard via the DJ and a staff member who walked through the line that the shuttle busses were all tied up due to an accident on the beltway, and that they were being rerouted, but it was like a cruel joke. Really, again? Another problem? I have to say, everyone was quite patient, well humored and agreeable during that added bonus 2 hours we got to hang out together. Cold, tired, and hungry for some real food, we stood, stretched, hopped around, chatted and tweeted.

The owner of the race knew there were a number of things that went wrong and he knew he was in big trouble with the DC race community. He told us several things:
-National Harbor wasn't his first choice for venue
-DC wouldn't let the race in for it's inaugural year
-They were originally told there were 10k parking spots onsite, but then the number changed to 5k

Here's what I wish I had asked him: WHY did you sell 20,000 spots to your race, knowing the parking situation, realizing the transportation scenarios and walking through that race course? You aren't new to this, far from it. Didn't you KNOW this was going to blow up in your face for about a million different reasons?

I am not looking for a refund (which so many people are asking for) but I'm just curious to see how they are going to handle this enormous PR nightmare. Still, I ran fast, I saw my friends, I had some chocolate and I took serious notes for the race that I'll be working out there in August of next year.

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