Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Go Green St. Patrick’s Day 4K 5K 8K 10K 8 Mile 10 Mile and Half Marathon Clusterfark of a Run

Vasona Park, Los Gatos, March 17th, 2012

I yelled at the volunteer on the course, and now I feel bad. All of us walkers, racewalkers and runners were smack dab in the middle of the worst run race I’ve ever encountered, we were at the end of our patience in the middle of our races, and so we took it out on the only Official we could find: The sad-faced teenager with the red mesh vest standing there holding a little red flag.

I feel bad because I’ve been that guy. I’ve worn that vest. I’ve held that stupid flag. And I know that it’s not his fault. The volunteers are the backbone of any race and they are so often neglected and treated poorly. I know the drill – your club is the sponsor of the race, or your girlfriend is a contestant or you hear that more bodies are needed. Or you’re just stupid and enjoy abuse.

In any case you show up on the morning of the race (often to some park or piece of road that you’ve never been to before), you are handed the vest, you are trucked to a spot on a course that you are unfamiliar with, you are given a single instruction, tossed a flag, and that’s your day.

Sometimes 3 or 4 hours into your shift the truck pulls up and someone tosses you an antique turkey sandwich wrapped in saran wrap. And you spend the day waiting for runners (or cyclists) and when you see them you point your flag in the appropriate direction.

I’ve untangled heaps of bicyclists, saved the lives of clueless pedestrians, chased after cars that wandered onto the course, and chopped up mountains of bagels/oranges/bananas at a drink stand or back at the start/finish.

Even on paper this looked really complicated for us 5Kers.
Your reward at the end of the day is a weird mesh sunburn, smelly hands and the Master of Ceremonies thanking all the volunteers while speaking through a distorting microphone while you are 2 (or 20) miles away, waiting for the truck to finally bring you back to the Start/Finish.

And you take some abuse from the racers because they have questions and you have zero answers. So yeah, as a racer I should have known better than to get mad at a volunteer. But I couldn’t help myself and I was not alone; that sad-faced kid was getting it from hundreds of runners.

Why? Because Moshan Productions served up the worst race that I have been a part of. The most confusing, poorly organized, badly run run that I think many of the racers have ever experienced.

Let’s start this litany of woe with a little geometry problem. When you have a 5K, a 10K and a half marathon all starting with 20 minutes of each other, you’ll want to separate your courses pretty quickly. I mean, imagine the snafu if you had the 10K racers suddenly merging back with the 5K racers and having to pass through the slower runners – on a strip of asphalt that’s only 4 feet wide. Think of the confusion of trying to separate the racers again when their courses diverged. And finally imagine the consternation of the racers when we are faced with volunteers who don’t know which way to send us. It all happened, and on more than one spot on the course.

But when you add in the 10K course ON TOP of the
5K, Honey, you have ISSUES.
We’ve all come across a line of ants in our homes. You left a piece of food out the night before and in the morning you have an orderly line of insects moving to and fro. That’s the way a 5K/10K is supposed to look. Now take away that errant piece of food. See what the ants do? That’s the way this race actually looked.

There were racers all over the paths of Vasona park, chasing down rumors, following leads, quizzing the clueless volunteers and searching in vain for any signs on the course. We had volunteers giving contradictory information within yards of each other, volunteers with maps arguing with each other, and yes, grumpy runners unloading on all and sundry.

Later we heard that some 5K runners ended up on the 10K course, some 10Ks finishing early and even some Half-Marathoners who somehow wound up back at Start/Finish miles too soon. Awful, simply awful.

We saw a total of 4 signs out on the course. Two of them said “1 Mile” even though they were 400 yards apart. One said “5K/10K/Half this way” which isn’t really necessary when you think about it, and the last one had two arrows in different directions and said “5K this way” and “10K this way”. This last sign should have been copied about 40 times and placed all over the park. That alone would have helped out the poor volunteers immensely.

Our course had a turnaround at its halfway point. (At least we THINK it was our turnaround point!). The turnaround was not staffed by a volunteer, which made it really easy for runners to simply shrug, do a 180 and shave a few hundred yards off their time.

We eventually made it back to the Start/Finish line and the NikePlus Run System app on my phone showed us that yes we did travel approximately the proper distance and finished at more or less our usual time. But I have no idea how we did that.

No better way to celebrate our 6th
wedding anniversay.
We gave back our timing chips, picked up our nice medals and wandered around the vendor area with a thousand other shell-shocked finishers. And I was in a pissy mood, so I started noting all of the little things that Moshan Productions had done to dis-improve our time with them:

  • No energy bars or gels available beforehand. This surprised and saddened a friend of ours who was doing the Half-Marathon distance. The bars and gels were available after the finish, when they would be useless to us. (And only Powerbars, which taste exactly like caulking compound.)
  • There was a hard-working Master of Ceremonies, dispensing information and cheering on finishers. But the speakers for this were right at the Start / Finish line, which made the MC inaudible back in the starting corrals where us work-a-day-schmos could have really used the information – such as, you know “Go!”
  • There was no music in the pit area afterwards, making a grim mob of finishers even more joyless.
  • The Go Green! Race had only a few recycling containers and no place for composting all of the banana peels and orange slices.
  • The obligatory goodie bag was of a poor design and held 15 coupons and one lonely energy bar. Karen tried a bite and said “I wouldn’t feed this to an animal” and tossed it.
  • They ran out of T-shirts in my size. I’m a large/extra large kind of guy, and I’m no speed demon but there were hundreds of racers still out on the course by the time Admiral Karen and I cruised in at 47:34. (All of the Half-marathoners, for example). And by the time I got to the booth, less than an hour after the start, they were already out of Men’s Larges and Extra Larges? Unbelievable. Un-fracking-believable.
And yes, by sheer randmoness I was #69.
We wandered back to the shuttle stop, trading horror stories with other racers, watching the poor souls still racing (shrugging at one another, pointing helpfully) and passing the exhausted volunteers who were standing around, not making eye-contact with anyone.

Our shuttle driver had her own story to tell. Apparently she and all the other bus drivers showed up and were told exactly zilcho about where they were going and what they were doing. So they figured out their to-and-from routes on their own and set up business as best they could.

On the bus the mood ranged from surprise to downright anger. “I thought I did great until I looked at my time. 20 minutes for a 10K? Where the hell did the course go?” We heard of people crossing the finish line after traveling 4K, 5K, 8K, 10K, 8 mile, 10 mile and that was just our half of one bus. Un-fracking-believable.
Which, astoundingly, is not the
first time Fate has decided that
I will wear that number.

But here’s the thing. As screwed up as this race was – and I will never attend another Moshan Productions event – there was some real positives to the day:
  • The furious week long storm held off just long enough to get the race in. There were some puddles but we didn’t have to racewalk in the rain. Yay!
  • The medal is very nice, substantial and well made.
  • Hobee’s Blueberry Coffee Cake at the Finish was most welcome. I could eat an entire pan of that stuff every day.
  • And all of the what-the-hell-ness out on the course(s)(?) really brought together the racers. Yeah, we were shaking our heads at the piss-poor layout and execution of the race, but we banded together in solidarity, exchanged tips and rumors and helped each other through the worst race that many of us have ever seen.
And finally, Admiral Karen and I got our asses off the couch and trained for this race through the Winter. And today we got up early and went out and had an adventure together. And that is always a good thing. We’ve already signed up for our next racewalk, which will undoubtedly be better than this one. Because, after all, it couldn’t be worse!

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
#AngusMcMahan

Update: Moshan Productions sent out a wrap-up email that included a large paragraph that was a combination explanation/apology for the kloogeyness of the course layout. Here is the crux of the explanation part: 
  • "The course was set up and marked on Friday and all chalk marks were washed away by the heavy rains.  Every attempt was made to remark the course on race morning, but clearly, there were some issues."
Hmmmm......okay. A couple of points:
  1. The week of March 11th - 18th was one of almost constant rain. The forecast for Friday night was of a general, you-can-bet-your-Aunt-Mary downpour for the entire San Jose basin. Laying out a course in chalk under these conditions seems monumentally naive. 
  2. "Every attempt was made to remark the course"......nope. Sorry. Not buying that. There was such a complete lack of chalk marks at Vasona Park that it didn't even register for me as something to bitch about. I neither saw nor heard anyone mention a chalked course all morning. 
  3. Which of course, raises the larger question of why there were so pitifully few signs on the course that day. I organize outdoor events myself, and I can say from experience that making some copy-paper size signs and laminating them (Or even sticking 'em in plastic sleeves) is laughably easy. 
The explanation continues: 
  • "We hope that you still enjoyed the day and had a fabulous run, regardless of the actual distance you may have done on race day."  

Well THAT has a very hopeful spin to it, wouldn't you say? "You trained for 3 months to run a 10K - you spent the entire race confused and frustrated - and you ended up running an 8.3K instead, due to our incompentence. Hope your day was AWESOME!!"
  • "We are attempting to rectify the situation by putting people in categories based on actual distance."

This second sentence was a real head scratcher for me until I went to the results webpage and found that they had made two different results for the Half Marathon distance: The 'Go Green Half Marathon Overall', and the 'Go Green Half Marathon Short Distance Overall'. Apparently so many people got lost on the "re-chalked" course that they had to make a separate category of finishers for them. Wow.

And, not surprisingly, the REVIEWS on Active.com have not been kind........

6 comments:

  1. I am reading your post right after leaving a 1-star review comment on active.com : http://www.active.com/half-marathon/los-gatos-ca/go-green-st-patricks-day-5k-10k-and-half-marathon-2012

    ...And couldn't agree more...
    Thanks for your hilarious report

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry to hear about that, Marco. I took your advice and posted an edited version of this post as a 1-star review on Active.com

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  3. Sounds like the organizers need to be schooled in the Six-P principle. Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm sorry for the crappy experience, but as a reader I hope you have more of them, they make such great blog posts.

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