Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Run By The Sea 4K: Sign, Sign, Everywhere there isn't a sign

Nobody likes to be told what to do. But everybody appreciates knowing what’s going on and where to go to get what you need. 

So, if you are putting on a running race, have someone knowledgeable on hand to direct the peoples. Or better yet! SHOW the nice people where to go via a handy new invention that just came on the market:

The Sign.

Its this amazing technology, perfected by professionals and yet accessible by almost anyone who is in a position where they need to remotely inform other hu-mans of where something is.

The Sign: Just set it, and forget it!

Ah, but in this case the Run By The Sea race got it backwards: They first forgot to make the signs, and then........that was it.

Admiral Karen and I arrived at Wilder Ranch at 8am for an 8:35 start. Plenty of time. The check in area was set up next to the main restroom building, with the usual folding tables, orange cones and two, sleepy volunteers doing the Good Work.

Sign Opportunity #1! Which line to get into?

How many lines are there? What are they for? Which one do we get into first? What info will they need at the front? Here is where a brightly colored volunteer is golden, or better yet a brightly colored sign, posted UP HIGH! How? Via a bamboo pole stuck in the ground. Simple, cheap and gives all of your runners a good first impression of you and your race.

We had neither here. Just a bunch of grouchy runners deciding for themselves how many lines there will be, for whatever the hell is up there at the table.

Wilder Ranch bluffs on a sunny afternoon.
What was there was the all-important race bib. Next door, at the next table was another line to get the goodie bags and T-shirts. So once you are through this line, you exit and then get in the back of the adjacent line.

Let's think. 
Let's think really hard. 
Is there perhaps some way that we could streamline this process? Some way that is utilized at most other races? Yes! There IS a shortcut!! 

Pay attention and follow along with my line of reasoning here. Okay. Ready? Here goes:
Why not have Registration and Goodie Bag / T-Shirt pick up (wait for it) AT THE SAME TABLE?

Sorry. I just blew your mind, didn't I?

It seems incredible, I know. And yet, I will testify that I have seen this feat pulled off many times. One line; they find your name on the list, hand you your race bib, and then (this is the good part), another volunteer, seated right there AT THE SAME TABLE, hands you a goodie bag, asks your shirt size and then hands you the appropriate shirt.

Bookmark this post right here in case you need to go walk around for a bit and somehow digest the revelation that I have given unto thee. 

I'll wait.

All better? Let's continue.

Edge of the Hemisphere
So I'm there at table #1, looking unlongingly at the line next door, and I decide that maybe I'll just wait and pick up that crap after the race. Save me a trip back to the car, ya know? So I ask the registration volunteer if this is possible. And she looks at me like I just asked her something in Klingon-accented Elvish.

What? You mean, NOT pick-up these non-essential items just minutes before your race? Holy-camoley! You mean you DON'T want to hike all the way back to your car right now? And instead, let me make sure I understood you correctly here, you want to WAIT, run the race with your hands empty of cargo, and then somehow pick up these items afterwards?? Is this the data that you are attempting to convey to me?

She boggled at me awhile and then flagged down her Supervisor, who then looked at me like I asked if he would perform a marriage ceremony right then and there for me and the folding table.

We all repeated my request a few more times at each other and then Mr. Supervisor made an executive decision, that yes, yes, YES! I could indeed not get in the other long line 15 minutes before race time and instead, pick up the stuff after the race.

Okay. One labyrinth down. I was interrupted in my self-congratulations by my sensible Capricorn who asked, mystified: "And........where is the Start?"

We didn't see any, you know......heck, let's make this official:

Sign Opportunity #2! Where is the flippin' starting line?

This is - was - the raffle table. No, really. Each cup
is a different prize and you put your raffle ticket
into the prize you want. That's just a guess though,
because as you can see, THERE'S NO SIGN.
Kinda fundamental to the whole experience, right? We looked around the edges of the Reg area, but all we saw were chalk arrows on the grass that entered one way and exited out the other side. Hmmm.....

We followed the chalk arrows backwards, wanting to get to wherever they were coming from. We soon found a forlorn little sign, hiding behind a box of trash, that said "4K & 12K Start" and some arrows. Alright! Now we're talking! Thanks, little sign buddy!

This led us to a road that led back to Wilder Ranch itself. We passed by the ranch buildings on our left, and then we saw, on our right, another sign, right at the proper eye line for a small dog. And this one said: "12K start" and then some arrows pointing farther along the road.

Fine and dandy, but we are running the 4K this morning, not the 12K, and it appears that our starting line has been abducted by aliens or something. 

We walked back to Registration, asking other runners who were passing us, going the other way, or just milling in small groups and pointing in random directions. Did we somehow just walk past the starting line for a race and NOT SEE IT?

The forlorn little sign hiding behind
a box of garbage. On the restroom
back there? See? A map! click on
the pic to enlarge it if you need to.
Back at Registration, but not wanting to wait in another line, we asked the only volunteer we could find, who was slicing up oranges and bananas. She didn't know where the race start was.

Go back and read that last sentence again. 

I began to get an old, familiar feeling. Oh. So its going to be one of THOSE races, is it. *SIGH

We asked the bananas lady if she knew of someone who DID know where the starting line was. She waved a pulpy knife in the direction of the valet bike parking. We went over there, where a tall fellow with an official looking shirt pointed us to the bathroom building, where, he promised, there was a MAP.

Oh. OH! There it is!! On the wall, behind the dog-level sign that was behind the box of garbage. 

Sign Opportunity #3! MAP

That's it. Just make a sign that says "MAP" with an arrow pointing down. (And tell your volunteers where the start of the fucking races are, K? Thanks.)

So the map showed us that yes, the start of the 12K race was at the end of the road that we had been up and down already. There was no legend on the map, but there WAS a yellow glove pointing to the12K start. AND, there was another yellow glovey glove that was kindasorta pointing in the direction of our boulevard of broken dreams. Yay! That could be it!
The Yellow Submarine Gloves are upper right.

We walked carefully down the road, keeping a close eye out at Shih-Tzu level. And VOILA! There it was:


We got down on our tummies and read it. It said "12K Start" and had some arrows pointing on down the road. 

Oh. Oh well. Where do we go now? Is there anybody else we can ask anywheres? 

But as we were getting up and dusting ourselves off, Karen noticed something else on the sign. A faint shimmer, there at the bottom, below the line of arrows. We got down again and examined the little sign more closely.

Yes, yes! There WAS something else written there. We squinted and leaned in close. I think I may have prayed a little.

A-ha! This WAS the start of the 4K race! And if you were 9 inches tall with the eyesight of a fighter pilot or a professional baseball player, here was your sign.

Sign Opportunity #4! Starting lines have feelings too.

Enlarge this one if you need to, but
trust me: It IS down there.
And the runners who each paid $40.00 to run this little race, we have feelings too. And now they were hurt.

Our race, that we had gotten up early on a Sunday morning to run, had been relegated to a single line, on a single sign, in 12 point type, at the bottom of another sign, in parentheses.

Literally IN PARENTHESES. Like they were embarrassed by our little 4K.

We flagged other racers going by and pointed them to the Graphic Artist Barbie evidence that we had uncovered.

And no, since you asked, there wasn't an actual starting line anywhere. Or a staff member on hand. Don't get crazy with your expectations now.

So, we had finally Arrived, and just in time too! It was now 8:25am, the 12K up the road started at 8:30am, and we were due to go 5 minutes after that.
Other runners pointing excitedly after finally
seeing the Worlds Smallest Sign.

Mass frantic stretching occurred. 

At 8:30, I was expecting a starting gun to go off up the road. Instead we were visited by a volunteer on a bicycle. Yes, an actual staff member appeared!

And she first asks the runners whether we had heard the announcement up at the Registration area. Well, no, since we are all here, and not there.

The news was that the races would be late in starting. A half-hour, to be precise. 12K up the road would go at 9am and our shameful little afterthought would go at 9:05.

And with that she cheerfully pedaled away, leaving in her swirling wake one question, that also swirled around the 100+ runners: WHY?

I've run in dozens of races and I've never before seen a start delay that long. The only possibility that popped in my head was preposterous, and so I dismissed it immediately: The start is delayed so that the volunteers can pack up everything in the Reg area and also run the race.

Yep, those are big piles of what you think it is.
We felt so cared for out there.
Hahahaha, yeah. Right.

So. Now we all have to kill 30 minutes, out here on a steeply sloping piece of cracked asphalt dappled here and there with piles of fresh horseshit.

And Admiral Earthsign voiced the utmost thought amongst our surly crew: "I could have slept in an extra half-an-hour!"

Sign Opportunity #5! Its a Sign from Above

It's a sign that perhaps these people (both of them) are new at putting on running races.

So I stand around, play my Scrabble turns on my phone, tighten up again, decide that I don't want to hike all the way back up to Reg to go pee, and generally just fume until 9am.

Killing time, tightening up, not peeing.....
Bang! And the 12Kers come zooming by us, to the sustained applause of all of us 4Kers. We are happy to see them. We are happy because seeing them means that very soon we can get going as well.

At 9:04 another volunteer on a bike appears, with a cap pistol. He draws an imaginary line across the road with his shoe and proclaims it to be the starting line. (Note: Sidewalk Chalk is only $4.99 at the drugstore.) He then explains that there is no official timing for our race, and so we should just subtract 5 minutes from our ending time. Oh, gee. Thanks.

He then steps back, and at 9:05 he bangs his little gun. And we are finally on our way. Our route lead us up the steep slope to the Reg area, where all of those chalk arrows in the grass now made sense. From there we followed a farm track out towards the ocean.

It was fun to run a race on a dirt trail. I don't do that enough. At 3/4 of a mile I saw a "1 Mile" sign, which I guess was for the 12Kers, who starting well up the road from us.

Sign Opportunity #6! Distance signs are very pleasant - and easy!

The 12Kers running past us. Watch your step ahead!
If you are going to start your two races at two different places (not recommended), please have a different set of distance signs for each race. Else confusion and surliness may steep into your runners. (The ones who write reviews for running websites.)

Just a "12K 1 Mile" and farther on a "4K 1 mile" would do admirably.

At the coastline the two races split, with my shorter one turning left. (Yes, there was a sign!) The longer route turned right and had to do a very tricky climb down to the beach, a short run across a sandy/marshy stretch and then an arduous climb up a narrow trail back up to another farm track on the adjacent bluff. 

Not the easiest section for the big kids.
Over the sound of crashing waves I could hear a sea of griping from these poor saps. 

I kept up my usual interval pace, 1/10th of a mile running hard, 1/10 of a mile walking, sweat, repeat. The only obstacle out on our bluff was the scenery:The overcast morning was giving way to periodic streams of Angelic sunlight shafting down, and this was causing various people in my pack to suddenly stop and take pictures.

I quickly learned to look for the sudden grasping for the cellphone and then leap left to get around the sudden-stoppers. Scenery! iPhone! Sidestep - ole! 

Cue the Heavenly Choir
4K is just a bit under 2.5 miles, so it wasn't long before I was coming up on the finish, which was actually a ways away from the Registration area. 

There was a timing clock at the finish line (yes, there WAS a finish line!), and at first I was very disappointed by my 36:50 time. But then I remembered that we wee 4Kers were tagging along on the 12Kers coattails, so once I subtracted 5 minutes I felt better.

This was a race without timing chips, and it was rather charming to see squinty-eyed volunteers frantically trying to read our racing bibs and calling out our numbers to other volunteers with clipboards and stopwatches. Old school!

Now. Where was I? The finish let us out to an auxiliary parking area by some farm buildings. Luckily I train here all the time and I figured out in which direction the Registration area would be. 

Sign Opportunity #7! No sign of an After Party

But when I got there, the Reg area was gone. They really HAD packed up everything before the race. All that was left was the bananas lady, still chopping up fruit. She might STILL be there chopping for all I know.

Significantly there was NO WATER at the finish line, or at the Reg area. There was just a few stacks of bins. 
Trail running takes a bit more focus,
but is a lot of fun.

I met up with Admiral Karen and together we searched for our goodie bags and t-shirts in the bins. A volunteer came over and said we couldn't do that. We told him that we could, and he shrugged and went away. 

And, that was it. No hoopla, no camaraderie, no medals, no vendors. No water. Not even the god-awful music blaring from this morning. Nothing. Poof.

Okay then. We'll just take our 'stolen' shirts and leave, I guess.

The Run By The Sea had a lot going for it:
  • Beautiful Location
  • A great cause (the Rail Trail corridor)
  • Lovely weather (cool and overcast, breaking into brilliant sunshine at the end)
  • A fun and lively group of runners who mostly took the bizarreness of the morning in stride (bitching from the 12Kers about their cross-country steeplechase, notwithstanding)

Admiral Karen posing with the
Little Sign That Couldn't.
But this race could have been much more fun had the organizers just spent 10 more minutes at the computer, printing out a dozen more signs. (And maybe another 5 minutes shoveling the horseshit off of the 4K starting line.)

Sign Opportunity #8! Signs that you are getting pretty fucking old

And me, I got to celebrate my first top 10 finish. Thanks to my advanced geriatrics I qualified for a new age group this year (Men’s 50 to "what the hell are you doing out here, gramps?") and so I placed 4th.

But at the time all I could really think about was that thanks to the delayed start, I REALLY had to pee.

Angus McMahan


  1. You don't have the best luck with many of these races . . . . . which as a reader is good for me, but as a runner, it's probably bad for you.

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