Edit: The Co-Race Director sent a complete explanation of what happened, which I’m including at the bottom of this post. It was well-written, and it shows that the organizers take the race’s problems seriously. I’m looking forward to next year. 🙂
To put it mildly, this race was a mess. It started late because the police coverage wasn’t squared away, the course was problematic, and an error from the lead vehicle made a wrong turn that cut a mile from the route. I’ve never seen a race go this badly.
I don’t want to sound like I hate these folks, so let’s focus on the good bits for a moment. First of all, the race wasn’t expensive. It was $18 for prereg and $20 on race day. Since we registered by a given date, we were guaranteed a t-shirt, which we received with our packets. There was water at the Finish Line, the organizers were nice folks, and the after-party went fine, with free pizza as promised. They really did have most of this planned out properly. They just didn’t do a great job on the actual race. It was especially disappointing because Cara and I were both going to push it for this one. She wanted to finish in under 30 minutes, and I wanted to see how fast I could be with no phone to carry. I’d like to do another marathon this year, so I wanted to start picking up my pace.
Trouble from the Start
When we gathered at the Starting Line, we settled at the clock. When the organizers told us all to move back, we all thought we had the loop backward so folks started reversing their positions as we moved. Then we found out that we had the direction correct in the first place, but were simply too far forward. This could have been avoided if they had marked things off a little better. Then we waited. For a while. It was a 9:30am race, and the Mall opens at 10am, so we started wondering about traffic. At last, the guy with the bullhorn told us that they were having trouble getting police coverage for an intersection, and that they needed another three minutes. So we settle into waiting and were caught by surprise again when a Mall Security SUV arrived to drop off a runner with “2” on her race bib. He was trying to turn into the Starting Line crowd. We all stared at him until Number Two said that he was the lead vehicle. Oh. And he’s only just getting here. Fine, fine, whatever. We let him through. Finally, the race started and I fell into a decent pace. I noticed a few places where we were running along Maine Mall Road and the traffic was a little closer than I would like, and as we ran around the mall we tended to change lanes as the road curved back and forth. This was a bit troubling when you consider that the occasional vehicle was still using the road. We really should have been moved to a particular side where we would stay. We needed more orange cones. I was finishing up the second mile when a runner came running back toward us. How in the hell did he finish so quickly? He started shouting to us saying “you’re almost there! It’s just two miles!” I wasn’t sure what he meant. Yes, I was about to finish two miles. But normally the finished people tell you have much you have left, not how much you’ve done.
And then we turned a corner and I saw the Finish Line. Yep. Two miles. A few of us checked with each other to see if we had made a mistake, but not so much. The volunteers had waved us in this direction. We all filed into the chute and just sort of waited. None of us cared about being counted immediately, because the course was obviously invalid.
After some checking, I found out that the mall cop in the SUV turned instead of going straight, cutting a big loop from our route. Some of the walkers did get to do an entire 5K, but the runners mostly finished before the problem could be solved. It was disappointing, but I wasn’t going to blame the organizers for that one guy failing to learn the course before leading us. Perhaps the saddest moment of the day was when Bullhorn Guy told us that refunds would be available for anyone who wanted one. I can understand being angry about the invalid course, but the money goes to charity. And this wasn’t even an expensive race to begin with. I had hoped that no one would take the money back, but I’m sorry to report that a few people did. Jackasses. I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the event pretty much fell apart. But on the other, it seems like they may have just had a bit of trouble with Murphy’s Law. I’m not going to write this race off just yet. I think they’ll learn from this and tighten it up for their third year. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
Explanation from the Race Organizers
Here’s the explanation we received from the organizers after the race. I’m adding it to this post so you could see how serious these folks are about making things better for next year.
Dear Runners and Walkers
RE: 2nd Jimmy the Greeks Maine Mall 5K for Lyme Disease Awareness
Thank you for attending the 2nd Annual Jimmy the Greeks Maine Mall 5K for Lyme Disease Awareness sponsored by Jimmy the Greeks, The Maine Mall and Lymebuddies.
Sunday’s race was not a typical race. It is important to us that we address the issues faced at the start of the race and the actual race itself out of respect for all who participated in the event.
The first event was the delay of the start of the race. As I mentioned in my impromptu thank you speech, my role as race director is to ensure the safety of EVERYONE who participates in the event; runners, walkers, volunteer staff and spectators alike. The volunteers give of their time freely to help out at the event knowing that they play an important role in keeping runners and walkers safe from hazards that can occur from using public spaces and roads to hold such an event. We take the training of our volunteers very seriously. They are all sent instructions about their positions on the course and the role they play. They receive an orientation from the South Portland police department prior to the start of the race and assume their positions. It is my job to make sure they are all in their positions and equipped with the proper safety clothing to be noticed and be kept safe at the start of the race. We noticed some volunteers did not have safety vest and needed to backtrack on route to collect more vest for the volunteers as well as needing to make sure all South Portland Police were in place for the highest traffic areas on the course.
The start delay did not have anything to do with the subsequent mishap with the Caution Car. During the race, the Caution Driver reached an intersection where as part of his job, he turns left on a daily basis doing property evaluations. In that split second he was watching the runners and keeping an eye on volunteers and he made that left. He needed to turn right. You can imagine how instantly embarrassed and horrified he felt when he realized his mistake (he said it took him less than a second). He couldn’t correct it because there were 400 bodies behind him- if he stopped or turned around, so would 400 running bodies. He didn’t want to improvise a new route and risk volunteers getting confused because that would mean drivers getting confused in an area with so many cars. He couldn’t feel worse about the entire situation. However, I believe he made the best possible decision for the safety of all by continuing on a route he knew had volunteers in place to provide for your safety. It was a split second decision and he did the right thing.
What have we learned from this? As with every new race there are growing pains and learning curves. We have already put together several new ideas to improve volunteers knowledge of the course prior to the event, including a volunteer orientation video presentation that will clearly show all volunteers where they need to be on the course as well as how to give directions to the runners and any oncoming traffic. We also realize the need for better coning and barricades at the turning point where the error was made. Lastly, it should never be the sole responsibility of one person and one person only to lead this race and we will ensure this never happens again in future events.
We are aware that for those dedicated runners, you did not run a proper 5k Sunday and we understand that some of you may want a refund which we are wholly prepared to reimburse. We welcome honest feedback so that we can address everyone’s concerns. It is truly the only way we can move forward with the event and make it a satisfying event for all involved.
My personal take on Sunday is that each and everyone of you ran or walked however far in honour of someone with Lyme Disease who cannot walk let alone run, or worse, lost their battle with the disease and are no longer with us. You may have come with expectations for achieving a PR, but instead, I hope you left the run with a sense of how much you inspired a community badly in need of inspiration and hope.
I thank you all for your gracious support and welcome all feedback.
Co-race Director, Jimmy the Greeks Maine Mall 5K for Lyme Disease Awareness
AKA, The Lymerunner