13. Dam Run to Irmo, 2007

Well, it finally happened. I’ve participated in a race that I would not suggest to anyone else. The aptly named “Dam Run” was a disorganized joke. Oh, I’m sure that some of the locals would disagree, but trust me… it was a poorly organized race with an extremely crummy course.

I’m from Columbia (for the most part) so I decided to drop in for a 10K race. Irmo is pretty much adjacent to Columbia, so it’s right around the corner from my buddy’s house. I figured that I could drop in for happy hour on Friday night, get up early on Saturday morning and then zip off to Charlotte to see another friend of mine. A clockwork weekend all around, and I would end up with a shirt that says “Dam Run.” Great plan, right? Man, I should have known better.

First of All, There’s No Dam

That’s right. The Dam is being worked on, so the race will follow a contrived course through Irmo. I knew this ahead of time, so I didn’t consider it to be a big problem. I’ve run through residential areas before.

Alas, Poor Camera, I Knew It Well…

When I got to the park which served as the starting line, parking was a little difficult to figure out. After some searching I found a serviceable spot, parked and whipped out the camera. It didn’t work. Hey, no problem, right? I brought spare batteries, so I switched them out. The camera still didn’t work. I had power, but no information on the screen. Even switching memory cards didn’t help. I took a deep breath, and accepted the truth: my old camera had finally given up the ghost. I’ve had it for a while, so I wasn’t upset. I was just a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get any shots of the course.

The Idiot at the Registration Desk

I walked up to the registration table to sign up at 7am. It’s a standard routine. You fill out a form, give the man your money (in this case it was $35) and he gives you a few things. First there’s your race number and some safety pins so you can attach it to your shirt. Then there’s usually a bag of advertisements which also contains the official t-shirt of the event. The tables looked like they had been set up a few minutes ago. This should have been my first clue that something was wrong. It’s normal to see this situation when you show up really, really early… it’s not normal when the race is in thirty minutes.

The man was more than happy to take my money, and he even asked what size shirt I wear. I told him that I wanted a Large. It’s really a medium size, but they call it “Large” for some reason.

“They’re not in yet,” he said.
“They’re not in? You mean that they’re on the way?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Well, are you going to be here after the race? Is there some way I can pick it up later?”
“Yes, we’ll be here. That’s fine.”
“Okay…. well, is there anything else that I need? Is there a bag or something, or is it just the shirt?”
“It’s pretty much just the shirt.”
“Okay. I’ll check back on the shirts in case they come in.”

The Moment of Truth… or One of Them Anyway

So I spent thirty minutes waiting until they called us to the starting line. I checked back with the guy one more time. “So you’re going to be here after the race, right? We can pick up the shirts then?”
“Yes,” said the first man.
“No,” said a second.
“What?” I replied.
“We’ll be gone by then,” said the second man. “Everything will be packed up.”
“You know,” I said to both of them, “you could have said this to me when I asked you thirty minutes ago.”
“I’m sorry,” said Man Number Two.
“Whatever. Just give me an Extra-Large.”

At this point, I was getting angry. I had to sprint back to my car to toss the shirt inside, and then sprint back past the registration table to get to the starting line. When I got there, everyone was milling about. I thought I was lucky until I saw that everyone had electronic chips on their shoes. That was the last straw. I ran back to the table and addressed the two Irmo-standard-issue idiots. “You told me that it was just the shirt, but everyone has chips. Where’s mine?”

“What?” said Man Number One.
“A chip. You never gave me a chip. The race is about to start, so give me my chip!”
“They’re gone,” said Man Number Two. “They’re all packed up and they’ve been taken back to Strictly Running.”
“So I can’t have a chip? You don’t have anything?”
“They’re gone. I’m sorry.”
“Fantastic. Thanks guys. You’re top notch all the way.” I resisted the urge to bang their heads together, and once again I ran to the start.

I found a guy with a bullhorn telling everyone to be careful on the first leg of the race. We were going to run over some roadwork, so we should be careful not to twist our ankles. Before I could get his attention, someone asked him if the chips would be read at the start as well as the finish. Bullhorn said that they wouldn’t. “When you have under five-hundred people, there’s no point in renting both devices.” I was almost speechless. If you don’t read the chips at both ends, then they are completely useless. Even if two people run at exactly the same speed, the person who started in the front of the crowd would have a better time than the person starting at the back of the crowd. Some 10K races (like the Cooper River Bridge Run, for instance) require an official time if you want to start out closer to the front. There’s no way to get an official time if the chips are only read at one end. What were they thinking? Why even get the chips at all?

I explained my situation to Bullhorn. He said that the chips were packed up, but they weren’t gone and he could get me one.

“Will there be a clock at the end?”
“Okay, then just screw it.”
“It’s okay, I can get your chip. Just wait right here, and I’ll make it happen.”

I thought about that for a moment. When the start is called, everyone will start running. Since there’s no chip reader at the start, the minutes I spend waiting for Bullhorn will be added to my time. Even if I did have a chip, any waiting would count against me… to hell with it. There’s no way I was going to wait for that guy. How long would it take to dig it out of the box? How long would it take to program it for runner 315? Again, to hell with it. The “official” results of the race would just have to be inaccurate in my case.

They sounded the start, and I started running. We ran out of the park, and into some roadwork. The road dipped a lot, so I followed Bullhorn’s advice. I watched out for my ankles. The rest of the course was just a run through residential Irmo. It was underwhelming in every way. Really, Irmo isn’t that pretty. Worse than that, they only blocked off one side of the road. Cars were passing us in the next lane. People were shouting “car!” and at one point I had to grab a worn-out teenager by the arm and pull him into the “safe” lane.

I paced with a few people, talked a bit, and stuck with my new teenage buddy Thomas until he got tired and decided to slow down a bit. After he dropped back, I picked up the speed a little and kept a decent pace until the finish. There were a few interesting hills, but aside from that the course was fair at best.

I finished in 55 minutes and 37 seconds. There was almost nothing at the Finish Line. A couple of booths, that’s it. The Fourth of July Cross-Country Run was better organized than this, and that was a first-time event. Mercifully, they weren’t lying about the buses. They really were available, and they really did take us back to our cars.

So here I am, thirty-five dollars poorer and in possession of a gigantic shirt which will only fit comfortably on a professional basketball player, or perhaps some guy who’s really, really fat. When I wear it, I look like a ten-year-old kid who’s been raiding his older brother’s closet. I’m not even sorry that I didn’t get pictures of the course.

The entire event was a disappointment. I don’t think that I should have to second-guess the volunteers at the registration table. I never have to do that in Charleston. As much as Charleston can annoy me, at least the running community has the races figured out.

So what now? Should I write off this race forever? It’s tempting, but I don’t think I will. The organizers may change, or maybe things will be better after they return to the dam. Still, I think I’ll be more careful next time I’m participating in something which was organized in Irmo. For starters, I’ll assume from the very beginning that I’m dealing with a bunch of idiots.