The. Worst. Race. Ever.

The. Worst. Race. Ever.

The Hot Chocolate race kick-started my return to regular running—though at a significantly lessened volume and intensity, mind you—and since I much prefer cold weather running to that of the summer, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the shorter, festively-themed races around Chicago before the weather really goes south. When I learned that there was going to be a 5k Jingle Bell Run, benefiting the Arthritis Foundation, the weekend C and I were going to be in Rockford, I thought it was serendipitous, so I signed-up without hesitation (and even made an additional donation in honor of my dad, who has RA).

I should preface this summary and reflection by saying that I consider myself a very positive person. Or rather, I’m more of a realist than anything, but I always try to see the positive side in any situation (or person) and offer well-intentioned feedback and constructive criticism to help make situations (or people) better or stronger. With all this in mind, then, I swear to you that my blog post’s title isn’t completely unfounded. 🙂

Here’s what went down that led to such a sour taste in my mouth about this race (but not necessarily about the entire Arthritis Foundation organization, as a whole). For starters, the race website, a generic site sponsored by Kintera, didn’t have any good, pertinent information about the race (such as anything about the course, a course map, whether it’d have chip timing, or anything about packet pick-up times and locations) until nearly 72 hours prior to the race. That’s annoying only because I was coming in from out-of-town and didn’t know where I was supposed to go (or at what time!) to make sure everything was in order the morning of the race.

Packet pick-up was at a hospital cafeteria in Rockford, and while I can’t speak for how large (or small) this race has been in years past, suffice it to say that I think the race organizers sorely underestimated how much space they would need to have a well-organized packet pick-up the morning of the race. It was cramped, highly disorganized, and it seemed useless that I had registered a month in advance of the race (thinking it’d make for a smoother pick-up) because there were swarms of people in several different lines—lines for what, they did not know—not knowing WTF was going on. Part of the fun of doing a Jingle Bell-themed run is the opportunity to adorn one’s self with jingle bells—typically provided by the race organizer, as the website infers—but alas, not only did the organizers run out of bells for participants, they also ran out of event long-sleeve shirts (which was part of the registration costs). Not the end of the world, by any means…just annoying.

After I got through the mess of packet pick-up during the race morning, I went outside to await the start of the race and found that there wasn’t any official race start, just a type of makeshift “staging area” where the runners (who had run the race in years past) congregated in anticipation of the race beginning. In other words, there wasn’t even as much as a sign on the side of the road or a line painted (or chalked) into the street to indicate where the race officially “began.” Our race bibs didn’t have any chips attached to them, so I guess not having a starting line isn’t that problematic (since you’re not really running to attain an official time), but again, it was just aggravating. Then, right before the race got started, one guy, presumably a race organizer or a staff member from the Arthritis Foundation in Rockford, tried to communicate the rules and procedures to all the racers congregated in one general area by simply using only his voice—not even so much as a megaphone—and following that, the starting gun didn’t even work until a couple shots were fired… and by then, the race started about 15 minutes late. A 5k starting 15 minutes late. That’s bizarre.  It’s a freakin’ 5k.

The race was through neighborhoods surrounding this particular hospital in Rockford, just on city streets, and thankfully, there were some course marshals out to help guide the runners. However, none of the marshals were uniformed (like wearing an orange vest or a Jingle Bell run shirt), so I only assumed that the random people (mostly teenagers) on certain street corners were marshals, there to indicate which direction runners should (or should not) go. (That, and the fact that there were always people in front of me whom I could follow). Some of the streets in the neighborhoods were sectioned off, thankfully, but many were still open to vehicular traffic, which, I would think, would raise a litany of safety concerns for the sponsoring organization(s). The course didn’t have any mile markers or clocks on the course, which, again, isn’t the end of the world, but it’s really not that onerous a task to at least stick a couple mile marker signs into the ground in advance of the race… really. I am grateful to write that thankfully, the Arthritis Foundation had the foresight to provide a little, water-only aid station on the course, about 2 miles in, that had 2 or 3 volunteers staffing it—though if they had more volunteers, because of the positioning of the table, they could have given runners water in two places (since we passed the table twice). It is what it is, though. At least we got some water.

At the turn-around point of the race, there were a few volunteers and marshals out to show runners that they needed to turn around and not head off onto a different street, but interestingly, the marshals seemingly didn’t know (or care) where or when runners turned around. The runners in my immediate vicinity all went as far as we were supposed to (I think) before turning around, but who knows if everybody else did the same… again, not necessarily because it matters, but I’d assume that people generally don’t like to cheat, especially if they willingly signed-up for a fitness-focused event! And finally, once I finished the course, I was delighted to see that there was one clock at the very end of the course, presumably showing the elapsed time since the gun went off (when it finally did, that is), but strangely, there wasn’t any sort of finishing line marked on the ground or any sort of finishing pad. I just stopped running once I was flushed with the clock (or slightly afterward). Otherwise, I had no idea when the “course” officially “ended.”

I can’t speak of any post-race hospitality that existed, like refreshments, bagels, water, that sort of thing, because by the time I finished the race, I was so aggravated with the overall disorganization that I simply wanted to change into dry clothes, get the hell out, and write a pointed letter or blog post blasting the event.

What makes me most upset, or aggravated, about the event isn’t that the race was so poorly run; instead, it’s that the race was executed so poorly that I’m afraid that the Arthritis Foundation may lose runners in the future (should it choose to do this event again… which I’m sure it would, considering it’s a national event fundraiser for the organization) simply because of how horribly it was done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some super-small races in my time, ones that didn’t have chip timing devices or no real starting lines, but this experience was above and beyond worse than anything I’ve ever run. I was also disappointed because I truly wanted to support the organization’s mission and fundraising endeavors—remember, my dad has RA, so this “cause” matters to me—but instead, I spent most of my time running thinking not about my dad but about how huge a let-down and total waste of time the event was. I could have saved my $30 registration cost and additional $30 donation and a) run for free elsewhere in Rockford that morning and b) spent the monies supporting an organization that I feel confident would do something productive and constructive with my donation.

It has been nearly a month. I just recently learned that I posted a third-place age group finish (not bad! and definitely a PPR accolade, hah!), and I have yet to get that race shirt that I was promised I’d get mailed to me. Alas.

What'cha thinkin?