This morning in my inbox I noticed an email bringing to my attention that apparently my blog is now famous, or at least getting its 15 minutes. One of our gang from the race asks, "have you seen this... you're featured." Clicking on the link I find the story titled Moonlit Marathon on the website of The Times of Apalachicola & Carrabelle newspaper. It's a well written story about the race by a local journalist that mentions my blog in the fourth paragraph and even quotes my race recap!
The first time I write something that I feel is extremely negative, but needs to be said, and NOW I get noticed? Not exactly what I hope for when I write these "hobby posts" of mine, but realizing how I might have a few new readers this week I'd like to make a few suggestions that perhaps could make this race a more successful event in coming years.
There are currently 100 review posts on Active.com for this race as I'm writing this, most of which are negative or constructive criticisms. I've never seen that many before; not even on the Tipple's Beer Run where they got shut down mid-race by law enforcement and there was no beer at the finish line! Some comments are positive, some are harsh and uncalled for and some are useful suggestions. I hope the race director will consider them all and stay the course by holding the event next year.
I feel the problem at it's core was poor communications between the race and the runners. Most of the issues runner's experienced could have been easily avoided had race officials effectively informed the field of what they were getting into so they could have been better prepared. They're a lot of bitchin' and complaining about the lack of support. Most of us train on the road with traffic and no support. If we knew we could have self-supported ourselves, but instead many runners, I feel, felt betrayed by statements on the race website or lack of information about the race conditions at the expo. When my group asked about pace groups the information volunteer at the expo when on to explain about how bicycles would be pacing the leader, but didn't even really understand the definition of a pace group leader.
Here are my suggestions for a successful race next year:
1.) Offer a discount on registration fees to all the runners that participated in 2010 in an attempt to get them to return. While doing so regularly issue press releases on everything being done to correct issues from the inaugural race and any improvements or new features. The running community is close-knit and word travels fast. 700+ runners was an excellent turnout for an inaugural race and an excellent base to spread the word both positive or negative.
2.) If the race is truly benefiting a charity clearly inform the runners exactly who, why, when and how much. There was some confusion about this and there's a huge customer base of runners that strive only to run in charitable races even if only a portion goes to charity.
3.) If the state government want allow the bridges to be shut down for traffic (I'm guessing they won't since they seem to be main arteries) consider other ways to improve safety. Signs could alert motorists of the race and that there are "runners on the road." Line the course with MORE orange cones. Perhaps explore shutting down only 1-lane of traffic. Most runners are used to running against the flow of traffic. I think running with the flow caused an increased amount of stress with some of the runners. Ask for sponsorship from one of the companies making reflective gear for runners to wear. Provide each runner with some kind of reflective gear from that sponsor as "swag" in the goody bag and encourage them to wear them during the race. Most experienced runners will NOT wear a race t-shirt, no matter how nice or reflective, during the race of the t-shirt, but perhaps a reflective anklet or bracelet or LED light. And please, PLEASE try to find a solution to the 5k & 10k turnarounds. This year it was NOT safe, nor clearly marked to have them crossing busy lanes of traffic to get to the other side of the road.
4.) It's pretty obvious and kind of beating a dead horse to ask for more hydration during the race. Thirty years ago runners were used to not having any support. Ultra marathons and trail runners currently are used to not having much support. However, your average modern 5k to marathon runner expects to have plenty if not too many aid stations along the route. If not, we need to know about it so we can carry hydration along with us, or have friends along the course. Consider having water before the race available. Trash the post race chips and sodas. The mini-Cliff bars were great and there was water and Gatorade, but get some bigger cups or give out bottles. Runners need larger amounts of fluid after a race than during. Small cups are great when we're on the run, but after the race it's a waste of paper to have runners going back for 4 or 5 cups and hard on the volunteers. Instead of chips get bananas, bagels, oranges, etc. Not all carbs are created equal and runners know this...
5.) The awards ceremony? Seriously? Hype it up more! Turn off the loud music outside and use those PAs to announce the winners outside where everyone was loitering, not inside the community center when most runners had left or were unaware of a ceremony. It seemed like there was a lack of communication between the timing official and the race director. When asked individually they both seemed to be waiting on the other for something. This was my first race ever placing in my division and I didn't even want to go claim my award. I was told a certificate would be mailed to me. I hope that's true. Check out other races and see what they give out for division place finishers. Something representative of Apalachicola Bay would be awesome. Perhaps a small locally made plaque with an oyster shell on it. Oyster shells are free last time I checked. Have the awards ceremony sooner. Not in the 6th hour of the race. Place finishers rarely stick around until the race course is closed.
6.) Consider tweaking the race course to feature more of Apalachicola and less of St. George Island. After the race I felt like I hardly got to see the city of Apalachicola and let's face it St. George Island has an amazing beach, but otherwise there's not much to see there and the course can't be on the beach as the sand is too soft. Plus, this would decrease the possibility of runners facing stronger winds for longer periods of time on the island. Shut down the main street of Apalachicola and encourage the merchants and residents to come out and show their support. This would give the race a feeling of having more crowd support than the zero crowd support currently experienced.
7.) More bathrooms.... 'nuff said. (Visit THIS race for an outstanding example)
8.) Don't give up. Hold the race again next year. It's a great venue and a part of Florida that everyone should see at least once in their lives. Runners are a wonderful group of people and any town or city should only hope to bring that economic impact upon itself.
And to end on a positive note here are a few pictures from Jenny and my race weekend experience in Apalachicola/St. George Island!
Our party of ten gorged ourselves on a wonderful pre-race dinner at "That Place off 98" in downtown Apalachicola. I think they were a little slammed by runners causing their service to be slow, but dang that food was great!
Jenny on the final stretch of bridge (about 5 miles) somewhere around mile 22. Notice the bicyclist volunteer in the background desperately trying to pour water in cups for approaching runners. There's not even a table as he was lining cups up on the ground.
My Half Marathon finisher's medal. The full marathon was the same, but with a slightly different ribbon.
The bridge between St. George Island and Eastpoint the day before the race. Ironically, there was little traffic the day before.