Thursday, December 22, 2011

Anatomy on how NOT to run a major Race

It is just over 2 weeks since June bug, Pam and I went to Vegas to do the Vegas Rock'n'Roll Half marathon. I have run lots of marathons, half marathon, and triathlons and I can honestly say I will NOT run this race ever again and it will take some serious convincing for me to even consider ever doing another Rock'n'Roll event again.

I was super excited about this race as I have heard good things from friends about the Rock'n'Roll races and this would be my first one.  I expected a class act - I mean if you run dozens of races across the states and world you figure you got it down to a fine art- right? 

This is the first time they would be running the race at night but the race had been there for at least 6 years since I had friends who ran it in 2005.  Besides the change to night they had increased registration to 44,000 but I was not concerned - Dublin was 27,000 and it worked out well and New York was 57,000 so I did not see that that would be a problem.

We headed out to the startline at Mandalay bay around 2:30 since we were not sure how long it would take to get there by the Monorail since the strip was closed so no taxis.  The trip out was not bad we got there around 3:30.

PROBLEM  1 - no signage -  Arriving at the hotel should have been our first inkling - no signage about where the start line actually was, where bag check was, or where our chutes were.  We were not too concerned since we had lots of time we decided we would just chill out for a while and then figure out bag check.  When we went to check our bags a porter approached us and offered to take them - we had seen others do it and thought sure.  I thought it was wierd that he gave us baggage claim tickets but he assured us several times that they would be delivering the bags downstairs to the baggage check for us.  So we thought great and we started to follow the herd to the start chutes. 

When registering we were asked our approximate finish time and then our bib numbers were given to us based on our finish times and those were the chutes we would be in.  We were all in different chutes - June and I were only 2 apart but Pam was quite a few back from us.  In hindsight we should have all just gone to June's chute and started together.

PROBLEM #2 - no-one manning the chutes so basically people were just going into whatever chute they felt like.  To put it in perspective my number was 16306,  I was in Chute 16 as I predicted a finish time of 2:10.  I was standing beside people with numbers as high as 37000 - finish time of 3+hours.  Plain language there were a lot of runners - or lets identify them correctly - walkers in the front chutes so when actually running you could never get a rhythm because you would hit walls of walkers or much slower runners and have to manouver around them.

PROBLEM #3 - headphones/Ipods.  I would estimate about 75 - 80% of the field were wearing headphones.  First it is the Rock'n'Roll half that means, at least theoretically, that there are bands along the route - why do you need music?  Second - you can't hear anything and are now a hazard and part of the problem as you zone out to your "tunes" and can't hear others say excuse me, excuse me or curb, or on your left etc, etc.. My favorite the walkers sharing a earphones- 2 thumbs up. 

So back to the race after we finally got started running I quickly tossed out my time goal as I realized that the congestion on the course was going to make it virtually impossible for me to get to my pace let alone maintain it. I was okay with that though since it is more about the adventure and experience than the time.


PROBLEM #4 - AGAIN NO SIGNAGE on the course?!?!  Do these people hate signs?  Is there a sign by-law - help me to understand this.  Signs to identify water stations would be nice - I saw people almost run into the tables because all of the sudden the water tables were there...  Signs to identify direction on the course (half vs full course), signs to advise of porta-potties, to advise of corners coming up.  Oh wait they had these itsy bitsy signs at knee height stuck into the top of a orange cone that said half/full but I am pretty sure most people did not see them. NOTE - placing people on bikes riding in the middle of 44,000 runners yelling marathon left, half right does not help with congestion either.

PROBLEM #5 - water - This happens at lots of races but if you do not have enough water it is NOT acceptable to take a garbage can, run a hose in it and then tell people to dunk their water bottles in it to fill.  The health code violations alone....  I did not need to do that thankfully since I carry my own.

 I did like the few bands they had out and running on the strip was super cool.  The actual course is a great one, you get to see the strip, freemont street and such.  While it was frustrating trying to run the course I felt pretty good about it and was happy to finish.  The last 19km I started getting some stomach cramps but was not too concerned. 

The finish line was okay it was a little hard someone to get the medal and then they were stopping people for photos but eh what are you going to do.  So off for the food.

Post Race Food - the volunteers in an effort to keep up were just grabbing boxes and dumping stuff on to the tables where it would promptly roll off and land on the ground.  Craziness - I was able to grab a bagel and a water and kept following the herd to the hotel.  My stomach continued to act up and so I headed off to the biffy and that seemed to help.  I found June inside and settled into wait for Pam not sure how long she would be. About 15 min later Pam was there and Yep it was off to go to grab our bags and celebrate.  We headed off to bag check and quickly found out that our bags were not there and that we would have to go the front of the hotel and find a porter to give our claim ticket to.  Sigh

This is where it went from bad to worse - we started to head to the lobby/ front of the hotel to only find ourselves literaly in a people traffic jam of thousands of people not moving more than an inch at a time if that.  I am not sure how a fire marshall did not come in there and shut the hotel down - between all the runners, the cowboys there for Cowboy Christmas, the people there to see the Michael Jackson Show and just the regular guests it was insane and there was no way out.  They are so lucky there was no emergency because people would have been trampled. 

It was about this time that I went downhill - my stomach cramps turned to nausea and I started to feel faint, Pam says I went white and I started to get super cold.  This was a blessing in disguise for us because people moved for us so I could get to a bathroom where I promptly got sick.  June headed off to get our bags and I came out and sat in a corner shaking.  I was so cold and apparently very pale.  WTF  We stayed there for about 10 min until I started to feel a bit better and then tried to get out of dodge. 

We figured taxi back since all the cabs should be at the hotel since there were none on the strip.  Wrong - after waiting 30 min and not moving we asked and they told us 45min - 1 hour wait.  Shuttle bus then - Wrong - no-one could find where the shuttle buses were.  Okay Monorail it is then - Wrong again - over an hour wait for that.  So we walked - all the way back along the strip to our hotel at the other end. 

We got back to the hotel just before midnight, I had a bath and went to bed while Pam and June went to find some food as we still had not eaten since 10am.  Not quite the celebration and experience we had planned.

I have some suggestions since it annoys me when people bitch and point out the flaws but don't provide any solutions or input on possible ways to improve. So here are my suggestions: 

1.) They want to increase registration to 60,000 for next year - DON'T DO IT - figure out 40,000 first. Or better yet go back to 24,000 - you were able to handle that.  Make it a lottery system to get it, charge people to be in the lottery - they get in - $ goes to reg fee, they don't get in - ah well better luck next time.  That is what NY does.  This will make it exclusive.  Trust me go back to 24, 000.

2.) Signage - signs are your friends - they let people know things ie: mileage, water stations, bag check AND help with crowd movement. 

3.) More Volunteers - I don't know what you do for your volunteers but do more -(ie offer volunteers a guaranteed entry into the next year's race)  - they are diamonds treat them as such.  There should be volunteers at each start chute to keep the runners/walkers honest otherwise why bother with the chutes. 

4.) More water - no explanation needed.

5.) Post race nutrition - bag it.  Put one of each item in a bag and hand it to the runners as they move towards the bag check/exit/beer gardens.  New York does this and it works well.  They give you your medal and then hand you your post race bag and move you along.  towards bag check where bang you get your bag and then they spit you out finish area. 

6.) Headphones - sorry I don't know what to tell you - people will do what they want no matter what so I guess it is just something  I will have to get over.

So there are my suggestions.  Again I like the course but the organization of the actual race and post race experience was horrible and it would take a lot to get me to do this one or for that matter any Rock'n'Roll race again.

Peace out Shaun