Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I won't run Unite Half Marathon again, New Brunswick, NJ. 4/13/14

I paid $120 for this race. I paid for the convenience of Race Day pick up.  I will not return to this race.

The race is too big and staff can't deal with runners kindly.  In general, the course was well-marked. The aid stations were well-stocked.  Parking seemed fine.  Porto-potties were plentiful.

The bulk of the course was incredibly boring and at times ran through streets with warehouses or highway ramps. It was absolutely not worth $120 or even the $100 original fee.  I only went because it was part of my race series and I thought I could collect some points to help my score.  There are many better ways to spend that kind of money.

My problem is not the boring course, but rather the fact that when interacting with staff at this race, my experience was terrible and because of that I will not return.  This just tells me that the race is too big for staff to be in control of their own emotions and frustration tolerances. When dealing with runners, it shows.

I take responsibility for leaving my ID in my car 1.5 miles away from where I needed to pick up my bib.  I run 40+ races per year and pick up my bib almost weekly, without ID.   Out of habit, I left my ID in my car, which was parked at the finish area. I jogged to the start 1.5 miles away.  As I saw the massive size of this race (a few 1000 instead of a few 100), I realized I may have a problem since I didn't have ID.  I proceeded to the pick up area.  I asked along the way if  staff checked their ID at bib pickup, some said YES, while others stated staff did NOT check ID at bib pickup the day before.  I had less than an hour to deal with this and hoped it might work out.

There was a chance I did not need my ID, but I expected to be told that I did.  That part did not upset me.  Instead I was frustrated by the extreme rudeness I encountered when dealing with staff.

I ran Boston last year.  I just left the finish area minutes before the Bombs went off.   Michele and I had to drive back into Boston to pick up John while the chaos was happening, during news reports of multiple devices being found and how the JFK library has also bomb and was now on fire.  We were terrified that more bombs were going to blow up while we were trying to find John to remove him from the city.  I understand security is now the norm.

When asked for ID, I said "My ID is in my car.  I am afraid I will miss the start if I have to run back. It is a 3 mile round trip to get it and I just ran 1.5 miles here.  Is there anything I can do here to get my bib?"  

I really wasn't sure what could be done, but in light of me listing a lot of personal information on my bib maybe I could tell them my address, my emergency contact person's name and phone number… anything to show them I am me… I know a lot of runners in my local community.  Maybe someone could vouch for me… I didn't know.  I was just exploring solutions before sprinting back to my car.

"NO ID, NO Exception! It is really not my problem if you miss the start. There is nothing I can do to help you."  (At this point, I understand Rules are Rules, but just s TINY bit of politeness would have been appreciated, even if it was only for the sake of being polite as a person representing the face of the race).

I asked about the advertised shuttles. "Do you think I could catch a shuttle back to the start?"  Trying to think of a solution.

The irritable response: "I have no idea.  I don't know what to tell you.  I can't help you!"

Ok. Now all that is fine, but the tone need not be so nasty.  I was simply asking a question and trying to find a resolution, even if it was MY fault my ID was in my car.

So off I go, racing back to my car.  I got there in less than 12 minutes.  I found some safety pins, was grateful my ID fit in my tiny pocket, I pinned it shut, and raced back to the starting area.

It was 7:40 now. Gun time was 8:00.  I walked to the wall that lists names and bib numbers.  I find my name and my number and got online. I still needed to pee and I was concerned that I would not get into the starting corral in time.

I stood behind a young guy and observed the person handing out the bib ask him for ID.

He pats his pockets, throws his hands in the air, shrugs and says "Don't have it"

He was then asked, "Ok, What is you first name?"

He tells her his first name and she says "OK, here you go!"

I admit, in less than a stellar moment and with a lack of self-restraint, after covering 4.5 miles with 3 at race pace, I exclaim "Ok, this is bull.... I just ran 3 miles to my car and back to comply with the very strict Security Rules that have NO EXCEPTIONS.  It is really frustrating to see that I really didn't need to do any of that."  

The response I got, "Well, I really don't care!" (And this response is the reason I won't come back).  This may sound petty but if she had said, "I am sorry that happened" I think I would feel a million times better about returning to this race … but at least she was honest.

Up until that point, I considered this problem my doing, for not thinking ahead and being unprepared.  I understood that some people feel they need to be firm and it can sound nasty.  So I even excused the first woman as just doing her job. I understood that my "punishment" for being unprepared was that I needed to run 3 miles to fix this.  I was grateful I had the time to do it.

I told person, who really didn't care, who was now giving me my bib that she doesn't need to do anything to fix my problem, but she should not be so rude. I told her that races are getting too big to be enjoyable.  Race staff seems only to care about the money and not about being considerate to the people who pay a lot to be here, who train train to race, and hope to have a good experience.

I asked for her name, not knowing why I wanted it, but mostly to address her by name when I planned to indicate that  kindness really does goes a long way, even if you don't really care about someone else's problem.

Rather than give me her name she said "Oh, I didn't mean I don't care about what happen.  I mean I don't care if people have ID or not. I just give out the bibs."  

Ugh. So really I ran 3 miles to comply with absolutely Make Believe security rule. Why do this to people?  Real rules, I can understand.  Fake rules makes me frustrated.

I showed them my ID explaining someone better check it since I ran to get it.  I got my bib and left for the port-o-potties.  Very annoyed.

I did manage to get into the starting corral and worked my way all the way to the 7 min pace group just before the gun.  I watched them drift away from me as I really was not in the best mind set to have a great race. I tried to focus, but by 7 miles into the run I was feeling a bit tired… and I new those extra three fast  miles really did take a little out of me. It didn't ruin my race. I am trained to run far.  I didn't want to sprint 3 miles before I tried to race a half marathon, but it happened.

In summary, I understand I caused this to happen by leaving my ID in my car.  I can do better next time.  But this is not an open invitation for people to be rude.  Race staff truly should have some consideration for the runners they interact with. They should realize that even if the race staff does not care whether one runner in 3000 gets their bib or gets to the race on time, that one runners does care and simple politeness really can make a huge difference.

Now whenever I think about the Unite Half… all I will remember is the staff's attitude of "I really don't care!"

This is why I like smaller races. People tend to be nicer when people know each other's names. And to be clear, when I say "nicer" I don't mean anything more than considerate and polite. I don't expect special treatment.  Just the absence of nastiness and extreme apathy.

AG Place: 3F


  1. I admire the way you spoke your mind, while still being respectful and polite. I hope someone somewhere involved with the race reads this post and works to make changes with it.

    Keep up the good work, Shannon!

    1. just another note about hoping the race see this and makes changes: A runner i met at the race insisted I send my concerns to the race organizers. I honestly wasn't very interested in writing a complaint letter to a race crew who I already know did not care, BUT she then sent me an email address and stated she had already advised the race committee to look for my email. Since she had reached out already and was trying to be helpful, I sent a note over explaining my experience… AND that email bounced back as the email was not valid. LOL! And honestly, at that point, I decided I was done dealing with race people since the attitude was clear and I really expect nothing in response.