Monday, June 7, 2010

Dear Mr. Race Director:

Today’s blog post is going to be a bit of a brain dump as I write a complaint letter to a particular race director. As a business owner, I get the whole making money angle. In fact, I’ll be the first to beat down any runner who thinks that an organization putting on a major race shouldn’t be allowed to make money. But if you want to charge top dollar (in this case $100+) for what is advertised as a quality product (entertainment and experience), then you should deliver a top notch experience. Otherwise you’re kind of like General Motors right? Of course I’m talking about the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon and Half.

Maybe first I’ll talk about what went right. EXPO!!!!! Something about being able to attract larger numbers of runners and their families with deep pocketbooks that makes for large expos with lot of exhibitors. I arrived with my relay team a little after Noon on Saturday, and everything was still pretty organized. People people people everywhere. Samples samples samples everywhere. Something for everybody. Nice!

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The next day though is where things fell really flat in my opinion.  I knew the start area was gong to be a zoo, so I planned things to arrive early. I ended up spending the night in San Diego (in typical L.A. fashion the trains weren’t running) and boarded the hotel shuttle at 4:45 AM

P6060043We got to the start area a little after 5:00 AM. Hordes of people were migrating like lemmings to the start line at the edge of Balboa Park. No problem – if everything is planned appropriately.


San Diego Rock ‘n Roll is a different beast. Adding the Half Marathon this year swelled the ranks of runners. This is no “huge” race like Surf City and it’s 20,000 runners. This is a MEGA event. There were a reported 40,000 participants this year. This is a business. Planning and best practices are required. Management and supervision of volunteers are required. This is not a nice little neighborhood event.

Here’s where my list of complaints begins. It’s an hour before the race starts.  I amble to the gear drop and drop my bag. I ask for and get a bottle of water. I move toward the center of the park. The lines for the porta potties were *tremendous*. At least 30 minutes long.


Luckily I’m a guy and notice some trees on the perimeter of the park. I wander over.  Please Mr. Race Director, how about a few stakes and ropes for defined lines – one per porta potty. Keep the lines organized and moving. Then you won’t need to deal with the little piles of tissue on the east side of the park today.

It’s warm (mid 60’s at 5:30 AM) and HUMID! I head back to the center of the park to get another bottle of water and a bagel and banana to start the day. No. More. Food. Or. Water. WTF?  Mr. Race Director – you need to take care of your runners! If it’s a cost thing, fine. Get rid of the food. But no water? Let’s get serious here!

About 30 minutes before the scheduled start, things start ramping up. Up first was the USMC marching band. I get goose bumps still up when I watch this:

As the band moved up toward the front of the starting chute, they are drowned out by the PA system and canned music! Mr. Race Director – how about a stage for these awesome defenders of our freedom! We don’t need no stinking recorded music. How about letting us start to something that is ingrained in the fabric of San Diego? Music by our Armed Forces!

Next up – time to get into my start corral. In the past there was strict corral control. There was a colored dot on your bib and a volunteer at the entrance of the corral to make sure you were entering the proper corral. Yesterday? Not so much. IN fact not at all. I freely moved through about 6 corrals – up as far as 9. During the race I kept running up against the back of the prior waves – and I started in the appropriate corral. Mr. Race Director – bring back the corral police!

Now, keep in mind – I only ran the first 8 miles of the course. The course itself was nice and support along the course adequate. I *did* have an issue though as I finished the relay leg. I came pulling into the transition zone and passed the baton (actually a drumstick) to my waiting teammate (Go Sasquatch!). And just like that I’m done. Or so I thought. I hit the porta potty and went looking for the aid station to grab some water. Then I noticed a little table set up to the side with a few goodies. And a medal. Hmm. If I hadn’t seen it, I would never had known it was there. And then when I was done stuffing my face, I noticed another table a few feet away. I ambled over and noticed that they were helping others figure out how to get around. I understand the not having shuttles to get us around. But Mr. Race Director – it would be *real* nice if (1) you had a couple volunteers at the relay transition to guide us to the food and refreshment, and (2) you had a little care package for each of us including a medal, a map, and instructions on how to get to the other transition points and finish line. Yeah. That would have been real nice.

Wait a minute Mr. Race Director. I’m not done yet! First – the finish line. For us relay runners – maybe we’d like to meet as a team at the finish? I finished my leg at 7:40 AM. I rode trolleys, walked paths, and took shuttle busses to get to the finish. I waited patiently in the sun for our final leg runner to pass. Then we wanted to meet in the finish area and get a team picture taken. WTF? Unless you pass the finish line you can’t get into the secure area? Come again? So I’ve been on my feet for 4 hours and I can’t enjoy a cold drink of water, a banana, some salty snacks, and make your photographer some money? Mr. Race Director – please include an entry ticket in the little care package I mentioned above., It’s just not right that we paid $75 each for the privilege of running YOUR relay and then NOT be allowed in the finish area. I guess the only team pictures we have are coming from my camera.

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Lastly Mr.Race Director, the whole getting back to the trolley and parking thing. Yeah – I get it. you probably have 100,000 people to move out of the start area. And to give you credit, the busses were magnificent. The line to the shuttles were long (45 minutes), but they kept moving. Better than Pirates of the Caribbean for sure. But all you did was move people from one location to another. Did you see the lines waiting for the trolley back to Qualcom stadium? Mr. Race Director – is there a reason that we can’t finish the race at Qualcom? It’s not football season and the Padres no longer play there. Or is there not a reason that there can’t be multiple parking locations spread across the city so everyone isn’t cramming into the same trolley? I know if I needed to go back to the Q, I would have taken the southbound trolley to Old Town and then switched to the Northbound to Qualcom. Probably would have saved at least 30 minutes in line. Luckily for me, I had a hotel shuttle waiting. Whew!

Folks – thanks for bearing with me. If you didn’t make it this far I won’t hold it against you. I don’t like reading whiny reports either. If you have made it this far – thanks! You’ve allowed me to vent just enough so that I can put something constructive together for Mr. Race Director’s inbox!

Tomorrow – on a positive note. My San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Race Report.


  1. and this. case in point. is why i don't do rock and rolls. especially for that money i should be getting the red carpet and all that comes with it. sheesh louise! :) Glad you were able to figure it out and get from one place to another, but bummer about not getting into the finish line festival... Rock and rolls... how much money can you make from one event? :)

  2. Rock and Rolls are probably expanding too fast. They'll crash and burn at some point.

    Love the photos, it looks like everyone had fun.

  3. I ran San Diego RnR about 8 years ago I think and I will never return to that event. I'm not sure where it finishes now but back then, it was on some military base near the ocean (??) and you HAD to take a shuttle bus to get off the base. NO if's and's or butt's....well, I had major dehydration issues and was in a med tent with an iv stuck in my arm for about an the masses are now lining up to get on a shuttle to take you back to the start line, which was about 2 miles from my downtown hotel still. I stook in line for that shuttle bus for two hours, and got sooooo sunburnt, it was ridiculous. So now I'm sooo late, I'm going to miss my flight home to Denver and I begged the shuttle bus driver to drop me off at my hotel vs. the start line cuz there was no way I could walk 2 miles after enduring heat stroke. She finally dropped me off at my hotel but only after making about 10 stops.... that was the most miserable race I've ever run!!!

  4. Higher entry fee should mean higher quality organization, but it doesn't always work that way. I've heard many a time that running inaugural events is never worth it - we'l lsee if they fix things for next year.

  5. What I like about your race report is that you gave solutions and asked questions. I feel (including myself) we want to complain but doing it in away people don't want to listen. For a high price race such as the RNR quality should be there. Water should be a top priority! Maybe they could have given the relay teams writs bands so they could meet back in the finish area..umm but your bib should have been good enough. I thought your concerns were valid and let's hope Mr/Mrs. Race Directors get's the opportunity to read and reply to your concerns... Like others I agree RNR is not for me. Nice report.

  6. You go get 'em!! I'm tired of paying a buttload of money then being disappointed in the organization, hydration or whatever-it's painful and can be VERY painful if you've run 26.2 miles! I just spectated San Diego-but I know what a cluster it was to try to get to my viewing spot. I cant imagine what it must be like to try to meet up with teammates or people.

    I of course, have my own gripes with RnR or any other BIG race that doesnt allow transfers (Boston doesnt count since you have to Qualify). Why cant they charge a fee for one person to use a registered runners bib-anything can happen! Financial hardships, medical issues! Or at least allow friends or family to pick up your bib! Come on RnR-get with the program!!I think those things really should be considered-it would make their races a little bit more "runner friendly"...because right now they act like a big conglomerate who doesn't care about the people who are actually paying the $$, the runners!

    I have grown to like the smaller races-sometimes you cant run only small races but I try to pick larger ones that are pretty organized (or at least i hope they are!)

  7. Sounds rough. Scaleability seems to be the last thing anyone thinks about while they grow their widget business or marathon.

    From a PR angle the RD should take some of the plays out of the BP CEO's playbook and do the exact opposite. Like acknowledge the problems and state planning is already underway to fix it for the next year.

  8. Go Glen! Sorry this race wasn't one of the best experiences, but one of the only ways they can get their disorganized butts in gear, is if ya tell em! It seems like people tend to talk good or bad about races, but never follow through.. I am glad to see you are, I hope they take the constructive criticism as a wake up call..

    *Fab. photos as usual*

    Maybe next time they will get a nice note from you :) In fact I just sent one to the L.H. 1/2 last week, they were happy to receive it!

  9. I can't believe you weren't allowed into the finishers area after running the relay! Unacceptable. I've read so many different recaps on R 'N R and something always stops me from actually running one. This will be another example of why I shouldn't. Can't wait for the recap...

  10. yikes I would be equally peeved/pissed/frustrated. Especially after dropping all that $$$. I hope vegas isn't as unorganized or I'll be bummed big time.

  11. Since I'm running this race every year until the end of time, I'm going to give them plenty of suggestions for improving the race. :)

    BTW, good to finally eat ramen with you this weekend.

  12. I was bummed that I missed you. I did look for you!

    My son dropped us off and we always take the back way to the park to avoid the traffic mayhem. My son also volunteers, so he gets to park close by the finish.

    I've always been OK with the SDRNR races, since I don't have to travel from out of town to get to it. I was OK with the new half marathon course, but the finish area was crappy. We didn't actually end at Sea World, either. It would have been nice to have a pleasant finish area to relax in and wait for our friends instead of the beat up, crumbly and sticky over flow asphalt lot adjacent to Sea World. I'm sure the race director is going to hear PLENTY about all of the snafus, especially the bus/trolley situation. That was just stupid.

    No race is ever perfect 100%, I get that, but since Competitor took over RNR after the financial debacle with Elite Racing, there are several things to fix and get right. Will I run in the SDRNR series again? Yes, and with a grain of salt.

  13. Hi Glenn,

    Yeah, well I agree with everything. Yet, still, I blame myself. My Marathon pro sister always says never do an inagural event. Even though Full for this one has been going for some time now. Plus, her son who did the Full two years ago said the Freeway and Post 2 mile walk to the shuttle buses said never again for him. Even though the finish is different - they still have yet to work that one out!

    Still cool Expo, Medal and I collect the Poster/Prints for these - this years was pretty good.

    Thanks for not posting the pix of me. The ones my wife took - I look awful! This course (Hill and slanted freeway) mugged me. Never again. I will shoot for Carlsbad for SD area Marathons.

    Great to see ya again. Will see ya in SF!

  14. I'm sorry that you had to deal with all of these problems! It sounds like you have a number of legitimate complaints about the race. I love that you also have ideas about how to improve the situation. Hopefully the race director will adopt some of your ideas and they will lead to better future RnR races.

    I'm looking forward to the race report!

  15. They can't hide behind the inagural event card. They run enough events to know how to prepare.

    I guess I am the only one that didn't have problems with shuttles. I got there around 3:50A and the shuttle took off within 3 minutes. After the race I heard there were long lines for the shuttles so I hoofed it to the trolly station. Heck I had to walk a mile to my car after the LA marathon. They even had 5 porta-poties just before the station. As I walked around 1/2 mile in Qualcomm's parking lot to my car I saw only 3 cars moving. There was zero traffic leaving the lot. Last year it took 40 minutes to get from my parking space to the second signal (less than 1/3 mile).

    But still I was not happy with the event and will not be returning. This was marathon number 21 for me and last year's San Diego is still my favorite marathon.

    The RD does not give a rat's behind about our opinions - not when they will keep selling out events at $130 a pop. Last year I registered the day before the race! Sadly, if we do not like it we do not have to participate. Big business at its best! Of course they will act like they care.

    Could you tell I was feeling the effects of the heat yesterday? I didn't realize you were there cheering on runners. I thought you were just finishing your leg! I would have stopped and visited - at that point I was shooing for a sub-4:15 and ended up with 4:12:18 so I had a couple of minutes to kill!

    Thanks again for your words of encouragement!

  16. Urgh. I'm so sorry you had such a bad experience. I'm not a fan of Rock 'n' Roll races and this just reinforced my dislike for the franchise.

  17. I had no idea RnR's had marathon relays. Is this the first one they had?

  18. Wow, I knew from the moment I read all those complicated instructions on how to get around that race that there would be trouble but I didn't know it was this bad. Looks like they failed to figure out all the details. I also noticed that a lot of the trash cans that they were using to mix Cytomax in had used cups thrown into them. Yuck! I'm so sorry to hear that you did not get to meet up with your team at the end. That just blows!

  19. The only good thing about this race was seeing you guys. I'm telling you. RNR is a machine. Eats up the little people. Really? you must read my report about the ambulance that never came, too.

    Good work Glenn. You know, I just simply adore you...

  20. Hi Glenn,
    You always have the most wonderful race reports! I am sorry that the race wasn't the best experience for you. There have been a few that I have been to that I also expected a little more. Actually, the race that I just ran in Minneapolis ran out of water at the finish line:(

    You had fantastic pictures as always:) You know how much I love my pictures and I also enjoy the videos! Take care Glenn!

  21. Glenn, that was an insightful post. I think it highlights the issues with a lot of the "big" races. The more I run these, the more I am drawn to the smaller events.

    The marathon I ran in May had all of 196 runners, cost me $45 to enter, and it was the best experience ever. I felt personally taken care of by the volunteers and the course marshals. I was greeted at the finish line with a handshake and some congratulatory conversation by the person handing out medals. It was wonderful. And that doesn't intimacy doesn't happen at the "big" races.

  22. an honest letter, with effort to keep it from being full-on bashing. very nice.

    RNR's annoy me too. hello! expensive! i definitely don't see what other "perks" they are providing for all the extra money. i think i paid $90-100 for the one RNR half i did... halves are typically like $50 otherwise!

    i've always thought the money was for the various bands they have... but the one race i did they were all random unheard of people and (in my opinion) not entertaining. these other race logistic issues could happen with any organization, but yeah, any organizer should have their act together if they are charging such a premium!

  23. Dang - bummer I didn't see you. I heard a lot of people say the exact same things who ran the relay. No finish line!? nuts.

    Although, to be honest, my biggest complaint was with the finish line shuttles so I guess with not going to the finish you at least missed out on those.