Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Change Into Your Big Kid Panties and Run

I think some people are just going to complain.  No matter what.

And the majority, if not all, of them haven't helped put on a simple 5K let alone be involved in the many, many moving pieces of the sixth largest marathon in the state of Texas.

Not one, but two "elite" athletes who weren't even at the race felt the need to comment on what they had "heard".

Why?  Because they like to complain?  Who knows.  I sure don't.

Sometimes, things happen despite the best of plans.

Or because things happen when participants don't plan so well -- like arriving to a race site early enough and/or asking enough questions ahead of time if they're not sure where to go.

And other times, the event makes a mistake -- and does their best to resolve and remedy it.

After one "elite" was challenged on their not hearing of ALL of the facts, they deleted their comments on a Facebook post.

Yet a third elite posted early Monday morning on a Facebook album of pictures that I took that she heard things went pretty well.

So do you look at the world "half empty" or "half full"?

Remember the first elite athlete that griped and moaned was talking to an athlete that accepted a free entry from us.

Yes, come race for free and try to win some money while you're at it.

I don't know who the second one talked to, but I do know the third one coaches one of our directors - and was a major marathon winner awhile back.

The bottom line is:  When you put on a race, you know that you're never going to please everyone.

However, you still strive to do your best and try to do so.

And we have a tall standard to be compared to:  the Chevron Houston Marathon.

And people do attempt to hold us to that standard, especially after we have executed well in the first two years.  (Our elite athlete coordinator was reminded of that by a local runner who resides in the bubble.)

Brant Kotch and his team do a great job, but they also have just under 10 (may have the number not exactly right) full-time paid staff people to work towards one day.

All but one person works for a small stipend, a pair of shoes, a staff shirt and a top (last year a hoodie and this year a nice water-repellent jacket).

And then most of your volunteers come on board towards the end of the preparation for an event.  (Of course, no different than most races.)

When a race goes almost perfect, you should lay some money down in Vegas because really, it rarely happens.  Sometimes only those within the event realize things didn't go right or well.

So (back to Saturday) for the third year in a row, I was on the bike riding with the leaders of the marathon.

And each year, we've made an improvement in that area.

The first year, we had a couple of motorcycles to help move back-of-the-pack half marathoners to the side on a double-loop course to allow the fastest marathoners - especially the first male and female - as clear of a shot to the finish as possible.

I ended up leading the way for the men's winner that year, Jeffrey Eggleston, all the way to the finish line.  I still remember telling the race director - when I got there - that trying to bring him down the long chute through the half marathoners was a cluster.

Yet I road back up against the grain, went out and got the lead female and wasn't able to get to her early enough to keep her from missing her PR by four seconds.

However, the next year, we added a team of cyclists - three for the men and three for the women.  They were to stay with the marathoners, not the half marathoners.

And they did.

Even with them, one of the men's marathoners who registered the night before the race - not knowing the course - followed some of the half marathoners down the finish chute on the double-loop course before realizing that he had gone the wrong way.

This year, I was manned with a radio and I rode with the single lead cyclist for the men so I could watch the race unfold as our lead media resource.

As we rode south on Six Pines to the first turn left onto Millbend, guess what?  No traffic control.  Yikes.

We kept rolling without any problem - and a pack of 11-12 Kenyan runners followed by Utah's Bryant Jensen -- until we turned on to Flintridge off of South Panther Creek.

To get there, I had been on some streets that I don't think I had ever been on before.

For whatever reason though, we were routed on to the right-hand side of the street, but at some point the lead cyclist - who was carrying a map - noted that we should we be going against traffic.

With the radio, I had confirmed this with Willie, but we had cars coming right at us.

So it was ride ahead of the lead cyclist, before the group of runners caught up, and direct those cars off the road.  When we made it to the next intersection, might have been Kuykendahl, we instructed law enforcement not to send anybody else down the eastbound lanes.

I think the one intersection that scared us was going north on Branch Crossing and entering the intersection there with Woodlands Parkway.  There was nobody there that was expecting us.

Beyond that, there was one other intersection where I had radio'ed that there wasn't any traffic control, but when I looked back an officer was getting out of their vehicle.  At about that time, I saw a Montgomery County Constable speeding ahead of us to the right to presumably tell all of the intersections that we were coming up the left-hand lane against traffic.

Things were kind of nice and easy as we watched the pack of lead runners get smaller and by the time we passed mile 18, the field had dwindled to four (4).

Before we made it to mile 19 after we had turned off Bay Branch and on to Kuykendahl and while I was looking for what I thought was going to be a 30K mat to capture one of the elite premiums, we had a fire truck barrelling at us from behind going south on Kuykendahl.

I moved to the left shoulder against traffic, instructed the runners to the right shoulder and saw something that I hadn't seen while I had been out on the bike during a race before.

Then the fun began as we turned left on to Lake Woodlands Drive, although it wasn't as big of a challenge as it was in year one -- and that was the merge with the half marathoners.

I had estimated from last year's results that only 11% of the field still remained for anybody under three hours, but I forgot to factor that back for the lead runners -- and the more challenging weather conditions that we faced.

Yet, for almost five and a half miles, until they turned off of Lake Robbins Drive towards the finish (where I turned around and headed back out to see how the women's race was shaping up), we used every technique in our imagination to get runners out of the left lane to clear a path for the lead male runners.

Some, because they had their headphones up loud enough that they couldn't hear me, I had to literally touch on their left-hand shoulder from the bike to get them to move.

My thoughts, which I haven't shared with Willie yet as there was a misdirection issue in the men's half marathon, is that either I -- and an associate for the half -- or the lead cyclist make sure that our top five (money winners) do not have any issues getting misrouted late in the race.

All in all, it was still a pretty good day.

I was really frustrated that I couldn't get any of the group of foreign "elite" runners to translate an interview with the female marathon winner, even though many of them were communicating with her.

The men's winner, Lamech Mosoti, was a pretty good interview.  A couple of shockingly true comments, but I understood where he was coming from.  I've heard them before from the one individual referenced at the top.

The biggest frustation - once again, restating what I said earlier - is that people just don't plan accordingly.

All three years, people haven't taken the time to read the website or the race guide to figure out on their own where to go -- and then give themselves enough time.

And each year, it seems to get even worse.

Last year, I sat at the corner of Six Pines and Lake Robbins and basically kept people from going across the then-unified start line because they were starting to get frustrated that they couldn't get to their corral in time.

This year, it multiplied with the two-direction start.  Not only weren't they in their corral on time, they had no idea which side to be on.

The maps on the web site and in the guide told them.  I looked at the again today.

I actually wrote up written instructions revolving around the start lines and gave them to Willie to start the 2015 folder with.  (I also have another document for the Expo Speaker Series.)

Will probably do the same with instructions on how to get from a specific parking lot to the start line.  We had lots of people who were going through the finish line area (and also the start for the 5K) asking how to get to the start.

It takes a lot out of you and it discourages you all at the same time.

Most of the things that I do are pretty much unseen and I perfectly like it that way.

Even when I announce, if I could do it without people knowing who I was, I would also be perfectly OK about it.

And the things that I do, I feel like I do as well as anybody else out there.  Mostly because most of them are unique.

Yet even with the great people that I get to be around and work with, the negativity and sense of entitlement in our sport can wipe all of that great goodwill in an instant.

A really good friend of mine, who ran the half on Saturday (and hardly does any road races), said it best, "I'm reading the cry baby comments on the marathon's Facebook page.  Can we all agree that the sport is now really soft?"

He continued, "It was once a race of iron will:  Man vs. miles.  Glad I run in the woods."

This guy is Mr. Minimalist.

"My medal is in a shoe box with all the other stuff," he said.  "It's not about the stuff.  It's about the people that you get to run with.  I told a couple of softies on the course to change into their big kid panties and run."

He works part-time at one of our sponsors.

"The folks that came in the store today were all happy," he said of this past Sunday.  "They hated the weather.  We all did.  Can't control that.  We were busy too."

And so were we.

And will continue to be, I guess.


pedro said...

hey jon. sorry that u felt any negativity. it was a fine race. what it takes to put on just a 5k is unbelievable- I can't even imagine a marathon. Thanks for all the hard work. Thanks to all the volunteers. We are all lucky to get to run. Prolly most of the gripes really stem from the weather. Everyone is happy when they run fast times!! It's incredibly nice that people take part of weekends to hand out sandwiches, or medals, or put up cones, and make sure everyone is safe and okay. thanks. -peter

Jon Walk said...

Peter, we were glad that you were there. You're the least of our worries. Always a big smile on your face whenever you get a chance to compete. Glad things went well for you. I would agree that the weather probably is a factor with a lot of the posts on the marathon's Facebook page. Honestly, it was the negativity that was posted on my page before we had even gotten too far into the awards ceremony that was really the downer. :-)

The rest is just a race report. :-)

The race knows that it has a lot to work on with the new setup, but for us to continue to have the event we have to get the roads open as soon as possible. We'll make things work for the long-term and do them well. :-)