Monday, May 3, 2021

Vintage Park Half Marathon Event Report

 I ran Sunday’s Vintage Park Half Marathon for two reasons only.

1. I want to run 200 half marathons (Sunday was #153) and maybe call it a day at that distance and this race added another toward that count.
2. I ran to support Ron Stitt.  I consider Ron a friend and he is a professional at what he does.

And the other thing was that they held the price at a $100 until April 21.  

I am not a fan of that price, but I paid it and so be it.

However, I think it stayed there up until race day, but I honestly did not check.

What does that tell me?  The race is trying to get to certain numbers to cover costs or make their projected profit margin.

Let’s face it:  You cannot lose money forever.  (And nobody is suggesting they were or are.)

I have no issues with an attempt to make a profit, but when you see the price put out there higher and pulled back you realize that there might have been an overestimation and correction was needed.

So how did things go numbers wise for the event?

Vintage Park Half Marathon - Sunday, April 9, 2017
Vintage Park Half Marathon - Sunday, April 8, 2018
Vintage Park Half Marathon - Sunday, April 14, 2019
Vintage Park Half Marathon - Sunday, May 2, 2021

Half Marathon
Vintage Park 2017 - 970 (545 female + 5 elite / 413 male + 7 elite)
Vintage Park 2018 -- 876 (489 female + 377 male + 11 elite)
Vintage Park 2019 -- 907 (488 female / 399 male / 14 elite / 6 PC)
Vintage Park 2021 -- 838 (401 female / 434 male / 3 PC; 981 live entered)

Vintage Park 2017 -- 356 (221 female / 135 male)
Vintage Park 2018 -- 392 (252 female / 140 male)
Vintage Park 2019 -- 430 (262 female / 168 male)
Vintage Park 2021 -- 480 (297 female / 183 male; 603 live entered)

Half Marathon Relay
Vintage Park 2017 -- 52 (19 female / 10 male / 23 mixed)
Vintage Park 2018 -- 64
Vintage Park 2019 -- 38
Vintage Park 2021 -- 15 (31 entered)

Kids 1K
Vintage Park 2017 -- 59 (30 female / 29 male)
Vintage Park 2018 -- 60 (29 female / 31 male)
Vintage Park 2019 -- 71 (35 female / 36 male)
Vintage Park 2021 -- 45 (21 female / 24 male; 65 live entered)

Total Finishers (Counting Relay as 1 finisher)
Vintage Park 2017 -- 1,437
Vintage Park 2018 -- 1,392
Vintage Park 2019 -- 1,446
Vintage Park 2021 -- 1,278

So overall, the numbers were down about 11.6% from the last running of the event. 

And I don't give a rats butt about virtual:  before or after.  Those numbers aren't included anywhere. 

In the post-COVID running world, that is not terribly bad; however, that would suggest that the brand is strong and the relationships that Ron has cultivated with some of the larger running clubs in the area – Cypress Running Club, Champions Running Association and Northside Running, of late, paid off.

While on the course, you either saw lots of shirts running from two of the three and certainly a lot cheering from the other.

So when this race got cleared to be produced, the first thing I noticed was on Facebook where I saw an advertisement under TXRUNS.  Looked kind of odd to me because I never had associated that with the Run Houston Race Series or the Bayou City Half Marathon Series.  

However, I had bigger things personally in my life to worry about at that time.

As I started to think about racing it, I noticed the main photograph at the RunSignUp page and I was trying to place it.  I couldn’t.  Bill Baumeyer has taken pictures at Aaron and Ron’s races over the years and it wasn’t one of his.  Thought to myself that it was odd not to see an actual event race photo, given all of the previous branding.

Then I noticed some All Community Events references and that’s when I realized that the father and son who had owned the two race series – after they bought it from the original owner, Aaron Palaian -- had sold it to a company based out of Illinois.

And was there any announcement of it?  Of course not.

So, an out-of-state race production company coming into Texas?  Hmmm.  

We saw this with the Santa Hustle race in Galveston and others.

Texas is viewed as a place I guess where runners – and triathletes – will support anything.  

Personally, I question that a little bit.  

Even though I’m from Pennsylvania originally and am proud of it, I identify with Texas’ independent spirit and I think that Texas runners are pretty loyal, for the most part, but you have to definitely earn it.

As I do most of the times, I’m boots on the ground at a race site very early to see how things are done, especially when I know new folks are involved.

When I was driving to the race site to park, I went down Cypresswood to 249 so I could pull in where I would not be trapped in getting out after I was done running.

Doing so, I noticed that Cypresswood was very well-coned off, but I did not see any mile marker signs.  (I was told they were going up on a second pass of the course before the start of the race.  And they were out there.)

After parking, I noticed where the start was going to be and that it was buttoned up well.  There was an opening so I followed the line of cones to where runners would enter the corrals in.

There was a sign there about runners not entering it until 10 minutes before their start time and, of course, there was no way they would be able to police that.  Unless, if there was a QR code on the bib that had the start time and you had a volunteer with a QR reader in their hand to enforce entry.

Shortly after six a.m. I started to hear announcements – something I always take a keen interest in.

Nothing really alarmed me.  I even heard time mentions, like I do as we roll to a start.

The one thing that I never heard though was directions being given as to where to enter the corrals at.

There were large groups in front of the starting line at the arches of Vintage Park - close to the 6:45 a.m. start - that had not even begun to make their way there.

All but the latter item is, of course, style points.

I made it around and was not even able to get in at my appointed time of 6:56 a.m., but I could see what was going on.  The front of the line had not started to move.

The pre-race messaging was two runners every three seconds.

838 finishers and that 1,257 seconds or almost 21 minutes.  I think it might have been slightly longer than that.

However, that was not the main issue.

The announcer was making comments that it was to allow for social distancing on the course.

Maybe so (although really that is impossible unless everybody is lined up perfectly according to pace all at once and everybody runs their pace with no variation; never going to happen), but the end result was that the corral had rows and rows of people all within less than six feet of each other and about half of the people were not wearing masks.

Basically, no staff enforcement of the protocols that you put into place - likely to get your permit(s) - and I would love to see what the comparison of people’s start times as to what they registered for to what their actual really was.

I would surmise they were nowhere close.

I call this COVID-19 theater.

Learn something from Texas folks at The Woodlands Marathon:  go to a walking, rolling start.  It worked first for the 5K and then for the marathon and half marathon.  

People walk slowly to the line together, maintaining distancing and then you take off and run.

Additionally, your social distance argument on the course went out the window when the 5K and half marathoners merged into a single lane of traffic.

Course and traffic control, otherwise, was pretty much flawless, with a small exception.

When I finished and as I was heading west on Vintage Preserve Parkway in the left-hand lane, there was an awkward crossover of runners and cars before the intersection you would turn right onto – before making a left to the finish.

That was really the only hiccup.  It seemed like you would stay in the left-hand lane and then make a right-hand turn into the left-hand lane.

Otherwise, that was probably the most spot-on item of the entire race.

One thing that was off were the mile markers a little bit.

Only an issue for old schoolers like me that don't wear a Garmin or some other device.  My 50-lap Ironman model watch has served me well for 15-16 years.

At mile 2.  Wait, or was it 3?   The mile 3 marker was placed where mile 2 is.  I ran by the flag and then realized that I should probably hit my watch.  At mile 3, there was the mile 2 flag.

So you immediately get a negative thought in your head like, "Wow, is it going to be like this the rest of the way?"

There was no mile four marker or it wasn’t very visible.  (A runner told me they saw it near a busy aid station.)  And other markers were off.  I would suggest that 10, 11 and 12 might have been in question some what.

The one big thing that I noticed is that while water and Gatorade were in disposable bottles – a COVID measure, for sure – it gave license to a poor performance by runners and walkers to lay them in a range of distance from the aid station so much greater than any race I have ever seen before.

That is not necessarily on the race, but rather just lazy and inconsiderate runners.

Running coaches, get off the course with your bike.  

The only thing that being on the course is that it appears that you may be giving your athletes unfair pacing assistance.  

Whether you are or are not, it looks that way and secondarily, it is a safety issue no matter if you can handle your bike like Greg LeMond.

And that goes for anybody else that is not an official race vehicle.

Race producers should be able to give law enforcement the ability to pull them off and give them a warning, if necessary.

I saw a guy on a bike on multiple spots on the course from at least mile six on - and he was at Blue Bell too.  Element something on the back of his grey shirt.

Then there was a 9- to 10-year-old boy that was riding in the traffic lane on Cypresswood going no more than about five miles an hour and he went through a manned intersection and the two law enforcement officials did nothing to get him to get in the lane with runners and out of traffic.

Also, not sure how many times it needs to be said, but if you don’t have a bib, get off the racecourse, especially on the roads.

In the Preserve, cannot really do anything about that, but saw others – not pacing – just out running in the middle of things.  They were with a group that there is a sense of privilege with.

And one – or maybe two – of Bill’s runners was running on the course against runners around mile 10.  

A second runner was with him, who said something to me, but I did not recognize him even though I was walking.

Finally, something I noticed that might have gone unnoticed.

There was no Adam Reiser, who has announced the two Series’ races maybe going back to their beginning.

You take one of Texas’ most respected voices out and replace him with a rah-rah voice.  Please.  The guy had a great voice, but basically your insulting our running base here with that.

If you want a natural, high energy guy, bring Mark Purnell over from San Antonio.

The thing about not having an Adam there - especially being involved in event production, smarter than most as a Rice grad and a former collegiate athlete -- is that you take away another set of eyes and ears for the race director.  

I know I can say that every race director I worked with knew that I would manage the start and finish line - and that they could go and attend to other things.

That told me all I needed to know about this new entity that took over, All Community Events.

Cut, cut, cut.

The other thing is that there was no announcing of names at the finish line.

I personally do not care about it when I run, but I asked if around if there were at other times and I was told not.

I don't know what they do in Illinois or wherever other places ACE has events at, but runners here in Texas - and I think many other places -- love hearing their name announced every place that I've been.

How did I become as well known and loved as I have in our sport?  

Ah, the name announcement at the finish line as one of a great group of announcers to do so.

I'm just very weary of people who do not have roots here coming in and immediately don't handle the little things well that make you think that they're just here to make a buck off of people that they don't know.

I ran Rock N Roll San Antonio the very first year after they took over just because they had a ridiculous $65 day one registration price, but never again.  (I know some love their races for the experience and I’m glad others do.)

But their numbers in San Antonio aren't what they have been from the early days and, of course, the Dallas Half Marathon that they produced was dropped after numbers softened some.

ACE seems to be trying to force an unknown - and yet unmerited - brand on you, but have made absolutely no effort to take the time to reach out and communicate with you the local runner on a personal level.

How about a Facebook Live, "Hey, my name is so and so and I'm with ACE.  We're happy to have acquired ...." and so on?  Absolutely no PR savvy whatsoever.

And they're expecting to build it by putting race staff in red shirts and so on?  Gimme a break.

Most people won’t see or care about any of this and that’s OK, but that’s what companies in these situations are hoping for.  That you don't care, will just fork over your hard earned money and not say anything.

That you're too ignorant to know and that you’re so hungry – especially post-COVID – to run anything live that you’ll look past imperfections that might otherwise not get past the naked eye.

That's what I saw based on my experience working with 10-15 different race production groups over the last 15-16 years.  Certainly hope some of the little things behind the scenes get better.

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