Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15k/5k DC

Alternatively titled: How NOT to plan a race!

People all over the webernets have been calling it an “epic fail”.  Carly called it a “total train wreck”.  There’s even a Change.org petition attempting to get runners’ entry fees refunded.  All of these things have merit.

The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k – DC by RAM Racing was truly the most disorganized race I’ve ever been a part of.  From start to finish, I felt like it was poorly planned and poorly executed.  I’m no race planner, and I’ve only been running for a couple of years, but there are certain things even I know about planning an event that the guys at RAM Racing didn’t seem to understand.

Now, I can only really talk to the experiences I had. There are a lot of updates on Twitter about people stuck in ridiculous traffic jams (I was lucky and didn’t get stuck!), phantom traffic accidents, 15k route dangers (running on the highway with trucks?!?), and such.  Here’s my race recap and rant, using an old stand by: The good, the bad and the ugly. 

The Good:

Friends! This race was bearable because I had Carly and Sam with me.  And we randomly found Sam’s friend Karen in the crowd, which was nice, because she was by herself.  Sam and I laughed at Carly’s running commentary on the goings-on.  (It helped us keep warm!) It was also nice to have someone to huddle close to that you actually knew.  I’ve been in races where I’ve huddled next to complete strangers for warmth. 

Friendly volunteers!  I spoke to several in the course of the event, including race photogs, volunteers at packet pick up and the chocolate fondue/hot chocolate stations after the race, and they were great.  They were very cheerful (even in 30-degree weather) and as helpful as they could be considering they didn’t have much information on delays or heating tents.

Fondue! Hot Chocolate!  You probably already can tell, I do bribe myself sometimes to run. (Hey, make it a nice even 4 miles and you can have a donut when you’re done!) I ran this race for the chocolate.

Age Group Placement!  So, I’m not the fastest runner.  This we know.  But, I am pretty consistent when I get in my groove (which was really hard for this race).  So when I crossed the finish with a 37-minute unofficial time, I was surprised.  Mostly because my time wasn’t completely destroyed by the narrow pathways and having to dodge people.  I was even more surprised when I looked up my official time and saw I was 276 out of 791 in my age group! That might be the highest I’ve ever placed! (I’ve never looked before, but you bet I’m going to start looking now!)

Holy crap, y’all. I’m fast and not fast all at the same time!

The Bad:

Communication.  This failure is the worst.  If nothing else, RAM Racing, know how to communicate with your audience, whether they be customers, colleagues or volunteers.  There were several points of failure in communications throughout the pre-race and race-day events, but I’ll just stick to the three most glaring.

  1. Expo directions.  The race planners should have assumed that no one has ever been to National Harbor (it’s not metro-accessible).  Sam, Carly and I drove to the expo on Thursday (day 2) and no one knew where the expo tent was.  We drove in circles around the shops at NH and finally ended up asking some poor parking guy where to go.  There were no signs.  There were no race organizers or volunteers pointing people in the right direction.  Friday afternoon (day 3 of the expo) everyone received an email from RAM Racing with an aerial shot of where the tent was located.  Too late for us and poorly executed.
  2. Give your bus drivers MAPS.  Seriously.  Our bus driver got lost on the way to drop us off.  We took the shuttle from Crystal City to the NH, but somehow, a ride that should have taken 25 minutes took nearly an hour.  We were on the bus by 5:45 and at the staging area by 6:45.  For some reason, whomever was directing traffic sent the bus up through all the shops of the NH to turn around and get to the staging area.  It was nice for me to have that extra 30 minutes of warmth, but I wonder if people who were waiting on the buses at Crystal City made it to the race.
  3. Race day.  People who had expected staging to start at 7:00a and the 5k to start at 7:30a, who were set in the corrals could not hear the announcer.  There were not enough speakers or they were not set up properly or the race organizers expected everyone to be in the tent area and not ready to race in the corrals.  No one in the corrals really knew why we were delayed, what time we planned to start, or what was going on. 

Logistics.  The 5k race started nearly an hour late and the 15k race started over an hour late.  Now, maybe I’m spoiled by having run the majority of my races through Pacers or the Marine Corps or Rock ‘n’ Roll.  I’ve never been to a race that started this late.  The racers in the corrals even started chanting “Start the Race!” at 8am.  Sure, there was still a huge line of cars just trying to get into NH to park and race, and we could see the traffic jam from the start line.  It’s not fair to the runners who were stuck in this traffic jam – they likely left enough time (2+ hours in some cases) to get from DC or VA to NH.  But, the race organizers over-registered!  They planned 20,000 runners in a tiny place like NH – where, to compare, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge half marathon caps the race at 4,000.  I’d also like to mention that there was parking near the start line (close!) but the line of cars to get to the parking lot had to cross the race route.  Really? So, the RAM Racing team decided that it was okay for the late arrivals to run over racers?

Corrals & Race Route.  Thank goodness I didn’t run the 15k.  I’ve heard horror stories.  But, the 5k route was pretty ridiculous.  The corrals were not monitored.  There were walkers and jogging strollers in the 9-minute mile corral.  I dodged around some walkers, but felt okay.  But then, about a half mile in, we all came to a complete stop. The course was routed through a bike path, up along the shell-topped path around the harbor.  Thousands of runners routed from a wide road to a bike path.  Before the first mile.  HOT MESS.  Even better was the narrow, shell-topped path lined with large rocks around the harbor – it felt dangerous.  It was 30-degrees out, the water was freezing, and with people dodging runners and kicking each other accidentally on the narrow pathway, I was kind of afraid I’d fall off the path into the water!

So. Cold. Now, I know you can’t control mother nature.  Every racer there should have checked the weather.  We all planned to be cold for 45 minutes.  An hour, tops. Not 2+ hours as we waited in our corrals for the race to start.  By the time the race started, my feet and legs were numb.  I finally got feeling back in my feet at mile 1.5, but then it was that terrible pins-and-needles as your blood unfroze and started moving again.

The ugly:

An Apology?  The RAM Racing team sent out an email explaining what happened at the race on Saturday.  While it did contain the words “I am terribly sorry” and he writes that he takes “full responsiblity”, the owner of RAM Racing did point the finger all over the place.  Per the owner of RAM Racing (who didn’t sign his name to the email), everyone screwed up, from NH, to the volunteer police officers, to the 5k lead biker, to the bus company.  Now, I’m all for figuring out what went wrong, and fixing it, but this email just sounded like he was airing his grievences.  After enduring a bad race, to me, it just sounded like excuse after excuse.  (Also, as a businessperson, I found the number of exclamation marks to be a bit horrifying.)

Lesson Learned.  In the future, I will be running races put on by local companies with good reputations.  Carly warned me that the RAM Racing Chicago race had some issues and complaints.  Should have listened.

All squinty in front of the fondue tent. Thank goodness we're done! (Let's go home)

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14 Responses to Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15k/5k DC

  1. Sarah says:

    WORST.RACE.EVER!!!! and the email that was sent out was such a joke! Never again!

  2. I’m so proud of how well we did given we couldn’t feel our feet!
    I hope RAM goes out of business. Hate them!

  3. laura says:

    Yikes! Running WITH trucks? I’d have been terrified. Looks like I’ll be avoiding RAM Racing too.

  4. It. Was. Horrible. I understand and really feel for those who were stuck in traffic, but what about those of us who had to LITERALLY freeze while waiting for the starting gun? Let alone if you had come with someone running the 15K or the 5K, while you were doing the opposite… by the time we made it through the starting gate the 5K was pretty much already over. Fail.

    • Suzy says:

      I felt so bad for you 15k-ers having to stand in the freezing cold for another 40 minutes. I was frozen to the bone by 830ish when we finally started; I can’t imagine how cold you guys were. RAM Racing has more apologies to make on so many levels. I’m glad, though, that you got a good race out of it, even though it started so horribly!

  5. Kim Lambert says:

    I drove from Pittsburgh for this debacle!!! Counting the time I waited for a shuttle in Alexandria, I was in the freezing cold for almost 3 hours! And I did run the 15k!!! A finish line at mile 9 uphill….was that someone’s idea of a very cruel joke???

    • Suzy says:

      That’s terrible! I feel so bad for people who put so much time into prepping and traveling for this race. And I can’t believe how much time you were outside and just standing… were your feet just totally frozen? I couldn’t feel my feet for a couple miles – so painful. The uphill at the end made sure a lot of people couldn’t “finish strong”, so yeah, that was totally unfair. But, well done, and way to power through the race!

  6. Christine says:

    it. was. rough. a free for all…..

    sounds like you had a very similar experience as far as the positive but mostly negatives go! never again!

    congrats on finishing strong!

    • Suzy says:

      thanks!! and yes, never again – there was just so much awful. the negatives definitely outweighed the positives on this race. it was so disappointing that it was a mess from beginning to end. your bottleneck analogy of the fat santa/narrow chimney is hysterical – such a great visual.

  7. MLBNewman says:

    I heard that was a bigtime cluster. Good blog – thanks for the details! Following you guys on Twittage, finish strong and dance across the finish line. @marathoner

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