Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summerfest Rock N Sole Half Marathon recap

Thanks for all of your supportive comments and enthusiasm about the half marathon this weekend! You guys are the best :-)

So - the big question - how was the Summerfest Rock N Sole Half Marathon? Let's start at the beginning. Sunday morning, I headed downtown and met Stefanie and Nicole. We joked around nervously, and took advantage of a photo opportunity. Like we'd ever miss one?
Then, we walked to the start, which was very crowded. My parents came down to say hello (so awesome that they came!), and we all took another photo opportunity.
A little while later... it was time to start! It was a mass start, despite there being nearly 4k half-marathoners, and it took me 4 minutes to actually get to the front and run through the starting line.
I was immediately enthralled with the view as we ascended the Hoan Bridge, and despite the heat it was a beautiful, sunny morning on Lake Michigan. 
In no time we were approaching the arches of the bridge, and running beneath them. It was a moment I'll never forget, like when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once I passed through this part of the course, I started to get distracted by the weather. It was HOT up there, with all of the concrete reflecting the heat right back on us, and the humidity was thick. Because I had my new fuel belt, I didn't carry any water with me, and I began to think about the first aid station. Pretty soon, there it was on my right. I grabbed one cup of water, and one cup of nasty-tasting grape gatorade, and continued running.

As I drudged on, it was like I hadn't just taken fluids at all. It felt good to be running, but the heat was already taking its toll. I was already thinking about the next aid station, at the 3 mile marker. 

Since I had my camera out, I took a photo, but as I got closer I realized that something was wrong. The aid station was out of cups, so volunteers were pouring water into runners' cupped hands. 
I knew that I would need the fluids, so I accepted a palmful.
Not having cups at the second aid station was definitely off, and my thoughts immediately went to all of the smack-talking and worst case scenarios I had discussed in the weeks leading up to the event. From a race management perspective, I had been skeptical about the organizers a) holding a race in general as they had never done one before (especially a distance like 13.1 miles) and b) putting on this race in July. When they announced the event, they wanted to start it at 10AM, which showed their lack of experience immediately. All of these thoughts re-entered my mind and I tried to shake them away, focus on the race.

Pretty soon, it was time to turn around and head over the other side of the bridge. The next aid station was starting to come into view, but again - something was off.
Smiling volunteers. But no water. A pile of hot bananas. No fluids. 

My pace had been suffering anyhow, but at that point I knew I had to slow down and start taking walking breaks. I had my iPhone with me for music, but called my Mom and asked her to please buy a bottled water. I told her what was going on and that I'd be at the 10k mark in about 40 minutes, since I was going to have to walk.

I angrily thought of dropping down to the 10k race, since clearly there were some major issues going on. How could a race this big not have water? And even worse, the 10k event started 30 minutes after the half marathon, which meant that they would be completely out of water for those runners, poured into hands or not. Alarms went off in my mind, I just couldn't believe what was unfolding in front of me. I took out my iPhone and through Twitter, reported what was happening. Again, I just couldn't believe this was happening.

As the race went on, nothing really improved. Where there was water, there were no cups. People either had the water poured into hands or mouth by the volunteers, drank directly from the jug, or used dirty cups from the ground. There were no alternatives. 
Deserted aid station with the Green alert flag still in place. Foreshadowing.
Near the top of the bridge, some volunteers had jugs of water on the median. The half marathoners had to cross the lanes designated for the 10k course (where elite athletes and the faster pace 10kers were running through) to get to them. Again, no cups, just drinking out of hands.

Physically, I continued to struggle. I started to notice that I would shiver and get goosebumps on my skin, despite the heat and my body being very warm. Thankfully, the bridge running was nearly finished, and I had a tough call to make. So, once my parents came into view, they made my choice for me. They were standing just past the fork for the half marathon course, so I grabbed the bottle of water from them and kept on.
Thank goodness for my parents, the water they gave me was cold and glorious. I took my PowerGel and felt a little boost. The race slogged on, there were still no cups, so some runners started grabbing partial jugs of water to carry with them.
Around Mile 8, I ran into Stefanie, who was having pains in her hip. She was walking with a new friend she met on the course, who was psyching her up to finish the race. The three of us continued on, up a massive hill, past a girl who was on a stretcher and being treated by at least four medical personnel, up the hill with the sound of sirens in the distance, to about mile 10, where this happened:
My thoughts as I watched this happen, literally right in front of us, as I snapped the photo: WTF?!?

NEVER since Chicago 2007 have I heard of a race having such hazardous conditions that they've had to cancel mid-race, putting up the black flags as notification. Along with the flag, orders were barked at us that the race had been black flagged / shut down and that we all had to walk to the finish. It was totally insane. 

So, that was pretty much it. We walked the remainder of the course. Everyone was confused and pissed off. When we came upon mile 12.5, we saw this: 
The conditions were so bad, the fire department sprayed us with a hose to cool down. Yeah.

After that, the finish was close by, where again my awesome parents were there to greet us. 
We crossed the line at 3 hours 6 minutes, happy as ever to be DONE with the awful race.

Unfortunately I have nothing positive to say about the finish area, mostly because it was chaotic and crowded and disorganized and a lot of people needed medical help (who obviously were priority), so security was yelling at finishers to "MOVE ALONG! MOVE SOUTH!" and get out of the way. We obliged. Someone handed me a water, and I gave up on trying to find any type of gatorade or food or anything. We were told our race medals would be inside of a stage area, so we found those and put our medals on ourselves.
The End.

Just kidding.

There has been so much controversy over this race, for good reason. All in all, 50 runners received on-course medial treatment and 15 had to be taken to the emergency room. I hadn't noticed, but there were no medical personnel whatsoever on the Hoan Bridge. None. Runners in the 10k said that "people were dropping like flies." Scary. 

How did I deal with being a) pissed off that the race failed so horribly to have fluids, b) scared for runners that I saw along the way on stretchers, and c) grateful that I was OK, and had my camera with me the whole time? I shared what I saw, submitting my photos anonymously. The photo of my handful of water was on page one of the daily paper yesterday. It was the best thing that I could think of doing to share how awful the race truly was, how irresponsible of the organizers to have put people in that situation. How dangerous and scary it was.

Well, that's the long version of my race recap. Despite all of these factors, I feel that I did get stronger after having done this event, and I somehow feel better about running in extreme heat. Like I got tougher out there, or something. I also learned that those shivers / chills I kept having are a symptom of heat stress, which can be life-threatening. So.. I'm glad I didn't get full-on heat stress.

Have you ever ran a truly awful, poorly organized race? Have you ever participated in a race where fluids were scarce? To what level do you think participants should be responsible for themselves and carrying fluids on the course? I can't say it enough, it was pretty chaotic and scary. I don't know what it would have been like to be on the 10k course without a single drop of water the whole race.
Also - have you heard anything about this race? I saw reports that TODAY had a snippet on this morning, and that someone in Atlanta saw a 20 second piece on their local news channel. It's embarrassing to me that Milwaukee will get a bad rep from this, there are so many other fantastic locally produced races that happen (including Lakefront Marathon which I am involved with and will be running this year).
Do you think that since the race organizers failed to plan adequately for the conditions, that participants should get some sort of refund on the race entry fee? Please let me know your thoughts, I'm curious what you think about this one.


Alysha said...

What a great post, Laura. After I heard about the race troubles, I wanted to hear what happened from a runner and your coverage was great (and thanks for taking pics!).

I decided not to run this race because I didn't have enough time to train (I just moved and switched jobs). I ran my first half last September and I was the only one wearing a camelback because I didn't want to stop at any aid stations. Although i won't do that again (the straps were irritating my skin), I will always carry some type of water for fear that this could happen again. They are lucky someone didn't die on the course.

And I agree with you, Milwaukee didn't need this type of bad publicity. As a running destination, it doesn't make us look good at all.


Laura said...

Hi Alysha -
Thanks for the kind words!
You made a solid decision to not have run this race. It's good to know your limitations. There were many people who ran who were perhaps not fully trained (myself included) or not trained at all, and it was the perfect storm of conditions that made the race absolutely awful. Looking back, I wish that I had dropped out of the race at the 10k mark, where my parents were waiting with the water bottle.
Though they messed up pretty bad, it looks like Summerfest and Team Sports Inc. have realized the extent of their errors and have issued statements to make good on these. There's talk of refunds, too. I just hope that the injured runners are all safe and recovering, I heard that someone is still in the ICU.

Laura @ First Class Great Outdoors said...

I had a couple of friends, one a close friend, run the half. Both made it to the end, but they definitely felt pretty yucky. My close friend, Ryan, shared an article on Facebook with more of the details, like the lack of water.

I think it's terrible that the event wasn't better organized especially seeing as they had better events in the area to learn from and organizers to consult with.

Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience that morning. Glad you made it through in one piece :)

Raya said...

Refund? Hell YES. I haven't seen any mention of it on the news, but that doesn't mean much since I pretty much live my life in a bubble of Friends/SATC/Cougartown DVD's and books on tape. I'm glad you're okay though, that's so scary!!

Paige (Running Around Normal) said...

holy. crap. What a horrible race experience! It's like every racers worst nightmare! I'm glad you finished (kind of..grr) safely.
I think I would have broke down. Good for you for having the drive/want to finish!

Michael Pereckas said...

I remember seeing that no-stop shirt! You might remember seeing me, the bearded guy with the seemed-*very*-sensible-once-the-race-started Amphipod belt with four bottles of drink and water. I wasn't that prepared because I'm a genius, it was because this was my first organized/supported outdoor race (I've done the Icebreaker in the Pettit center before) and I really didn't know what to expect from the aid stations so I figured since I'm used to running long distances wearing that thing, I might as well stick with what I'm used to. Turned out to be the best choice. Plus I brought a little camera to get photos on the Hoan and wanted a belt with a pouch to carry that thing when I wasn't using it. I must have been a little further ahead, when I went through only one station was out of cups and all of the had water. I saw lots of people carrying a paper cup tucked in their belt or somewhere, in case they needed it up ahead. At the time I had no idea they were going to actually run out of water altogether.

After the finish people started saying they heard the race had been black-flagged, other people said they heard it was still on. For us at the end it doesn't really matter but that's how bad the communication was, I didn't find out until I looked on the web site hours later, after going home, that the race had been black flagged.

I blogged about my experience here, there is a link to my photos there too.