Friday, May 3, 2013

DC NIke Women's Half Marathon - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I posted my as I am calling it "Happy Happy Joy Joy" blog of "Thank Yous" about the race because truly I am so happy about the final outcome and my personal achievement. That said I have a lot of commentary about the actual race and not all of it is good. I figure it's only fair to write another blog that's more of a review of the race that really gives you the good, the bad and the ugly about the whole thing. I'll break it down into parts.

The Washington DC Nike Women's Half was my 16th Half Marathon so I've seen more than a few races and can genuinely assess how this one was conducted. (I say this because it's driving me - and many of the others - crazy that people keeping posting on the Nike Facebook page that this was "The Best Race Ever" because I can definitely tell you it was NOT. I suspect that many of these people have never run a race before so they don't know any better.)

I have overall commentary as well that doesn't necessarily fit into any of these categories but I'll save that til the end I think... Let me first give you an overview for anyone who knows nothing about this race and then I'll get into the topics...

The Nike Women's Half Marathon Series (I guess that's what you'd call it now that there are 2 of these) started in San Francisco 10 years ago. The hook for this race is that instead of getting a medal at the end of the race you get a Tiffany Necklace. (I swear this alone gets women who have never run more than from one room to another to grab a ringing phone to decide to run a half marathon!) This year was the first running of this race in Washington DC.

Registration & Communications
The Good
  • While I am not always a fan of the lottery system the fact that this race is so popular (due to the Tiffany necklace) I do like that they use a lottery system to even the playing field. 
  • You can register as a group. Let's face it some of us do this with friends and we are not interested in going if none of our friends can so I like the group registration.
  • Registration is open for quite a few days which is a great thing

The Bad & The Ugly
  • College students get definitive entry. I find it absurd that an unlimited number of college students get to have guaranteed entry. I am okay with "X" number but not a free for all that as many who want to can get in. (Frankly if you have $150+ as a college student you've got too much extra money on your hands. For me $150 was probably about 6 months of groceries when I was in college!
  • The lack of a website. Using just a Facebook page and not having an actual website makes it difficult to find information and frankly is just unacceptable. 
  • Lack of communication after the Boston Bombing. Don't get me wrong I didn't expect them to have an answer about this race immediately after it happened but I did expect some sort of official statement on the race page (which as I've already mentioned was only Facebook) about Boston just like every other race/running group did that said something even if it was just "We are With You Boston"
  • Didn't release runner tracking detail until Friday just 2 days before the race

Overall Commentary
Communication is key no matter what your event and Nike just blew it on this one. 

Packet Pick-Up & Expo
The Good
  • We went on Thursday right after it opened and there was pretty much no wait for anything (which is why we chose to go then)
  • Nice location on the water. It was a beautiful day so we went to one of the restaurants right there and enjoyed lunch outside.
  • Lots of great photo opportunities. Loved the "WE RUN" huge "sign" as well as the others signage for the race. 
  • Glad they had samples of Nuun there so we could taste what we would be getting on the course
  • I love how they put all the names of the participants on the wall at the Nike store. Very cool!

The Bad & The Ugly
  • As usual Nike's idea of an Expo is pretty much the Nike Store. I'm really not interested in waiting in line to get my hair done or make-up from Bare Minerals. I would much rather see some other vendors with things I'd be interested in such as charms etc. Yes Nike it is possible to have other vendors in there that are not competitors for your Nike products. I also found it ridiculous that I couldn't by the race shirts etc. at the actual Expo and that we had to go to the Nike Store to get this
  • The commemorative shoe release was just awful. The fact that your expo started at noon but you didn't release the shoes til 6:30 and then you released them in a variety of places in addition to where your runners were. If we as the runners of your Half Marathon are helping you launch these shoes you should at least offer the courtesy of offering the shoes to ALL of the Half Marathon participants at the Expo FIRST and then offer them to the general public. This was an EPIC FAIL on Nike's part
Overall Commentary
Nike as usual does a great job with branding. The event "gear" was fantastic and there were a lot of options to choose from (which is always great) but all that said if you are a runner who loves a good expo you will be VERY underwhelmed by the Nike Expo experience.

The Actual Race
The Good

  • Great course. The way it was set-up we got to see lots of great stuff and it gave spectators lots of opportunities to move about and see their runners.
  • Loved some of the bands that were on the course. The drummers were AWESOME!! 
  • Great security at the start area as well as along the course. (Given recent events I think this was appreciated by all.)
  • Good Mile Markers

The Bad & The Ugly

  • The start corrals were horrendous. We were given wrist bands to indicate which corral we should start in. Upon arrival at the corrals they were beyond full so lots of us were forced to stand outside the entry gate into the corral on the side of the road. Clearly you need to leave much more room in each corral for the people who belong there
  • YOU MUST DO A WAVE START! For crying out loud - with 15,000 people how could you even consider not doing a wave start. It's ridiculous. Add to that the fact that the corrals were a disaster many of us were forced to start way back in the pack behind MUCH slower people than our pace so many of us were very frustrated for the first several miles. (My husband will tell you when he saw me at Mile 2 I was downright ANGRY.) Put volunteers with a rope between each corral and do a wave start. 
  • They had no official photographers on the course and didn't bother to let anyone know this. If ind this absolutely unacceptable. I've never run a race (including the dozens of 5Ks I've run) that didn't have some sort of official photography. 
  • Too many people who don't understand race etiquette such as you don't run 4 abreast and you don't walk in the middle of the road etc.
  • Runner tracking could only be done through Facebook. Given that not everyone has facebook they really ought to use a more general tracking option such as texts like other races do
Overall Commentary
I appreciate that this is a fun "unique" race (because of the Tiffany necklace) and as such this becomes a target race for new runners. I applaud everyone who has the desire to undertake this challenge - I just wish they would get some guidance as to how to not be in the way of others by using proper etiquette. I'll catch slack for this but honestly time and time again the Team in Training people are the worst about this. The start was absolutely unacceptable. 

The Finish
The Good
  • The Tiffany necklace is absolutely fantastic! LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I have to admit it's nice to have handsome young men in tuxes hand it to us as well!
  • Love the finisher shirt. Great color!
  • I like that they only sell Finisher's Gear (these are items in  addition to the shirt we got just for finishing) at the Finish. I get really irritated at Rock-N-Roll runs because they sell the Finisher Shirts at the expo where in reality all you've finished at that point is paying a bunch of money!

The Bad & The Ugly
  • Not enough people handing out water and not in enough places. I saw people right after the finish but not further along in the finisher's area. 
  • No Finish Line Photos :( Very sad. I buy mine for every PR so I am bummed that I won't get to buy one for this PR.
  • The line to purchase Finisher's Gear was absolutely horrendous. I waited more than 40 minutes in line. When my friend finished the race the line was even longer than that. You need to have more than 2 lines set-up for this.
  • No Family Meet-Up spot. Most races have specific areas tagged to initials etc. but there was no such thing here and no info that there wouldn't be
  • (Adding this one later in the week as an edit) - Finisher Gear that wasn't sold out at the Finish Line was moved to Georgetown but for less than a week. I was unable to get out to Georgetown but when I would have been able to (just a week later) they said they had shipped it off to their main distribution center and have no idea where it will end up. You absolutely should have put this stuff online for us to purchase. Frankly you're crazy not to. You're going to send it off to places where people may or may not want this stuff but if you'd put it online I can pretty much guarantee you would have sold most, if not all, of it. 

I appreciate that this is a highly coveted race because of the Tiffany Necklace but given that it is so prone to first timers I wish Nike would offer more information to them about how to run in a large race properly.

Team & Training
Okay I felt like I had to do an entire bit here for them.... Look I appreciate they are raising money for a worthy cause but in the end I would respect that a lot more if they weren't also raising money to send themselves to places to run and have fun. Given that a not so insignificant chunk of the money they raise for Team in Training goes to pay for their, airfare, hotel and race entry fees I am not a fan of this program. (Oh and to pay for their "Coaches" travel too I believe.) If you really want to do some good raise the money for the charity locally and pay your own way to travel to the race. The Nike races are big Team in Training races and I am not alone in not being a fan of Team in Training. They are frequently the folks that people have trouble with on the course of walking in the middle of the road, stopping in the middle of the road (general stoppage or going from a run to a walk with no notice to the people behind them), walking or running too many people abreast etc. Additionally it seems like their people only support other "Team" folks and don't give a hoot about anyone else. Here's the bottom line - when the average runner (who is not part of Team in Training) sees the purple shirts (That Team in Training always wears) and groans that should tell you what the overall impression of that group is...

While I love the necklace and the course I am left feeling like "Meh - I don't know that I would run this race again." The frustrating parts were very frustrating and given that I like to run a variety of races it's highly unlikely you'll ever see me like the gals who have ever charm from every Nike Half that's ever been run. Given the enormous nature of Nike I was disappointed in how much they fell down on the basics such as communication. Yes I realize it was an inaugural here in DC but they've run this race 9 times in San Francisco with many many more participants so they should know the ins and outs of how to handle a race like this. (That said when I ran the SF Nike in 2006 it was only my second race so perhaps there were as many issues there and I just wasn't wise enough to know.)  I am very happy to have done the race, SUPER happy to have PR'd (though with that start I am still not sure how I managed that!) and thrilled to have been able to do the race with my dear friend Tonya but perhaps once was enough for me on this race... we'll see!

So which race shall I run next?! 

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