November 30, 2008

Sacramento Races Rock

Thanksgiving morning, Sister and I jointly set 10K personal records at the Run to Feed the Hungry. This is why I love races in the Sacramento area -- they are designed first for the folks who are in them and the charities they benefit, so they are the antithesis of the mass-marketed bay area races.

With 28,000 participants this year, this is the largest running event in Sacramento. That's 10,000 more participants than those who tangled into 6 starting waves at the San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon last August. And yet, the RTFTH managed it perfectly with 2 starts: one for runners, who lined up according to signs announcing approximately pace goals; and a second start, 10 minutes later, for walkers, strollers and baby joggers (which are prohibited from most bay area races).

When I compare Sacramento races to the bay area and the bay area falls short, I am not speaking about the well run bay area trail runs put on by PCTR and Envirosports. Nor am I talking about super-small local races put on to benefit small local charities (yes, these are often not as well-run as they could be, but they are charitable events first and races second, and I can respect that).

When I get worked up about bay area races and their corporate inefficiencies and wastes, I'm talking about the highly publicized destination races, like the Big, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Yes, I love that I live in one of the easiest places in the world to find a local race and run in it. Yes, I know I am spoiled. But, as a spoiled bay area beneficiary, I'm telling you, Sacramento races are, on average, much better run, cheaper, and less annoyingly commercial than their bay area parallels.

For example, this year, despite limiting paid entrants to a number that requires random selection if you don't raise money for team in training, the fastest time didn't win the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. Why? Well, if you ask me, it's because my least favorite bay area marathon and half marathon is a product and not a race. Sure, after initially telling her she lost because she didn't register as an elite runner, they eventually named her as something like the "other winner." But she beat the "official winner" by 11 minutes.

I mean, come on! She didn't have an elite bib and she crossed the finish line with the elites. The non-elites started 20 minutes after the elites. It's not rocket science, people! If Nike paid just a little more attention to the race, and a little less attention to the "product" then perhaps they could have capitalized on the good press and feel good story about this 24-year-old school teacher from Brooklyn.

Instead, Nike's initial response was to make it seem it was her fault for not realizing she might win and failing to register as an elite. Here's something to think about, Nike, when the awards are undefined "commemorative memorabilia" designed by Tiffany, the true elites are unlikely to come out and the winning time is probably going to be significantly slower than what an amateur runner thinks of when they think about elite times.

Reebok, however, kicked ass with their response of awarding her the F.U.N. award as the "Winner and Heroine of Non-Elite Runners Everywhere". The N stands for Nike, right?

One of my biggest complaints about these bay area races is that they require you to pre-register and show up in person the day or two before the race and pick up your packet, bib, and chip or RFID at the "expo." If you haven't had the pleasure of this experience, imagine deciding between a hotel stay near the race or an unnecessary drive to the race location. Once you've found a way there, imagine navigating through a county fair, complete with tents, carnies, crowds, and confusion, only instead of beer, games, and mechanically questionable carnival rides, this labrynth of white tents will be filled with advertisements and products and services hawked by loud salesfolks eagerly hoping to separate race participants from their disposable income.

Even my favorite local race, with its 5,000 participants, commits this sin. This year, I avoided all of the tents at the expo, and made a bee-line straight for the registration area. I thought I made it out unmolested until I got home and opened the bag where my t-shirt was placed. In addition to the unnecessary 2-hour round-trip, I was treated to several pounds of paper advertisements they'd crammed into the bag, plus this:


I can't even begin to spew the expletives deserved by these un-regulated, un-tested, non-quality-controlled supplements and wackadoo crap marketed as magical weight-loss, fat-loss, and energy-intensifying cure-alls. (In the interests of avoiding waste, I ate the larabars, rice crackers, melatonin, and the vitamin C).

The RTFTH, in contrast, has the *option* of picking up your packet a day or two before the race at local REI outlets. Perhaps they have marketing crap there too, but I wouldn't know. Because, you can also pick up your bib on the morning of the race. And, [gasp!] they even allow day-of registration if you are willing to forgo an electronically recorded time. What a brilliant trade-off! I was more than happy to pay $40 instead of $35 on the morning of thanksgiving to run this inspirational race without an official time. I still got a bib. I'll still get the T-shirt mailed to me. And, I was able to contribute to and be part of a *huge* race that raised over $700,000 to feed local hungry folks. Bay Area charities could really learn some lessons here -- for every additional day-off registrant, the charity probably cleared at least $30.

If RTFTH can pull off day-of registration and packet pick-up for 28,000 participants, the bay area races have no excuse.

Finally, if my ranting doesn't touch anything you care about but you are a runner looking for another reason to consider doing a race in Sacramento, then consider that it's flat, and when the weather cooperates, it's a ridiculously fast place to run. As of Thursday, my marathon, half marathon, and now 10K PRs are all from races in the Sacramento area.


Anonymous said...

"Step right up, folks, and witness the magnificent medicinal miracle of Simpson & Son's patented revitalizing tonic. Put some ardor in your larder with our energizing, moisturizing, tantalizing, romanticizing, surprising, her prizing, revitalizing tonic."

Those "supplements" failed my basic rule for things i put in my mouth. At least half of the words on the back have to be spelled correctly.

The Enforcer said...

E: You wuss. ;)

Arvay said...

I don't eat things that I'm not absolutely certain how to pronounce. Of course, that would make The Enforcer's diet substantially broader than mine, since she knows how to pronounce all those chemical names, but I almost failed chemistry, so I'm safe!