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After boasting of a well-run marathon with better organization than in previous years, the Competitor Group Inc.’s Rock ’n’ Roll USA Marathon in Washington, D.C., was a letdown for many runners hoping for a smooth experience.
There were few complaints about the race course itself. As promised, CGI delivered clear mile markers, race time clocks and organized corrals. Metro fulfilled its end of the bargain by transporting riders at 5 a.m., two hours before the system’s usual Saturday start time. Even the weather cooperated; the forecasted rain held off, giving runners a near-perfect temperature in the mid-40s.
Consternation centered on the chaotic bag check. Poor organization, lack of signage and long lines meant that some runners missed their start times. At the bag pickup, absent volunteers left runners to wade through bags, trying to find their own.
The bag check is where runners drop off their personal items, including warm-up clothes, which they later pick up at the end of the race. In point-to-point races — where the start and finish lines are at different locations — the bag drop-offs are often buses, which travel to the finish line.
One runner, who asked not to be named, said he used all his “karma points” to cut in line and throw his bag down to make it to the start line on time.
“They didn’t have nearly enough volunteers, which created 150-person-deep lines waiting just to give your bag to the appropriate bus,” he said in an email.
However, at the bag pickup at the finish line, a number of buses were left unmanned. Runners frantically climbed aboard buses to search for their bags. One runner alerted a bus driver to the missing volunteers and got a shrug of indifference. “Not my problem,” the driver said. “I just drive the bus.”
“This was the most poorly organized gear bag check I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to some rural races where the only person collecting the bags is some guy with one tooth,” said Amanda Hicks, a CQ Roll Call employee who blogged about her race experience at AmandaRuns.com. She wrote, “The geniuses at Competitor Group decided to park a bunch of school buses along the race starting corrals where people are already congregating. Then they decided to not clearly label the buses and to staff said buses with volunteers who wanted to get chatty with the runners.”
“We’ve apologized to runners for any difficulty in retrieving their belongings,” said Dan Cruz, a spokesman for CGI. “We had hoped that our system would be adequate this year to accommodate 30,000 runners, but we know we came up short of expectations.”
Experienced runners suggest that the bag drop-off should be organized by bib number, not by last name, to avoid sorting bags by corral and to move the buses so they are not quite as close to the starting corrals, which in this case resulted in excessive congestion.
For 2014, CGI will rely on UPS to facilitate the gear check. “One of the biggest problems with the system last weekend was the use of school buses to transport the gear check bags from the start to the finish. However, UPS trucks are what we use to implement gear check in other markets and create a much more efficient process for retrieving bags at the finish line,” Cruz said.
Better luck next year.