Nice venue, but terrible crowding, on the course and on the roads.
What would you do to improve it?
Some things seemed well organized - plenty of porta pots, gear check well staffed, ample food, etc. Others were a complete disaster - course crowding, poor signage, unstaffed medical tent, information services which lacked information (including location of the medical tent). Half the participants or a metro accessible location and the race might have been manageable. I'll pass in the future.
*I participated (can't really say 'ran' as I spent a lot of time weaving around the walkers) in the 5k and got there at 5:30am, so my comments come from that angle.
Good amount of parking, but getting there was a hassle. We first went to National Harbor and were told to 'follow the car in front of you' to get to the Plateau Event area. However, the car in front of us didn't know where to go, and the cones were set up so we couldn't cross over (which we eventually did), but there were very few people directing traffic at that hour.
Having the access road to the parking lot as part of the course was a hassle as it delayed the 5k start. Staging area was okay but the seeding was a joke. I ended up cutting though an opening in the gate to get out of the 10min mile group to join coral 'C'. Keep the walkers in the back. Specify that in the packet or online.
I thought the packet information was lacking... oh, information. Including a course map and venue map would've been helpful, as well as signs in the parking lot and maybe a few porta johns in the parking lot.
The finish line announcer was no Mike Riley and could've been saying more than 'hands up!' 80% of the time, which got old quickly. More people there, or more assertive volunteers there, shuttling people away from the finish area would've helped with crowding.
The chocolate area was a good size to handle the numbers. Not enough trash receptacles, and I don't think there were any recycle bins. Not cool. Overflowing trash is a turn off and looks messy.
The volunteers were fantastic, especially those handing out the post race chocolate.
Tough first race, and I don't have high expectations for the 70.3 there in the summer, but there's plenty that could be done to make it a good event. Traffic/parking issues are first to deal with, and course layout the next.
It's interesting to read the comments on their Facebook page. Not a lot of positive reviews.
I wasn't at the Hot Chocolate Race, so I can't comment on this race in particular. However, based upon what I've heard, it sounds like this was a classic example of a larger level problem in the running world... a problem of race directors turning their races into events while overlooking the race aspect. Don't get me wrong, the big events are a lot of fun, and they are a great way to get newbies into the sport of running. However, in creating these events, race directors focus their time, attention, and budgets on the non-race aspects, overlooking the core group of runners and triathletes who are there for the race itself (oddly enough, overlooking the very people who are promoting the race through informal networks!). What the race directors are doing makes sense from a business perspective... you can charge a larger registration fee for a big event than for a no-frills race. In addition, you also attract a larger crowd by getting the average joe interested in the hot chocolate, while also bringing in the avid runners that would otherwise be down at the weekly Hains Point 5K/10K. However, they are also alienating the avid runner... he has to pay a higher registration fee ($45 for a 5K is borderline usury... it was just $15 a few years ago) for things he doesn't care about (a jacket with a goofy hot chocolate logo and a finishers medal for a race not long enough to merit one), fight through obscene amounts of traffic (in driving to the start as well as in the race), and my personal pet-peeve of waiting in Disneyworldesque lines to us the portajohns. One could also argue that this trend is hurting American distance running... because so much money is spent on non-race aspects, you see a lot of races eliminating the prize purse for winners. This is unfortunate, as the goals of creating an big social event and maintaining a competitive race are not mutually exclusive... but the race directors need to keep in mind that they are first a race. They need to cater to the runners who want to race, and do things right for them (including providing mile markers and clocks, lining people up in the right order at the start, and providing a sufficient amount of portajohns and water). Only after meeting the needs of the racers should additional time and money be spent on creating an event. Many races do this right... the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond has grown to nearly 45,000 people in just 12 years because it is a fun event surrounding a competitive race (people cheer as the winning guy comes thru around a 28-flat, then later play cornhole in the middle of the street while the walkers in costume go by). Other new races need to follow their model... and keep in mind that the true race is central to the overarching event.
Interesting read here http://dcist.com/2011/12/hot_chocolate_15k_5k_race_called_ep.php
I'm now SO glad I didn't register for this race. It sounded really cool when I first heard about it, but I was initially turned off by the lack of information the website had including no course map for the 5K course for the longest time. I love chocolate and 5K's as much as the next person (ok maybe I'm kinda biased...I LOVE chocolate), but I would not be inclined to participate in a race for such a huge fee combined with a terrible experience.
The first time you run a race in an area, you're going to have things go wrong. Especially when you're based in Chicago and doing things long-distance. Especially when the venue has never had that sort of event before. And especially when you sign up 20,000 people for a 5k/15k. This was supposed to be bigger than the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, right from the get go. The only races in the area that are bigger are the Army 10-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon.
If your financial model only justifies running the race if you need 20,000 people to break even, then you need to rethink your model. If your ego thinks that Murphy's Law does not apply to you, that's an even bigger problem. There's talk about this being a "perfect storm." I don't think so. If they had 5,000 instead of 20,000 people running the race, it would have been a race with some hiccups, not a debacle. If they approach the club for partnerships, I would be _very_ wary.
From the club side - It's funny you mention a partnership, as they did approach us. Steve and I talk and decided it was in our best interest, and our members, to politely decline a partnership offer. We said we would post in the info about a need for volunteers and wished them luck for the event.
From the personal side - I signed up. The car I was in got stuck in traffic. We turned around and went for a walk to the store to get OJ and bacon.
I think lessons were learned by a lot of groups and people, and at this point, it's all anyone can ask for.
I ran the race and agree with almost all the criticism that has been posted, except for the whining about the uphill finish (really - suck it up).
I only made it bc I took the thru lanes over the WW bridge and then turned around on Indian Head Highway and got to National Harbor from the MD side.
There was little direction-news about what was going on and don't shoot me - but I think there are other jurisdictions that are easier to deal with than PG County and National Harbor. No metro access was a huge problem. Having to pay for parking for package pick up and the race added another $20 to the race fee (even if we did carpool for both). The swag quality was all hype and I could have spent $85 on a nice jacket on sale at one of our partner shops. They were a bit stingy on the chocolate too - I got 2 Ghiradelli squares at the finish - really?
Best to stick to the local races then hit the Harris Teeter and Pacers or PR Running for one's own swag.
I have serious questions about how the 70.3 will be pulled off this summer. I hope the 70.3 sponsors live and learn from the comments on facebook.
Really, the best part about National Harbor is the view of Alexandria.
Most of you know that I am about as involved with WSEM (race organizers of Nation's, DC Tri and the new 70.3) as one can be without actually making a living at it.
Several of the race staff ran the race and have been collecting information on the what went wrong and what went right.
Keep in mind a couple of things. WSEM is based in Washington, DC with 6 years experience producing races in this area. We know how DC works and we pride ourselves on delivering the best athlete experience possible.
Also, the 70.3 will likely have ~2,000 participants, not 20,000. This is a significant difference.
WSEM will be at the annual meeting on Saturday and I hope you can all make it. This will be an excellent chance to ask questions about all of our races.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to me and I'll get you an answer.
And if you decide that another race at Nat'l Harbor isn't for you just yet, please donate your time to helping us deliver on our race day. I'll be looking for volunteers with the help of superstars Carrie Campbell and Karen Willard before we know it.
Two questions: how does a first year event go mega? I mean, I saw it on the calendar, but there are lots of races this time of year. This weekend the Annapolis club is doing their 15K and there will probably be less than 200 based on previous years. It seems amazing that an inaugural event could attract so many runners (even if chocolate is involved).
And a question for Amanda/Steve: out of curiosity, what caused the club to dodge the bullet (thank god!) and avoid a partnership? Did you smell catastrophe way back then?
Thomas - the Annapolis Striders 15k will probably have around 300-350 people in it. The entry fee is $10 if you are not a club member, but it is free for club members. I am a club mamber (well, I coach HS runners in that area) and they offer great low key and fun races. Much better that the large fan-fair races with crowds of 10k plus.
I think Hot Chocolate is done in DC. Their rep went from chocolate to MUD cause of this race, and whether you ran it or just read about it I think most will think twice about signing up for another Ram Race and possibly another race at the National Harbor. The people organizing the 70.3 Ironman better prepare to do a lot of PR work, cause almost everyone I've talked to has sworn off ever doing a race at the Harbor again.
Love this quote in WPost today - does this even make sense?
Rocell Viniard, director of marketing for National Harbor, said there were no problems with parking. “At no time was it a delay in parking the cars; it was more the way the cars came into the project from the variety of highways,” she said.
I know that people have been clamouring for a refund from RAM and while I know that RAM was partially to blame for this fiasco - the burden needs to be spread to PG County and National Harbour (as locals) who sold RAM a bill of goods on what was actaully could be accomplished. This quote really says it all.
According to that WP article it says RAM won't ever be allowed back in PG County.
Also RAM issued another meaningless apology on their FB page yesterday, which just seems like it stirred up the pot of anger again.
A similar situation happened when the inaugural National Marathon course went through Fort Dupont and other areas of PG County while backing up the roads for 2-3 miles. Thus, the reason now the marathon runs solely in DC.
I was talking at the race with an organizer of the Wilson Bridge half marathon that goes from Mt. Vernon to Natl Harbor. He said he was approached by the Hot Choc organizers re helping the event, but backed off when he learned they wouldn't cap the number of participants in the low thousands. Things were really clogged for some of the hours of the packet pickup too.
According to the discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show yesterday, the representative for the National Harbor managers said that the area has held more than the 20,000 people registered for the race at other events. She said that there were estimates of 20-40,000 people for July 4th. I find that hard to believe. Though maybe they use the same crowd counting methods as they used to figure out how many people were at the Glenn Beck rally.
It's says a lot about the DC athletic community that this has caused such a stir. Sure, we've all done races where things didn't go according to plan but you just chalk it up to bad luck.
The firestorm this has created is pretty remarkable. Don't mess with DC when it comes to running for chocolate.
I'm glad I'll be running the tried and true Celtic Solstice next week.
My friend Ryan, from Falls Road Running in Baltimore, makes several good points on this topic. Check out his December 6 post on the Falls Road message board titled "Running Economy".