Monday, September 23, 2013

Neon Splash Dash 5k-Fail

My friends and I had the distinct displeasure of running shuffling through a 5k 4k fun run this weekend, so here I want to review the Neon Splash Dash (Dallas) at the Ballpark at Arlington.

It's pretty obvious that the Neon Splash Dash organizers know approximately jack and shit about the location of the race they hosted. Early packet pickup was held at a location in Dallas at least an hour from the event itself. This is great for me because it was near my office, so I got my stuff and a friend's, and two other friends also live near the pickup. The 5th in our party, though, lived on the far side of town and had already arrived at the event and paid for parking before realizing she forgot her ticket, and the check-in table refused to accept and scan it from her smart phone. Others of us were already on the road and unable to help, so she went home in tears, unable to run at all.

The rest of us arrived about an hour before the first wave, and a good thing, too, since it took a full 20-25 minutes once we arrived to park and walk to the event. The first wave was scheduled to take off at 8 and did start shortly after that. Each wave would be divided into a few hundred people with runners at the front, followed by joggers and walkers. Except that's not what happened because the Neon Splash Dash was so egregiously oversold with many thousands of people too many for the venue. We wanted to get into a jogging wave, but there was no organization, just a massive crowd milling near-ish the starting line, moving 10-15 feet closer as each wave was released. We couldn't hear a word from the announcer but finally passed the start line at 8:32.

I'm in the purple fluffies.

The course itself was marked by nearly invisible traffic cones without even reflective tape and wound back and forth through a parking lot. Yeah. Unable to see the Neon Splash Dash course or any of its turns, we had no choice but to follow the crowd and try to shuffle through, with no opportunity to run except for the slowest of slow trots.

A few runners passed, courteously calling out as they did, "Walkers to the left!" A woman near me remarked in a nasty tone, "Guess they didn't get the memo that it's about FUNness not fitness," like she was so clever. So I shouted back, "Guess some people didn't get the memo about basic race etiquette. And just what the hell do you think DASH means, anyway?"

The splash zones where they sprayed us with neon water were actually well-lit and well-padded with a great cushion to absorb extra wetness before runners stepped out onto the pavement again. That was a good design.

I quickly lost count of participants that I saw darting across race markers from one turn to the next, skipping every possible corner. Three of found an easy pace, including myself and an extra we picked up through Meetup who had run a 10k obstacle that morning and was grateful for an easy run, and we jogged the whole course and finished together in 34:37. Hm. I'd run a 5k less than a week ago, found it very taxing, and finished in 39:37. I definitely did not pick up 5 minutes in a week while chatting comfortably throughout and without breaking a sweat. I'm guessing the course was about 2.5 or 2.65 miles instead of the purported 3.1. An email from Neon Splash Dash had this to say about it:
The course was marked by Police Officers & Ex-Military Soldiers with 25+ years of service. They take pride in doing their job, and doing it well. We take extreme attention to detail when it comes to measuring the course. We can assure you that the course as marked was EXACTLY 5k in distance. Additionally, we would NEVER mark a course with curbs & sidewalks you would have to cross over, and this course definitely didn't have any as we marked it. HOWEVER- during the event, there are always a select few who would rather take short cuts than to stay on the marked course. We don't mind, except that when they do that everyone behind them tends to follow. That is exactly what happened Saturday night. A few decided to take some shortcuts, and lead a number of you off course, over curbs/sidewalks while cutting some distance off at the same time. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we scrambled as many Staff & Volunteers over to re-correct and get you back on track.

I'm really glad that Neon Splash Dash emailed me a link to participate in a survey about the event, and I really enjoyed filling it out.

Where do you think we should advertise in order to obtain more participants?
Maybe you should put that effort into improving the safety* and enjoyment of this event instead of unnecessary promotion. I really think you need to put a cap on this event and that having so many thousands of participants was largely a detriment to the enjoyment of it. I'll be certain never to register for this event in the future. Finding a venue that can support such numbers of people with a wider, safer course to run is imperative.

(*We passed a woman who had tripped and fallen on a deep, unmarked hole in the pavement, of which there were many throughout the course. Did I mention this was a night race?)

Besides lowering the price, what else could we do to entice more people to Register for our Event?
You were unable to adequately support and run the event for as many people as did attend; why do you think you need more? You provided only a handful of porta-potties that ran out of paper at least an hour before the race began, a course too small for the number of participants, cones that were practically invisible and mostly knocked out of place long before most runners even started instead of visible course markers. You could have used the pre-race notifications and participant packets to educate participants about basic race etiquette in order to make it safer for everyone involved.
Neon Splash Dash did get pictures posted quickly; they were up Monday after a Saturday night event. But instead of setting up a photography website that is searchable by bib number, they posted 600+ photos on Facebook and directed participants to tag themselves. As if we have the time or desire to do your photographer's job for him. Fortunately, one of my friends did get a before and after picture of us, so I feel free to do any number of better things than pore over blurry night photos.

Far right, you can almost see my twinkling tutu.

I have to say, with the raging popularity of fun run events, the scores of events available, the years of experience in race organization compiled into published books and guides, and the millions of dollars these events make on participants' registration fees, merchandise purchases, and parking fees, there is absolutely NO excuse for this kind of shoddy execution.

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