Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Run for the Ranch - A letter

The below is a letter that I have sent to everyone I can find that maybe able to influence the 2011 Run for the Ranch. I hope it does not fall on deaf ears.

I am writing regarding concerns with the Run for the Ranch Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k that was held on the campus of Southwest Missouri State University on December 19, 2010.

As a marathon runner, I have devoted hundreds of hours to training, choosing the races that I want to participate in, and planning out the logistics of race day. A marathon is something that requires one to spend time apart from family and friends while training. Racing is also a large financial investment, especially if traveling out of town for a race.  These are things that all runners accept. They joy of crossing that finish line makes every sacrifice worth it.

Runners understand that things can, and will, go wrong on race day.  Injuries can cut training short, bad weather can make race day miserable, illnesses can strike.  These are risks we are all aware of and accept.  Runners also expect that the races they choose to run will be safe.  We expect that the course will be clearly marked and well-lit, that, when possible, roads will be closed, that Course Marshalls will be monitoring the course, that aid stations will be manned until the official close of the race and that medical assistance will be available if needed.

Race Directors are only human and I cannot begin to comprehend the work that goes into putting on a wonderful race.  I have completed races of all sizes, from a 5k with twenty-five participants to the Chicago Marathon, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Race Directors responsible for putting these fabulous events together. 

Runners realize that Race Directors are only human and expect a few hiccups on race day, especially in smaller, less expensive races.  That is why I could forgive a lot of what occurred during Run for the Ranch. 

From the moment my friends and I stepped into the Student Center for registration/packet pick-up, everyone we encountered was curt, almost to the point of disrespectful, when speaking to us. Things were disorganized from the start. When a runner asked to see a course map, someone manning the registration table told him that there were none available and if he didn’t know the course by now a map wouldn’t help.  The course was boring. The roads that we were running on were not closed to traffic and runners were forced to use the sidewalks. The half marathon, 10k and 5k all used the same course as the marathon which caused a lot of congestion on the course. The aid station on the track closed almost three hours before the official close of the race. I was not offered food, water, or an electrolyte replacement drink after crossing the finish line. Runners had to wait in long lines for a food ticket and to receive their medals.  These are all things that a runner has the right to complain about, but they are things runners are willing to overlook.

The one thing that I cannot and will not over look is the lack of medical assistance at this race. While on the course, a friend on mine became ill and was extremely dehydrated. As she completed her seventh lap, she informed myself and another friend that she was dehydrated and would likely need medical attention after the race.  My friend and I immediately gathered our things and began trying to find help for her.  We spoke to every race official or volunteer we could find, including the Race Director. I was in disbelief to find that most of them did not even know if medical help was available. I was angry after the Race Director ignored our requests for help and continued to announce awards. I was furious when we were laughed at by a man in the timing van while he joked that we should call 911.

When our friend finished, she collapsed into my friends arms.  She couldn’t walk without assistance and she was slurring her speech.  Even at that point no one offered any assistance.  There were several race officials at the finish line and not one of them even offered to get a bottle of water and open it for her.  It’s scary to think about what could have happened to her if she had traveled alone to this race.
I can say, with absolute certainty, that it is irresponsible and negligent to stage a race without having medical assistance available.  I don’t believe I have ever participated in even a one mile race without seeing medics on site. Marathons are dangerous events – a lot of things can go wrong when covering 26.2 miles on foot. Unfortunately people do die while completing this distance.  What would have happened if a runner had collapsed on the course? There were no race officials anywhere to see if someone was in distress.

If calling 911 for emergency services was our only option, doesn’t it only seem reasonable that someone would offer their assistance? I understand that every member of a race crew has a job to do, but someone out on their course was in trouble.  Any number of people could have put their duties aside for a few moments to have helped us.  As stated before, not only did we not receive any assistance we were laughed at while trying to get our friend help.  I would venture to guess that she was not the only person on the course that could have used assistance. 

There are numerous things about this race that runners could have legitimate complaints about, however, the real problem with Run for the Ranch was that it was dangerous. Runners were dodging cars on the course, after the sun went down there were parts of the course that were poorly lit, there were no Course Marshalls to offer assistance while on the course, one of the two aid stations was closed early, and medical aid was denied by every single person we could find to seek help.  When you take everything else away, the real duty of a race director is to ensure the safety of his or her runners and he failed to do that.

In closing, I ask that you require a realistic plan for emergency medical staff for the 2011 Run for the Ranch. I think it would be reasonable to request that the Race Director step down or even request that this race is not held again, but I am not asking for those things to happen. I am only requesting that someone put some time and effort into thinking about the safety of the runners.

Thank you.
Jennifer Whitter Adams


  1. Very well written. How did you finally get help for your friend? I hope the organizers are not allowed to put on another race unless they get their act together!

  2. As Frenchie said, very well written and as you said I hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears. However, based on your story and the way things were done, I have little faith in this RD.

  3. I'm glad you sent this. It absolutely kills me that you had to experience this. Hope it changes some things!

  4. While you definitely have some reasons for complaints, I don't agree with your strategy in writing the letter or email this way.

    Have you considered the possibility that there is an explanation for the issues you encountered? Perhaps rather than accusing the race of being irresponsible, and asking the Race Director to resign, you could file a reasonable complaint, without all the poetic prose about how important this is to people.

    I'm guessing the runners club that puts this event on is completely aware of all that it takes to run a marathon.

    Don't get me sounds like a horrible race. Yet, one look at the reviews on marathon guide's website would let you know that ahead of time.

    Not all events operate on a budget big enough to support a full fledged medical tent or service. Perhaps the plan was to call 911 if something happened. Small events cannot operate like the large marathons like Boston and New York, etc.

    While I've never done this race, and can't personally say whether this race is really at fault, I just think that before you go and ask for the Race Director's head on a platter, you could at first ask for an explanation as to why these things happened.

    Your approach, rather than sounding constructive and disappointed, just sounds like a holier-than-thou attack, and is not likely to be taken seriously.

    I also have to wonder...if the situation was really that serious...why was your friend A) still running the final loop, and B) Why didn't you call 911, as the race offical "joked"?

    While it is unfortunate that the volunteers weren't helpful and were rude, it should have been obvious to you at that point that if there was a medical need, 911 was the option. Which is the same as a regular training run, a risk we all take.

    I'm not trying to rain on your parade, or try and justify the issues you had with this event, but I just think you should search for an explanation first before asking something as ridiculous as asking for the event director to resign.

  5. Anonymous, if you reread the last line you'll see that she didn't ask for any of those things. She simply requested that a better plan be put in place in the future.

  6. Frenchie - Luckily Ashley was the other friend that was with me so she knew exactly what to do to care for our friend. We were able to get her rehydrated and fortunately she snapped out of it quickly!

    Anonymous - As Kate stated above, I am not asking for the race to be canceled or the RD to resign. What I am asking for is someone to put some serious thought into a plan for medical emergencies.

  7. The complaints by the writer are mostly unfounded. She says the course was 'boring'. She's the one who signed up for an 8-loop marathon. She says the aid station closed 3 hours early. It did not. The table, a few feet from the course, was fully stocked and the worker was in a car trying to get warm. I was there at registration and the volunteers were completely courteous and respectful, although very busy. When someone asked for a map, the race director said there were none, but that the map had been posted online for weeks. If runners are concerned about maps, they should print them off. Most of us just follow the course markings. The course was extremely well-marked and went through the entire 100-year old college campus (not boring according to many other runners). The course, a college campus, was extremely well lit. The runner may not have been offered fluids and food at the finish because they were all about 20 feet away and she saw that each time she ran the loop. A small marathon with 150 runners can't afford a medical tent and dozens of police and course marshals. I don't know why the friend of the runner expected someone to help her call 911. I've run dozens and dozens of races without medical personnel on site. As someone commented above, after drinking some water, she 'snapped out of it quickly.' For thousands of small races around the country, the medical plan is 911. If she is not really suggesting that the race director resign and the race be cancelled in the future, why did she mention that? If the race is cancelled (which she thinks is reasonable), then the Boys Ranch will miss out on thousands of dollars and have to turn away boys in the future.

  8. Richard -

    I am the writer of the letter, and I believe you were a recipient of it. Clearly you and I have a difference in opinion about what happened on Sunday.

    As stated in my letter and the above post, I never would have complained about this race had the medical situation been handled differently. I've run plenty of boring courses that could have used more support and this is the first time I have ever launched a complaint.

    I never said that I expect every race to have a "medical tent and dozens of police and course marshals." What I do expect is that medical emergencies be taken seriously. I do not expect to be ignored and laughed at when a runner is potentially in need of assistance.

    I do think that asking that the RD step down or that the race be canceled is a reasonable request if, and only if, these issues are not addressed at future races. I do not want to see any charity lose much needed funds, but I do not want runners to be put in danger in order to raise those funds.

  9. Your letter is still full of inaccuracies, which you haven't addressed or apologized for. You said above that I ignored your request for help, which is not true. One of our volunteers told me that someone 'may' need medical assistance because of dehydration and I told her that if it's serious she should call 911. That's the plan, although you apparently think every small race should have a medical tent. If we remain a small marathon of 150 runners in the future, the plan will still be 911. That is how we will address it. The person who possibly laughed at you was with the timing service, not part of our running club staff. I would suggest that you contact the timing service and register the complaint--I was not there and didn't see what happened. Again, you refer to the course as boring. I've run 110 marathons and the vast majority consist of rows of houses or buildings or cow pastures. We would provide a volunteer at every turn of the race if we could find them, but as I said before the course was extremely well marked with signs, cones, chalk, and paint at every turn. If your friend was in distress before the final lap, she should not risk her life and continue. It's not about a difference of opinion, it's a matter of fact.

    On an unrelated note, I noticed that you ran a 2:10 half marathon in St. Louis six weeks ago and you ran a 1:32 at our half marathon on Sunday. That's a tremendous improvement. Good job! I hope others come in the future to set similar PRs.

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  11. Richard - I am not and will not be appologizing for anything. All one has to do is read reviews of Run for the Ranch and the 50k that you are the RD for to see that I am not the only person that has these types of complaints about your races.

    On another note, I have not looked up my results from your race, but I can promise you that I did not run a 1:32. Something must have happened with my timing chip - that's a time I can only dream about.

  12. WOW. I won't be running any races that are this poorly organized.

    Jenn, I'm sorry you and your friends had such a rough experience. I would have been furious! Obviously, this race was plagued with problems: no medical assistance or even a volunteer to offer to help you, no one offering water, timing chip issues, and who knows what else!

    Richard, its extremely unprofessional of you to leave comments on people's blog and tell them that their bad race experience was their fault. Based on the argumentative comments you left, I have no trouble believing that my friend and her friends were treated very poorly at your event. They are very sweet souls who aren't uppity in the least. They aren't the type to complain just for the sake of hearing their voices heard. Oh, and how dare you ask her to apologize to you! You should be thanking her for her feedback. She's telling you that as a runner she felt unsafe and mocked by your staff. Why are you not taking that seriously? Why should she have to apologize for having a bad race experience? Shouldn't you be apologizing to her?

    Social media is a powerful thing. When people have a good experience, they tell an average of 4 people. When people have a bad experience, they tell 10 people. In the online community, those numbers become exponentially larger. Consider that before demanding an apology from your participants and being nosy enough to look at their previous race times.

  13. I was there with Jennifer that day. I have been in contact with the RD, and I appreciate that he answered our emails promptly, even if I didn't necessarily like what he had to say. I completely understand that because of finances there was no full medical site staff. That being said, I don't understand how none of the staff was willing to help us. The situation didn't warrant 911, but that doesn't mean it didn't warrant some medical attention. Health conditions need to be addressed before they develop into emergencies. Yes, if necessary we would have taken her to the hospital, but it took us several minutes to even find out if there was someone there to take a look at her.

    Our friend knew what she was getting herself into with a small race. She planned on being self-sufficient, carrying her own Gu and water. While one may say that she should not have kept running, none of us could have made that decision for her, and because a runner chooses to keep running that doesn't mean that they deserve an ill fate. As we marathoners know, once we set out, we will have to encounter a very large roadblock to even consider stopping.

    I don't think it's unreasonable that there wasn't a large medical aid station. It was a small race, and that is a large cost. My real concern lies with the fact that every crew member we asked seemed to be unaware as to whether or not there was medical staff available. If staff isn't going to be there, the volunteers should at least be able to tell us where to find it. Had she been in extreme danger, we would not have hesitated to call 911. However, she was in a position that she needed to be looked at, and we had a very difficult time finding out if there was someone there to take care of that or not.

    As far as all the other concerns, we all know that no race is perfect. There are certain things about every race that we won't always like. That's expected and understandable. Had it just been aspects of the race that we didn't like, I would have never spoken up.

    Neither of us called for the resignation of the RD or that the race be canceled. What we asked for is that he provide a reasonably safe environment. I never requested that a large medical aid station be available or asked for dozens of police or course marshals. My only request is that the medical issues be addressed next year as the race continues. Not providing medical aid is one thing, but not informing your crew of what to do if a medical concern arrives is quite different.

    Let every crew member know what the plan is, and provide one to two people to patrol the course in case an issue were to arise.

  14. All I can say is that the is race obviously has organization issues especially if the race director is responding to a blog post. If he wasn't out there running that day then he really doesn't know 1st hand what it was like out there. What may have seemed like well-lit and marked race course may not have been the case to a runner.

    Glad you were able to help your friend! Sometimes paying for a more expensive, typically larger, race has it's perks.

  15. All of these comments are still full of inaccuracies, but I doubt that any of you will admit to them. I read many of your original blogs where you talk about trying to contact anyone and everyone to sabotage our race for baseless reasons. Now you're trying to spin it as though we simply needed to tell our volunteers that the medical plan was 911. That's not the tone of your original letter at all.

    If you re-read my comments above, you will see the major points: You did get a very prompt response from the first person you asked (and from me) that the medical plan is to call 911 if there is a serious concern, and this was BEFORE your friend even finished the marathon. Apparently, you didn't like that answer. Your friend 'snapped out of it' with a few drinks of water. Most runners know that's what it takes to cure mild dehydration. If she had a more serious medical problem, the plan, as you were told immediately, would still be 911. As your original letter says, you wanted a medical tent. Now you change your story that you wanted a medical person on call. Most small races don't have a medical tent or a medical person on call. As I said, the first person you asked said, "Call 911" and that's what you should do if you think it's serious.

    And you try to trash our race in many other ways. The course was extremely well-marked and well-lit (I know because I've been on that campus for the past 40 years--it's very well lit to protect the students), and well-stocked with fluids at two aid stations at ALL times. Our staff was always respectful although not necessarily chatty as we were all very, very busy trying to keep runners happy. The main problem with the race was some long lines at registration which would not be an issue if people would pre-register and use packet pickup the day before. Plus there were long lines for a meal which your big city marathons don't even offer. So if you don't want the meal, you could have grabbed a bagel and banana without waiting in line, just like the big city marathons.

    To top it off, you accuse us of not being able to time a race properly because your results show a 1:32 half marathon when you actually ran a 3:10 half marathon. After researching it further, I discovered that you started your half marathon at 1:00 pm instead of the required 2:30 pm, which was clearly in the printed instructions. I also announced several times that the MARATHONERS ONLY were to line up outside for the 1 pm start. You can't make up your own rules at a race and expect good results.

    And you really shouldn't try to totally trash a charity race (read original letter) just because you think the course is boring, you think there should be a doctor on call, you think the volunteers weren't friendly enough, or the lines were too long. I will respond to a blog post when it is the clear intention of the blogger to destroy a charity race for disadvantaged youth--that is my duty as a race director. I (and most other experienced runners who read this blog) would agree that you should stick with the more expensive, larger races in the future.

  16. Richard -

    Again, I am not going to dignify most of what you said with a response. I fully standby what I wrote and my account of the day. I have never stated that I expected a full medical tent to be set up. I stated that some sort of medical assistance should have been offered. It is unacceptable to have race volunteers or members of your crew that do not know if medical help is available or not. If your plan was 911 as you say, why was your crew now aware of that?

    I also stand by my statement saying your timing was inaccurate. I registered and intended on running the full. After 3 loops I began to get dizzy and it became apparent that what I ate for breakfast plus some gels was not going to be enough fuel for me to continue. Therefore I pulled myself out at the half. Upon crossing the finish line a woman stopped me to write down my bib number - I immediately told her that I had registered for the full but was dropping down to the half because I was not feeling well. If your timig crew was accurate shouldn't that change have been reflected in the results? Maybe you could have looked into this matter further before accusing me of cheating or breaking the rules. I'm curious to know what you think I should have done differently.

    It appears that you are not interested in an intelligent discussion and instead are making this personal. I wrote this with the hope that things could change for future races and it seems clear that you are not willing to listen to suggestions.

    If you would like to discuss this matter further, you have my email address.

  17. I see that you are still blocking my posts because you don't want your friends to see the truth. Very cowardly on your part. I guess you just wanted to have the last distorted word to get sympathy from your friends.

    I see that you're involved with Team in Training. I was a TNT coach for several years helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars. I think your unfair vendetta against this race and your vulgarity are not in keeping with the high ideals of TNT.

  18. Mary and Richard - I'm sorry, no I did not close the comments, for some reason the comments the two of you left were placed in the SPAM folder by Blogger. I didn't see them until I logged into write a post today. I'm sorry for the delay in posting your comments - it was absolutely not done intentionally.