Monday, February 15, 2010

Myrtle Beach: The race that never was

Thanks to Peter Asciutto -- the owner of Vac & Dash in Albemarle -- for contributing this report about Saturday's snowed-out Myrtle Beach Marathon:

The Myrtle Beach Marathon Expo was buzzing with excitement. Snow was on the way. The 5K race would start at 7 o'clock Friday night, with the Marathon and Half Marathon starting 12 hours later. According to the forecast, snow was guaranteed. There was no mention of ice, a runner's worst nightmare, as the temperature was to stay above freezing.

What a marketing coup for Myrtle Beach, I thought. Snow is so rare for the resort town. To have it fall the night before the marathon would make for a memorable race for the thousands of runners that traveled in for the 13.1- and 26.2-mile races. I was thinking of my friends, Angie Greenlee, John Bates and Sherri Swaringen being able to say they ran their first marathon in the virgin snow at Myrtle Beach.

I was a part of a group of 65 runners from Stanly County who made the 180-mile trip for the weekend races. Just after 6 p.m. Friday, we got word that the city was going to decide at 10 p.m. whether or not they would have the Saturday-morning races. You've gotta be kidding, I thought.

A group of us went to watch our buddies run the 5K, and 15 minutes before it started, the snow started dropping. It was great. By the time we walked over to the finish line at Coastal Carolina Stadium, the white stuff was falling heavy. The stadium lights enhanced the beauty of the winter evening. More than a dozen of us cheered on our 25 friends as they ran down the finishers' chute.

Leaving the stadium, we expected the race to go on. Just after 10 p.m., city officials cancelled the dreams of many. "Unbelievable," I said to my friend Rick Johnson. "It never ceases to amaze me how society changes plans based on what the weather might be, rather than what the weather actually is." We couldn't understand why they couldn't move the race to 8 or 9 so they could make a better decision in the morning. [The start originally had been set for 6:30 a.m.]

Using Facebook and cell phones, we got the word out that we would go to the start on Saturday morning and run anyway. When I stepped out the door just after sunrise, I knew city officials had screwed up. Sure, there were three inches of snow on the grass; however, there was not speck of snow on the roads. It never stuck to the warm surface. Conditions were perfect to run. Let me repeat, since Myrtle Beach Officials are stating otherwise: Conditions were perfect to run!

A dozen of us joined hundreds of other renegade runners participating in the "unofficial" version of the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Half Marathon. I did get some memories out of the experience.

Peter and his crew set out on their long run in Myrtle Beach. Note the condition of the roads.

My friend Emily Thompson stumbled and flattened out like a pancake on Ocean Boulevard. She left some DNA on the road, and has the battle scars to prove it. Road conditions were good, she just tripped. Around Mile 5, I thought I was going to have to find a place to write my name in the snow; fortunately, I came upon Porta-Potty.

Around Mile 7, Rick and I stopped and took pictures of two female runners from Greenville making angels in the snow. One of the ladies was four months pregnant. Around Mile 9, we saw another friend, Rita Phillips, driving by and flagged her down to bum five bucks to buy Gatorade at the Quickie Mart.

I did get a pleasant surprise when we finished, as race officials were handing out medals to those that ran that morning. It's the first Half Marathon medal I've gotten for running 11.8 miles.

Even though I had fun making the most of the cancellation, I still felt somewhat empty. I got the feeling that many runners felt the city didn't do what they could to deliver what they promised. They had no backup plan, so they jumped the gun on canceling the race.

Even after the fact, city officials didn't get it. They were all over the news saying that they were concerned about the safety of the runners. They even criticized us for hitting the streets, saying it was dangerous to do so with no support from the city. One of the official quotes was that if their decision prevented one person from getting injured, then cancelling the race was worth it.

This is in a city where they allow people to swim in the ocean where each year a few of them drown and others get bitten by sharks!

Now the City of Myrtle Beach has a marketing nightmare on their hands. It's going to be interesting to see what happens next year. My guess is that runners will be very hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on travel and risk their investment of months of training going to a city that pulls away the red carpet when the going gets tough.

Peter Asciutto can be reached at peter@vacanddash.com.

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15 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is a half marathon in Columbia on the 27th of this month for anyone who was going to do their 1st in Myrtle Beach. It is the first year for it and they are making an effort to make it a quality yearly race...unlike Myrtle Beach.

Anonymous said...

The Myrtle Beach officials should have passed a helmet law for runners. That would have made it "safe" to participate. Such truly typical "nanny state" decision-making.

Anonymous said...

anyone making comments on marathonguide.com? It probably a better place to voice complaints than Theoden's blog...race officials will read them there.

Anonymous said...

don't marathons carry insurance for things like this so they can issue refunds?

In their defense, they did incur the costs of the expo, the t-shirts, the medals, and some of the events did happen. They are a not for profit organization and if they did issue refunds, then they'd probably go backrupt as the registrations fees pay the bills.

It could be worse, you could have been 16 miles in and have it cancelled on you...like what Chicago did a couple of years ago.

Amy said...

My question about all of this is, did the city refund race organizers for the permits and cops (if the cops were paid in advance... which they aren't always). Because if it was the city's call, then the organizers should be refunded the money they spent on permits.

Just my two cents, for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this ACCURATE account of the weather conditions the morning of my "first marathon" which I trained 5 months for!! Disapointment does not begin to descirbe my feelings. We quickly looked for the next closest open marathon-Highpoint in March & registered. Then we went out for another 20 mile training run on the DRY streets of Myrtle Beach. I will not return!!

Anonymous said...

This was a joke! Roads were ok to run on and at the time they could have looked at a 1 or 2 hour delay.

I would can only say that the greed of race directors is the problem with the delay idea. The fact that marathons now keep the finish lines open up over 6 hours in many cases on open city roads is the problem. I have been running marathons for 31 years and can remember how finish lines would close at 4 hours and you were pulled off the course. Now you have these charity programs buying up spots with people who average 15 minute miles! This is what ties up traffic for hours and what the excuse in MB for not doing a dealyed start.

Anonymous said...

I really feel for you all. Besides thanking the city, you should also thank trial lawyers who have brought society to the point where city officials fear them more than common sense.

Anonymous said...

'Marathons now keep finish lines open up over 6 hours'. So, if you can't produce in 4 hours or under you have no business out there. Got it. Cause now marathons are just 'charity programs' for 15-minute milers. Wow. How terrible for you to have to share the road with those folks.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the marathon runners who was unable to do the MB Marathon. It was an expensive weekend for me with registration, hotel, meals and transportation. I saved money to be able to go to this specific race. Marathons are special and also more expensive than other races. I don't know about other people, but I know of the other upcoming races in March, but I don't have the money, or time to save up enough to go to another marathon this soon.

Anonymous said...

I usually just run races here in town. Lately I've been kicking around the idea of traveling to one just for fun. Now I'm not so sure. If a race in town is canceled I'll just sleep in and be out the registration fee but traveling and not running just seems too expensive.

Audra said...

I'm really sorry to all who trained and weren't able to run. The city should have waited until the morning to make the call. What harm would be done waiting til5am instead of 10pm the night before? To all who signed up, would you consider running MB again?

I ran the Run for the Border half marathon in New Hampshire in 2007. The night before the race it snowed and sleeted a small amount. There was no mention of cancelling the race or moving the start time. It wasn't a closed course and we had to share the road with cars. There were no issues. I guess they just don't let it go to their head up there.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I have a feeling that New Hampshire is a tad bit more used to dealing with snow than oh say a beach town in NC.

just a thought

SCM40in40 said...

"Charity runners" are not lesser marathon citizens in the world of marathon. Sure we may not be pushing sub 3 hours, but we are doing "our first marathon", "our first half marathon" or our umpteenth marathon or half for a cause that is bigger than ourselves. One of the things I loved about road racing WAS the camaraderie and love of the sport. One of the things I dislike is those that diminish those that do not run sub 8's, 7's etc because it's not fast "enough"...

Imagine yourself - accomplishing more than you ever anticipated - to hear "charity runners diminish the sport." Liken that to...you trained really hard, but did you qualify for Boston, the Olympics....

F No - they looked adversity in the face and did a hell of a lot more in their training, fundraising and networking than most do in a lifetime.

Next time....kick me in the schnuts before you say anything derogatory about "charity runners" - it would be less painful and even more out of line.

Every race can be a first....no race should be a defeat.

SCM40in40 said...

there are marathons (multiples) in each state...even in each country, continent. enjoy running for what it is...an opportunity to explore