Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 3, 2009

Race Report and Video: What happens when a race loses its main attraction at the 11th hour?

Answer: You grumble and lament and woe-is-me….and then you show up, smile, and run the consolation race. Life goes on.

That’s the short version of the story.  You can watch the video of the race start here (you’ll see me on the right side of your screen at about :50, I’m in a red/pink top and I wave at the last second):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQakvrnILzY

Now pull up a chair and a coffee if you’re up for the long version:

Some of you know that my annual Mackinac Bridge Race is the highlight of the season, if not the year, for me. I have run the race since the second year they held it; this was to be my 5th time. Since we live in the Chicago area, participation means a 10-hour drive (going through Wisconsin and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), and we usually drive right back down immediately after the race, due to another annual race back in our neck of the woods, which is always the day after the bridge race.

As ever, the drive was lovely: everything green and in bloom and a dazzling blue sky. And as ever, that much-anticipated first view of the bridge took my breath away. I never tire of the “Mighty Mac” and couldn’t wait to get my feet on it again!

That said, we felt a twinge of nervousness as we drove over it. There were construction vehicles busy repaving and re-tarring the surface, and there were still long stretches of unfinished road. This was at around 5:00pm Friday 5/22; the race was Saturday, 5/23. This wasn’t *entirely* a surprise, as just the day before I had received an ominous email, informing runners that there was a SMALL chance that the bridge would not be finished on time for the race, but not to panic.

But Dan and I also recalled a similar situation last year — they literally finished up at 2:00am! – so we consoled ourselves that of course somehow the minimum would be completed for tomorrow’s run.

We finished crossing the bridge, got off the exit we now know so well, and drove to the community center which is always “race headquarters” (and the finish line) for the event. The place was vacant. We then realized that they had moved the check-in/”race central” to the church across the street. This was already disappointing as the cute community recreation facility is…..well, so cute! They normally hold the breakfast afterward in the ice rink, and….it just underscores that quaint, small-town charm you don’t often get to experience in this country anymore.

Oh well. Change happens.

But the worst change was yet to come. As we entered the meeting hall we pretty much knew we were in for bad news, just from the demeanor of the race organizers as they stood behind the tables full of runners’ bags/packets. Whereas there is normally a bustling, excited “hum” of activity – not unlike a beehive, this time around it was sterile, with little energy to the room. And sure enough, at 1:30pm that day (yes, as in, the day before the race!), the race officials received a call that the road would NOT be finished on time and they could NOT have runners on the bridge. Can you believe?????? They honestly thought it was a joke. When they realized it wasn’t, as the one organizer put it, “I sat and cried in my office for a half hour.” Now they had less than 24 hours to come up with a Plan B. So they mapped out a new course, one that would take us through the town of Mackinaw City (and, ironically, on roads that go UNDER the start of the bridge), though one that would only cover 3.8 miles instead of the 5.4. They handed out vouchers for $20 off our next Bridge Race, should we choose to run it again. It was the best they could do, obviously.

It’s hard to describe but probably easy to imagine the composite of emotions one felt upon receiving the news: Crestfallen comes to mind. Disbelief, anger, sadness, frustration….you name it. And of course, much of that anger was directed at the construction workers. Never mind they didn’t finish on time; why on earth would they wait until the last minute to TELL the organizers???

That said, what was done was done. It is what it is. Although the first “kneejerk” reaction was, “Well screw this!” I knew that the ONLY thing to do was to thank my blessings that my biggest “problem” of the moment is not being able to run across the bridge (as opposed to, say, not being able to run due to bodily injury or illness!), switch gears, show up and smile, and put in the very same effort and enthusiasm I would have for the original race. At the very least, these poor organizers who had a nightmare on their hands deserved that much. But more than anything, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the point: to share the joy of running and pushing my limits with other, like-minded runners. We were all terribly disappointed. But it would have only made it worse to quit.

So…..we checked into the hotel and I went through my normal night-before preps. It was such a strange change from the normal, pre-race anticipation and excitement. Normally, due to the buses that start taking us across at 5:30am, for this race I’m up by 3:30am, and can barely sleep out of concern that my alarm won’t go off. This time, I felt a bit numb, without a whole lot of concern, like I was merely going through the motions. It wasn’t even until the race had begun that I even thought about any particular goal for this “new” bridgeless bridge race.

In any event, I got up that morning, pinned my bib, looped my chip on my shoe, and we pulled up at the church/new starting line area at 5:20am. Since the race is normally a staggered/open start (to control the number of runners on the bridge at any given time), they originally were going to stick to the same timeframe. Unfortunately, that too changed; upon arriving, we now learned that they would instead have ALL runners begin the race at once, at 6:30. I suspect it was a logistics thing: the police didn’t want to close the roads for any longer than necessary. But now it meant we would all be sitting around drinking coffee for another hour! Oh well.

Now the silver lining: in addition to having the chance to chat and commiserate with fellow runners, it appears nearly all runners did, indeed, come out for the Plan B race. That right there made it worth running! I was glad we could all make the best of it.

So finally we were all lining up, and we were off. It was, even with the bummer of a change, an enjoyable experience. I did glance longingly at that beautiful bridge a couple of times as we ran along, but otherwise it was business as usual for a short-duration race: lots of huffing and puffing and hoping to at least sub-9 pace.

So I was pleased — not ecstatic, but pleased — with my time: 31:23, with a 8:16 pace. I had not yet done any speed work this season due to a mild injury I had to nurture while training for my first Half Marathon earlier this month, so I’m glad that I managed a sub-8:30.

Afterward, I went for a slow, easy recovery run, both to beef up the day’s mileage and so that Dan could get a run in, stretched out, and had a nice breakfast. The rest of the day was spent driving home.

Well there you have it. I suppose things like this are bound to be part of the racing experience as one does enough of these. But wow, this was NOT the race report I was expecting to write!

PS All hope is not lost for this year’s bridge run: they are now starting a brand new “fall colors” race across the Mackinac Bridge, which I plan to do!

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Responses

  1. I still enjoyed myself on the run, but couldn’t help but wonder who really dropped the ball. It’s easy to blame the 2009 Mackinac construction crew, but just like you said, anybody could see that the bridge would not be finished in time. It was clearly visible as we drove across it. They would have to be blind, and I know they can’t be blind and drive across the bridge at the same time. While the sponsors and “the board” appeared to be the victims also, I believe greed played a roll in this disappointing race. Many things were cut from the budget but there seemed to be no benefit for the runners. First, they didn’t have to pay the bridge for us to run it and most importantly the breakfast was bare minimum. I mean, they didn’t even have their greasy bacon! They walked away with about $25,000 and couldn’t give us a good breakfast?

    Why couldn’t someone have spoken up and said, hey construction crew, lets hurry up. Or hey Mackinac Bridge Authority(really, what authority did they have? they couldn’t make a construction company finish in time), lets enforce the contract and finish this bridge on time. Or lastly, hey, this won’t be finished in time, we should contact the runners since they gave us their email and phone numbers.

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Truthfully, this story is convoluted and complicated enough that I could probably have had 2-3 separate reports, each addressing a different grievance/aspect of this year’s event! My husband and I ourselves conversed on what we saw as notable changes in the overall quality of the experience, independent of the bridge debacle. If anything, the situation with the bridge was a distraction from what would have already been a disappointment, in the form of many “little” disappointments, when compared to past years’ races, starting with the change in the breakfast offering, the change of venue (too small for the number of people in attendance), the lackluster goodie bag, even the quality t-shirt is laughable when compared to my Mackinac Bridge Run t-shirts of 2-3 years ago. And unless I’m mistaken, this was the first year we didn’t receive a finishing/keepsake medal afterward. Sad to say, it’s not the same race it was. Too many cutting of corners yet a fee that keeps going up. I hope they learn their lesson in a hurry; I imagine this was the final straw for many participants, and if they don’t reverse some of these changes I would expect continued attrition.


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