I don’t normally recap the Madrid Milers 15 because I’ve never actually raced it. I’ve run this race now in 2016, 17, and 18 and used it as a long run or workout.
This year was no different in that regard. I ran with Jeff and Gil and we trotted along at right around an 8 minute per mile pace. This post might be a little different since I’m going to briefly recap the race (not very eventful) but also talk about some the Race Management’s missteps, of which there were a few.
The start line of Madrid Milers is normally pretty crowded since the 15 and 5 milers start at the same time and place. While the 15 mile sees only about 40 runners, the 5 mile is at least double and much more contested.
We took off, leaving the town of Madrid behind and descended into the river valley before climbing a fairly long hill back into the Iowa country. We were passed by a couple runners, and passed one ourselves in this stretch.
After we finish hill running, it’s a couple miles on open country roads and we take a couple turns through the small town of Woodward. In Woodward, around Mile 10, we picked up the High Trestle Trail which would take us straight back (literally) to Madrid. Somewhere back here is where Jeff and I passed another runner (Gil had taken off for a speedy finish).
Once we turn off the trail just after 14 and weave through the town of Madrid. And I mean weave. Literally every block we make a turn as the race tries to add the distance up to 15. I caught two other runners in the home stretch, notching a 7th place finish (again) and first in my age group for the third straight year.
Race Directors have an absurdly challenging job. I get it. Lots of things can go wrong on race day, and they have to make lots of challenging decisions and put out lots of (metaphorical) fires on race day. Still, there were three things that I thought Race Management, and specifically the Race Director, did wrong; all of which were preventable.
First: The Storm – Plenty of thunderstorms were rolling through the Midwest on Saturday. If you follow college football, you know that both the Nebraska game and the Iowa State game (about 20 minutes from Madrid) were delayed and then cancelled later that day.
The rain and storms were rolling in when we got started at 7:30. One runner asked the RD if the race would be called or delayed, and was told once we start, the race will finish. At that point, that’s a fine answer. However, a couple miles into the race, the storm rolled in as well. We had cloud to cloud lightning literally right over our head for a couple miles, and saw one cloud to ground strike less than two miles away. When you’re running in fields and are the tallest objects, this is concerning.
Now, I’ll fully admit, running in storms doesn’t bother me personally. However, with the lightning on display, we should not have been allowed to continue the race. With a small field size, especially, the event should have ended there purely for safety reasons. Would I have been upset and disappointed? Yes. Would it have been the correct decision? Absolutely.
Second: The Missed Turn – Remember when I mentioned we made a ton of turns in Madrid? Well, there was one that had no volunteer (all the others did) and was unmarked. This led to multiple runners (literally about 25% of the field) missing the turn, going off course, and finishing from the opposite directions. Talking to those runners, they ran anywhere from 15.5 to 17+ miles.
Now I need to clarify. Having the turn unmarked does not bother me. Things happen. Volunteers don’t show up, signs fall down or blow away, things happen. We’ve all run races where the race has had a missed turn through no fault of the RD or Management.
My issue is with how the race responded. Gil, who had run ahead of us, missed the turn (He would have been top 5 and first in the 30-39 AG) and upon reaching the finish just shy of 16 miles, he let the RD know. The RD said the race could put signs out “If someone would donate the money.” First of all, really?! You could walk to the Dollar General in town with a $5 bill and buy supplies for signs for those turns in town.
Also. The race knew about the unmarked, unmanned corner when 30+ runners were on course. They never sent anyone to that corner. There were at least 4 volunteers working the finish, and the RD was there simply letting people know when a runner came around the corner. You can’t tell me one person couldn’t go man a crucial turn on the course?
Again, more and more runners got lost as the race progressed, with about 10 that I talked to who missed the turn. That’s a significant amount in a race field of 40. Remember, my issue is not the unmarked turn, but the RD’s response to not having signs, and lack of physical response once they were made aware.
Third: Runner Down – Madrid Milers prides itself on being a small town race, which it totally is. Because of this, we always wait for every runner in the 15 to finish before starting awards.
With one runner on course, the RD was radioed that the last runner was in town, and would arrive soon. Not too soon after, a golf cart (which I assume was the sweeper) rolled into the finish area. Still we waited for the runner.
About five minutes later, the RD was radioed that a runner was down. She called 911, and about 6 of us still at the finish ran back down the course to see if we could help. She was a little over a quarter mile from the finish; and fortunately among those of us runners who went back was a nurse and doctor. What there was not, though, was an IV or First Aid kit provided by the race. How. If you’re hosting a 15 Mile race in early September in the Midwest, you need to have those things.
Once first responders arrived, we moseyed back to the finish area. Realize, this whole sequence took maybe 5-10 minutes. As we got back to the finish area, we saw that the awards ceremony had started and was half over. So my best guess is that the RD started the awards immediately after calling 911. For a race that deliberately waits for the last runner before starting awards; I thought it was incredibly tasteless to begin the awards ceremony right after a runner collapses on the course.
In my personal opinion, the RD should have gone to check on the runner. But even if you don’t do that, please don’t host the awards ceremony when the only runner in a field size of 40 is down on the course. If people want to go home, just let them grab their award and don’t do a ceremony.
A runner did confront the RD about these issues at the awards ceremony. The RD’s response was that “Well, we’re a small town race.” That is not a reason for not having First Aid, deliberately leaving a corner unmarked, or letting us run through a storm.
What if the runner who collapsed had also missed the turn and gone down off course? That’s not too far fetched of an idea since many runners missed the turn, and the sweeper had already returned to the finish.
Like I said, Race Directors have an incredibly hard job, and on race day most of what they do is reacting to problems. But at Madrid Milers, the race did not react to any of the problems (specifically the thunderstorm and the unmarked turn) and seemed to ignore the issues that effected a chunk of the field.
Obviously, I’m fond of this race or I wouldn’t have returned three years in a row. But with a multitude of preventable missteps, I don’t see myself returning to the Madrid Milers run in the future until those are solved.