NOTE: This post is entirely my own thoughts and opinions. It does not reflect the opinions of the Oak Park Runners Club or the Race That's Good For Life race committee. Just me and my experiences.
Races comes in all sizes. Little races with just a hundred or so people. Medium sized races that range from a few hundred to a few thousand. And then the massive, over-the-top races that have 30,000 or more participants.
Think about that for a second. 30,000 people is like an entire city deciding to go for a run all at once.
I’ve run races of all sizes. Small, medium, large and extra-large. And after almost 70 races I know I’m a medium race gal. And in the Chicago area you can find a small to medium sized race almost every weekend. But those massive races? They don’t happen too often.
Putting on a race of any size requires a lot of behind the scenes work. Choosing a date, determining the course, creating the information materials, communicating with participants, logistics of water stations and port-a-potties and parking and packet pick-up, safety, volunteers, and on and on. And I’ve seen races of all sizes do these things well and do them badly.
To be honest, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle is a race that does things well. The same race director who does the Chicago Marathon mans the Shamrock Shuffle so you know it’s staffed by people who know what they’re doing. Except maybe this year with the debacle that was the Chicago Marathon registration. But, hey, maybe that wasn’t entirely the event staff’s fault. It’s just twenty-four paid people with the assistance of numerous volunteers for each race after all.
But I’ll still never run Shamrock. And I might never run the Chicago Marathon again, either.
Although a friend who has run even more races than me recently told me that Shamrock is no longer as crowded as it used to be due to their new corrals and wave starts, it’s still 35,000 people on the streets of Chicago for 5 miles. After running two 26.2 mile races with that many people I know it’s too many for me, especially on an even shorter course with less time for people to spread out.
This same friend said she loves the charge in the air when you’re surrounded by 35,000 people all headed out to do the same thing. I’d argue you can get that same charge at any race. In fact, a smaller race where the chances of meeting and seeing people you know without a lot of pre-race logistical planning is one the draws of a smaller or medium sized race for me. Although, when I volunteer for the Chicago Marathon and see 35,000 people stream by on race day I admit I get an excited feeling in my chest and a smile on my face.
But I don’t want to really want to run with all of them.
And in 2013 I will definitely NOT be running the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle.
See, there’s this race in Oak Park called the Race That’s Good For Life. It’s been going on for over 30 years. 32 years to be exact. Only two years less than the Shamrock Shuffle. The Race That’s Good For Life is put on by the Oak Park Runners Club, a group of runners that knows what they want in a race. It’s a medium sized event with over 1200 participants spread across 5 events: women’s 5K, men’s 5K, Youth Mile, Junior Jog 200 Meter, and a 5K walk. And I’m the director of marketing for this race and a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.
For 2013 we decided on a date back in August and announced it in September. Our date? April 7, 2013.
The date the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle announced in November? April 7, 2013.
The Race That’s Good For Life is put on entirely by volunteers. The marketing budget is small. It’s a family friendly race run in the residential areas of Oak Park. There’s no way it can stand up to the energy and atmosphere that other people seem to love in a 35,000 person event that has a paid staff, a much larger marketing budget and the ability to plaster the city of Chicago with posters and banners. The Shamrock Shuffle will siphon off a good portion of our runners like Dumbledore does with his thoughts.
So, after much discussion, we decided to move our race date to April 28, 2013.
Do I expect the race director for the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle to contact every other race director in the area and make sure his race doesn’t conflict with theirs? No, not really. Especially since I’m pretty sure they’ve had this date chosen since before Abdelaaziz Atmani crossed the finish line at the 2012 race. What I do expect, though, is that they would announce their date sooner so that the rest of the Chicagoland race directors putting on spring races would be able to make sure they aren’t trying to compete with the largest spring race in the area.
I’m especially disappointed in the lack of communication between Carey Pinkowski, the race director for the Shamrock Shuffle and the Oak Park Runners Club. Why? Because OPRC has been volunteering at an aid station for the Chicago Marathon, Carey’s other race, for over 20 years. We have a good working relationship with him and, in the past, when his group chose a race date that conflicted with the Race That’s Good for Life he apologized and said they didn’t plan to have their race in April ever again.
I guess he spoke too soon.
We contacted Carey shortly after learning of their choice of April 7th to express our concern and disappointment. Our consolation prize? A booth at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo and postcards for our race in all 35,000 goody bags for free! It wasn’t ideal, but it was definitely a nice offer. We accepted.
And then we learned two weeks ago that we wouldn’t be getting either of those things. Yes, they reneged on their offer. Yes, it loses them money to give away a booth space at the Expo for free. But for the Race That’s Good For Life race committee changing our race date cost us time and effort. Isn’t our time valuable? And Shamrock did offer to give us a space in their digital race packet but we have yet to hear any details on that and we’re just over two weeks out from the race.
Overall, I’m disappointed in this race to which so much of the running community flocks. Yes, it’s a well-run race. But did you know that the Race That’s Good For Life has been named the Best Chicagoland Race from the Chicago Area Runners Association for two years in a row? We didn’t get that award for no reason, you know. And we did it without the support of the race director for whom we’ve volunteered for decades.
You can call it sour grapes if you want. I wasn’t going to be running the Shamrock Shuffle any time soon anyway. But now it definitely won’t be on my race calendar in the future. I’ll be too busy figuring out how to market The Race That’s Good For Life and enjoying my small and medium races.
So if you want to support an all-volunteer race put on by runners who know races and that has chip-timing, gender-specific tech shirts, multiple events, easy access via public transportation, free parking, and costs less than $10 per mile, check out http://race.oprc.net or http://goodliferace.com and sign up. We’d love to have you. And if you’re a Chicago area running blogger join our Facebook group and find us at our meetup at the race!
Edited to add: The Race That's Good For Life did end up getting a spot in the digital race packet two days before the packet deadline. Hopefully if you ran the Shuffle you saw it in there!