As a Race Director and a runner, it was my worst nightmare. I spend thirteen months a year doing everything I can to make this race an individually special experience for a group of 18,000 people. Further, I have a team of 20 in addition to 3,000 volunteers who put everything they can into achieving this same goal. Yesterday, our finish line was not the one I imagined. My disappointment in that is profound. My job is to oversee each and every aspect of this race, and this year, circumstances beyond my control resulted in your disappointment. For that, my team and I are truly sorry.
About 1/6th of our field did not get their medals placed around their necks at the finish of their race. Many of you were rightfully upset and wanted an explanation; to provide an explanation, I need to tell a story.
We ordered our medals in June, almost five full months ahead of the race. As most races of our size do, we had to order the medals from a company overseas. Shipping is always a challenge, but we’d ordered in the same timeframe as many years past and had no concerns.
The first week of September, however, a typhoon hit Japan and significantly delayed our medal shipment. Our medals were still due to be on US soil by October 11, and duly arrived in Long Beach, CA on October 11. They were due to be headed to Columbus that Monday, and while the timeline was close, I breathed a lengthy sigh of relief. Unfortunately, due to the backlog of shipments created by the typhoon, the medals were further held up in processing, and I faced the difficult task of preparing crisis communications that were due to go out to our participants on Saturday evening. Having to draft an email to you announcing that we would not have your finishers medals at the end of Sunday’s race was one of the hardest things I have ever faced in my professional life.
Instead, I learned late Friday evening that U.S. Customs had finally released our medals. Knowing from our vendor that there were no cargo flights available that Saturday, let alone for same day shipping, I still had my PR team prepared to launch our communications strategy; there was simply too much space between Long Beach, CA and Columbus, OH to get this done in a day. In addition, we still had an Expo to run, a start/finish area to build, and all of our usual race weekend preparations to attend to.
The man who was in charge of shipping, Allen Lam, felt personally responsible for getting these medals to us on time. Meanwhile, members of my team were also working together on my behalf – without my involvement – because they too shared the importance of the finisher’s medal. So began the epic one-day journey of your finishers medals, as Allen and a colleague picked up all 18,000 medals and started their journey from Long Beach, CA to Columbus, OH late Friday night. They worked in shifts to keep going and not lose time, with an ETA in Columbus of 6 am on race day – Sunday morning.
My team pulled together like never before, coordinating with Allen, learning geography (CA-AZ-NM-OK-MO-IL-IN-OH), getting almost hourly updates the day and night before the event. An entire team was working at high speed – but contending with speed limits and time zones – to make this right, and an entire team of volunteers was on-call to unwrap and hang these medals for you the moment they arrived, and before you reached the finish line.
Unfortunately, Allen lost some time in construction zones in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and the medals, both fortunately and unfortunately, arrived at the finish line at 9:30 a.m. What appeared chaotic and perhaps even happenstance to some onlookers was truly anything but: it was our desire to get these medals into your hands before you left that finish line. Hence the golf carts and forklifts, and in some instances, the still wrapped medals. We know that something is lost in not having the medal placed around your neck; we also know these were extraordinary circumstances.
We absolutely understand the frustration and irritation with the medal situation. We know that some of you may feel a moment was lost that can never be recaptured. For that, again, we are truly sorry and we will make sure that each person who missed their medal receives it promptly.
If needed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and we will make sure that each person who wasn’t able to get their medal, will receive one.
I am so truly grateful to each of you for choosing our race, as well as your patience and grace with this situation, and I hope that you enjoyed the rest of an inspiring Race Day!