And You Had No Idea

This past weekend here where I live in Texas, there was a rather large marathon/half marathon that took place.  While the temperatures were a little warmer than one would like, it was a fantastic event. The following day I’m reading the comments on Facebook and while most are kudos, there is a peppering of petty complaints.  Some are the classic, “not enough port-o-cans”, and some are the not so bright “My GPS measured it long, why isn’t your course more accurate” (clearly this person isn’t familiar with the large error margins in GPS).

This got under my skin a little, so I thought I would share with you a story. With what I do for a living, I’m often crossing paths with race directors in some form or fashion, so I get to see first hand the lengths they go to make a race a success. Things rarely run smooth, and last minute emergencies pop up with even the most experienced. (A very large and very well know series once contacted me to get 3000 swim caps made in 36 hours) Some certainly work harder than others, but it’s an often thankless job to make everything look seamless to you the athlete. But I digress…

Race management had contracted and ordered those amazing finish medals through a US vendor, but the production is done overseas. Not a problem. Most things are these days. Medals were shipped and arrived at customs in early February, which was plenty of time. The container was flagged and inspected not once, but twice, which delayed delivery time, but still well before race-day. Problem was, and to everyone’s dismay, the good folks in customs decided to flag and inspect a third time. Why? Not sure. It is government after-all, and we all know how efficient those chaps are. The finish medals were part of a larger shipment though, as 25,000 medals were heading to another race.  Whatever the reasoning though, this meant those medals would be sitting in customs on race day.

So the organizers got in touch with some of the local leadership, who got in touch with Congressmen. Turns out one them used to sit on the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, so calls started frantically going out. That’s right, you’re local race director  recruited the help of Washington DC to get you your medals. Well, long story short, it worked. Customs released the container.

Now there was just one little problem left. Those medals were released from customs in Los Angeles, California, and the race is the next day. You can’t exactly lick a stamp and overnight thousands of medals that weigh the better part of a pound each.  So after exhausting a number of options, they found someone willing to run the medals, non stop, through the night to get there in time. Now, I know what you’re thinking. They called Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed, made a small wager and bingo! They were East bound and down, loaded up and truckin! Well, not quite, but close. They got the medals from L.A. to The Woodlands, TX with time to spare. How much time? 3 hours. That’s right, While you were starting to wake up for your big day, your medals were arriving. You can’t cut it any closer than that.

So you got to the race, ran your heart out, and when you crossed the finish line and volunteer calmly handed you your beautiful finishers medal,  you had no idea it literally took an act of Congress to make that simple act look so seamless.

Next time you show up to do a race, and things don’t go exactly as you would expect, keep this story in mind. Volunteers don’t show up, food planners underestimate, and yes, they might not have enough port-a-cans. But the work that goes into getting you from the start to the finish is immense, whether you see it or not.



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