Are we sacrificing Safety for Medals?

Last weekend there was a race here in our area called the Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Race.  They actually had three races, a 1mile, a 5K, and a half marathon, I believe.  This was the inaugural race for the company organizing the event but I had heard a lot about it through many of the runners that I know and it sounded like a cute event.

Mermaid Race

But then Hurricane Irma happened and I wondered if they still planned on hosting the event because last year when we were expecting a bad storm at the time of the Clearwater distance classic, they cancelled it, and that was just a storm.

I didn’t hear anything else about the race so I assumed they cancelled it and then a few days later I started to hear from people who had indeed ran it.  It hadn’t been cancelled but it had been a disaster.  I assumed that the complaints were due to the fact that it was a new race and the organizers were unprepared for all of the entrants and with the hurricane they probably had a lot of support that didn’t show up, and that’s the excuse they used, but that’s not the full story.

What disturbed me the most was hearing that the runners had to run across one of the most dangerous roads in the area at crosswalks across 8 lanes of traffic!  This was not a closed course at all.  If you aren’t familiar with our roadways, that stretch of highway, US19, is part of the same stretch that was included in the Dateline NBC Study which named it the most deadliest road in America, because of the number of pedestrian related deaths, making it the worst road to walk on, bar none.

When the kid was younger, if he ever took the bus to school, he was never allowed to walk anywhere near US19, ever. Period.  It was a rule he was familiar with he would use it to his advantage by getting off the bus way before it ever arrived at US19 and calling me to pick him up, at the mall or somewhere else he wanted to go, but I digress, the point is US19 is not a road to walk, or run on, unless it’s closed.

I wasn’t surprised that the people who ran that race were pissed and I was thinking to myself there’s going to be some backlash over this.  There was.  Runners World actually caught wind of it and published this article.

Funny running sign

Here are my thoughts and keep in mind, I didn’t run this race but I have run many inaugural races and a lot of them have had some issues with not enough food at the finish or not enough volunteers on the course and so on.  Fortunately the race directors have always been more than willing to listen to the criticism and try to improve the race for the next year and in most cases they made it even better in the following years.

However, in the case of this race it seems to me that the race directors completely disregarded the safety of the runners.  To allow runners to run along a major highway like US19 without support from the sheriff’s department is insane.  In my mind, they’re just lucky that no one was injured and I’m serious about that.  To have no water along a course, especially a half marathon, or to provide water and no cups is unconscionable.  You sold out a race so you are fully aware of the amount of runners that you have, there is no reason for you not to have an ample amount of cups.  This is Florida and it’s humid and hot and when you are running in those conditions you are sweating and you need to hydrate.  Water should always be provided during a race.

I am also concerned about the rumors of the lack of any medical support.  If that was the case, that is unacceptable.  In at least 10 of the half marathons that I’ve run I’ve seen someone carted off in an ambulance.  Granted, I’ve run races where no one was injured but preparation is key and any good race director knows that.  And as if all of the support wasn’t bad enough, the timing wasn’t correct for most of the course so a lot of people had no idea what their finish times were.

But the reason I felt so compelled to write this, the reason that I got so mad when I heard about it and when I read about the experience that some of the runners had was that I wondered if it isn’t because of our quest for the bling that determines why we run a race.  Have we become so enamored by the medals that the allure of them determines whether or not we run a race?  Whether or not we run a challenge and take on all three distances?  Do some race directors put on races focusing on the medal rather than the safety of the runners as a priority?  Was this the case with the mermaid race?

I’ve read a lot of reviews where people talked a lot about the online course support and the after party and medals but not the actual course and maybe I’m old school but that’s one of the first things I look at.   I want to know about the elevation, the exposure, the terrain, whether it’s an out and back or if we’ll be taking buses and most importantly, is it a closed course.  I study the course, and sometimes I go run it beforehand.  If I would have read that this race was to be run alongside US19 and even across it, I would have never run it and I’m really surprised that it was sold out.  I mean, granted, I love me some mermaids and I love Weeki Wachee but I would have never run any of the three races based solely on the course.   I just wonder how many people actually ran it and didn’t know about the course or maybe they were from out of the area and weren’t familiar with US19 or how many people ran because they really, really wanted the medals?

Have you ever ran a race because you just really wanted the medal?  Be honest, there’s no judgement here.