Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The utter fiasco that was the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon

 Image by daynamjones
This is a running account of the 2011 Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon baggage-check fiasco. Scroll down for reverse chronological ordered updates.


Update 11: Nov 16

A month after the marathon, Alan wrote this recap of the bag check meltdown.
I think our #1 pledge to you is to “get it right”, to get it solved so it doesn’t happen again. Just as Chicago did when they had to cancel their marathon in mid race in 2007.
Read the rest here.

Update 10: Sunday, 8:20 p.m.:
Alan Brookes wrote this post reflecting on the race. From a personal perspective, I'm glad he has come out to talk clearly about it and I'm satisfied they're listening. Make no mistake, the running community has been behind CRS for all these years, and though we've felt we've been let down on that afternoon, we know that runners stick together. Good luck, Alan and team, in prepping for the future. Here's an excerpt from Alan's blog post:
The second tragic event was the total meltdown at the BAGGAGE reclaim area at the Finish line. More than a few of you have rightly given me SERIOUS stick over this. One finisher was kind enough to put it in the context of a serious “downer” that spoiled an otherwise outstanding event. Whatever your take, as I’ve replied individually to a bunch of you, we apologise profusely, we will be doing a complete debrief this coming Wednesday. (we are doing debriefs all this week — Baggage is on Wednesday), and you have my assurance that we will take every measure possible to make sure is does not happen again. We are in the process of getting all the written reports from the Area Managers [some 250], and then we will begin our systematic and thorough review of all areas, concluding with the resolution to change the things that need to be changed for next time. I’ll be Blogging on this towards the end of the week, to share not just an apology, but some insight into what actually imploded, and recommendations for moving forward [including some GREAT recommendations from you].

I think, I hope you all know that we are all runners ourselves, and we care deeply about YOU, our fellow runners. This has been at the core of whatever success CRS has achieved. We take some hard-earned pride from the usual, high-quality of CRS events. Dylan Wykes coach was kind enough to say that we’ve “revolutionized road running in Canada,” and in a good way! I can honestly say that in 29 years, this is the second baggage-area meltdown we’ve had. With your input, careful review, and corrective planning, we hope it will be the last! I also appeal to you to work with us on this. I’ve been reflecting back on Chicago 2007. I’ve worked the Start/Finish in Chicago the past 7 years, and Chicago General Manager, Mike Nishi, actually came to work with me for STWM Race Weekend this year. The excessive heat at their race in 2007 caused the cancellation of the whole event, mid-race, as they ran short of water and ambulances, and the situation spiralled out of control. How could this happen? It was traumatic for one of the best-organized marathons in the world, for the city, and for the entire North American running community. But they pulled together, micro-reviewed, and put in place some outstanding new plans so this is never likely to happen again, no matter what the conditions.

So rest assured I [and all of the CRS team who worked themsleves to exhaustion for the event last weekend] feel as gutted about this as you are upset. It really spoiled our day too!

Update 9: Friday, 7 p.m.
The organizers acknowledge the 'disaster' and sent out this as part of an email message today.




Update 8: Thursday, 6 a.m.

Alan Brookes, race director, replies to one of my tweets, promising a full breakdown.



Update 7: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Brenden Williams from the CRS responded to my request to confirm the earlier email Mac sent to me (See Update 5 below). Thank you Brenden for getting back to me. I've passed back to him feedback that Alan's communication with runners is even more important.

I can confirm that was my response. We are happy to hear our participant’s feedback and comments to better our event year after year. I can ensure you and all the participants that were waiting for an unacceptable amount of time, we will make vast improvements with our baggage check for next year.


Another blogger, Storytelling_T, relates her experience after running her very first half marathon (congrats!). A few excerpts


Where were the emergency or back-up plans on race day? Where was the official on a megaphone (or multiple volunteers) stationed at the finish line? Individuals who could have informed participants that due to a glitch or oversight, there was a major backlog at the bag check in and would people kindly like to make their way to a nearby heated tent for coffee and warmth to wait it out? Where was the apology or announcements informing people what their options were or what was happening? Unlike a music festival or outdoor concert, where people are left to fend for themselves and know more or less what they are getting into and prepare accordingly- we are athletes expecting the events in which we enroll to be considerate and cater to our basic health and human needs.


She continues...


I am appalled and saddened that this debacle has put a damper on an otherwise monumental day. I paid $100 to participate in a race, which I also vigorously fundraised for, only to be treated like cattle and forced into an unfortunate post-race situation without any explanation or consideration for my health and wellbeing. I still don’t have an official explanation on what the problem was today. I know this is an annual event and a world-class one. How on Earth did organizers allow this to happen? But more importantly, how did no one manage to act quickly and offer an alternative to all those racers?


Read the rest of it here.

And journalist and fellow runner @vaughanreporter wrote her account, at one point describing the scene while she waited for two hours:


As each person came out with their bag, a loud raucous cheer went up from the crowd. It was like scoring a goal every time someone was seen clutching a bag.

One man was so happy he screamed "Miracle on Bay Street!" to loud applause and cheers.

I finally got to the front, handed my bib to one of the young beleagured volunteers and waited.


Read the rest of her well-argued post here.


Update 6: Tuesday, 9 p.m. This post has taken a lot of my time the past three days, but time worth it to talk about the bag-check fiasco at this past weekend's marathon in Toronto. Just about everyone in private or in email or messages have echoed what I have said and felt. They are pissed, disappointed and shocked that this was allowed to happen. One summed it well last night on Twitter: "I'd be furious beyond belief. Two hours defies belief."

There are those who are wondering what's the big deal with the wait. The first issue is public safety. You can not come to a full stop after doing such an event, Keith being a real example of that. The second is the fact that this is supposed to be a top-notch event, so organizers much run the finish like one. Also acknowledge that the race experience doesn't end with the medal. You have to take care of your runners who dish out $100 to run your course. You left a lot of us on what should have been a celebratory day with an intensely sour taste in our mouths, not to mention shivering and cramping up bodies.

Can I reiterate that thousands of us ran 42.2 kilometres and 21.1 kilometres?

One should ask how long the lineups were an issue. My estimation is that the lineups started to be unmanageable as early as 10:45 a.m. because Fran, who was the pace bunny for the 1:45s, said he had a 50 minute wait. I finished my full marathon a whole two hours later, at 12:45 p.m., and got my bag after 2:15 p.m.. So by the time I started to wonder how long it would take, the lineup issue had been going on for a few hours. Not one hour, as the race organizer said in his email to a reader.

On the issue that runners were eventually allowed to go in one by one, escorted. In fact, there was a brief point at 2 p.m. when a whole whack of us were allowed in. I spent almost 10 minutes aimlessly searching. Others were too. I was the one who fetched my own bag, as did others.

Constructive feedback:

The organizer who suggests that they go with buses is right, but should note that if a school bus could hold 500 bags each, they're going to need 45 plus buses. This is not a new development. Boston uses the school-bus method, which works quite well, especially since they use a fleet of buses to truck everyone up to Hopkinton. So if they can do it next year, all the power to them.

MCM, as I noted, does a similar system, with 30+ trucks.

Here's a picture I took last year just outside my truck where I picked up my bag at the MCM finish. Notice there is not much of a crowd.



What would work for Scotia? Whatever it is, it should with a tent/area/bus for each 1000 bags. They need to collect the bags in order. They need to separate half marathon bags from full marathon bags. And they need to space out the entire pickup area.

Some have asked what I was looking for. Uncomfortable as it is, I responded that I wanted a real apology proportionate to the level of service we got and an explanation of why they allowed it to happen. What was as jarring was the lack of communication from the race and its race director. (And I'm not putting a damper on the event's highlights: I am in the camp that celebrates Reid's accomplishment, Ed's blazing run and Fauja's epic run.)

There's a saying in the tech world, eat your own dogfood, which is to say that to express confidence in your product, you have to use your own. I think this applies for any company that produces anything: a race, a widget, a burger, dogfood. If Scotiabank is indeed silver, then it should be held to a highest level. And if the race organizers are willing to run a full marathon and stand in line for 2 hours -- clearly they did not -- then clearly they did not eat their own dogfood. What it did eat was their voice. So my final feedback? Engage and communicate with your racers. As this fiasco demonstrated, social media has turned the tide. We're not silently limping home from our poorly organized race. We're tweeting, commenting, writing and sharing our experiences. Not easy for any company to deal with, but you gotta deal with it.


Update 5: Tuesday, 5:50 p.m.

Reader Mac Fenwick said he got the following email after complaining through the website. It was not as detailed as the apology that went with the chip results. A lot of detail that many of us were seeking for. The email, Mac says, is from Brenden Williams, the Registration Coordinator & Packet Pickup Manager. I can't confirm this so if CRS wants to confirm this, please feel free.

Thank you for the e-mail. CRS would like to truly apologize for the poor execution of baggage check on race day. There were a few factors of why baggage went out of sorts. We had 4 weeks to move our baggage check area with little available space to work with. We unfortunately found out that morning we were short volunteers and supervisors to work baggage. Our supervisors informed us of the problem an hour into the long lines and we quickly had to problem solve to move the lines quicker. As I'm sure you noticed, we eventually had to have each volunteer escort a runner into the baggage area to find their own bag. The idea was the runner could spot their own bag much faster than the volunteers. We are working on solutions for next year as we are aware of the problematic baggage check on Sunday.

We may go with several school buses with no more than 500 bags on a bus. We can have each window of the bus numbered. The participant can drop off their baggage at their appropriate bib range. This means that each volunteer will have no more than 30 bags each and will be very quick at returning the participant's bag. The bags will not move and the buses will than drive to the finish line. We would really appreciate your suggestions as we now plan to have a CRS staff member manage the baggage check area for next year.

Alan Brookes (CRS Race Director) put this on our website: "Canada Running Series would like to congratulate all our finishers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. We apologise for the significant delay at the new baggage pick up area. We take great pride in our events and the implementation of all operational procedures, we are committed to making continual improvements that ensure your experience is always positive both pre and post-race." We hope to see you again next year with a much improved baggage area.


Brenden's email is brenden@canadarunningseries.com if you care to follow up.


Update 4: Monday, 11 p.m.:

Did we mention we paid $2?

As reader Ola says in the comments "watching that still makes me mad 2hrs to get my bag". Also sent this link to a video showing the madness.

CRS, I guess you can 'apologise', but you really can't run away from this one. Well documented, no way to sweep this one away with the end of the racing season. Apology? Check. Explanation? Not there yet.



Also plenty of comments on the race's Facebook page.

A taste of the Facebook comments, one from Sherry Meehan:

We also found it a big fiasco. One and a half hours sweaty and freezing. Today I can't stop sneezing. Does no one in the organization know how to count. 22,000 bags is a lot of bags. Once you got to the front of the bag pick up line and got your bag there was no way out but to fight through the people standing in line. There was no food, drinks, bathrooms,medical people, warm clothing, garbage cans etc. How stupid are you people??? I have run many CRS races in the past but NO MORE.


Update 3: Monday, 6:40 p.m.: Fellow runner Kerry pointed out that on the results page, a box has appeared with this 'statement'

Baggage Reclaim Statement:

Canada Running Series would like to congratulate all our finishers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. We apologise for the significant delay at the new baggage pick up area. We take great pride in our events and the implementation of all operational procedures, we are committed to making continual improvements that ensure your experience is always positive both pre and post race.


My two cents: what are continual improvements and implementation of 'operational procedures'?

What you guys think? No comments on their site, so might as well tell us here


Update 2: Monday, 6 p.m.: More than 24 hours later, we see a Tweet from the race director Alan Brookes, replying to a racer with 10 followers.

@sprout1962 hi Lisa; our apologies! We WILL be on it! Promise! Hope u enjoyed rest of the experience...


See Tweet.

Hear the crickets?

Also wanted to relay a race report from an ex-colleague of mine, Keith, who ended up in the medical tent after being forced to stand still in line.

Writes Keith:

The finish line was very poorly organized. Instead of being able to cool down and loosen up, runners were forced to stand still for up to an hour and a half while they waited to claim their race bags. Standing in line for more than half an hour, on top of my light-headedness, led me to pass out and fall down hard. When I came through, I was surrounded by runners offering me water or bananas or Gatorade. I said I was ok and stood back up. Then I passed out and fell down again. When I came through the second time, I heard someone screaming for a medic.


Read the rest of Keith's report here

By the way, Canada Running Series? This is pretty much the most-read post I've had since launching this blog in 2005, save for Obama's inauguration or Boston race report. Get on it. Apologize, tell us you'll fix it, tell us what went wrong.


Update 1: I'm not alone, just look at the comments/tweets that have accumulated below.

Original Post

I just got home after a frustrating race. No, not the course. The baggage check. Un-fucking-believable. We waited 1.5 hours in line. They forced runners to be crammed in there after running a full marathon. They crammed half, 5K and fulls into the same area. And when it just got untenable, they just opened the back, letting runners fend for themselves at the bag check.

Let me repeat.

One hour. Thirty minutes.

Volunteers? They are awesome.

I don't have many kind words for the organizers.

Let me put this in perspective.

I ran Chicago last week. Within 10 minutes, I had my medal, beer, water and no lineup at the tent. 36,000 finishers.

I ran MCM for four straight years. They have baggage trucks at the end one truck per thousand bags. That's 30 some odd trucks, spaced out. The marines? Efficient as hell.

These guys? There I was, tramping around in the baggage area, limping around, seeking my bag (which wasn't with the others in my bib range). At least one other (see below) lost their bag. Incredible.

Okay, ice bath, and i'll stew over the race that was, which was actually pretty amazing: 3:38:41.

Tweets I found this afternoon

36 comments:

Lisa Jennifer said...

It took us 2 - fricking - hours and the race official that was addressing me losing my patience did something VERY questionable while searching for the bag. A. went over the tables and retrieved it after about 15 minutes while the kids running the check sat around and ate sandwiches. World class? Get it right.

Zorbs said...

Toronto has a LOOOOOONG way to go to equal the organization and class that Chicago has, in every respect.

wehaveno said...

I waited for an hour and 45 minutes. The lack of signage was absurd and the free-for-all in the tents was ridiculous.

I guess I'm lucky that I found my bag and that everything I'd left in it was still in it. I suppose I can disregard the fact that my bag was decorated with puke.

Arcane said...

Complete disaster. I'm not sure what they were thinking trying to pack so much into such a small area especially with the increase in numbers in the race.

Marky Mark said...

Getting to the corrals was a nightmare-we almost missed the start and actually picked the corral we could get into instead of waiting for the Green-the pace bunny for my time did the same thing. I said "never again" at the start and then enjoyed myself-it seemed there were a lot more spectators than in previous years. And I didn't check a bag or would have been saying "never again" at the end. But the chaos at the bag check created gridlock for people finishing-it took 15 minutes just to get from the finish line to the exit and that was after coming to a dead stop after a half, which is a cardiac no no.

Laura said...

I am so happy I didn't check anything. I couldn't figure out what everyone was standing around for by the time I came in....feel bad for the volunteers and the runners.

THE Captain said...

Felt really good after finishing the half until I stood around for 1:35 - the big comment was we (almost) spent more time in the bag line than on the course. No room to cool down or stretch with the bag chaos means a world of hurt. Not impressed.

Marky Mark said...

Laura, same here. When I came to a dead stop I wondered why there was gridlock but then I could see the long lines for the bags. I would have thought by the time the fast full marathoners like Kenny came it the line would have eased but apparently it only got worse.

yumke said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I'm convinced the organizers are blind to this mess, so no other way than to complain, and to complain loudly until we hear from them. Thanks

marie said...

It was incredibly frustrating to watch, kind of like Sporting Life two years ago when they tried to funnel 15,000 out of the one exit at Fort York.

I'm confident that CRS will take this experience and change things for the better next year.

marie said...

BTW, they're not blind to this. Someone from CRS that I know already contacted me based on my tweets.

yumke said...

Thanks Marie, and we, I must say, were incredibly patient. I guess we were too exhausted to anything else but stand there

Marky Mark said...

We have to tell them. My experience is once they know about it they're very committed and professional and will fix it. They might say that this was a new location for them that was forced on them due to construction elsewhere and they were worried about congestion. They probably would like to ask for more space but then you have those who grouse about more space being used and more roads closed and they might not get it. Certainly City Hall and the square are WAY bigger than what they had to work with here.

angryrunner said...

What a nightmare. I avoided bag check the year I did STWM, so I can't even visualize what they might have changed from the past. I do know that NYCM had this problem a few years ago and people bringing it up certainly got NYRR to pay attention to it. Anyhow, you were the first person I saw mention it but I knew a few people up there today and they're saying the same things.

Nice run - really impressive on back to back weekends!

yumke said...

Mark, I hope they do listen and communicate out what was going on. They really should have resolved the situation a lot faster.

Angryrunner, thanks! when's the next time you're coming up to race up in these parts?

macnic said...

Yay about the race. Sounds horrid about the bag check.

angryrunner said...

I'm FINALLY getting my enhanced license - I WILL do ATB this year! So there is that one for sure. :)

T said...

Angryrunner says that NYRR listened and fixed it - if so, I'd hate to have seen it before. Last year, it took me 40+ minutes of near panic attack level crowds to get out of the baggage check chute at NYCM (and I didn't check a bag - you have to go through whether you checked one or not).

Given that Chicago, MCM, and other large races can handle crowds and bag checks, they should be able to get themselves together, too. Such a terrible way to end a race!

yumke said...

Yes, I did the long march after NYC last year too. At least we kept on moving, I guess.

Patrick said...

You are not the first person I heard mention the problem with bag check. It's too bad something like this ruined your day.

Hopefully the organizers do listen to the complaints and improve the situation next year.

Marlene said...

Wow, I'm sure glad I didn't have to use the bag check. That's utterly ridiculous...

Queenie said...

You know what was worse than bag check? The medical attention. My husband and I witnessed the 27-year-old die 200m from the half-finish, it took the ambulance 10 min to arrive while spectators had to give the man blankets and CPR. It was the most devastating sight I've ever seen. These organizers are amateurs.

Robin said...

I didn't use the bag checked (signed up for Marathon Quest and they had their own). But I had trouble with the corrals....I didn't even get into mine it was so full...I was behind it...then got pushed along as the race started...someone in yellow though, said they had tons of room up there (I was blue). Couldn't get into the corral without walking a block around the whole area...awful.

yumke said...

Friends of mine have noted that I seem mad. You're damn right I am.

First, I am a member of the running community and it's my right to vent when CLEARLY thousands of others had a similar experience. I know, they were right around me.

Second: Did you see how much you paid to enter the race? We were owed service in return? Nuff said.

Frankie said...

This was my first half so I have nothing else to compare it to, but between the total lack of portapotties along the route and the horrific bag pick up, I will not do this run again. We tried to get in the back but were threatened with arrest by a cop blocking our way. For what??? Getting my BAG?!?!?! I saw my bag, a kind fellow racer threw it over the fence to me!

Ola said...

watching that still makes me mad
2hrs to get my bag
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRwo4krTnrI

angryrunner said...

Tracy's NYCM comment is interesting, took me literally 30 seconds to get my bag after NYCM in 2009 AND they didn't force me to walk further north; I was able to go back without a problem. Granted, I was fairly early in the game and pretty well north of the fray but still. I'd heard they had the 2+ hour wait in 2008 from someone who got stuck there.

I will say that the year I did STWM I remember they charged you if you wanted to check a bag. Do they still do that?

yumke said...

Thanks guys for the added comments. I'm just updating the posts with new information. They've apologized, still waiting for the explanation.

NYCM last year was a fair slow walk to get the bag. We were moving though.

And oh my god Angryrunner, I did pay $2!

wehaveno said...

I think the $2 was going to charity, but I can't find the email in which I believe I read that. I'll keep looking.

wehaveno said...

Yup. As per the email I got on October 12th with my bib number in it, "Cost: $2 donation to the 3 Featured Charities".

Mac Fenwick said...

I recieved the following email after my complaint through the website:

Thank you for the e-mail. CRS would like to truly apologize for the poor
execution of baggage check on race day. There were a few factors of why
baggage went out of sorts. We had 4 weeks to move our baggage check area
with little available space to work with. We unfortunately found out that
morning we were short volunteers and supervisors to work baggage. Our
supervisors informed us of the problem an hour into the long lines and we
quickly had to problem solve to move the lines quicker. As I'm sure you
noticed, we eventually had to have each volunteer escort a runner into the
baggage area to find their own bag. The idea was the runner could spot their
own bag much faster than the volunteers. We are working on solutions for
next year as we are aware of the problematic baggage check on Sunday. We may
go with several school buses with no more than 500 bags on a bus. We can
have each window of the bus numbered. The participant can drop off their
baggage at their appropriate bib range. This means that each volunteer will
have no more than 30 bags each and will be very quick at returning the
participant's bag. The bags will not move and the buses will than drive to
the finish line. We would really appreciate your suggestions as we now plan
to have a CRS staff member manage the baggage check area for next year. Alan
Brookes (CRS Race Director) put this on our website: "Canada Running Series
would like to congratulate all our finishers of the Scotiabank Toronto
Waterfront Marathon. We apologise for the significant delay at the new
baggage pick up area. We take great pride in our events and the
implementation of all operational procedures, we are committed to making
continual improvements that ensure your experience is always positive both
pre and post-race." We hope to see you again next year with a much improved
baggage area.

Kindest regards,

Brenden

--
Brenden Williams
Registration Coordinator & Packet Pickup Manager
Canada Running Series
260 The Esplanade | Toronto, ON | M5A 4J6
Tel: 416-944-2765 ext. 506 | Fax: 416-944-8527
brenden@canadarunningseries.com

yumke said...

Thanks Mac, for posting the email response. This should go to a wider group and thanks for enquiring.

Nutmegontherun said...

Great post on the issue - I will not be checking my bag again EVER. This was my first and last. I had hoped that I can access my cozy jacket I packed soon after the race so I can keep warm. This was not accepted for

Adeel said...

For a race that's all over the place promoting itself, they sure are very quiet right now. Alan Brookes has retweeted a lot of things people said about the marathon, but hasn't responded to anything anyone said about the wait at the baggage check.

I've always liked CRS races but disliked their absurdly high prices. There are other races you can go to in Canada and the northern US that are just as much fun. If I was somebody who waited in line for two hours, I'd try another race next year (Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Marine Corps, etc.) and tell as many people as I could why I was doing it.

Anonymous said...

LIke so many others, I had a great race. Only my 2nd half and I well surpassed my 1:55 goal. But then I waited for almost 2 hours to get my bag. I missed meeting up with my fundraising teammates and out-of-town friends. After heading to Starbucks for a much needed latte, I walked to my car only to realize the front zipper of my backpack had been opened and my car keys were GONE.....this lead to a disastrous afternoon of trying to get my car.....the post-race experience has really made me forget what a great race i had....shame on you CRS!

Kerry said...

If they'd released the statement they sent out in the email right away, a whole lot of angst would have dissipated.