"Angie’s Half-Crazy" Koala Half Marathon, Clear Lake area, Houston, Texas 2008


It needs to be pointed out that the idea of having walking participants in long-distance events is a product of bona fide genius.  The benefits of the motivation of community support in an event atmosphere for the personal fitness of average people must not be underestimated.  Unfortunately, it apparently still is—but more on that in a moment.

Since the Surfside event was sort of open-ended, and I missed the Houston event, I felt like I needed to end the season with a timed half marathon under the four-hour time limit.  This event was held in the Clear Lake area, which also made it extremely convenient.  This was the inaugural year for the event, so some “teething problems” were to be expected.  The most publicized of the problems was that a critical mistake in the layout of the first leg of the course resulted in the overall distance being 13.5 (I heard some rumors of 13.62) miles long instead of the official 13.1 miles for a half marathon.

We gathered in pre-dawn darkness in cool, clear weather.  Perhaps the first sign of organizational miscues was the incredible line near the start for the inadequate number of portable toilets.  There were about 500 participants, and about eight toilets.  Since most of these people presumably traveled some distance to the event, this wasn’t very thoughtful.  Many people had to simply abandon the effort to use the facilities when the line was still at least this long as the race approached start time (I’m still working on the low-light function of the 10MP Casio camera. I will probably have to reduce the resolution to make it work right without the flash, which is not strong enough at this distance. This picture was actually taken in fairly dark conditions, at about ISO800. I didn’t reduce the resolution or get the stabilization on, and most of these shots were too blurry to use.).

This was my first experience with chip timing, the use of RFID shoe tags:

…together with special sensing mats to gather start and finish times for individual participants.

Participants were grouped into “corrals” according to expected speed, to keep people from being trampled at the start line. (There is a problem with using a flash around hundreds of people wearing reflectors)

Here we have the first runners coming back from the turnaround point on the first leg. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was where the serious troubles began. This runner should have been about at the 1 mile marker in this photo. Instead the marker was on the wrong side of the road, adding almost half a mile to the distance.

This also shows the traffic cones used to safely secure lanes on the streets for the event. That didn’t last, either.

Most of the walkers in our class are expected to finish the 13.1 mile distance between around 3:20 and 3:50. We were welcomed to participate in the event by organizers who had been supportive of walking participation in the past, and told that we would have the course limit of 4 hours to complete the event. The aid stations were there for us the entire time, “themed” in some cases, and highly supportive. The course support, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter.

Starting at about mile 4, just as my tendons began to relax so that I could move easily, a yellow Rider truck eased past me on Red Bluff Road, picking up the traffic cones, and telling me that I would have to continue on the sidewalk. I was easily ahead of the pace needed to finish on time. They continued about a quarter- to a half-mile ahead of me for most of the rest of the course, picking up the traffic cones. I was told that the police covering the lane closures for the event had ordered them to begin opening the lanes.

As I approached the seven-mile marker on NASA Rd. 1, they picked that up, too. Neither I nor any of the people behind me on the course would have any way to estimate our mile times for the duration.

Aid stations continued to support us, cheering and checking on our condition, and in some cases performing some kind of Jimmy-Buffet-themed ritual with hula costumes. Unfortunately, in spite of the evident good will and support, my most vivid memory of the event will always be this:

The yellow Rider truck is continuing to pick up the lane protection and mile markers, while the other truck is packing up the last of only two portable toilets I saw on the course, perhaps a tenth of a mile before I got there. I didn’t need it, but there were a number of people behind me who might have. The police had also left by this time, so that all those remaining on the course were forced to cross at least three major intersections, in heavy traffic, without protection.

Traffic protection was absent until the last mile, which probably had to be left for us only because this section had no sidewalk. The last leg of the course was definitely welcome in any case, although one of the coaches came out to tell me about the distance error at this point:

They had moved the finish line and timing mats around the corner into the parking lot. I finished, according to my watch, in about 3:51, which was reasonable considering the extra distance on the course. I don’t know my official time, because it wasn’t reported in the official results, which only appear to go to about 3:10 finish times. One group of walkers failed to finish under the time limit, and didn’t receive their medals—I am still wondering if they could have made it if the course had been the right length. We’ll never know, because the timing mats had all been stowed by the time they got there.

There are probably some reasonable explanations for some of the miscues and misunderstandings we encountered in the event—I hope so. In spite of the various problems, I accomplished my individual goal, and got another nice finisher’s medal to add to the collection:

The breakdown in course support—whether due to local law enforcement or course organizers—is confusing and frustrating, and above all, incredibly short-sighted. Support for fitness among average citizens who aren’t highly optimized running machines is vital to the welfare of the community, and walking participation is distance events is an important contribution to it.
Addendum: I want to express my appreciation for the radio-equipped official who came by regularly on a bicycle to check up on me—and presumably the other late finishers—throughout the event. I didn’t mean to minimize his effort in any way in my earlier tirade.
Update: The rest of the results have been posted. My times, 3:51:45 chip and 3:52:22 gun time, were posted under the name of some hapless 23-year-old named “Roberts”. Probably not the pirate, though….
Update 6-4-2008:
After two months and several notifications, my results are still posted under a fictitious name. My participation in the event has been effectively “airbrushed” out of the records. I can’t say that the maturity level of the race organizer is up to the responsibility of such a major event.


6 responses to “"Angie’s Half-Crazy" Koala Half Marathon, Clear Lake area, Houston, Texas 2008

  1. The distance was frustrating, but it happens. I have NEVER been in a race where I felt the mileage was accurate. Just like your Saturday club runs, mile markers are usually +/- .25. Races officials are human as well.

    I know for a fact that there were still comes on Bay Area all the way to Middlebrook. I know this because I was following that last group of walkers in down Bay Area in my car from Space Center all the way in. While this group came in at 4hrs and 4 min, they were thrown off by almost 10 minutes when somone near them quit the race on Saturn, and that same person then told them to go the wrong way. The official on the bike had to stay with this person who had dropped out of the race and lost the last group. Once back on course, they finished and DID receive finishers medals. I know this because it was my mother, wife and son that were in this group

    Also, there were still aid stations and there was food and water when you finished, which is a lot more than I can say about other races I have been a part of.

    Hope your next race goes better.

  2. The last traffic cone I passed was at the end of Kirby, until I got to the UHCL entrance across from the HS on Bay Area. I don’t know what you saw on the rest of Bay Area from the Saturn intersection—maybe the aid station volunteers would know what happened. I think I was about 10-15 minutes ahead of the last group from Red Bluff onward, and the truck picking up the cones and markers was ahead of me for the rest of the way. The cones were left on Kirby, though.

    I’m sorry to hear that they had so much trouble on Saturn, but I’m glad they at least got their medals. There was a woman who was ahead of me for several miles, who finished after me by about 4 minutes, although I didn’t pass her on the course. A lot of us had a tough day, for various reasons.

  3. Did you write Gary Mulvihill of Run Wild Sports about the problem resulting in the wrong name being listed? If not, you should.

  4. No. I sent several emails to the email address on the event site. I’ll try this–thanks.

  5. Can you whine and cry anymore? Why not mix in something right about the race along with all your negativity. Your most vivid memory was the porta potty pick up? Geez… we are at war, right or wrong, and we have young Americans suffering greatly while people like you sit here and cry about LUXURIES! I bet Starbucks employees catch hell from you if your Latte isn’t perfect. Ungreatful American. Why don’t you run and you wouldn’t have to worry about the time.

  6. Dude, Kevin, take a chill pill. There are valid points in this blog as to why and how this race was NOT handled well. A lot of these focus on safety issues for BOTH runners and walkers. If anything we should be applauding the fact that the walkers are out there trying to gain better health and excel in something other than sitting on a couch watching TV for hours on end.

    And before you start on me, I am a grateful American whose dear friend lost his life fighting for your right to********unjustly.

    Yes, we could all start running, but why don’t YOU walk a race for once (in a race that claims to be walker-friendly) and see how it feels when they take all of your aid, timing mats, and course makers before they should.

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