Pretty much describes the 2009 Newport Amica 1/2 marathon, and the words of Joni Mitchell: “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” have taken on a whole new meaning.

This is my third 1/2 marathon, and now I realize that I have been completely spoiled.  Yes, the weather was awful–driving needles of rain, gusts of wind, temperatures of about 45 degrees, but I’m  not blaming the race organizers for that, I’m blaming them for doing a terrible job for not anticipating the weather and having contingencies, and mostly for not having things that are necessary to runners that have nothing to do with the weather.

I arrived at the Newport Grand, at 6:45am.  We were told to park there, and that there would be shuttles to bring us to the start and pick us up at the finish line.  There were about 12 people waving us into place, four buses waiting, everything seemed to be fine.  Then once we unloaded at the start line, there was nowhere to go, and no one to tell us where to go, no signs.  People who hadn’t registered yet (really? you wait until 7am race day?) were allowed to go inside to get their numbers, but the rest of us who had the foresight to get our stuff earlier had to wait outside.  I leaned against a brick wall for over an hour.  I didn’t even know where the Start line for the race was, and no one I asked did either.  I briefly left my wall because someone said there were port-a-potties “that way,” but I couldn’t find them.  I figured I’d probably have to use the toilet somewhere along the race route, and that there would be plenty.

That was strike two for this race.  There were about 3,000 runners, and five toilets.  Here’s a dirty little secret about running: it makes most people want to crap.  At the very least, it makes you feel like you really need to pee.  As I’ve run more and more, I’ve kind of gotten over that, but considering I had been waiting around for 2 hours or so, I had to go.  I got in a line four people deep, and lamented what all this hanging around would do to my time, but by this point in the race–mile four–I had figured out that there weren’t going to be more toilets further on.

Dropping off port-a-potties has got to be the easiest thing any race organizer can do.  It requires two efforts–that’s all–drop off, and pick up.  Most runners don’t even care if they’re that clean.  I saw two runners, both dressed like Wonder Woman (girls) peeing in the trees in a fairly residential area.  Guys runners get to do that a lot–girls usually don’t, but if I had been wearing a skirt, I might have, that’s how desperate it was.

There were also very few aid stations, no First Aid, no Gu, no snacks, and only one station had Gatorade.  I commend any volunteers who came out to help in that weather, but I heard a girl afterward say that she had to pour her own water at one point.  Since it was downpouring, I didn’t drink too much water, but if this was all they had planned and it had turned out to be very hot–like last October– I get uncomfortable thinking about it.

The worst was the end of the race.  Like always, the runner tears across the finish line and is forced to stop immediately because there’s a whole crowd of people.  There was one person handing out medals, and one person handing out mylar, so finishers had to line up for each of those things.  The tent had a lot of food, more than I’ve seen at other races, but was entirely too small for all the people in it.  Again, I have to say, it rains all the time in New England, yet these people seemed to have no contingencies to deal with this.  I know that the race is rain or shine, and I’m fine with that, but afterward, we need to be comfortable.

I had a piece of pizza, which I could barely chew because I was shivering so hard, and decided that all I wanted in the world was to just get into my car and go home.  So I tried to find the bus to take me back to the Newport Grand.  I saw one, 1/2 full drive by and two people run into heavy traffic to try to get on it, but I was not willing to do that and figured there must be a pick up place somewhere.  I asked a volunteer who’s sole job seemed to be standing by this tiny Amica car, and he said “I think it’s down there.”

There was no sign, no indication of where the bus would be picking people up, just the line of 100 freezing runners and well-wishers standing in the rain.  We waited like that for thirty minutes until one bus came drove by, again 1/2 full, without stopping.  Then another came and filled up immediately, then another.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, freezing, angry people all fighting their way onto a Middletown school bus.  I managed to sneak my way on as the bus driver told the crowd that he couldn’t take any more, and a man yelled at him for taking people from the end of the line rather than the front. “You are a terrible human being!” he screamed.  “Don’t they know what we’ve been though?” another woman mumbled just sounding sad.

I realize that a lot of this may sound like petty grievances  to someone who doesn’t know better, but marathon organizers have to take into consideration that we’re putting our bodies through something very demanding, and need to be warm and dry (ish) afterward.  People die running races like this, this isn’t just an easy way to make a few bucks and dole out promotional t-shirts.

Right now, I’m more sore than I’ve been in a long time, and a lot of that is just due to shivering so hard.  I’m glad I didn’t get pneumonia or frostbite.  I don’t have my official race time, and I’m guessing it won’t be posted for quite a while.  I don’t even care anymore, I just hope I don’t get sick.

Update, Official Chip Time:
1382 Andrea Tieman 30 F 2830 Providence RI 2:33:48.69 2:36:36.72 11:58

Despite the elements, I shaved off seven minutes from my previous time. I was hoping to shave off twenty minutes or more, but that would have been impossible in this weather.

The main reason I’m so upset, is that I was really, really looking forward to this race.  Dean Karnazes, who has run marathons in all 50 states and on each continent called this one of the five most beautiful races he’s run.  Even in the driving rain, there were a few times when the waves broke along the ocean drive where I couldn’t help but think–aww that’s pretty, but the experience was so ruined that all I’m left with are bad thoughts.