How (Not) to Run in Neon
On Saturday night, wallowing in a thin powdery layer of iridescent cornstarch and radiating in the pale phosphorescence of a dozen glow sticks, I set a new personal record: my worst five kilometer race time. Ever.
To be fair, though the race was advertised as a five klick family fun run, the distance measured by my watch was actually closer to six and a half. But what’s an extra thirty percent between friends? Well, I’m sure it would have been barely a footnote if not for the flabbergasting fail of an event and unprecedented danger that preceded our mediocre finish.
We were excited to join the throngs of our fellow runners for the inaugural –though perhaps, it will be the last as well– edition of the Edmonton Neon Run. I won’t delve into the lawyer-esque nitpicking of comparing what we were promised versus what was delivered. In the end we ran, it was dark, we got a little dirty with paint and glow powder, and there were parts of it that were genuinely fun. I ran with three of my fellow running crew, we stopped for numerous selfies, evoked a darkly humorous commentary (as best as we could) on the situation, and made the best of a failed event by tossing our share of paint on each other. It was a runner’s rave, and in the dark of an Edmonton late-summer evening, toed the line of awesomeness — but then tripped and landed flat on it’s face.
I’m sure a quick Google of the topic, a stroll through Facebook, or by pinging the right Twitter hash one could quickly uncover pages of angry rants on the outcome of this race. By all accounts, there were numerous shortcomings, not the least of which seemed to be hasty planning. And as I write these words, those planners haven’t dared show their faces nor even attempted to partially own the failure, only ramping up the rage and creating a grass-roots drive to dig out some glowing pitchforks for a rally of angry redemption at the Calgary event next weekend.
And some oh-so-basic planning could have averted so much of the pain. Up until the three-klick mark, the worst anyone could have complained about was a few potholes (a issue much bigger than the race, of course) and that they may have erred on the little-too-dark side for the route. We ran about half a klick in the pitch black of the river valley, narry a glowstick to mark the edge of the asphalt from the protruding branches of a thousand trees. But it was a night race, and in the end if you were neither a five year old nor afraid of the dark, it was –admittedly– what you’d signed up to do: run in the dark, by the glow of the crowd.
But then things got stupid.
We emerged from the dark into a paint station: clouds of coloured cornstarch being tossed into the air gave the milling crowds an eerie aura under the single spotlight. Milling crowds? In a race, you say? Why, yes… because route planning while not hard, cannot necessarily be done (at least not well) by consulting only a digital map. What looks like a trail on Google may, for example, actually be a barely-passable, dirt scramble ill advised to be traversed by anyone, even in daylight. At night, with the crush of three thousand neon-wired runners angling for a speedy finish to get back to the party and out of the quickly dropping temperatures? Let’s just say those organizers are oh-so-more-lucky than they deserve this morning. They are lucky because (as far as I know) no one got seriously hurt or died, no one suffered a heart attack, no one fell off the cliff that was mere inches away from an unlit yet-marked-by-pylons route up the steep hill. Oh, how lucky.
But perhaps not for the rest of us. In the long and uncertain forty five minutes it took my little party of four to walk-climb-shuffle-bustle out of the valley and into the neighbourhood streets above, most (perhaps even all?) of the volunteers had abandoned their posts, any race marshals had disappeared, and the steadfast police who’d stayed behind to clean up the mess were the (only) evidence of professionalism and impromptu encouragement in the wake of cleaning up a very bad situation. (Three cheers for the Edmonton Police, by the way!)
My worst-ever five kilometre time ended up being (actually) six and a half klicks in not quite ninety minutes, three times longer than I’d anticipated when I’d laced up my neon-orange shoes earlier that evening. I don’t care about the late start or the long finish time because after all I run to spend time with some awesome people — but in every other way the race was a fail. I won’t be running it again. And if you are in one the cities who will be hosting it in the near (or far future) you may want to reconsider for yourselves… or at the very least, leave the kids with a babysitter and bring an extra headlamp.