Tuesday, March 04, 2008

When Corporations Attack - The North Face

As noted in my updated race schedule last week, I had some reservations about entering the Bear Mountain 50 sponsored by The North Face. The race is part of the "Endurance Challenge" series of ultras put on by the corporate giant and last year there were many reports from runners about awful race management. This ranged from poorly marked courses to some races not even getting off the ground. Unfortunately, it seems like they haven't learned their lesson.

Before I explain why, I think I should point out that a couple of people I consider good friends are race directors. They put their heart and soul into each event, utilizing impressive organizational and communication skills to reach their primary goal of ensuring a fun and safe time for the runners. They carefully plan the routes and make sure the aid stations are well stocked and well staffed. They go through pain staking measures to make sure that the runners are getting the most bang for their buck. And there is a lot more to it than that, I'm sure. A lot. And what do they get out of it? The satisfaction that the people participating in their event had a good time. And that's all they really want out of it.

It is my best guess that these traits are shared among most race directors. I say this because I can see the same result in other races where I don't know the race directors: Many runners having a fun and challenging time. It is obvious these RD's share many of the same traits as my RD friends. And in most cases, I can imagine it's their way of giving back to a community they love so much.

The nice thing is most runners don't take these things for granted. Many go out of their way to be nice to volunteers and always say thank you. I have always done this as a runner, and have always appreciated it as a volunteer. While it's not always obvious who the RD of a race is, I'm sure they receive their fair share of thank you's as well.

So given this very successful grass roots approach that most races have, it contrasts heavily with what The North Face is doing. As I mentioned before, I had hoped they would have learned their lessons last year. However, a pretty big red flag has just gone up. One that is surprising and in stark contrast to the way most other successful races are put on.

Bear Mountain, where the race is being held, is located about an hour and a half up the Hudson River from New York City. You can maybe get there a little quicker if traffic is on your side. Conversely, you can also get there a lot longer if the traffic isn't. Most races have you pick up the race packets where the race is. It only makes sense, right? That's where the race is after all. But unfortunately this race is requiring runners to pick up their packets at The North Face store in Manhattan. Yup, that's right. In Manhattan. Not at the race... in Manhattan.

If you're from out of town, the obstacles are many. The tolls and parking fees alone will total about half of the race fee. But that's nothing compared to the stress of trying to get around Manhattan. I lived in the NYC area for several years, and still found getting around a heart racing and exhausting experience, and not the kind you get from running. It's a hassle, and not just a small one.

I think it's pretty obvious that The North Face is trying to get runners to come to their store. I think they're hoping people will buy stuff there. I don't know this for sure, but what other reason is there? I am open minded that I might be missing something. But if I'm not, it's a slap in the face to runners to make them go so far out of their way to pick up a race packet. No, scratch that... a punch in the face. And maybe even a kick in the ribs after you go down.

But in all fairness, if you don't want to go to Manhattan, they do have another swell option: For an extra fee of $17.50, they will mail it to you. Oh yeah, and it won't go out until the Wednesday before the race. And oh yeah, someone has to sign for it, so make sure you or someone else is home. One might argue that $17.50 is not a lot of money, but given that most races have you pick up the packets at the... gasp... place where the race is being held, it's also a punch in the face and a kick in the side.

You would think an organization with the resources that TNF has would go out of their way to make sure they wouldn't have a dismal repeat performance from last year. If something that should be as simple as picking up a race packet is made to be such a pain in the ass and a seemingly blatant and lame attempt to get people to check out their store, than what else is in store (and I'm not talking merchandise)?

I'm going to express my concerns with the race director and what ever other corporate types I can find out the names of at The North Face. I'd really like to hear their reasons why. Am I missing something and will they point it out? Will I get an honest answer that they messed up again? Or, will I get a bunch of hot air, the kind that's typically dished out by large corporations that aren't in touch with their target audiences? Stay tuned...

But there is also another choice, and that is the option I'm going to take: Not run in this event. So what instead? I already know. It's a race that I know is very well organized and put together. It was my first ultra a couple of years ago, and one I also helped out at last year while I was recovering from knee surgery. The Pineland Farms Races are put on by three race directors who I know, and two of them very well. They are top notch guys who put on a top notch event. The packets are at the race start, the trails are well marked, and the volunteers do a fantastic job. There are no worries about this event for the runners, other than their own limitations. It's a very fun time with a festive atmosphere, and you have race directors who not only know what they are doing, but they don't have any other motive other than you, the runner, have a great time and memorable experience.

Makes sense to do this one instead, right?

Logic. Got to love it.


Trail Monster Running said...

Thanks for the kind words about the organization of the Pineland races. As one of the race directors my opinion is biased but I have to say that we've got a great team of people putting on this event. We're all trail/ultra runners and we've done enough races to know what works and what runners need. I ran the 50k last year and from the perspective of a runner it was an incredible running experience. Great races are organized by runners with a passion for the sport, anything else is suspect.

James said...

Dang it!

I was thinking about running the Bear Mtn race but hells no am I picking up a trail race packet in NEW YORK CITY!
North Face, strap on a pamper, go back to your corner office and crap yourself until its leaking out the sides.

mindy said...

Hear hear to the comments about the Pinelands races. I did the this race last year and it was hands down one of the best run races I have ever done. There's a huge difference between races born from corporate greed and those born from those who want to give back... and thankfully, it's the runners who know the difference.

rundangerously said...

nicely said. my sentiments about north face as well.
my friend bekkie worked to get hartford up and going last year, all for naught.
but, fwiw, i hope nf gets its act together and puts on a great event - despite the runner unfriendly reputation it has developed.

Mark said...

interesting story and unusual packet pickup, I've came across quite a few differences in my numerous races and your story is tops

IronMatron said...

NYC? Abort the idea of doing that race!! That's downright inconsiderate.

Ange said...

I am shocked to read this. I would skip it as well. I did Pineland last year and it was one of my favorite races of all time. Manhattan??? That's totally absurd.

Bedrock said...

Well said and cool blog. It is a shame that corporations such as TNF and frankly Columbia just don't grasp how much they could do for the sport IF they used their tremendous resources appropriately.

I expect that many of the issues surrounding TNF's issues with the Endurance Challenge events is that these are being coordinated by corporate committee types rather than runners. The great RDs usually are, or in some cases, were runners themsleves. Experience provides the best perspective most times.

Maybe TNF and others will learn eventually.