Monday, June 22, 2015

10 annoying things about the Midnight Sun Run

First time since 2003 that I haven't done a Midnight Sun race. Ten times at MSR and once at Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. Even if I had stayed in AK, probably would have opted out of MSR and done Mayor's or traveled elsewhere. Had a good run there but it was time to move on.

Don't get me wrong, I love the race, and am very grateful that my two sons both won a MSR Scholarship, as well as Kuba and Erich, two of the other boys from FAST/West Valley. Nevertheless, there are a number of things that sort of drove/drive me batty about the race. So from 2,500 miles away, here is what found sort of annoying about the event.

1. Bring back the plaques! For years the age group awards were ceramic plaques with the year's artistic logo. I have seven, my wife one, and we still display these. But a few years ago they stopped and started giving out hats, or certificates, which just aren't as nice.

2. Newsminer coverage exhibit A. Print the story online! Two days later and no story? (edited to add that they did print it on the 22nd).

3. Newsminer coverage exhibit B. It's not all about the costume contest.

4. Jazzercise. Cut that CHT out. Egregiously annoying and not even a good warm up routine.

5. Fewer ads on the t-shirts. The shirts are usually nicely designed, but they are all but ruined by the billboard of 20 or so sponsors on the back. Pick one or two sponsors, put those on the sleeves and be done with it.

6. Mark the course and have course marshals direct the runners properly. Reports from the race indicated that there were some significant changes over the last half km, but it was poorly marked and the marshals just stood there.

7. Newsminer coverage exhibit C. Give a more nuanced coverage of the event and the athletes. Maybe recognize the top 5 or 10 or 20 for a job well done. Get a scoop from 1st, 2nd at least and then list the top 20 or so on Sunday's paper. Did you know that the women's winner was a former high school national champion?

8. What's with the RCN/Fairbanks "insider" low number bibs? Those should be earned with top performances in recent years, not by who you know.

9.  Advertise to the Outside. Would be a great destination race, and it used to have a national reputation, but now it's all Fairbanks runners.

10. What's up with the 12 year age group 18 to 29, while all others are at 5 year increments for adults, 2 for children? It's not that difficult, and certainly more fair to break up that age class. How about 18-24 and 25-29?

Rant over. I didn't really miss it this time, but do hope to return someday maybe even as soon as next year.

Denver, CO


Anonymous Tom Hewitt said...

Hi Roger,

This is Tom Hewitt. I was born and raised in Fairbanks, ran (slowly) in high school for Lathrop, went to school at UAF and now work as the News-Miner's opinion editor. I also still run, at least in the summers, though not much faster than I did in high school (fortunately, not slower either). The News-Miner is the title sponsor for the Midnight Sun Run, as you know, and I've also been on the run's board of directors and scholarship committee since about March or April of this year. I know you were probably intending the post mostly to vent about frustrations you had about the race, not meaning for any kind of response, but I'm in a relatively unique position of being involved with both the paper and the race, so I thought I'd at least give my perspective, for what it's worth.

1. Bring back the plaques: I can check with race director Susan Kramer to make sure, but I think the reason we switched from plaques to hats was because of feedback from age division winners who said they'd rather have something functional, particularly something they could sport at future races.

2. News-Miner coverage exhibit A: Sorry the story was online late; under ordinary circumstances, stories that are going to appear in the print paper the next morning will appear online at around midnight the night before. I can't say for sure, but I would guess that the reason it didn't make it online promptly was that solstice weekend is extremely hectic with the downtown street fair, run, Midnight Sun Game, etc., and it probably just got missed until someone called the next day.

3. News-Miner coverage exhibit B: The reason the front-page story about the race is usually more focused on features like costumes than results is that the community aspect of the race and the parts of it that are fun for Fairbanks at large tend to be the participatory, less competitive events. People like the color, costumes, yard parties along the course, etc. — most are honestly less interested in the top finishers or their times, even though those might be the things most of interest to runners, particularly competitive ones.

4. Jazzercise: Not really my speed either, but a lot of people love it. Plus, the logistics of making a bunch of people wait in a parking lot for the hour before the race starts necessitate you do something to keep their attention and not have it be a boring experience. Though it may not be a good running warmup, most people who run the race, especially the ones participating in Jazzercise or whatever music-led workout beforehand, aren't going to run hard enough or be competitive enough that the nature of their warmup is going to matter much.

5. Fewer ads on the T-shirt: I don't do the work corralling sponsors, something about which I'm very happy because I both hate it and am no good at it. That said, what I do know about it is that it's very rare for businesses to sponsor events out of the goodness of their hearts — they need to get some kind of value out of the money they give to the race so that people are aware they support community events. More importantly, the race proceeds not spent on materials, timing, etc. go to the Fairbanks Resource Agency, and I'd be perfectly happy dressing head-to-toe in sponsor logos if it meant worthy causes like that got more money.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Tom Hewitt said...

6. Better course marking and marshal directions: I didn't have a problem with this, but I'll take your word that others did. I guess the only answer there is being clear on the course, which will be an easier task if the route stays the same next year and in years hence.

7. News-Miner coverage exhibit C: More nuanced coverage is always the goal, but the story for the next day's paper has to be written, edited, formatted for print and sent to the press in the space of the hour between the end of the race and the paper's press deadline, which is a pretty tall order under the best of circumstances. That's why the Sunday story tends to be shorter and with less detail than it might otherwise have. It's something that wouldn't be an issue if the race were run at 6 p.m. — but then it wouldn't be the Midnight Sun Run.

8. What's with low bib numbers? So far as I knew, low number bibs *were* for folks who were top performers in recent years, though I can ask Susan Kramer to make sure. The one exception that I know of was Glenn Hackney, who got bib number 90 or 91 because that's his age — but I figure that's justified given his status as an ambassador both for the community and senior fitness.

9. Advertise to the Outside: The problem with advertising Outside is that it's difficult to envision anyone planning a trip to Alaska specifically for the purpose of running the race (I could see people doing it for the Equinox, but a 10k and a marathon are very different beasts), and advertising in national media such as Runner's World or the like is prohibitively expensive. While local ads aren't likely to draw world-class talent from outside the state, the cost vs. return in participation is wildly higher. What's more, paying for national talent to come run the race, as used to be done decades ago, is both expensive and pisses off the community, since what you're essentially doing is paying people from Outside who don't need more accolades to come and mop the floor with those who actually live here.

10. What's with the 18-to-29 age group? I'm with you. People in that age group are not only in a far larger group than others, it also encompasses most of the prime of people's running careers, so as a division it tends to be vastly more competitive for both men and women than any other. I've never understood why RCN doesn't have a break at 23 or 24, but I've never been in a leadership position with them (I actually didn't become a member until this year, despite running quite a few of their races), so I can't speak to their reasoning.

Thanks for your thoughts on the race, and congratulations to your sons for their performance! I was several minutes behind both of them.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My biggest grievance with the Midnight Sun Run is the T-shirt. Year after year, decade after decade, the picture has been of a woman ahead of the men. This is consistent. They've never shown a man ahead of all the women. Never. Yet year after year, decade after decade, the men in the race cream the women. The men beat the women in ever conceivable way and in every age group. Why do the T-shirts give a false depiction of reality?

11:04 AM  

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