Correspondence

if you haven’t already heard, i was a bit annoyed about the ending of the St. Jude Marathon. for many years my friends and family have met in the same section of seats, directly above 3rd base. well, not this year. without going into a lot of details, i was told i had to choose between going to the bathroom and waiting on my group, seeing my family and waiting in the seats, getting my bag and staying where i could see the finish….you get my point.

of course, i read everything there was to read about the race. apparently what i neglected to read was the small print on the map of the Redbirds Stadium. i didn’t realize i needed a map of the stadium since all (said with sarcasm) race details were written out and since i don’t need a map of third base- it’s pretty darn obvious where 3rd base is.

anyway, i felt the need to send a letter to Dwight Drinkard and Wain Rubenstein stating my concerns. below is our correspondence: (start at the top and move down)

From: star ritchey [mailto:stars1473@hotmail.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 11:58 AM
To: wrubenstei@aol.com; St Jude Memphis Marathon and Half Marathon; Dwight Drinkard
Subject: St. Jude Half and Full Marathon

Mr. Rubenstein and Mr. Drinkard,

First, let me acknowledge how much I enjoy the St. Jude Full and Half Marathon.  This is a race I have either run or spectated for many years and I have noticed the growth each year.  I have had to sit out a few times due to injuries, but I’ve never missed the chance to get out there and cheer people on.  I know how important it is, as a runner, to have those people you love (and even those that you don’t know) along the course and at the finish line cheering you on.  Sometimes that little “you’re looking good” is all you need to get you to that next mile marker.

I am a certified personal trainer and running coach.  Running is a true passion of mine and I enjoy helping others become better runners, or just runners in general.  One of the races we always do is the St. Jude Marathon (and Half).  It is such a cool race- the running alongside the Mississippi River, up Beale Street, through the campus of St. Jude, into Overton Park, by LeBonheur and in front of Sun Studios- what more could you ask for in 13.1 miles.

I remember my first St. Jude Half Marathon about 7 years ago.  Running into the Redbirds Stadium along the bases made me feel like a true athlete.  How fun to have all of my family and friends in the stands waiting on my finish!  There’s nothing you want more when you finish a race than to hug your family and friends.  This is why this year was such an incredible let down for my entire running group.  In all years past, we have met in the seats of Section 110 (for the past 7 years, to be exact).  Therefore, we made this our plan for this year as well.  We had family and friends with big plans to be in the seats awaiting our run into the stadium.  Unfortunately, though, this year the spectators and runners were kept separated.

It was sad to see the deflation in my runners excitement when they came up into the seats to find out that their family was not allowed to be there.  When we tried to go out of the seats to find family, the security staff informed us that we would not be able to return to the seats.  This caused a real dilemma considering 52 of us had trained together for 5 months and wanted to be there for each other as we finished, but also wanted the opportunity to show thanks to our family and friends who showed up to support us.  We truly hated that this huge change was implemented but there had been no mention ahead of time.  For 7 years, we’ve met in the same spot and this year, without notice, that was no longer an option.  Unfortunately, this caused a little more confusion and sadness than I’m sure you intended.

We, the runners, would like to be able to go to the restroom and return to a seat to wait on friends to finish but we were informed we could not do this.  We would love the opportunity to celebrate with our family and friends; those who ran and those who are not able to.  We would like to leave the stadium without having to go through the food lines.   In years past, it has always been that we were rushed off of the field but this year we were rushed out of the stadium seats.  For most runners, the race doesn’t end at the finish line.  It ends with the celebration that comes later.

Please, in planning next years event, take into consideration these small suggestions.  I am certain that I will be training another large group for both distances next year and truly hope that their finish experience is better than the one my runners had this year.

Sincerely,
Star Ritchey
Star Runners, owner and Running Coach

From: Dwight.Drinkard@stjude.org
To: stars1473@hotmail.com
CC: wrubenstei@aol.com; robhunter33@comcast.net; jbookas@aol.com
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 15:48:44 -0600
Subject: RE: St. Jude Half and Full Marathon
Star –

First, I want to thank you for your loyal participation as a runner and as a spectator over several years.  You’ve witnessed first hand the growth of this event from one race with 860 participants in 2000 to 16,000+ participants this year in 4 races.  Such growth, for a one day-a-year event, always comes with changes, problems and challenges.  And, that’s why we welcome and sincerely appreciate post-race feedback from our runners so we can address problems large and small.

Let me explain why the changes were made this year.  Surveys the past several years from participants identified our biggest problem to be the congestion on the Concourses of the ballpark . ..  the “hallways” leading from the steps to the Food & Beverage areas.  After finishing their races and climbing the steps (cruel, but the only way out), runners had to fight through the heavy crowd of spectators to get to the soup, etc.  At certain times in them morning, around 10:15am – 11am, the passageway was nearly impossible to navigate on the 3rd base (i.e, half marathon) side.  Because the runners are our customer and #1 priority, we were determined to solve this big problem for them, even at the expense of spectator convenience.

The plan we implemented solved several problems, but also caused a number of unexpected issues like those you mention, traffic flow in the Food/Beverage area, access to bathrooms and Bag Check, etc..  We will be analyzing all of those in the coming months in hopes that we can still alleviate the horrible congestion and reduce/solve our new issues.  That may be a tough assignment.

While all our changes had positive objectives in mind, I claim guilty to your statement that there was no mention of the changes in advance.  You’ll note that the attached map of AutoZone Park in the Race Guide you were emailed in advance and obtained at Packet Pickup does show the 3rd base concourse area in question as “Runners Only – No Spectators”.  However, we did not make any kind of pre-race announcement of this new feature, and that was unfortunate and my fault. I apologize to you and your group.

Completing each race at the ballpark provides the runners a very unique experience.  Finishing at AutoZone Park has become part of the signature of our event.  However, the stadium does have its restrictions and gives us many challenges with crowd control, traffic flow, etc. that big races which finish in large and open parking lots do not have to face.  While I do not know that we will be able to follow all your suggestions and meet all your needs, they will indeed be given due consideration over the coming months.

Again, we appreciate your detailed input and suggestions, and look forward to having you and your running group back at our Start on 12/3/11.

Dwight

From: star ritchey [mailto:stars1473@hotmail.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 4:38 PM
To: Dwight Drinkard
Cc: wain rubenstein; robhunter33@comcast.net; jbookas@aol.com
Subject: RE: St. Jude Half and Full Marathon

Dwight,

Thanks so much for your timely response.  I will pass this on to my running group.  I will certainly take responsibility for not noticing the wording on the map.  I found myself reading all of the details backwards and forwards in attempts to help my group in preparing for the race, but neglected to read the map for any changes.  This may have been a big enough change to warrant a note.  I can only imagine what a task this is to organize and I’m sure you will never please everyone but thought I might throw out some issues we saw as major problems that could possibly deter some runners from coming back.

I truly appreciate your taking time to listen to my suggestions and respond to my email.  Star Runners has grown 200% in the past year so, with any luck that i see continued growth, I’ll have even more runners with me for next years race.  Good luck with your future planning!

Star

From: Dwight.Drinkard@stjude.org
To: stars1473@hotmail.com
CC: wrubenstei@aol.com; robhunter33@comcast.net; jbookas@aol.com; Steele.Ford@stjude.org
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 2010 08:06:47 -0600
Subject: RE: St. Jude Half and Full Marathon

Star . . . many thanks for your follow-up note . . . as well as you participation and support of our event.

Dwight

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