Today my kids experienced their first ever 5k (on their own two feet, at least). I’d like to say it was a rockin’ experience, but no. It was quite miserable.
We didn’t want to set the bar too high, so our goal was merely to see how it goes and hopefully we can finish.
In true New England fashion, it snowed – not a ton, but enough to worry about freezing fingers and toes. We took the risk and drove the 1h 15mins hoping the roads wouldn’t be too bad. And since we were walking, we layered up and topped it all off with snowsuits and boots.
The turnout was good. About 3,500 participants. We made it halfway without being too tired or miserable, and we peeled some layers since the kids were hot. At this point, we still had some people behind us, but we were losing ground and the people manning the water table were supportive and cheered us on. One kind man walked with us for a bit encouraging the kids, as I’m sure he could tell their spirits were low.
As we neared mile 2, we were well behind the pack (read: last) and a woman had joined us and said she was thankful for the company, so she wasn’t alone. In front of us we could see the next group of race staff, which indicates a turning point, but with no one in front of us we didn’t know what that turn was.
As luck would have it, that staff abandoned their post before we got there and the ever so helpful sign (you know, the one with the ARROW) directed us right. Yeah. It should have been a LEFT. (Thinking back, they probably pulled it out and moved it, but we had no way of knowing that then. Also, some bibs had a map on the back – you think any one of ours did? Nah. Too easy.)
The experience of seeing the Mile 2 marker a second time was awesome.
So, we had three miles under our belt and one more to go. We actually had a guy drive up and start removing the race signs in front of us. I asked him to please not remove the further ones since we were still part of the race, wanted to finish and we didn’t want to get lost again. He told us where we needed to go (now that we figured that part out) and carried on.
By this time, the kids were mis-er-a-ble. My daughter was holding up ok, but my son had already been in tears and sat on the wet ground in defeat. He said he was never doing this again. How do you tell a kid he walked a mile further than he had to?
The final mile was something spectacular. There was so much hard, and whizzing traffic, and lots (and lots) of slow walking. This was not the time to be ticked off or complain. This was a time for support, encouragement and a little nudging.
It was also the PERFECT opportunity to talk about soldiers, their families and what kind of sacrifice they make. The pain they walk through daily and how this walk is just a small fraction of what they experience.
With the end in sight (the finish line already dismantled), our crew soldiered on. We crossed that imaginary line and followed up with an ice cream to celebrate.
Afterward, I asked them if they were proud of their accomplishments, how they walked every bit of that race, and went even further than the rest who had signed up that day. There wasn’t excitement, but a simple “yeah, I guess.” It was a small glimmer of hope … that was confirmed later with the two of them singing the National Anthem in the backseat and my son walking around the rest of the day – wearing his race shirt with pride.
Update 4/6/16: I usually keep posts like this to a minimum and I never include who I’m talking about. It merely serves as a take away point and we look to the positive of the day. In this case, I wrote a message on the Run for the Troops 5k FB page and I was told it would be forwarded to the organizers. No response. So I sent a detailed email to the director about some of the things we went through in hopes that it doesn’t happen to anyone else:
And he responded, “So sorry about your experience , I hope you return someday Bill Pennington”
Really? A potential safety issue, a nightmare of a day, and that’s it? Also, I tried approaching them civilly on social media and it was deleted. Fuel to the fire.
Folks, this is not how you handle customer complaints.
A basic customer service response should be, “I’m so sorry for your experience. Please trust we are handling the issue to ensure that doesn’t happen again. We hope you will join us again next year.” Seriously, even just “Please trust we are handling the issue to ensure that doesn’t happen again.” part would have been fine by me.
All I have to say is we will continue to support our troops, but Run for the Troops 5K in Andover, MA will not get any of my donations or rallying up teams or participants for them anymore. I truly hope the soldier we intended to support gets the support he needs.