When the Hockeytown 5K (on Saturday, September 10th) was initially announced, it grabbed my interest right away. The Detroit Red Wings will be moving to a newly constructed arena in 2017 and this event would be one of many events to honor the “Farewell Season at the Joe.” The 5K would start at the steps outside Joe Louis Arena, run along Detroit’s RiverWalk, through the doors of arena, and finish at center ice. There would be appearances from current and former players, autograph signings, a locker room tour, and more. I wasn’t so sure about paying $50 for a 5K, but ultimately decided that it would be a fun and unique experience.
An experience it was. Whether it was a good or bad one depends on who you talk to. On one hand, it was a fun environment to celebrate the Red Wings and show some love for the arena that has been around since 1979. On the other hand, it was a great idea with not-so-great execution. More about that later.
When I heard that the race sold out within a month and they capped the event at 6,000 participants, I realized just how big it was going to be. I also realized that it would likely be kind of crazy and knew I shouldn’t have high expectations about the “race” aspect. Probably not the kind of setting to aim for a PR.
Since I’ve been in a walking boot for a stress fracture, the PR aspect wasn’t even in the picture. As the event approached, I wondered if I’d even be capable of walking the 5K. We went to Las Vegas the weekend before the race and I knew it would be a good test to see if I could handle a lot of walking. I did plenty of walking in Vegas without a problem, so I knew I’d be okay to walk this one.
Packet pickup was available at the Hockeytown Authentics store in Troy the Thursday and Friday before the race. The store is between my work and home, so it worked perfectly for me to swing by. Anyone who didn’t get the packet there would have to pay an extra $5 to get the packet on race morning. I’m not sure I’ve participated in a race that charged extra for race morning pickup. I guess it’s a good way to help avoid a large crowd on the morning of the race. The packet included a very nice cotton shirt.
Butch Walker, one of my favorite musicians, had a show the night before at St. Andrew’s Hall. The venue is about a mile from the Joe. Matt and I decided to book a hotel downtown so we could avoid driving home late that night only to turn around and drive back early the next morning. It was a good decision because the show ended a little after midnight and we didn’t get to bed until around 1am.
I was pretty worried about the weather because the forecast showed a possibility of storms the morning of the race. That’s really not ideal when stuck in a walking boot. It was raining when we woke up, but luckily things cleared up long enough to have nice weather for the race. We walked about a mile to the arena and got there about 20 minutes before the start.
Despite the large crowd, somehow we happened to run into our friends Lindsay and Rich. I’m glad we did, because we had a lot of spare time to chat and catch up before we started. The race started at 8:00, but they released people in waves of around 100-200 people at a time because of the large crowd. It took more than half an hour for us to finally make it to the starting line.
As we waited, it was painfully clear to me that this race was going to be a total cluster. People were lined up based on when they got there. That meant that runners and walkers were all mixed together. Since I was walking, it really didn’t matter to me. Looking at it from the perspective of a runner though, this was a disaster. I knew it would be a mess for people who intended to run, so I made the best effort I could to work my way over to the right side of the road in hopes that I wouldn’t contribute to blocking any runners. The “slower traffic keep to the right” concept seems like common sense to me, but I guess it wasn’t really a concern for most of the people who were there to take a nice walk and celebrate the Wings. Walkers were spread across the whole road, sometimes in groups four wide. The road was pretty wide to start, but it did get a bit more narrow in spots.
Since I was walking, it was easy for me to snap pictures of the scenery along the way.
The RiverWalk portion was the most enjoyable part of the course. It was a pretty morning to look across the Detroit River and see Canada, and it’s always nice to see the RenCen standing out along the skyline.
As I came back to the Joe and turned the corner towards the finish, I encountered a complete standstill.
The line barely inched along and it took me over 10 minutes to get to the finish line from this point! Extremely frustrating. When I finally made it into the tunnel, tons of people stopped to take pictures of banners and other things. By the way, all of these pictures I took on the course were on the move, or when I was at a standstill wishing I could move!
They also stopped along the way to the finish line so they could have that in the background of pictures. I understand that it’s a cool and unique experience to gain access to spots you normally don’t get to see. I appreciated the people who at least pulled off to the side for their photos. Plenty of people stopped right in the middle though, which majorly contributed to the logjam. The pre-race emails specifically said that they would have free photographs so there would be no need to stop at the finish line to take pictures. That sure didn’t stop people. What a mess!
Note the bunched up carpet in the background. Somehow Matt managed to run a pretty good time for this race despite lots of weaving and dodging around walkers. As he was just feet away from crossing the finish line, everyone came to a dead stop. The carpet had become a trip hazard and they stopped people so they could try to fix it. Like I said…very clearly not the atmosphere to think about hitting a PR!
I got my medal after crossing the finish line, and it’s one of the coolest medals I’ve received.
Then it was time to wait in line again for the post-race food. I was kind of surprised that they didn’t have water, but they had Powerade, bananas, granola bars, and containers of cherry tomatoes – something I’ve never seen for a post-race snack! Concession stands were also open in the concourse if people wanted to buy other snacks or drinks.
I found Matt and we took in the scenery from the stands for a few minutes. It was very cool getting the opportunity to hang out in the Joe without a game or concert going on.
The post-race celebration included autograph signings, tours of the locker room and press box, and more. When we saw the crazy lines in the concourse, we decided we’d just head out. We still had to walk back to the hotel and check out, so we didn’t have a bunch of time to wait around. If I’d been able to run rather than walk, maybe we would have had more spare time.
We took the scenic route back along the RiverWalk and stopped for a couple pictures with Windsor in the background.
To look on the positive side, this was a very cool event. I enjoyed walking along the scenic RiverWalk and getting to finish inside the Joe. The t-shirt and medal are pretty awesome. Some people got to meet with Red Wings players along the way or afterwards, though I never saw anyone myself. It was fun to see all of the love for the Red Wings. I’m relieved that I was still able to participate and clomp along through the 5K in my walking boot.
On the other hand, this event really needed better execution. I’ve participated in events with more than 6,000 people and they’ve been SO much smoother. The biggest problem was mixing up the runners and walkers. Bottom line – the runners should have started first. There was no attempt to place people according to pace. I never heard any talk about having walkers line up at the back to allow the faster people to go first. No recommendation for walkers to stay to the right to make room for the runners to get through. Simple things that you find at most races to help prevent many of the issues. With a crowd of 6,000 people, there ought to be some kind of organization to prevent it from turning into the total cluster that it became. Waiting over half an hour to make it to the start was bad enough, but it was especially frustrating to wait in line (at a standstill most of the time) for over 10 minutes just to get to the finish line. I know this was intended as a fun event and not a competitive kind of thing. It WAS chip timed with prizes for the top people though. I know it was the first 5K for many people, and a lot of people were there to celebrate the Red Wings rather than race. Still, there are simple steps that should have been taken that would have vastly improved the experience.
Although maybe not for all of the best reasons, at least it will be an experience that we’ll remember!
I found a few photos of myself that the race provided for free, and this one is a real gem. My hat says “run happy” but I sure don’t look it. My excuse is that I was stuck walking when I’d rather be running. The woman behind me didn’t look too happy herself, haha.