The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5k in North Carolina and Why it Sucked

Sometimes you just need to vent after a race. I’ve never written a post like this before, about a race I didn’t even run. My daughter ran this race last weekend and there were so many things about it that just rubbed me the wrong way I felt the need to get some things off my chest. I hope you all don’t mind if I vent.

I signed my daughter up for this race because she recently decided to switch from swimming year-round on a swim team to focusing her time and energy on running instead. She can’t try out for her school track team until February. I knew giving her a goal race would keep her motivated to get through the last of the summer heat. She was doing great in her training and I had a feeling she would do very well at the race.

A few days before the race, I emailed the contact on the website to ask about a course map. Two days later, I got some kind of response that was like, “In order to ensure the best possible race for the runners, we are still working on the logistics of the race course.” In other words, there was no set race course yet. That was when my first alarm bell went off.

At packet pickup (which consisted of getting a t-shirt and bib) there was still no race map. The day of the race, still no map. When I asked a volunteer if there were any course maps, I was told there were only a few print-outs available but volunteers had them. OK. So I told my daughter to just pay attention on the course and hopefully it would be well-marked. Note, I did later find out the Facebook page had posted a course map the day before the race, but I was unaware since I didn’t follow the Fb page.

Promptly at 9:45 am, the runners were off. Here’s another reason why I didn’t like this race. 9:45 is too late to start a race in central North Carolina in September. The sun was blazing hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Just pushing up the start to 7:45 am would have made a huge difference.

Toeing the line at the start

Fifteen minutes into the race, I decided to walk up to where the runners would be coming back through towards the finish line. Two volunteers were questioning the position of cones, which were there at the start so runners wouldn’t make a wrong turn. It turns out the cones should have been moved, because the runners were supposed to go down that road to the finish. Unfortunately, the mistake wasn’t realized until after the first three finishers had already gone through, adding at least a tenth of a mile on, if not more. This was yet another case of poor organization.

I saw my daughter coming through and cheered her on to the finish. She looked hot, sweaty, and tired, but strong. She told me there was some confusion about where to go on the course, because it wasn’t well-marked and had some strange turns. There was also a big hill at the end they had to run up. It wasn’t the most scenic course and there’s certainly nothing memorable about the area, but I don’t necessarily fault the race director for that although the overall course organization could have been better.

There were no medals given out to finishers but there was water, well until they ran out of water. This race only had about 250 runners and walkers and they still managed to run out of water. The problems with this race just kept piling on.

We decided to wait around for the awards ceremony, thinking my daughter may have finished in the top three for her age group. But first, they retired the flags, the insurance commissioner of North Carolina spoke, a woman sang “America the Beautiful,” and the announcer spoke for a while. Did I mention it was blazing hot? I fully understand the race is being held for a cause and they really wanted to drive that point home, but I felt it could have been organized better.

Many firefighters ran in full gear, like this woman shown here who jumped into the race after snapping a few photos

Finally they began the awards ceremony. A group of firefighters were given a really nice trophy for the fastest group of “Heroes” on the course. They called up the top male finisher overall, the top male finisher for ages 10-14, and the top male finisher for ages 15-19. Then they called the top female finisher (who had already gone home) and concluded the awards ceremony. Wait a minute. What about the rest of the females?

Everyone started going towards their cars, and by now, I was so angry I was shaking. I went up to the race director and asked, “What about the rest of the females? Why weren’t they recognized?” The race director actually told me, “The males got awards because they were the fastest to finish.” WHAT? Did she seriously just say that? I told her at every single other race I’ve been to where awards were given, both males and females were recognized, not just the males. There was another parent of a young girl who had ran, backing me up.

The race director told me that Fleet Feet, who had done timing for the race, would have the official results and the top three finishers in all age groups could pick up their awards at the store. I told the director part of winning an award at a race was the recognition. After several minutes, the race director made an announcement that they had made a mistake, and awards would be given out for the top females. By this point, there was literally only maybe 20 people still there.

Need I tell you I was furious by this point? Never before had I been so thoroughly upset with the poor organization of a race. They did announce my daughter’s age-group win, and gave her a medal (medals were only given out to age-group winners). I didn’t even see it, because I was at the timing tent, looking up her finish time, as I was told to do by the director.

It turns out she finished first in her age group. I should have been excited, but at that point, all I felt was angry. Angry that the race director was so clueless that what should have been a momentous occasion for my daughter was ruined. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

Although we hadn’t planned on going there the day of the race, we drove to Fleet Feet since it was in another city from where we live and we wouldn’t normally shop there with my daughter. After another 20-30 minutes of waiting while the person working at the store was on the phone with the race director trying to figure out what the gift certificate amounts would even be for the age group winners, we were finally told it would be $15. Why on earth the race director hadn’t already worked this out with Fleet Feet is beyond me. I also don’t know why the gift certificates weren’t on-hand at the race and given out to age group winners. I guess that just goes along with the rest of the poor planning and poor communication with this race.

What gets me is this race is part of a series held in several cities. We were told the one in New York City has 30,000 runners. I would have expected more out of a series that’s been going on for at least a few years now and is in several cities to be better organized. Maybe it’s just this one, and the others are great. Who knows. All I know is, we won’t be doing this race again, which is a shame because I do think it’s for a good cause.

Tunnel to Towers 5k

What are some of the worst-organized races you all have participated in?


Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

14 thoughts on “The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5k in North Carolina and Why it Sucked”

    1. She didn’t seem to be apologetic at all, which made it worse. If she would have apologized and even said it was her first time as race director, I would have given her some slack, but her excuses just made it worse.


  1. Wow that sounds like someone (or multiple people) really dropped the ball for that one. Hopefully, the NYC version, which is this weekend, will not be such a struggle.

    Back in my cross country days in high school, we had a course that was always poorly marked. One year, many of the top runners did not run 0.5 of the course, because it was not marked. At some point during the race, the organizers directed the middle and back of the pack runners to the extra loop. So, points could not be awarded, because 1/3 of the runners did not run the full course. But hey, at least we had an early dismissal from school because the meet was a couple hours away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah really. If NYC were to be this poorly organized, it would be a disaster, with so many runners.
      That’s terrible about the cross country race being so poorly marked and runners not getting points. I can see that happening once but more than that just seems inexcusable to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The following year, the extra 0.5 mile was definitely well marked. After commenting, I was facebook chatting with one of my old teammates. We think that there may have been a tropical storm earlier in the week that messed up the markers.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The awards ceremony was where it was the last straw for me. Who does that? I can’t believe you’ve heard about this happening before. That’s terrible! I wanted to ask the director if she had ever been to a race before.


    1. Thank you, Paula. I hated that her accomplishment was tainted by the director’s incompetence, but I know she was very happy to have done well regardless. She’s going to be out-running me in a couple of years (maybe sooner)!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oddly enough it was the Marine Corps Marathon — but as I recall, it was 1978 and only the second year they had it. They were much better organized than your experience here, but I ran around three hours and by the time I got to the water stations, they were out of water. To say the least, in D.C. heat, it was tough.
    I ran the Marine Corps again in 1990 and it was the best organized race I was ever in [probably ten times as huge as 1978 by then] and a great pleasure to run even though I had just started back to running and had slowed down considerably.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting story; thank you for sharing it. Running out of water for 3 hour finishers is pretty bad because I’m sure there were plenty of runners that finished much later than you did. The Marine Corps Marathon has come a long way. I have no doubt if they would have continued to be unorganized, they wouldn’t have made it to present day!


  3. First- Congrats to your daughter on the AG win- that’s awesome! I’ve run many a disorganized race. Gotten lost, timing system gone down, run out water- that part is why I always carry water now no matter how short the race. But the RD’s answers don’t make any sense. I am sorry that your daughter’s day was marred with confusion. Hopefully her next race will be better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Fallon. I was very proud of her and happy for her. I’ve ran some poorly organized races before, but this one was one of the worse, especially for a 5k. She’s running her next 5k in November, and I really hope it’s better-organized than this one!


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