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Competitor Inc’s Social Media Lesson

Engaging your customer in a conversation via the Internet is great approach for companies to take when they are trying to raise awareness of their product and build a sense of community. Competitor runs a print magazine division and is also the parent of the Rock N Roll Marathon and 1/2 Marathon series. The race series has a presence both on Twitter (@rocknroll) and it seems many of their races have a fan page on Facebook. The marathon that I filed my 2010 Country Music Marathon Race Report on yesterday has its own Facebook page. I am sure when these outlets were set up, the content owner was thinking how great it would be and everyone could stir each other into a frenzy and increase signups.

Flash back momentarily to the days before 2004. This company and these events would have their own websites to broadcast information and might have forums where people could post comments. These facilities would be provided by the company, be hosted on the company’s servers, and the tone of the content would undoubtedly be monitored and if need be censored by the company. With Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets – this level of control is gone. Given the lack of planning I described yesterday, I’m willing to bet no one at the Rock N Roll series planned for what would happen if the masses turned on them.

Seemingly, that is what has happened. There is little official comment on the Country Music Marathon race site. The results page, which did have open comments going, has had the comments purged and ability to comment closed. But there is no closing Facebook and twitter. Here’s a quick sample of what people are saying on the Country Music Marathon and 1/2 Marathon Facebook page:

David Threm writes, “$100 for race entry 800 miles driven, $160 on gas $175 for hotel Being diverted at mile 21 in a slight storm and having finishers complete hours after I (any many others) would have, plus; no decent communication from race officials PRICELESS!!!”.

Mark Wagstaff shares my sentiments when he states, “Still upset. Still feel cheated. 20.5 miles only feels like 1/2 a marathon. It is the last 6 miles that is the difference between a marathon and a training run.”.

Amy Cox sums it up soup to nuts in her statement that “What a terrible experience. Traffic getting to the race was a nightmare, and I say this even though I live in Atlanta. Even though I only ran the half marathon, I attended the event with a friend who was running the full. It was announced that because of the weather, anyone not on time to finish the marathon in 4 ½ hours would be diverted at the 11.2 mile split. Why then was he diverted at the 21.5 mile mark? And the race was started 15 minutes early with no notification? And it was hours before we could get out of parking lot N after the race. We were only able to get out when we did because a private citizen took it upon himself to stand in the rain and direct traffic. There were plenty of police officers around bu

t they certainly weren’t directing traffic.I will not attend any more of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events.”.

And Jim Toel really sums up the root cause of this problem as communication. “I too was pulled off at 21 miles and I am very disappointed. More so that I have not heard or read any official comment or press release from the CMM people on how they intend to handle us. I understand I did not run a full marathon but I did not run a 1/2 either….. Unlike my official posted finishing time on the website. I really wish they would tell us what we should do!!!!!!”

We marathoners are a rare breed and a tight group. We’re crazy. And we’re also forgiving. At the end of the day, we just want acknowledgement and to know that we are heard. It’s a cliche, but after 48 hours of nothing official from race organizers, the silence has become deafening.

Clearly this is a public relations nightmare for an organization that wants to continue to bring in race entries and sponsors. How will they respond? We’ll have to wait and see. As I alluded to yesterday, most participants did the half marathon and thus were not affected. Even the ones still on the course 1 hour after I was pulled off (yes, I could’ve covered that 10k in about an hour). I am anxious to see their response and how this race is handled in the future.

2010 Country Music Marathon Race Report

The 10 days leading up to this race had been somewhat anxious for me as the weather forecast consistently had a strong chance of thunderstorms. One of the few things out of your control on race day is the weather. All you can do is prepare for it both in your mental state and wardrobe choices. I did that.

 


2010 Country Music Marathon Packet Pickup
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

The day before the race I picked up my race packet and officials described a contingency plan that had been developed in case of

bad weather. The weather forecasters had predicted a high chance for severe weather, including tornadoes, for race day and they wanted to have a plan in place to keep everyone safe. This plan basically revised the target marathon course closure for 4 hours 30 minutes. If you weren’t past the point where the h

alf marathon course split off (mile 11.2) at a 10 minute 20 second pace or faster, you would be diverted to run the half. There was no other update regarding contingency plans at the expo or on the website. I went to bed knowing these facts as truths.

I headed to the stadium in top secret fashion around 5:30 and was on a shuttle bus by 5:45. I saw massive amounts of traffic on I-24 but did not experience it. Upon arr

iving at Centennial Park, I headed to the port a johns and stood in line.

At around 6am, they started playing this looped statement that said “Attention runners, it’s almost time for the start of the race. Runners in corrals 1-15 should be in place by 6:45am. Runners in corrals 16-35 should be in place by 7 a.m.”. They played this OVER and OVER. It was maddening.

As it turns out – what the man on the tape was trying to say was “Attention Runners – The start time of the race HAS CHANGED FROM 7:00 AM TO 6:45 AM TO ACCOUNT FOR UNCERTAIN WEATHER. GET YOUR ASSES TO THE STARTING LINE IN TIME!!!” Furthermore – they sent out a twitter update.. at 6:41 AM central time saying that the race would begin 15 minutes early. That’s right – a Twitter update 4 minutes before the damn thing started. Of course, based on the looped statement I thought they were just trying to herd 32,000 runners (many of them newbies) into place to have an orderly start – so I went about my business.

 So at 6:45 I’m standing in line at a port a john by the start. I hear them announce “when the gun goes off, it’s to start corral #1 only”. Keep in mind – I knew nothing of the change in start time. According to the race plans, the wheelchair division was to start at 6:45 am. No big deal. Until corral #2 starts, and then #3. I’m still standing in line when the 4 hour corral #8 (my corral) starts. Oh – and this one was out of TP too. Fortunately, one right next to it had a couple of squares. Yeah – this is probably too much information, but I don’t care and you’re still reading.

 

 


Start of 2010 Country Music Marathon
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

So I jump into corral 18 and start a little after 7 a.m. Keep in mind that I was ready according to the announced schedule, even with my TP emergency. I never thought I’d have that kind of emergency, but I plan in some buffer time for whatever crops up.

I’ve captured what things look like at the starting line. The sky is kinda gray, but the sun was peeking out behind me. I figured I’d finish around the 4 hour 30 minute mark and be safely back in my room before the sky opens. The start is VERY orderly. It wasn’t the cluster that the ING Georgia race start always is. I think this is because they stagger the start of the corrals by a minute or two. This made it so there was a lot less weaving to do to get around slower people. Also – it seemed that people honored their starting corral seeding. There weren’t nearly the number of walkers in front of me as in other races.

The early miles of the race ticked away. I was doing 9:45 miles and then walking through the water stops, so through mile 15 I was right on a 10 minute pace. The scenery was pretty cool running down broadway, through the recording labels, etc. The bands and volunteers on the course were good, too. Everything was going just fine.

Then mile 18 approached with a long uphill. I slowed to a

walk and powered up it. I knew the last 10k was pretty flat, so if I could save my legs here, I would be in good position for a solid all-around race. As I crested the hill, I noticed the clouds darkening and the wind picked up. Police offers that were once in standing in intersections were now seated in their cars and a series of buses were lined up going the other way around the 12 mile mark.

 


Mile 19 in the Rain
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

Around 18.5, officers began to announce “There is a fast moving storm approaching. We are not closing the course but advise that you seek shelter immediately.” I looked around and only saw a Rite-Aid. I pressed on. It began to rain and I snapped a few photos of me and the course around mile 19.5. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the rain at Ironman Lake Placid, so I was still in good spirits ready to turn in a good run.

Mile 20 was downhill across the Cumberland River bridge. The half marathon people rejoined the marathoners on the course as they prepared to turn right into LP Field and finish. I couldn’t believe that there were still people running (crawling?) the half when I was at mile 20. I made 2 right turns and suddenly it dawned on me that something was amiss. I didn’t memorize the course, but I knew that I had to run past the stadium to do the last 10k, but they just had me do a haripin turn that would have me going on the wrong side of the stadium. I asked someone and they said that they had closed the marathon course.

I was livid. There were a total of 3 claps of thunder while we were out there, and the rain had actually stopped by the time I got to the finish. I was really still confused because the plan presented was that they would close the course based on a 4 hour 30 minute finish time. I was ahead of that. I asked an official when they decided to divert people right there and he said “oh, 45 minutes ago or so.”

So there you have it. A great day wasted. I was handed a finisher medal that I didn’t earn and was walking on legs that were trashed for what amounted to a training run. 20.5 miles in 3 hours, 34 minutes. Someone owes me a 10k. 

The real kick in the pants was that finish line was still in full swing. If there was truly a weather issue, the souvenir tent should have closed and packed up. The beer sales, masseuses, photographers, and all the other Competitor, Inc. Rock N Roll marathon bastions of capitalism should have ceased to operate and instead worked to move people to safety. Based on their actions, there was clearly no danger.

As with some of the reports of pre-race traffic issues I have seen, there were major post-race traffic issues that resulted in huge traffic jams leaving the stadium area. Again – if there was truly a weather issue, these people just became thousands of sitting ducks in their cars. If people had finished in a normal and orderly fashion, you would not have had a massive number of people leaving at the same time.


Skyline After (During) Race
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

Fortunately, my top secret way in worked equally well on the way out. Here’s a picture of the skyline shortly after I was told to stop running. Looks kinda nasty, I guess. Nothing severe, though.

gt; Now for the ratings. These are on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best:
Course: 5 — Scenic. Challenging. I think I could train to PR here fairly easily.
Spectators: 3 — They are ever-presented on the half marathon course, but virtually non-existent on the marathon only sections.
Organization: 2 — This was the 11th running and the organizers clearly never asked themselves “What if?”. It does not seem like they reached out to their fellow race directors for advice, either.

Overall: That’s a 3 friends. Will I run this race again? Maybe. It’s expensive, and focused almost entirely on people in the half-marathon. But there aren’t many opportunities to do 26.2 in Tennessee, and the post race night life is a definite plus. We’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

 

Seeking the Dominant Design for Web Apps

One of my missions in developing web applications for a Fortune 15 company is to emulate the dominant design of well known internet applications when designing new functionality for inside the company. I occasionally am beat up for not doing this. One recent example was an RSS reader portlet. The goal was to provide people with a customizable portlet on the McKNet homepage that would allow them to subscribe to various feeds within the company and see the 3-5 most recent updates for those feeds. When my management team saw the proposed product, they questioned why it didn’t look and work like Google Reader. I tried not to laugh – you might imagine that it comes down to money. This was one function point out of 8 proposed in a quarterly maintenance release that was being worked on full time by a single programmer. I don’t know for sure, but I’d say that Google Reader took someone more than a week to develop.

One of the things I’ve been involved with lately is establishing “maintenance” pages for each of our applications. These maintenance pages are just meant to say “sorry – we’ve got some planned maintenance going on, here are some links to other content that you may be looking for that is not currently impacted by our maintenance.” Finding examples of dominant design for this are a little more difficult, since you have to find either a reputable site that is

under maintenance or read a blog post about it. Today, I tried to go to My Cigna based on some mail I received yesterday and found they were under maintenance. Perfect! Here’s a screenshot of what I saw:

This gives me a good idea, but also points out the pitfall. The idea? Let them know when the maintenance window is planned to end. In this case, it says “The site will return at approximately 12:00pm on Sunday, March 28th.”. The down side is that you have to keep up with the page and make sure that it reflects an accurate date and time. You’ll see I included the status bar from Windows to show that today is April 18th – 3 weeks after the above referenced date.  So now that I think about it, this isn’t the greatest of examples. Guess I’ll have to keep fishing for a dominant design of under maintenance pages. 

Spring Training 2010


Pre-ride 3-31-2010
Originally uploaded by Iron Mike Schubert

Baseball players have wound down Spring training and the regular season has begun. Atlanta has completely skipped Spring and gone from high temperatures one week in the 40’s to last week in the 80’s. I decided it was time to take some time off from work for a little Spring training of my own.

3/31 – 43 mile bike ride through Suwanee, Buford, Flowery Branch and Sugar Hill. High temp on the bike was right at 80 degrees.

4/1 – 5.75 mile run at lunch (I worked today). Again – the weather was perfect. This is evidently the start of heat training for the season so my run struggled a bit. I expect this to change quickly.

4/2 – Rest day. If anyone ever posts a week’s worth of workouts and you don’t see a rest day, you need to question them. You get stronger via recovery from the activity, not from actually doing the activity. I worked today, too.

4/3 – 6.7 miles run. This was an easy out and back on the greenway. Not a lot of elevation change. Right at the end I had to gun it to get around some annoying Team In Training people. Once again, they were occupying the entire 12 foot stretch of concrete with just a few people. They said “sorry” as I passed them on the right – meaning they knew they were in the wrong. Unfortunately, they continued to be in the wrong even after I passed them.

4/4 – Ride: 15.5 miles. Originally I planned this to be a swim as I thought it was the last day of the Tri2Remember Swim Clinic. Evidentally, it wasn’t due to the Easter holiday. I have missed the prior two practices due to the ING Marathon one Sunday and dealing with my mom’s estate the other Sunday. 

4/5 – Stott pilates. It’s nice to work out with athletes. There is a common respect there – especially when they give you a workout that absolutely kicks your ass. That was the way today went. Imagine 1 hour of core work where the goal is to find all of your different breaking points and make them stronger. That’s how it went. At the end, the instructor said she admired my ability to swim / bike / run for hours on end – she could do pilates for hours, but no way could bike or run for that long. And to be honest, an hour of Stott was all I could take. Mutual admiration isn’t a bad thing.

4/6 – Long run. >10 miles. I wanted to go longer than that today, but it simply wasn’t in the cards. As I mentioned earlier, it’s heating up in Atlanta – they high today was around 88. So the heat training has kicked in earlier than planned. That’s not a bad thing. I just ran 26.2 a couple of weeks back, so I’m not worried about the distance. I’ll get in a 15 miler this weekend and a bunch of maintenance runs as well so I should be all set for 26.2 again in 2.5 weeks.

And thus Spring Training for me has ended. I feel better and stronger today than when I started 1 week ago. The base fitness has been awakened and proven. I am working on the 3rd solid week of logging EVERYTHING that goes in my mouth and my workouts. All that combined and I FEEL like an athlete again. That was the overarching goal of the past week and I met it with flying colors.

Shooting Beyond Automatic Mode

Several months ago I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T1i Digital SLR Camera. My goal – to take more creative pictures of my adventures. I’ve been very happy with my Olympus Stylus 770 for capturing some of my training and even races, but there are sights and scenes beyond the in-race event that I didn’t feel were captured quite the way I remembered them.

To that end, I’m now trying to learn to shoot beyond automatic mode. You know – all those other knobs on your camera actually control how what you see gets interpreted by the chip (or film if you’re old school). One nifty tool on most cameras that I don’t understand is the histogram. Makeuseof.com had a promising sounding article recently called How To Read Your Camera’s Histogram And Take Perfectly Balanced Images.  I say promising because while it did explain the histogram and its relationship to the exposure of your image, it fell short of explaining how to take perfectly balanced images.

I see entire books and courses that focus on understanding exposure and the aperture / shutter speed / film speed triangle. I guess to become a better photographer this is a good area to focus and practice hands on. Don’t be surprised if I suddenly start posting a bunch of photographs as I practice.

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