The Worst Day of the Year Run came to Look Park, in Northampton MA, for the first time on January 11, 2014. The course was hard to follow, the weather was abysmal and there were a few organizational hiccups. However, the event supports a good cause, it has a fun atmosphere and I look forward to running it next year if they make a few improvements.
The Worst Day of the Year Run is a non-timed 5K fun run and 2K walk that happens in Portland, Oregon and Northampton, MA and it has a lot going for it. For example, costumes are encouraged, 100% of the proceeds benefit charities like Habitat for Humanity and the finish line food is top notch. I have no idea why they call it the Worst Day of the Year but the race day weather which included 33 degree temperatures, freezing rain and slush filled course seemed to fit the name.
I arrived to Look Park about an hour before start time and easily found parking in front of the Garden House where registration was taking place. I didn’t see any signs for the event but I could hear music blasting over a sound system so I assumed I was in the right place. My next goal was to find the registration table and again there were no signs; but it was raining and there happened to be a building nearby so I went in and voila there it was.
Registration was taking place inside of Look Park’s Garden house with a fire going along with a few dozen runners, many in costume, milling about. The sign in process was pretty painless but a long line formed soon after I got my number. Coffee, hot cider and bagels were available but surprisingly there was no water that I could see. I love coffee as much as anyone but not right before running a 5K.
As the 11:00 am start time drew near there didn’t seem to be anyone directing runners. A few of us just made our way to the start line on our own but many seemed confused about what to do. The race website indicated that there would be a start chute based on projected finishing times but the starting area was not organized in any way. I was surprised that there was no course map, which should have been there according to the website, and no clock. I get that this was a “fun run” so I didn’t expect a chip timer but it is still nice to get a general idea of your finishing time; especially when registration cost $26. Finally, one of the race volunteers picked up a megaphone and announced the race would start in a few minutes. He quickly explained that the 5K course would be two loops of the park road and that the 2K route was just one loop. This seemed simple enough as the final seconds were counted down and the race started.
The course was slushy, wet and rainy but this was out of the organizer’s control and I think it only added to the fun. As we completed the first loop I noticed a race volunteer telling runners to take a right turn that brought us up a small hill, onto the main road and back to the start line. It seemed odd but I did it and soon found myself back on the original park loop road. By now runners and walkers were competing for the few dry spots on the course which forced me to dodge around people. It also didn’t help that the park loop road was open to traffic and it was not uncommon to see cars trying to back out onto the course.
As I started to complete the second loop I realized there we no mile markers and I had no idea how to get to the finish line. A sign or a volunteer would be helpful here. So I decided the take the right turn off the main course, for the second time, which led me to the main road and to the finish area. There was no marked finish line but I saw someone handing out medals so I assumed I was done. Once I stopped running I could see runners approaching the finish area from two different directions, which I have never seen before, and many were expressing frustrations about the hard to follow course. I checked my Strava app and realized I had run 3.6 miles; apparently I had run a 5.8 K!
The post-race party was back in the Garden House where there was coffee, beer and sandwiches. Once again I could not find any water which one might expect after a race. The problem was that no one was there to tell us where any of it was and we had to wait in long lines to find out. Also, the website had mentioned there would be a costume contest but I didn’t see anything like that taking place. That is a shame because I saw some amazing costumes!
The Worst Day of the Year Run could be one of the great runs in the Pioneer Valley. It takes place right between the Hot Chocolate Run 5K and the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race, it has a fun theme and 100% of its proceeds support charities like Habitat for Humanity. The course is also very flat which is great for first time runners. Despite the event’s shortcomings I still had a lot of fun and it felt awesome to run a 5K in January. I think this race can succeed with better organization, more effective course marking and improved communication. If the Worst Day of the Year Run addresses these concerns I think many runners will give it the second chance that it deserves.