The HFFA’s Fall Harvest Fraud 10K

Last week, I scoured the internet in search of a local race to run.  Tired of 5K’s, I was hoping to find something a little longer.  The Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics was offering a 10K as part of their Fall Harvest.  I was a little hesitant because 2 years ago I ran this race, when John Compton and Caitlin Chrisman won the men’s and women’s races respectively, only to have one of the organizers tell them something along the lines of “Oh, the website said the winners get cash?  That was a typo.”  This year their flyer read “Cash prize for top 3 male/female overall 10K & 5K”.  Ah, so they’ve straightened things out, I thought.  Wrong.

The first big clue that these guys still don’t quite have race organizing down yet occurred when Laura and I arrived at the center on Friday to register.  While we were filling out the registration forms, the lady there said, “I was putting up signs on the course but it got too windy so I quit”.  We just came from outside.  Breezy, sure.  Too windy to put up course signs?  Not even close.

But we ignored her, registered, and then drove the course.  They really do have a nice course, one of the primary reasons I chose this race over so many other local options.  It’s challenging, but not overly so, and it runs through the Huntersville business park, which is lovely this time of year – a nice, serene little romp through fall foliage.

I was able to see all the registered participants online, and the only ‘fast’ guy I recognized was Clayton Venhuizen.  I thought I had an outside shot at money.  I didn’t see any of the usual women suspects so I thought Laura was a lock for money.

Saturday morning, we arrived a little later than I would have liked, and rushed in to get our timing chips.  Laura and I had planned to warm up together but an emergency restroom visit for me derailed those plans and we got separated.  Moments later, we were all lining up at (what we thought to be) the starting line.

Laura and I chatted with Bill for a minute.  He and I had a bet on the race to make things more interesting – if I beat him by more than 10 minutes and 18 seconds, he’d owe me a beer.  Otherwise, I’d owe him one.

I lined up next to Clayton.  We chatted and surveyed the crowd for fast folks.  I saw Martin Harrison, a fifty-year-old speedster who regularly beats me.  There was a kid in split shorts, singlet, and racing flats that I pegged as our winner.  Barring a miracle, I wouldn’t be taking home cash.  Clayton pointed out to me that the fast looking kid had a rattail.  We wondered if that meant he was faster or slower.

Tim Rhodes was there doing the timing and he suddenly yelled, “Allen Strickland?” and I responded, “Yes, Tim Rhodes!”  He then said “There are two 235 bibs.  I just wanted to find the real 235.”   I laughed.  Not sure how there were two bibs numbered 235, but okay.

Before we could start, a couple of people unfurled a huge banner that read (some girl’s name that I can’t remember)” will you marry me?” And I thought I recognized the guy kneeling with the ring as the same guy that had shafted Caitlin and John out of their money a couple of years ago.  The girl said yes, everybody cheered and clapped, and I thought to myself, “Oh, that poor girl”.  Clayton and I joked about exes and failed marriages and then finally it was time to race.

Somebody said “Go!” and Rattail jetted out in front.  It became very obvious very quickly that he was legit and nobody else was going to touch him (I found out later that he’s Cole Atkins from ZAP Fitness) – the race was for second.  I secretly wished that Fam or Lamperski or some other local fast guy had shown up – it bugs me a little when an outsider cherry picks a little local race.

I settled in early and as is my custom, desperately tried to slow down.  It was especially tough in this race as the first mile is blazing fast and mostly downhill.  I tried to get comfortable and kept an eye on my heart rate as runner after runner zipped by.  Laura eased up beside me.  I was about to tell her that we were going too fast, but before I could, she nestled in behind me.

My Garmin beeped well before the 1-mile sign (it read 1.17 miles when I actually passed the sign) as I clocked in at 6:30 – a little faster than I wanted, but not unexpected.  We shot down 21/Statesville Road and turned left onto Mt. Holly-Huntersville.  We crossed the bridge over I-77 and sand or grit or something on the bridge made for a nice surface.  I had opted for the Karhu Racers racing flats and was already feeling like my feet were taking a pounding – this unexpected soft surface was a nice, albeit brief, respite.

We entered the business park and an older gentleman (I’m guessing in his 50’s) came up beside me and calmly, comfortably, and loudly, asked, “Was that mile marker right?”  I struggled, huffing and puffing, to respond, quietly, “No…(huff puff huff puff)…long.”  “Good!  I was hoping that was wrong!” he said as he easily dropped me.

I was working too hard, my heart rate was in the 170’s, so I, frustrated, backed off.  We were still on the down/flat portion of the race and I knew we’d be climbing soon – I needed to conserve energy if I was to maintain any kind of pace up the hill ahead.

I was mad because I felt like my pace was not indicative of my effort.  My pace was now over 7-minute miles, but my effort level felt more like 6:30’s.  “Why is this so hard?” I thought as we hit the back end of the park and started climbing the steepest hill on the course.  I heard footsteps gaining on me and I inwardly cursed.

It was a woman and as she passed, I was simultaneously bothered and relieved that it wasn’t Laura.  I mean if I’m going to get chicked, I’d prefer it be by my girlfriend. It was some tall, thin girl that I recognized from 2 weeks earlier as I remembered passing her during LungStrong – and she looked comfortable as she made a strong move up the hill.  But she immediately slowed down and I passed her back.  She passed me again.  We had quite the duel forming on the hill.

At the crest of the hill was a water stop and she diverted course to take a drink, so I passed her again.  On the flat exiting the park, she passed me back.  This was getting ridiculous.  I was slightly annoyed because every time she passed me she would immediately slow down considerably, to a pace slower than what I was maintaining.  When we hit the bridge over I-77 again, we faced a significant headwind and I would have been perfectly content to tuck in behind her and draft.  This strategy didn’t work for 2 reasons – 1) She was pencil thin and provided very little shelter from the wind and 2) Her pace was too slow.

Enough.  I grew weary of this little cat and mouse game so I laid down a big surge and gapped her on the bridge.  I wanted her to know that I was one sex change away from taking an overall win here.  She better be glad I don’t have a vagina.

We were through the 5K and climbing up Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road – the incline was slight, but long.  All I could think about now was holding off the girl (who I learned later was Emily Drew).  I fought to stay under 7:00 pace, and mostly failed.  Every time we passed a volunteer, I wanted to ask “How far back is the girl?” but thought better of it because I had no air to speak and I was afraid she was close enough to hear and might get motivated by such a conversation.

I gutted it out to the end and was disgusted to see 44-something on the clock as I crossed the line.  44?!  I came through the 10K in LungStrong faster than that.  I ran a sub-42 at a tougher, hillier course in August.  I had run a sub-40 10K last year at Cooper River.  As I crossed the line, the DJ/announcer yelled, “And here comes our first female finisher!” causing everybody to look up, see me, and get confused.  But at least I held her off, by about the distance of the surge on the bridge.  My only consolation was that my watch showed the distance as 6.39 miles – the course had been a tad long, but still not long enough for me to be pleased with my time.  We were told by officials later that we’d started too far back.

Laura came in a few seconds later, narrowly missing second overall after being passed by the uber-fit Sarah Hart.  There is no shame in getting edged out by her!

Roughly 10 minutes later, Bill crossed the line and I knew I was in jeopardy of losing a beer – our spread was 10:18 and it was close, like razor-thin close.  (Later, the official results were posted and they indicated that Bill beat the spread by 6 seconds.  Looks like I’m buying Bill a beer.)

Now we just waited for results.  I went inside and took a shower (aside – how can you call a room without lockers “the locker room”?  Just an observation).  Clayton pointed out that there was coffee inside so I grabbed a cup, and a bagel, and he, Laura and I watched Cole destroy everybody in the 5K for his second win of the day.  And then we waited.  And waited.  And waited some more as the stragglers, the first-time-5K’ers walking the course, the little kids in complete costume, etc., finished the 5K.

And then we waited for folks to finish the fun run.  Finally, hours later, the awards ceremony began.  The announcer called out the overall awards for the women and said, “Third overall woman, Laura Gray”.  Laura walked up and the man who had gotten engaged that morning said something to her and she walked back, empty-handed.  “What’s up?  Where’s your award?” I asked.  “He said there are no cash awards for the top 3 women, only the top 3 overall.  He said I’d get an age-group.”  I was instantly livid – these knuckleheads were doing it again.  Emily, the women’s overall winner who I’d dueled with, was obviously upset as well.  Laura went and talked to her and Sarah joined them in the discussion.  And of course, when they got to the age-group awards, the top 3 women overall were conspicuously left out.  I mean who announces the top 3 overall finishers and gives them nothing but bad news?

Laura and I went inside to find somebody to straighten this mess out.  She was directed to the same lady from the day before who had quit putting signs out due to wind.  She told us that there was no monetary prize for the top 3 women, only the top 3 overall.  I was getting angry, quite annoyed how this race continuously baits and switches runners.  She acted like this was a normal thing, only giving prizes to the top 3 overall, and acted like the flyer, which I now grabbed off the counter to point the exact wording out to her, indicated that only the top 3, not the top 3 male and female, got cash prizes.  It sure doesn’t read that way to me:

See where I circled the text. This does not say “only the top 3 overall” will get cash prizes.  It seems pretty straight forward, right?

Tim Rhodes walked over and indicated to the lady that yeah, races typically give overall prizes to the top 3 men and the top 3 women.  He said he’d never heard of a race that gave prizes to only the top 3 overall, that he certainly didn’t do that in his races.  And he should know, he does a lot of races.

But the woman said there was nothing she could do, that she didn’t have enough money to give the women prizes.  By this time, Emily and Sarah had joined the conversation.  And Emily was as tenacious in the discussion as she had been on the course.  “I’m not leaving til I get my prize.  I should get exactly what the male winner got.  That’s what you advertised.”  But the lady said, “The city of Huntersville will fire me if I give you money.  I’ll lose my job.”  Really?  Let me get this straight – the city of Huntersville will fire you if you give out the prize money that you said you’d give outBut the city of Huntersville is okay with you advertising prize money and then not giving it out?  Okay.  I’ll be sending this blog to some Huntersville officials later to find out if that’s true.

Eventually, after Emily tenaciously refused to leave empty-handed, the lady begrudgingly conceded to give the top 3 women Dick’s Gift Certificates (what us age group schmucks got) in the amount of cash they should have received.  It was better than nothing, but still not what was promised.

It’s one thing to make a mistake but it’s another thing entirely to treat runners like they were wrong in thinking they should have been given cash.  There was very little contrition  – the HFFA blamed the runners for misunderstanding, AGAIN.  That’s what really sets me off.  If this happened once, okay, maybe I’d be more willing to shrug it off.  But twice?  This is becoming a habit.  This is starting to smell intentional – short changing winners on multiple occasions. So I’ve vowed to take action here, using my little blog and voice in the running community (and the Ada Jenkins’ lady thought I was hard on her race!)  I’m going to post this to DART (some 300+ runners) page, and the Charlotte Running Club (some 400+ members) page, etc. and ask that everybody boycott Huntersville Family Fitness Aquatic races until they can show some contrition and admit some wrongdoing.

That’s all for this race.  I hope to see everybody soon, at an honest race, one where they actually award the prizes as advertised!

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17 Responses to “The HFFA’s Fall Harvest Fraud 10K”

  1. Emily Cook Drew Says:

    Allen – it was great dueling with you too yesterday. I’ve been following your blog for a few months and didn’t realize that was you! I’m sure I’ll see you around at other races! Oh, I’ve already hit up HFFA via email and will be making some calls on Monday. That was total crap. Still mad I had to take gift cards instead of cash, but I refused to leave empty handed just so I could prove my point. They had prizes for both genders in all the age groups, so why is overall any different?!?!?

  2. Stack Says:

    “They had prizes for both genders in all the age groups, so why is overall any different?!?!?”

    this totally proves your point! they used the same format with the ‘male/female’ under age groups as they did for overall so they should have been the same.

    hope the ladies get what they deserve (as well as the race organizers)

  3. Boise Runner (@RunInBoise) Says:

    I am a blog reader of yours and sent off an email for you. I am a little far away but figure if I was in the position of expecting an award, I would want it. I was bummed I didn’t get a finishers medal for a half earlier in the year and had to email the race director about it-which he did mail to me. Hopefully the winners will get their deserved awards for this race.

  4. caitlin Says:

    several great quotes, but the one that resonated with me most was: “I mean who announces the top 3 overall finishers and gives them nothing but bad news?”

    It is pretty crappy what they’re doing. In 2010, I didn’t even end up with a Dick’s gift card. Just that damn blanket that I gave to Megan Hovis beacuse she has a thing for blankets.

    By the way, did you at least get your cash?

  5. Allen Strickland Says:

    Caitlin,
    They would not have gotten anything this year either if they hadn’t fought so hard. We stood there and argued for about half an hour before the lady begrudgingly gave out Dick’s gift certificates. I got a $10 one for getting 2nd in my age group.

  6. Nathan Says:

    I say we all bandit this sucker next year, and then say that the brochure wasn’t clear about the entry fee.

  7. Jay Holder Says:

    I like Nathan’s idea. I’d fly down for that. They told me three years ago that a course was all right hand turns and there didn’t need to be a lead bike. The first turn on the course was a left hand turn. Guess who was in the lead and missed that turn?

  8. Dee Jetton Says:

    Mr. Strickland;
    In the past 25 years in this industry, I’ve come to appreciate criticism as one of the greatest assets in my professional tool bag. I believe every problem presents an opportunity for growth; a challenge to be better tomorrow than we are today. I treasure those opportunities and teach my very valuable team members to embrace them as well. In the absence of those willing to step up and tell us where we miss the mark, we may not aim our sights on the most precise target. So for the constructive criticism I’ve read in your blog, I thank you and assure you my collective team has learned and corrected our sights and goals for our service to the running and broader community. We have corrected our mistakes and all winners have received or will shortly receive their proper prize winnings. Checks were placed in the mail to each winner on Monday. We are also inviting each of the five women who were delayed in receiving their prize winnings an offer to participate in a future event of their choosing at our club, on us. We’d also like to extend the same offer to you, because I am so confident in my team and their desire to serve the running community to the very best standards of practice. I know you’re next experience with us will be better than this past weekends.
    After reading your dissertation, it does appear in spite of your harsh words, that you enjoyed the course, the company and the race. Because of your eloquent account of your run, I was able to pull out enough positive from your experience to know our team met many of our primary goals for Saturday’s race in spite of your admonishment. I do however take offense to the idea that anything our team did was fraudulent or was done in an effort to cheat anyone. Our race director absolutely made a mistake and there are other options we could have turned to resolve it more adequately on Saturday. We collectively own that and have corrected it. Our team is committed to our community of runners and walkers. We take our business seriously and go about it with integrity and commitment to continuous improvement.
    It is our sincere hope our event, in spite of the mistake that directly impacted five women, will in some way assist you in getting to your goal of running Boston. We wish you the best of luck on your journey and hope to see you and your blog followers at a future event at HFFA.

    Sincerely,
    Dee Jetton,
    Executive Director Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics
    704-766-2235 or djetton@huntersville.org

  9. Caitlin Chrisman Says:

    I ran this race in 2010 in hopes of winning the prize money that was posted on the website. Afterwards, John Compton (who was first male) and I asked a gentleman why there were no cash prizes. He said that they never advertised that when indeed they had. In fact he said that they took that off the website the night before the race. So John and I got a blanket which was less than what the age group winners were awarded which was a blanket PLUS a $25 gift card to Dicks. Definitely not what we were hoping for.

    • Dee Jetton Says:

      Thank you Ben for your comments. I am not familiar with Caitlin or John’s experience. I will reach out to Caitlin since she replied here. If either of you know how to reach John, I will reach out to him too so I can rectify the situation for both of them. John and Caitlin can also reach me at 704-766-2235 or by email at djetton@huntersville.org. Our organization and our event team are committed to the integrity of the process and complete resolution.
      I hope we can continue to work toward a constructive resolution. Since we are all committed to the idea of promoting healthy lifestyles, I’m not sure what benefit there is in undermining an event that for many years has aided individuals, families and runners to engage to that end. For this reason, I am disappointed in an active encouragement of a boycott of our race. I hope the running community and organizations like ours can work together to advance the health of our community. I am always available to discuss concerns and accept suggestions. We are also a good partner for promoting other races, clubs, and organizations who are like minded. We provide support through volunteers, marketing and sponsorship to help other community events grow and organizations find success. I hope by virtue of this not so pleasant introduction we will have that opportunity to work together beyond resolving this issue in the future.
      Runners who can take home the purse are a small percentage of the population participating in most of the local events. That’s certainly true of our race. However, you all are a most important part of the experiences at HFFA. It’s cool when experienced and competitive runners such as yourself, John, Caitlin and Mr. Strickland select our race because you are an inspiration to our typical participant, our members and those that are still sitting on the sidelines considering their first event. So for these reasons and many more, we want to resolve all of the issues that get in the way of this race continuing to be a fun and enjoyable event for folks in the Lake Norman area, surrounding cities and for those that come from much further away to participate. If you or anyone else reading the blog have suggestions or would like to meet to talk further, I am available and would welcome that opportunity.
      Thank you again for expressing your continued concerns. We welcome the opportunity to get it all right.

    • Dee Jetton Says:

      Caitlin please contact me at 704-766-2235 or djetton@huntersville.org so I can gather the details of your experience and rectify the situation for you. I look forward to hearing from you.
      Dee

      • Ben Says:

        Caitlin, please reply and let us know if you and John recieve the prize money that was advertised. This way we can all thank Dee Jetton for being a stand up executive director. By the way, if anyone is wondering, this is not Ben Hovis. Ben is too worried about not being able to see the finish line of the new track to post on Allen’s blog.

  10. Ben Says:

    Dee Jetton,
    It’s nice to see a reply and that you are correcting this year’s mistakes. However, if someone makes three mistakes and only apologizes for one and only makes one right, what does that say about that organization? “We want to be fair one out of three times”? Charlotte’s running community is very tightly knit and injustice to very good and very nice runners is not forgotten so easily. I would hope that a check would be sent out to John Compton and Caitlin Chrisman if you are really serious about ‘correcting your mistakes’. Only after I have heard this has been done would I ever consider entering or recommending any of your races. I would also ask that any CRC, DART, HART, etc members do the same. I’m sure some think it is great that this years winners got what was already due to them. However, it’s been due to John and Caitlin for years now.

    • Dee Jetton Says:

      Thank you Ben for your comments. I am not familiar with Caitlin or John’s experience. I will reach out to Caitlin since she replied here. If either of you know how to reach John, I will reach out to him too so I can rectify the situation for both of them. John and Caitlin can also reach me at 704-766-2235 or by email at djetton@huntersville.org. Our organization and our event team are committed to the integrity of the process and complete resolution.
      I hope we can continue to work toward a constructive resolution. Since we are all committed to the idea of promoting healthy lifestyles, I’m not sure what benefit there is in undermining an event that for many years has aided individuals, families and runners to engage to that end. For this reason, I am disappointed in an active encouragement of a boycott of our race. I hope the running community and organizations like ours can work together to advance the health of our community. I am always available to discuss concerns and accept suggestions. We are also a good partner for promoting other races, clubs, and organizations who are like minded. We provide support through volunteers, marketing and sponsorship to help other community events grow and organizations find success. I hope by virtue of this not so pleasant introduction we will have that opportunity to work together beyond resolving this issue in the future.
      Runners who can take home the purse are a small percentage of the population participating in most of the local events. That’s certainly true of our race. However, you all are a most important part of the experiences at HFFA. It’s cool when experienced and competitive runners such as yourself, John, Caitlin and Mr. Strickland select our race because you are an inspiration to our typical participant, our members and those that are still sitting on the sidelines considering their first event. So for these reasons and many more, we want to resolve all of the issues that get in the way of this race continuing to be a fun and enjoyable event for folks in the Lake Norman area, surrounding cities and for those that come from much further away to participate. If you or anyone else reading the blog have suggestions or would like to meet to talk further, I am available and would welcome that opportunity.
      Thank you again for expressing your continued concerns. We welcome the opportunity to get it all right.

  11. Allen Strickland Says:

    Dee – thank you very much for addressing all our concerns!

    • Dee Jetton Says:

      We are truly committed to the local running community. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to work through the issues. We hope to see you at one of our events again soon.

  12. Colin Hackman Says:

    Would love to invite anyone to participate in our annual event in Wilmington, Run for the Tatas. No gift certificates here:

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