Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reinke Sports Group and the USRA: Garbage.

Yesterday I ran a the Ft Bliss 8K holiday run with Leah, her two daughters, and Nugget.  We finished in dead last, thanks to diaper changes, screaming children who alternately wanted to be picked up, put down, fed, watered, and entertained, a flat tire on the double stroller (nicknamed the Rolling Aid Station), and the chilly chilly air as well as Nugget who made some nuggets along the way herself.  I hadn't actually registered for the race (bandit runner, what what!) as I did not intend to run.  I wanted to meet up with Leah at the start and wish her well and hold onto her extra clothes etc.  But like any great friend and race wife, she talked (guilted?) me into accompanying the girls and she was right- the 5 of us just had a blast and there are no other chilly morning runs around post where I've ever had so much fun.  I am sure CPS had us on their hot target list, but hey, everyone defrosted well and Nugget is still tired this morning, and unlikely to trust me with a car trip again :)  I hate not registering but it was unintended.  Due to the icy weather several people offered me their bibs just to have an excuse to head home but I declined :)

Now, let me tell you an interesting story of how I failed to run my half marathon this morning.  It has much to do with the sketchy so-called USRA and Dean Reinke, things with which I was unfamiliar until late Saturday night.

How so?  The half-marathon is a part of the "USRA" half-marathon series.  When I registered for this Las Cruces race, I thought very little of it.  I was excited to be running near home, and the Las Cruces area has a great running club with some top runners, whom I've seen (from afar!) at some local races like the Desert Dash and El Paso Transmountain Challenge.  So far so good, I thought.  A half-mary to really challenge me.

After the 8K, I met up with a friend.  I adultnapped her and we traveled up the interstate to Las Cruces, (about an hour) because packet pick-up was advertised as Saturday only, from 2-5 pm.  A little strange, right?  Three hours?  No race-day registration or packet pick up?  Odd, but ok.  The only other time that's happened was in Salt Lake City and Auckland New Zealand, both large races with thousands of racers, where it's understandable both from a security and organizational perspective.

This Las Cruces "expo" consisted of a section of a hallway with two tables, maybe three.  With cotton t-shirts on one.  And bags and race numbers on the other.  My friend was not racing, so I breezed through in order to hurry on to more important things, like lunch!  I think we were the first people there at the pick-up in fact.  

Which is why when I returned home after some holiday shopping, and went through the packet, that I thought it my fault that I didn't get a timing chip, for a race where timing chips are included, per the website.  At about 6:30 pm I called the front desk of the hotel where the "expo" was held, to ask if any of the running folks were lingering.  I wanted to ask about the timing chip, thinking I had been first to the expo and thus overlooked, no big deal, I understand these things.  I had no local contact info for the race, so the hotel front desk was my only option.  The lady answering the phone at the lovely Hotel Encanto kindly stepped into the hall to check if any USRA members were around and of course they were not.

I then emailed the email address from the website.  "Did I somehow miss my timing chip- it's not integrated with the bib as I expected- and can I pick it up tomorrow at the race?"  No response until 1 am, when I received this email: there are no timing chips.  That was all.  Passive voice is so useful when refusing personal responsibility!

For $60 entry I get a cotton t-shirt, no swag, and a non-chip timed race?  The website sure indicated it was chip-timed!

Enter the gut feeling of "something's afoot."  

I remembered, then, that the registration website had a multitude of problems: the date of the race was incorrect.  The website inconsistently referred to the 8 Dec race as both the third and fourth annual.  The 2012 results file didn't populate.  And on the registration page, via "ngin," whatever that is, it thanked me for registering for my upcoming race in Greenville*, a place I am sure is quite lovely, but not at all where I intended to run.

I actually received 2 emails from USRA and the Reinke Sports Group this morning.  First, the aforementioned message that there's no chip-timing (c'mon now!) and then a second email that invited me to race-day registration and packet pick-up beginning at 6:45 for this morning's marathon and half.  What in the world?  First off, the website overemphasized no race-day pickup or registration.  Second, there's no full marathon.  It's a half, 5K and fun run event.  Why can't they get anything to match? I wondered, aloud, to D.

It's a hodge podge of charities mentioned, too: per the website, bring a toy for Toys for Tots?  Ok.  The shirt promotes Habit for Humanity?  These are both great causes, but I don't know that any of them are aware of their "involvement" in this race- there was no toy collection bin at registration, so I doubt the USRA's commitment to anything more than manipulative words.  I wonder if these fine organizations will see any donation, and for $60 in registration I would hope they receive more than a token contribution.  I have the same feeling about this USRA operation as Amway or Melaleuca or Herbalife or any of those fringe-of-legality business plans...and it doesn't sit well with me.

Other things weren't sitting so well with me either.  I spent the night on the bathroom floor, which is just what I do when I can't decide which end needs the toilet more urgently.  Dan woke up and wondered "if it was that time of the month" and for his obtuseness I would've punched him a few feet north of the ankle had I the strength :). No, dear, it's not -- I guess he has not noticed that I don't go through this monthly, but his oblivion to such matters is quite gentlemanly and endearing.  The culprit in fact: grocery store pre-packaged sushi I ate a day earlier. 

So what I'm saying is that we had the time, me and my tile floor and my pink owl flannel PJs, to check out the USRA and Reinke Sports Group.  In hindsight, my concerns about the registration website and race organization should've brought me to investigate the USRA and Dean Reinke before registering.  But it never occurred to me that I'd need to do so!

Here's what I found, in sum, with some excellent and personal accounts (links at the end):

1.  This guy, Dean Reinke, is well known for organizing races, cancelling them due to lack of city permits, and continuing to accept registrations for a race that will never happen, which he then will never refund.  With the right lawyer it may not be a "scam," but it certainly falls under "shady business practices" in my book.
2.  The Reinke Sports Group is rated F by the BBB.
3.  USRA races are often not timed, with missing water stops and little or no post-race refreshments.
4.  Dean Reinke fails to pay his debts and often breaks contracts.
5.  He's been known not to pay for the police to close roads or direct traffic- this is not safe.
6.  He's skipped out on promised charitable contributions in the past
7.  Purdue University is suing him.
8. does not do business with him and his "USRA" - unusual for a "race series!"

This guy and his "group" are sleazy deal-breakers with a fancy (albeit inconsistent) website and I refuse to deal with them.  I lost $60.  I was under the weather, yes, but my desire to run and the joy I have in the camaraderie of racing was shattered this morning.

In fact, I met Dean Reinke at packet pick up yesterday.  I only realized this after I saw a photo on the internet last night.  At the expo, he was oddly interested in if I was staying overnight in Las Cruces (I laughed- I said I lived in El Paso, which he did not recognize as less than an hour away) and my watch. My watch is a fairly basic red/magenta Timex.  It was a nice present from D.  It is not GPS equipped.  It is a women's watch.  It has a timer.  I like it very much.  I don't know why it was a conversation item.  It was barely visible under my long sleeved shirt.  He said he'd had the same watch in white, what an odd thing to say.  I looked around for the used car lot that maybe I'd missed in the hotel lobby, but no, this guy was just organically creepy.  His interest in my accommodation, it turns out, is to calculate how many hotel rooms worth of revenue he brings to different cities, stats he uses inflates to sway local visitor's bureaus when seeking support (see links below).

An older guy from a Las Cruces running club busily name-dropped some of the local speedy girls that I'd raced against at Transmountain Challenge and Desert Dash, but I didn't recognize the names.  He seemed like a nice enough guy but I am sure he believes he is on Dean's payroll as some sort of local ambassador, but he's going to be sad when the check never arrives, as so many other people have found out.

Runners are some of the most understanding and welcoming people on the planet.  I'm sad that Dean Reinke includes himself and his sleazy operation among our ranks.  

I'm running the Ft. Bliss half on 11 January instead.  Dean, please keep my $60 since money is all you want from the running community.  You offer nothing in return.  I'd pay a great deal more than that to keep the likes of you from tarnishing future races, cities, charitable organizations, runners and our spirits.

To be fair, no, I didn't run the race, but even if it were the most transcendent and beautifully organized running event in the history of Las Cruces, I've decided I want nothing to do with USRA and the Reinke Group and I'd like you to be educated about this to make your own decision.  As runners, I believe our hard work, the reasons we run, and the causes we believe in are worth so much more than this shyster. 

At best, it's a bad value.  At worst, well, read these links:

I wish you all happy racing, far from this "sports group!"  Anyone else ever get involved with the USRA and have an experience (good or bad!) to share?

My experience with RSG is certainly not the worst, it's really just an eye-opener, and a good lesson.  I'm going to stick with local races from now on.

Finally, I'm curious about the race shirt:

Did any of these folks actually sponsor this guy or did RSG create all these "sponsors" without their consent, as he's done in the past?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taos trip

Ah, Sunday night.

After what seems endless days of driving from San Antonio to El Paso, up to Taos and back, it's nice to be home.  Sundays are always a little unsatisfying, what with the start of the work week looming overhead, but today it just feels good to unpack and settle in and attend to this neglected little piece of the interwebs.

Now that we've visited Taos twice, what strikes me most about the town is that it's not quite what it seems.  It's a ski town where the world-class skiing feels nicely accidental.  The ramshackle Taos appearance merely gilds a thicker, richer, creamier underbelly.  The best food is at the meekest of restaurants, the breathtaking mountain scenes surround shanty-lined roads, and the ski resort is gimmick-free as the snow speaks for itself.

For us, the snow and quick 6 hour trip to Taos Ski Valley bring us back each year.  I'd probably return to visit even if I wasn't a skier, as I really do like the whole place, the package deal: the mountains and river gorge, the Taoseno pottery and crafts, the incomparable food, the working farms, the history of Taos Pueblo, even the exorbitantly priced photography, snooty baristas, and shacks and trailers that belie the tourister's influx of money that keeps Taos afloat. 

I prefer the slower-paced, non-commercialized feel to Taos over the cutesy shopping towne appearance of Keystone or Breckenridge.  Yes, there is an adobe McDonald's to match the adobe Walmart, all hidden among garish t-shirt and souvenir shops, but the overwhelming feeling I have when visiting is that the soul of the city has little to do with the ski slopes, its most widely-known resource.  

Sunshine and snow...ahhhh!
 We ate Thanksgiving dinner at Doc Martin's restaurant of the Taos Inn.  We ate a quick lunch here last year, and thought we'd try out its special holiday menu.  Passable for the price, I'd say.  We each had the turkey dinner which was both as comforting and inspiring as a traditional family Thanksgiving meal, meaning very much so (comforting) and not at all (inspiring).  The green beans were cooked perfectly to my taste, but I barely remember the other parts of the entree (wild rice stuffing?, mashed potatoes?, cranberry sauce?, turkey?) so I assume they were decent but not spectacular.  Nugs enjoyed leftovers with wild abandon.

For the remainder of our meals we visited some old favorites and of course added new restaurants to our rotation.  Yes, we ate breakfast at Taos Diner (I) and bison burgers at 5 Star Burgers.  Caffeine as usual came from Elevation Coffee where we like to look at the photograph of the moon over the Chugach Range, even if the coffee is a little weak and the staff a little stuffy.  

Sometimes I think we ski just to cultivate an appetite, and luckily we did just this because we happened on El Taoseno Restaurant last night -- another part of Taos where nothing is what it seems.  You may just have the best meal of your life, here in the non-trendy part of town, in what looks to be an old bowling alley or community center with a pot-holed parking lot to match the decor and charm inside.  The dining room was packed with tourists and locals (far more of the latter) but it's a place for everyone as long as you like wonderful service (yes), reasonable prices (even better), and delicious home-style New Mexican cuisine (and how!).  D would pout, refuse to read this post and likely move far away if I failed to mention the chips and salsa (oh the salsa!), his tasty smothered burrito (with green chiles, though ask for "Christmas" if you like both green and red), and my perfectly cooked plate of fajitas.  Fajita assembly is an art and this was just the right assortment of accoutrements, in just the right amounts.  As a finishing touch, sopapillas arrive swiftly, still piping hot, with a squeeze bottle of honey.  Our drinks never ran dry, and the wait staff, though busy- no table was ever empty- could not have been more kindly.  I wish we'd eaten Thanksgiving dinner here, where the pilgrim hat decorations still cover the walls and await next year's meal and where Taos once again surprises with where its finest things lie. 

Twenty miles from town, the ski area itself has a small base village with just a few stores, cafes and a convenience mart to accompany the accommodations, but no one goes there just to shop or be seen.  I don't even know who stays there, since we stay closer to town and the people we've met always "have a place" in Taos, somewhere.

For an opening weekend, the snow and weather are the best we've skied in years, anywhere.  In my experience, the rigor of terrain in Taos is matched best by Alyeska, though with bright sunshine and temps in the high 20s and low 30s the similarity to Alaska goes no further.

D's picture of me, but it was too cold to wait and pose~
 If you've persevered to this point and are wondering why all this nonsense appears in a running-themed blog, I'm about to tell you.  I ran this morning at 7000+ feet elevation (how was that ever no big deal in my college days?!) straight from sea level a few days earlier.  I read somewhere it takes two weeks to acclimate but I reasoned that any "elevation training" at all would aid my 3500' elevation half marathon next weekend.  We'll see!  This morning was chilly and bright yet I felt so great for getting a few miles in that I won't even share my shabby pace with you.  My legs were a little tired from skiing, but the run was a shake-out and my quads were happy to be less abused than they were from the slopes.  My lungs felt great and I did some laps through residential areas, my course determined by the paths leading away from any unfamiliar, unfenced dogs.

Quads = D-E-D.  Serious time.
So overall I'm at a C+ for my half-marathon training.  I'll take it; that's a fair price for a memorable weekend with D, in the snow and sun, with the enigma of Taos to entertain and satiate us, and keep us keen to return soon.

A blessed belated Thanksgiving to all, I hope your weekend was wonderful and filled with good memories and maybe even a few miles.

For some reason I think "action photo" means "pretend to tie a ski boot."  No, there aren't any laces.  Not since the 19th century I believe.  Sigh.
P.S. The chickens did fine while we were gone :)