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 usra@gmail.com 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.  Active.com 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?