Northerly Island mud race a logistical mess
Long lines, shoddy obstacles, lack of staff among complaints from participants, park district
07/31/2012 7:40 PM
A mud-filled race at Northerly Island this weekend that was supposed to be a fun, obstacle-filled 5K ended up being a logistical mess, with complaints piling up from runners and the Chicago Park District.
Dubbed Mud Wars, it was supposed to last from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, with groups of runners starting every half hour. Participants paid as much as $75 just for the chance to get muddy and run around Northerly Island through mud pits, swing on monkey bars and run over mounds of hay.
But things didn’t go smoothly on race day, leading to a mountain of complaints from participants and soon-to-be-levied fines from the park district.
According to the park district, the event was only permitted to have 3,000 people, but a Facebook post from the organizers on July 2 said more than 5,000 people had registered and the number was growing.
“The event organizers certainly didn’t have what they needed to have,” park district spokeswoman Zvezdana Kubat said. “They didn’t clean up as specified according to the permit.”
Organizers also parked cars on the Northerly Island grass and left behind a significant amount of damage, Kubat said. The cost of the damages was not available.
After the race, disappointed participants quickly took to the Internet to skewer the event on Yelp, Facebook and Reddit. Participants complained that their bags were left in the open, there was a lack of water for participants and general lack of staff on hand at the event.
One participant claimed he measured the course’s distance — which was supposed to be five kilometers, or 3.1 miles — and found it was only 1.75 miles. Other patrons claimed the line to check in to the event was three quarters of a mile long.
After taking down the event’s official web page, mudwars.org, the event’s organizer, Joe Bizzieri, brought it back up again with a lengthy letter of apology.
“I take full responsibility for the disorganization of the event this past Saturday and I apologize profusely,” he wrote. “Although there are no excuses for how the event kicked off and took its course, there were several occurrences beyond my control that, in part, led to my unpreparedness of what I thought would be a highly successful day. I only wish I knew then what I know now. This was my first event, which I ran almost entirely on my own. At no time did I mean to cause ill will or scam you.”
In an interview with Chicago Journal, Bizzieri said he had spoken with park district officials about the size of the crowd, and they simply told him to double security. As to the mess that was left behind after the event, Bizzieri said he’ll pay whatever fines the park district levies.
“They could have shut me down if they’d wanted to,” he said. “It was a mud run — they knew the type of event they were getting.”
A number of factors contributed to the event’s problems, he said. Many of the supplies — including wood to build the course’s obstacles — showed up late. With only a day on Northerly Island to set up the course in advance, some things didn’t get built on the short time frame.
On top of that, Bizzieri said about 85 percent of the racers bought their tickets through daily deal sites Groupon, LivingSocial and YouSwoop. Of the three, only Groupon allowed racers to pick the time they wanted to run in advance. Though Bizzieri hoped to stagger the racers throughout the day, instead, many racers showed up early.
“I didn’t think they’d all come at the same time,” he said. “But all of them came right at 11:30. After that big cluster, everything was running differently. When two to three thousand people show up all at once, everyone’s got to wait.”
Several online commenters on Yelp and Reddit said they had requested refunds. Groupon spokeswoman Julie Mossler said they had granted some, and if other customers were interested, they could request one as well. Several commenters said they had been offered refunds from LivingSocial, as well.
Bizzieri’s brother and attorney, Jim Bizzieri, said once that ball began rolling, it was difficult to stop it. At this point, his brother will probably lose $20,000 on Mud Wars, said Jim Bizzieri.
“Somebody posted on Yelp that they got a refund from Groupon,” Jim Bizzieri said. “The masses are going to follow. You’d be stupid not to.”
Both Bizzieris readily admitted that the event didn’t go well, and was mismanaged. Joe Bizzieri said he relied too heavily on volunteers who were friends of friends, instead of getting a professional event management group to run the show.
However, people who came into the event expecting a military-level obstacle course set their expectations too high, Jim Bizzieri said.
“This was just simply a race with some obstacles and a great kegger with live music after,” he said.
Photos by Ari Neiditz/Contributor