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Race turns into ‘a train wreck’ for runners, residents

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Julie Sapper, a certified running coach from Rockville, spent months training 35 runners for what was supposed to be their target race, an event where they could potentially run their personal best in a 5K and 15K at National Harbor in Oxon Hill last weekend.

Instead, Sapper said her group ran on a crowded, narrow course filled with rocks and seashells, breathing exhaust fumes and skirting dump trucks. Some walked the first mile because of the chaotic course, leaving little chance of running their best. To cap it off, she said, the participants were misdirected by the biker leading off the race, forcing runners off course.

In other words, the Hot Chocolate RAM Racing 5k/15k run last weekend was a hot mess.

That’s the way the participants, nearby residents and even the organizers described the event that drew 20,000 runners and caused mass confusion and huge traffic backups.

“It was like watching a train wreck,” Sapper said. “I’ve have never seen anything like this in my 15 years of running.”

The race has led to a flurry of angry postings on RAM Racing’s Facebook page, a petition calling for refunds for the $65 and $45 entry fees and a letter from a homeowners association to county officials arguing that some residents were “held hostage for 3 hours” while runners ran the course past their development.

Steve Ginsburg, the owner of Chicago-based RAM Racing, issued an apology to participants on RAM’s Facebook page. In large part, he blamed auto accidents that caused “insane traffic” and “a terrible choice of venue,” that could not accommodate parking 5,000 cars in a short period of time.

“[It] was a nightmare for us, to say the least,” Ginsburg wrote. “I am sorry from the bottom of my heart!”

It wasn’t enough for Sapper, or some of the other runners, who have called the race a disaster.

“They seemed to blame everyone but their own fanny,” she said.

Angela Washington, a member of the board of directors at Brookside Condominiums, said her “girls day out” was put on hold because of the race. When she reached the gate of her complex, there were nearly 50 cars waiting to exit. “You could see the smoke coming out of their ears,” Washington said of the angry residents.

Prince George’s County Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis said Ginsburg’s blame is misdirected. RAM Racing officials say a police officer blocked a road and forced the participants to run on the bike path, a narrower course.

“I dispute that claim,” Davis said. “They overbooked the race.”

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said “the administration has full faith that all departments did what they were contracted and assigned to do.” Peterson noted that the county has hosted many large events at FedEx Field, the University of Maryland and routinely at National Harbor.

Rocell Viniard, director of marketing for National Harbor, said there were no problems with parking. “At no time was it a delay in parking the cars; it was more the way the cars came into the project from the variety of highways,” she said.

Meanwhile, Davis said participants will not have to deal with RAM Racing in Prince George’s again.

“Prince George’s County has no intention of allowing RAM Racing to conduct any future events in [the county],” he said.

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