Marine Corps Marathon sells out in record time after computer problems


Runners pass the Lincoln Memorial at about the 10-mile mark during the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The 2013 Marine Corps Marathon sold out in a record 2 hours 27 minutes Wednesday, but not before problems with its computerized registration process led to widespread complaints from people trying to sign up for the venerable 26.2-mile footrace.

Runners trying to secure one of the 30,000 spots in the 38th running of the marathon next fall reported that they were kicked off during the registration process or received repeated “error” messages. The marathon’s Facebook page was awash in complaints from frustrated runners.

Michael Murray of Silver Spring said in an interview that he was booted out of the registration process twice and reached a point when the system froze on a third try.

“In the days of cloud computing, in the days of Google and Amazon, who deal with millions” of users, “there just has to be a better solution than this,” he said. Murray said he will try to enter marathons in Richmond or Baltimore instead.

Race director Rick Nealis said the company that operates the system, Active.com, told him the demand for the $99 spots exceeded its capacity to process the requests. Nealis called the delays “an embarrassment for the Marine Corps Marathon as an organization,” which prides itself on organizational expertise.

Growth of the long run

Nealis said he would review the registration process for next year. “What we experienced this year will not be what we will be experiencing in 2014,” he said.

Demand for spots in big-city marathons across the United States continues unabated, despite price increases and larger fields. Some, like the Houston and New York marathons, have adopted lottery systems, and the Boston Marathon has tightened standards that runners must meet to qualify for the race.

“The People’s Marathon,” as the Marine Corps marathon race bills itself, sold out in 2 hours 41 minutes last year, in a little more than 28 hours in 2011 and just under six days in 2010. It is one of the few marathons that offers runners the opportunity to secure spots from others who withdraw before the Oct. 27 race. It also reserves about 13,500 spots for runners who raise money for charities, active duty military personnel, runners who have deferred from previous years and others.

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.

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