NEW YORK, March 28, 2013 — It’s no surprise that the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C. sold-out in a record time of 2 hours, 27 minutes. But what frustrated thousands of runners, and no doubt the race organizers as well, was a massive failure of the race’s registration system run by the Active Network via Active.com.
“While the Marine Corps Marathon sold out in record time, many runners experienced the frustration of error messages and slow-loading webpages,” said race director Rick Nealis. “These individuals were essentially in a holding pattern as entries were being processed and capacity was reached.”
As tens of thousands of runners rushed to the site yesterday at noon EST when registration opened, problems with the Active Network caused delays for many runners attempting to register. Many—myself included—never successfully gained access to the registration system before the race sold-out. Instead, runners found a series of error messages and messages stating registration was on hold.
One message I saw read, “It’s an exciting day today. We have a sell-out event in progress! If you’re seeing this message it means that lots of people are trying to sign up just like you. We expect that the event will sell-out within an hour. Please be patient, and we’ll get you in the door as quickly as possible.”
After hitting refresh a few times, another message told me, “We were unable to add ‘Marine Corps Marathon 2013 - Marathon Registration - Individual’ to your order. This item is currently on hold.”
Yet at other times I could not access the site altogether. I was not alone. My inbox and Twitter feed was flooded with messages from frustrated runners.
“Active Network experienced technology system issues with registration for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon today,” said Eric McCue, General Manager Sports for the Active Network. “For this, all of us at Active sincerely apologize. We expected unprecedented interest for this iconic race, but as the demand for registration shortened from hours to minutes, despite thorough testing, the immediate traffic exceeded the limits of the system.”
Still, some runners were able to register without a problem and others got through after an hour or even two, as Active.com urged runners to be patient and keep trying. Thousands of others, myself included, never managed to get through the registration process despite keeping a finger on refresh.
The marathon issued an apology to runners via their Facebook page and a press release on their website.
“The MCM continues to celebrate the enthusiasm of the running community for ‘The People’s Marathon,’” said Nealis. “Unfortunately, today’s online experience is inconsistent with the organizational excellence that has become the hallmark of the Marine Corps Marathon. Everything regarding the MCM registration process will be reexamined for future years.”
Prior to yesterday’s registration snafu, the race resisted moving to a lottery, as I outlined in an article pre-registration. But many runners have been calling via Facebook and Twitter for the race to consider a lottery system with some type of preference for military runners and veterans. Still others bemoan that so many major races have turned to lotteries.
The Marine Corps Marathon is certainly not the first race to face online system failures. The Boston Marathon famously faced technical difficulties in 2010 when a crush of runners sold the race out in eight hours. The incident spurred race organizers to tighten the marathon’s famous qualifying standards and introduce rolling admission based on qualifying times to lower the number of runners vying for spots.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the nation’s second largest marathon, earlier this month was forced to move to a lottery after their registration system, also run by Active.com, crashed when thousands of runners logged on the minute race registration opened.
Other races avoid registration stampedes altogether. The ING New York City Marathon, the nation’s largest marathon, moved to a lottery in 1999, and many popular D.C. area races like the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and Nike Women Half Marathon DC utilize lotteries as well. So too does the country’s largest running event, the AJC Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.
As the third largest marathon in the U.S. and eighth largest in the world, the Marine Corps Marathon would seem like the next obvious candidate to go with a lottery, especially in light of this latest registration snafu. Demand for the Marine Corps Marathon has boomed in the last few years. The 2010 race sold-out in six days and the 2011 event sold-out in 28 hours, 4 minutes in 2011. Last year, registration closed after 2 hours, 41 minutes.
For runners with their hearts set on running the October 27 Marine Corps Marathon, charity entries are available through one of the race’s 130 charity partners. A list of all participating charities can be found of the event’s website.
For runners still wondering about their registration status, a press release from the Marine Corps Marathon said registered runners should expect to receive a confirmation email, and that any registration related questions should be directed to Active at (877) 228-4881, option 3.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ web show about running. She has completed six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.