Thursday, April 14, 2011

Countdown to Shutdown

Waiting for the end to come
Wishing I had strength to stand
This is not what I had planned
It's out of my control.

As a relatively young race director in this rather tenured industry, I know the greatest challenges still lay ahead of me. Sure, at my first Parkway Classic I had a guy drop at the finish line with a heart attack (he survived and needed a quadruple bypass). Remember Snowmaggedon? I do too. Pushed the first Love the Run back two weeks. Yeah, last year's Twilighter was 98 degrees at the start. How about my first marathon/half event in DC/MD where the sign company got lost and was held up by police while putting out mile marks (I jumped in a sprinter van, got all 30+ marks out and on point, and was back before the gun went off). Add in several other debacles I won't share in print (but might over a beer) and I have a few war stories . . .

I've seen quite a bit- not all, but enough that I feel I've earned a set of wings- maybe not like a real captain, but the plastic ones they hand out to the kids so they will be quiet on your flight. 

But a government shutdown? Come again?

I had been watching the situation since early March and keeping tabs on other large events in the area. I know they were aware and starting to think contingency, but then Congress passed another Continuing Resolution on March 15, a week before their umpteenth CR ran out, and two to three weeks before other major races in the area. This new CR ran out midnight, April 8, 2011, exactly 32 hours before the gun for the Parkway Classic. Thirty-two hours.

This couldn't be happening, really? The last government shutdown happened before I was old enough to vote. No chance. Right?

Circa 1995-1996; me with a bunch of "probably" drunk high school kids. I think that guy was my homecoming date and yes, I found this on Facebook.

Changing Gears
When I say we have great partners, I mean it. It's close to impossible to get a rain date, especially when you are working with multiple jurisdictions, and we got one. It might have been my pitiful face as I walked into the NPS offices early March 30 but whatever it was, we got a rain date of May 1.  NPS reissued the permit and late afternoon on March 31 I received confirmation from NPS, USPP, and the City of Alexandria and their various departments that we were on for May 1 if the government shut down. 

That afternoon we also contacted our vendors and volunteer groups- two bus companies, two tent companies, timers, sign and drayage, F&B, sound and electricians, photographers, five water stop groups, 60+ staff, charity groups, trash removal, barricade companies, coning, toilets, medical staff, trucks, park operations, you name it. They were all in for May 1. We also retained a registration management consultant to help with the anticipated fall out from the date change. 

Friday the week prior, we received approval for extended cancellation insurance; we had exactly 15 minutes to review and approve the near five-figure rider. The kicker? We were not confident, nor was our broker, that the policy would adequately cover our exposure. But at least we had something. My mom could sleep now. 

We were as ready as we could be.

Think we might frame this one.

Contingency Planning 101
I've been told by a number of people that the first time they realized the government shutdown could impact their lives (e.g. running) was the note we sent out late March 31 detailing our contingency plan for a government shut down. 

Most people were shrugging off Congress' latest CR and assumed a resolution would be reached relatively soon. Some thought Congress would go to the deadline. Many thought the other side wouldn't blink and our friends in the District would be sitting on top of trash piles right now. All I know was the climate had shifted and I wasn't taking any chances and if I was registered for this race, I'd want to know what was going on. So, we went out with a plan late March 31 once all our approvals were in. 

Link to contingency letter here.

One of my favorite blog postings about the race and shutdown; "Taper Tantrum" . . . still cracks me up.

Mixed Messages
The week of April 4 was a flurry of e-mails, phone calls, hill visits, NPS/USPP meetings, media interviews, and a lot of time on 

April 1, we called a friend at Park Police who was adamant the race would go on since officers were essential personnel.  Also, we were 100% cost recovery to the US Government and we were paid in advance in full. It just didn't make sense. 

I contacted Vicki Hallett, one half of the WaPo MisFits, and pitched her the story Friday afternoon, April 1. It ran in the Tuesday, April 5 Express. Jane Watrel of NBC4 called later that afternoon to schedule an interview; she and her girlfriends were registered for the race.

Monday AM we met with our NPS and USPP contacts; our officer told us a memo was circulating that would allow the race and the parade to go on and supported an exemption to hold the events (we would later find out this memo was not adopted by the Department of Interior).  We had hope that the race would go on but our lobbying friends, including our friends at BAE Systems, continued to make calls and our legislative partners leaned on the Department of Interior to include these events as exempted to the contingency plan. 

Tuesday I get a note from my USPP contact that it "doesn't look good" for an exemption. We push harder knowing there is a meeting on Wednesday afternoon where a decision was going to be made, and hopefully in our favor. Moran's office and Warner's office are continuing to make contact. I get called by the LA Times and Chicago Tribune. Now it really doesn't look good.

Thursday AM the interim guidance is forwarded to us from Moran's office . . . no exemption. It's up to Congress at this point.  I start planning my Shutdown Shenanigans party for Saturday night- wear your bib and race tee, I tell my friends, and I'll let you buy me a drink. 

Invite to the party that never happened.

The Ominous Call
You know when your phone rings and you know there is only bad news on the other end. . . . my phone buzzes at 3:00pm Friday, April 8 and my trusty 8th iPhone displays "National Park Service" on the screen. 

NPS warned me that if they thought it was heading for a shutdown they would call me regarding the cancellation of the race. This was the call; a "courtesy call" she called it. No joke. Reminding me what I already knew- if there was no resolution at midnight this race was canned. I politely thanked her (she had bigger problems than me) and turned to Lisa, who just shook her head.

At this point of the day, it didn't look good. I had numerous phone calls back and forth with our lobbyist (thanks for the pro bono work, Ben). He still had enough hope to pick up his packet that day but wasn't his usual chipper self when I called to let him know about the call from NPS. 

At this point, I felt the shutdown was like watching and waiting for a distant, elderly, and at this point, senile, great aunt dying- yeah, it was sad but the family just needed some resolution and to move on. However, like most of the women in my family, she wasn't going down without a fight. And neither was I.

12:01AM: Rainy Night & Some Beers with Friends
Friday afternoon my staff was preparing for the second of our 5K Fridays, a drizzly nasty day, even for a run. During set up, I sat in a nearby Starbucks with Marc (our web/comm mgr) finalizing the e-blast for a shutdown and prepping web pages for a cancellation (note: not until later that evening did it occur to me to have a note ready in case the government didn't shut down- I scurried to do that later in the evening). 

A few hours before our evening 5K, after several calls with our USPP contact, we updated the site . . . if the government shuts down at 12:01am and comes to a resolution later in the morning/day, we are still canceled. That 12:01am deadline was our cut off, baring any government intervention. The permit was the permit and people needed to get on with their day and our set up was already 50% complete at this point.

After the 5K, it was impossible to sit at home so I met up with staff to watch the coverage. Unfortunately, our bartender thought the golf game was more important and he switched over late- around 10:00pm.  We still were on our iPads and phones looking for details and getting calls in from Ben and numerous friends and colleagues. At 11:00pm, we knew we had it. But we still had the 12:01am deadline.

While things were looking up for a House vote, things were not looking good for our 12:01am cut off. However, at 12:01am OMB guidance was released under obscure federal rulemaking instructing agencies to continue normal operations. At 12:20am, there were enough votes for passage in the House. I was, at this point, exhausted and made my final FB update at around 1:00am. At 6:00am I contact our USPP representative, already working the parade, to make sure we are a go . . .

Kathy: "How about that for a nail biter; see you Sunday"
Sgt: "We will see you there; just made it!"

And with that, we confirmed the race was a go at 6:06am; 26 hours before the gun.

Beautiful Day
This year's Parkway was the best run race I've ever been associated with and was a bit of a rite of passage for me and my staff. I can't begin to thank everyone for their support and help so I'll just leave it at thank you so not to leave anyone out. 

I hope you had a good time, and I'll see you May 1 with our friend and survivor, BethAnn Telford, at the Race for Hope.

P.S. interested in what our plan was if we were forced to May 1? You can see it here

One hour before race start at Mt. Vernon; you can see the emotion in Lisa's shoulders as we took a moment to reflect on the past 10 days. The best #2 a gal could ask for.


  1. Wow, what a story! That's incredible everything you went to. DC Area runners are VERY lucky to have someone so "on the ball" and personally invested in making sure everything is handled smoothly. You did a FANTASTIC job! I was kicking myself for missing the race, but glad that others were able to enjoy.

  2. You so did ALL of the right things. Great job!

  3. You guys did a hell of a job on this. So much so that I'm seriously considering registering next year, even though I wasn't this year. And I told anyone who complained to me just how remarkable your contingency plan was. Congratulations?