ST. PETERSBURG — Jen Corn's phone alarm went off at 12:45 p.m. Thursday. She had 15 minutes until registration for the Skyway 10K went live.
What the 46-year-old Bradenton resident didn't realize was that tens of thousands of people across the bay area also would be eagerly logging onto their phones, tablets and computers at the same time, with the same purpose.
"I was ready. I was waiting," Corn said. "Of course, 29,999 other people were, too."
When 1 p.m. hit, about 30,000 people loaded the same website and tried to secure one of the 8,000 tickets that were available for a spot to run the race that crosses the iconic Sunshine Skyway bridge and raises money for the Armed Forces Family Foundation. That meant 22,000 people were going to be disappointed.
But hundreds of the lucky ones weren't so lucky after all. They were double and triple charged for registering, race organizers said.
Corn ended up with three $80 registrations — and credit card charges — as a result.
"They had such an overwhelming response, and we kept getting messages that orders weren't processed and to try again," Corn said. "Of course, everybody is in feeding-frenzy mode trying to get in, so you keep hitting submit again and again."
Organizers sorted through the confusion Friday with the ticket vendor, events.com. As a result, 300 to 600 registration spots will be freed up, said race spokesman James Judge said.
An issue with an external server caused the problem, events.com said. When runners were charged for two or three tickets during registration, the online system counted them as multiple runners. The tabulation error took away spots from others trying to get a ticket.
That means once those double and triple charges are refunded, those spots will re-open and go to runners who couldn't get their tickets, Judge said.
Events.com started the refund process Thursday night, and all those who were overcharged should have received refunds by late Friday, Judge said.
The Skyway 10k volunteer team is working with events.com to figure out exactly how many race spots will open up. Judge said events.com has started contacting runners who were initially denied and offering them race spots. The emails started going out Friday, and runners will have 48 hours to respond. Organizers hope to finish this process by Wednesday.
"Those (tickets) will go to people who were in the queue line who tried to register and got an error message," Judge said.
Nina Mattei, 53, of Brooksville hopes her neighbor can secure one of those tickets. Mattei and three friends were hoping to run the race. Her neighbor agreed to register everyone, but in all the chaos Thursday, three registrations went through but one didn't.
"It's so ironic because my neighbor, it was her idea and she's the one who got left out," Mattei said.
Events.com took responsibility for the error and issued a statement late Thursday apologizing. The company said it would also donate $10,000 to the Armed Forces Family Foundation. The inaugural 6.2-mile race sold out within five days, and when 7,000 runners hit the bridge March 4, they ended up raising $560,000 for the foundation.
The second is March 3, 2019, and by adding 1,000 tickets, the organizers said they're on track to raise more than $700,000.
Though Mattei said the ticket experience was frustrating — the online chat system wasn't working, and when she called for help, the voicemail boxes were full — she still spoke positively of the event and its organizers.
"I know how complicated that is," Mattei said. "I can't imagine the logistics with a race of this size."
Corn, who ran in the inaugural race, called the Skyway 10K an almost spiritual experience.
"When you get up to the top of the bridge, you could look out and see all of Tampa Bay as the sun was rising," Corn said. "It really is such a cool event."
On top of that, she said, it raises money for members of the military and their families.
"In the end, it's a charity event, and their goal is to raise money for a worthy cause," said Corn, who said her father and college friends served in the Army. "Unfortunately, they're trying to make the best lemonade out of many, many lemons."
Next year, race organizers said they'll use a lottery system.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.
NEED REGISTRATION HELP?
Anyone who had an issue registering for the second annual Skyway 10K race should contact events.com by sending an email to [email protected]