One Dirty Magazine

Here’s What Race Directors Want You to Know About Canceled Races

Many races wouldn't survive if they offered refunds for races canceled due to COVID-19.

Alex Kurt May 11th, 2020

Here’s What Race Directors Want You to Know About Canceled Races Mile 90 Photography

 

The video, titled “2020 Bighorn Race Announcement”, begins ominously. 

Dark clouds hang over the race’s signature landmarks as drone footage sweeps through the Tongue River Canyon. Michelle Maneval, the long-time Race Director, stands at an outdoor lectern surrounded by stone-faced members of her mostly-volunteer race team.

“It is with a heavy, heavy heart that we have had to make the decision to cancel the 2020 running of the Bighorn Trail Run due to the global health challenge of the COVID-19 virus,” she says to the camera. “Thinking realistically, we do not believe this will resolve completely by the end of summer 2020, thus we are not planning a postponement date.”

The race will offer partial refunds, Maneval explains, but she asks athletes to consider not taking them if they’re able.

“We don’t want to complain about the economic side of this event cancelation,” she says. “On the other hand, we cannot hide the fact that this has had significant financial consequences for us.”

“This will undoubtedly have a major impact on Bighorn,” she continues, “the result of which is still unknown.”

A Painful but Unavoidable Decision

The announcement – which lives on the race website and was e-mailed to registered athletes – isn’t shocking. Hundreds of races through the summer have been canceled or postponed in response to the global pandemic. The health and safety of participants can’t be guaranteed in a race field that size, Maneval explains, nor does feel comfortable bringing athletes from 48 states and several countries to 757-person Dayton, Wyoming, whose medical infrastructure likely couldn’t handle a large outbreak.

“I would have liked to wait until the end of May to make a decision, but it became evident things wouldn’t clear up anytime soon,” she says. “And we had people traveling in who would need to make plans.”

“But it was a heart-wrenching decision,” adds Maneval, who just turned 50 and has directed Bighorn for 28 years (21 years as the sole Director), and in addition works at the family’s running and outdoor stores in Sheridan, Wyoming. She estimates she works up to 75 hours per week combining both roles in the lead-up to the race each year and notes she was directing Bighorn before she was married or had kids. “It’s a labor of love.” 

While Maneval explained in the announcement video that Bighorn would not have a postponement date – “the Bighorns just aren’t the same in September,” she added – some race organizations have moved to postpone their events to later dates. The Yakima Skyline and Sun Mountain trail races, both put on by Winthrop, Washington-based organization Rainshadow Running, were postponed to the fall from their April and May dates, respectively. “It was the best decision for our company finances to still be able to offer these races in 2020, allowing us to have another set of runners run these races in 2021,” says James Varner, Co-Race Director and Owner of Rainshadow Running. “At the time we also were hopeful that races, in general, would be possible again by then.”

Varner says that if large events continue to be unsafe, postponement will no longer be an option. If a year’s worth of races are all held in the fall, he explains, the market would become oversaturated, with races failing to fill up and a potential shortage of volunteers needed to put on events like the 11 races Rainshadow puts on each year. 

Financial Reality  

In April, Minnesota-based race director John Storkamp posted a communication to his website: April’s Zumbro Endurance Run and May’s Superior Spring Trail Races had been canceled, and it was likely the summer’s Afton Trail Run and Superior Fall Trail Races, as well as the five-part Endless Summer Trail Run Series – every race Storkamp’s Rocksteady Running organization puts on throughout the year – would be canceled as well.

Rocksteady Running has always had a no-refund policy, Storkamp explained, that is made clear at registration,and this time would be no different.

We really hope to be able to hold the races next year and in the years to come, but we are already on track to start 2021 in the red,” he wrote on the Rocksteady website. “If we go too far into the red, the races are in jeopardy of not happening.”

 This is the third straight year Storkamp has been forced to cancel Zumbro – the first two were due to Minnesota’s lingering winter weather – and he says that experience only reaffirmed their no-refund policy: “without it, the races would cease to exist, Rocksteady would go out of business, and personally we would go bankrupt.”

Storkamp, Varner and Maneval paint a similar picture of inflexible and pre-paid overhead and production costs: bills that were due before anyone anticipated a pandemic would force mass cancellations, and some due before a single registration fee had been collected. Notably, Storkamp and Varner both run their race organizations as a full-time job, and not as a side gig they can supplement and support with other employment. (Varner suggested that, while one-off races that rely heavily on volunteers and borrowing equipment may be in a better position to offer refunds this year, each race has a unique “micro-climate” of expenses and incomes, so it is difficult to predict.)

We have…a staff, we have a book-keeper and an accountant, we have to pay taxes on a quarterly basis on our income regardless of when the race actually happens, we have an office, storage, utilities, insurance and maintenance to pay for year-round,” Varner says, listing examples of why some, though not all, of race entry fees have already been spent far in advance of an event. Much of the cost of putting on trail races, he says, is incurred “weeks, months and even years in advance.”

Storkamp says it’s difficult to stand by this policy knowing the economic impacts of COVID-19 are affecting athletes and community members who run his races and added a pandemic contingency to his no-refund policy: anyone experiencing financial distress can get in touch with him and he will send a check for 25 percent of their registration fee if he’s able to. Varner similarly has a “let’s talk about it” option if the other options he is offering – stay in the race at the postponed date, roll your entry over to the same race in 2021 or 2022, or transfer your entry to another runner – aren’t feasible. “I know these are hard times for many and I know what I’ve offered above might not work for everyone,” he says on Rainshadow’s website. “Please keep in mind these are hard times for me too and that we’re all in this together. I will do the best I can to meet you where you’re at.” And though they are asking athletes to consider not taking it, Bighorn’s 50 percent refund offer is rare among canceled races. They are also offering “first dibs” and a 25 percent discount on next year’s registration to athletes registered for 2020. 

We have found that when you are intentional in crafting your policies, have sound reasoning behind them, communicate those policies clearly during the registration process and apply those policies evenly and consistently while providing frequent communication and comprehensive explanations when a cancellation occurs, participants respond very well,” Storkamp says.

Varner also emphasized that running and racing is a luxury and that they seem trivial in the face of a global health crisis. “If we have many more months of race cancellations, we might have a serious problem on our hands, but if that’s the case I think there will be bigger issues facing the world than the lack of races to run,” he says.

Runner Responses

All three Race Directors said the response has been 99 percent positive. 

Storkamp walks the walk, so to speak, on supporting no-refund policies. He was one of nearly 7500 athletes registered for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota this June when, on March 31, the race organizers announced it had been canceled. Like Storkamp’s races, there would be no postponement and refunds were not offered. 

“Keep my entry fee and please let me know how I can donate more,” Storkamp commented on the Facebook post announcing the decision. “Grandma’s Marathon is an absolute asset to our state and to the city of Duluth.”

Varner says he attributes the positive response to a number of things, including “the general kindness and supportiveness of the trail and ultrarunning community, the goodwill that we have earned by taking a very customer-friendly approach to our policies as a whole over many years, and to the multiple favorable options we provided to our runners.”

What Race Directors Want You To Know

“We got one angry e-mail, and we got a little flak from a local reporter, but overall the response has been really supportive,” says Maneval. 

“I don’t think people realize we need to own a storage facility year-round because of how much equipment it takes to put on a race,” Maneval says. “Think of all the tables and tents you see at each aid station, times 11 aid stations plus the start/finish area. That’s 75 tables we have to have and keep somewhere.” 

She added that every runner should volunteer at an aid station at least once for every handful of races they run so that they can get a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes. 

Bighorn has faced challenges before. With snow lingering in the high country last June, Maneval says the 2019 edition was pulled off “by the skin of our teeth.”

“We’ve always practiced patience and optimism,” she says. “It’s our biggest challenge yet, but we’ll be patient, and we’ll be optimistic. And we’ll see.”

 

Alex Kurt is a Contributing Editor for Trail Runner, and has also written for Outside, The Gear Junkieand Runner’s World. A thoroughbred Minnesotan, he currently lives, sweats and accrues sunburn in Santa Barbara, California.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
guest
14 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan
Dan
5 months ago

I totally understand the idea behind a no refund policy when it applies to a person wanting, or needing, to drop out of an event. But, I’m not sure that most people agree to that policy knowing the event organizer may need to cancel and the policy still applies. The challenge that I have isn’t understanding the unrecoverable costs that organizers face, it’s that there is a profit built into the race fee as well. I believe the most equitable solution would be to refund a portion of the registration if the event is cancelled. The organizer should be kept “whole” recovering any costs they have already covered, but only those costs. Not for money they haven’t yet spent, and not for their normal profit.

Roy
Roy
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan

I lean toward agreeing with you. I understand the hardship, but it goes both ways. To purchase something, then get nothing for it, is not really fair. The loss should be shared, and I applaud those organizers who offer partial refunds.

Scott Griffith
Scott Griffith
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan

I completely agree!

David Haile
David Haile
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan

I disagree. There’s not one of them who’s getting rich from organizing races. “Profit” keeps the lights on. We need to keep the foundation solid so that there’s a promising future. You know that if we had to pay minimum wage to every person involved in organizing a race, our race fees would be astronomical!

Tyler
Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Each of these organizations have very clear terms of registration laid out at the time of signing up for the race. It really is your responsibility to understand what you’re signing up for, if it’s that big of a deal to you.

To address your point about still making money on the event: I work directly with one of these race organizers and as with most races, a large percent of their registrants sign up close to race day, which now is not going to happen due to them cancelling in advance, which was the responsible decision. Therefore, their expected income on that event to cover the costs and attain their “profit” (of which there is close to nothing), never comes in and they still have to pay most of those expenses.

Rob Hartman
Rob Hartman
4 months ago
Reply to  Dan

I personally have chosen to pay race fees, kid’s (canceled) soccer fees, gym fees (which they wouldn’t accept), etc….because I’m in a position to do so.

But, it does seem odd to make this a policy. How would people feel if they bought an airline ticket and the flight was canceled? An NFL football game? A wedding venue? Your kid’s senior photos that never occurred? I suspect everyone would expect at least the opportunity for a refund in these circumstances.

DavidD
DavidD
5 months ago

What you bring to our community is so important. I whole heartedly want to keep these races alive, not only to run, but to protect our trails, create connections, witness inspiration, and for the opportunities to give back. I think it reasonable to have dialogue with those in dire situations, but personally, I fall in line with Storkamp’s “Keep my entry fee and please let me know how I can donate more,” -attitude. Thanks for all you do, and for creativity in these tough times.

P.S. Virtual trail running film festivals are cool.

Todd Jenning
5 months ago

One thing not mentioned either here or in any articles I’ve recently read on this subject is that of liability insurance. Will insurers even issue you a policy if conditions dictate that staging the race is unsafe? I’ve not consulted with mine yet, but there are so many other unanswered questions (i.e. Will runners even register if you choose not to cancel? Will you be able to recruit volunteers? Will shuttle busing be safe? How will you keep your finish line festival safe?) that the insurance issue almost seems ancillary.

Todd Jennings
Co-Director
Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run

Tammy
Tammy
5 months ago

People in the ultrarunning community are a breed in their own. I think we all have an understanding that things happen that are out of the race directors hands and not offering a refund is really the best choice for keeping the event alive. Even if these races are a business for some—-there is no way these guys and gals are getting rich putting on these events. It really is hard work. I for one was signed up to run several races this year and hope my race fees can keep Big Horn and the spring Superior trail races going. Stay well all!

Stacy Eary
Stacy Eary
5 months ago

I think they should come up with a better solution than takeing entrants money ,its going in someones pocket ,one of the trail races i was signed up for had an OPTION , do the race virtual & receive your bib shirt & medal & recieve some of the entry back , do the race virtual & receive shirt medal & bib& choose to donate all your entry fee , or choose not to do the race & receive all your money back .

Dan
Dan
5 months ago

Things You Can Do in Sheridan Wyoming as of Friday, May 15::
• Eat a great breakfast indoors at Silver Spur Cafe
• Have a drink in the Taproom at Black Tooth Brewing
• Work out at Pure Energy Fitness and change in the locker room
• Attend mass at Holy Name Catholic Church
• Get a calf tattoo at Beard N Lady Tattoo
• See a movie at Centennial Theatre

Thugs You Can’t Do Next Month:
• Run the Bighorn 100

Dan
Dan
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Also – you can buy some Hokas at the Sheridan Sport Spot (owned by the RD).

Jonathon Pauley
5 months ago

No easy choices as a race management company owner. Renegade Racing produces 47 annual events of which we own 15 of those. Some of our events are small and some are over 10,000. Our non-owned events are management contracts with mostly non-profit organizations and those organizations have almost totally canceled all of their events for 2020. We are left with the overhead of the infrastructure that it takes to produce 47 events while to this date we have only produced 1 event in 2020. We have furloughed all but one employee, negotiated with our office lease, asked every vendor to reduce or postpone payments all to lower overhead. Even with PPP we are looking at 2-3 months maximum before closing the doors if the situation doesn’t drastically change. We are not alone; there’s going to be a whole sale collapse of the endurance sports industry before the end of the year if fall races and postponed races are not allowed to proceed. Like other small business we can not remain open at 35-50% of capacity. Buckle up, we are all on a wild ride. Jonathan Pauley, owner Renegade Racing.

Marty Michelson
Marty Michelson
5 months ago

Sick and tired of hearing about these “poor race promoters” crying and then pocketing all the money that they are able to stiff their creditors. Check out Aravaipa running in Phoenix and see how they handle forced cancellations. I would “die” for these folks! My solution going forward: a) Suggest a conversion to virtual. b) at least make the attempt to offer a replacement date c) offer entry into next year’s race. My personal solution would be to not enter any race with a “no refunds” policy except on race day and if it’s too expensive there’s always another race that will not refuse to refund and then pocket the profits.

 

HELP US KEEP OUR WEBSITE FREE

trailrunnermag.com is completely free. We don’t have a paywall and you don’t have to be a member to access thousands of articles, photos and videos. Our editorial and design team—and all of our contributors—are trail runners just like you who love the sport and want to share all the great things it has to offer. 

But we can’t do it without you. Your support is critical for keeping our website free and delivering the most current news, the most in-depth stories and the best photography in the running world.

For 20 years Trail Runner has committed to excellence and authenticity. Your subscription to our print magazine or donation will help us continue down a path that is uncompromised, and keep the website free for trail runners like you.

14
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x