Andy Schachat's On the Run: No way to win with a road race cancellation
When something out of the ordinary happens it is a story. When something out of the ordinary happens and it involves a big event it is a big story. That is why there has been a lot of talk this past week in the New Hampshire running community following the cancellation of the Feb. 24 Half at the Hamptons Half Marathon. The race had sold out at 1,600 participants. There are no official records, but it is believed this was the largest road race in the Granite State to ever be canceled.
The race was canceled because of the snow storm that fell on race day. Because the storm has been anticipated the decision to cancel was made two days earlier. Participants were notified by emails, the race's website, Faceboook and other forms of modern technology. Despite not waiting until race day to make the decision a look out the window on Feb. 24 seemed to confirm the right decision had been made.
There may have been little controversy about the decision to cancel but what happened next did not go as smoothly. The decision to cancel a race triggers what is probably the most controversial topic that road races and triathlons face. Race organizers must decide how best to respond to the disappointment of the entrants and there is no one answer that pleases everyone. That was certainly the case last weekend when folks learned about the fate of the Half at the Hamptons.
The first issue race organizers had to address was the cancellation process. The race director, Mike St. Laurent of LOCO Sports, told me the cancellation process began with town officials. According to St. Laurent, the town officials withdrew his "assembly permit." St. Laurent went on to explain that he could have held the race without the permit but doing so would have been illegal. St. Laurent said that technically he was the one who canceled the race, because the race belonged to LOCO Sports, but without the assembly permit he had no choice.
Once the race was canceled the next question to surface was rescheduling. A look around the road race scene in this country and one will see that some canceled races get rescheduled, some do not. The Half at the Hamptons was not rescheduled and runners wanted to know why. The response from the LOCO folks was a number of reasons. Getting a new permit was not an easy process, the race venue (the Ashworth By The Sea Hotel on Hampton Beach) was not available for a few weeks, and arranging for staff and volunteers to return at a future date was not a given.
Then came the big issue, the one for which there is no easy answer, and one that creates the most contempt amongst the entrants. What about refunds? Another look at what other races have done is similar situations reveals different responses. Full refunds, partial refunds, entry to a future race, or no refund, are some of the ways races have dealt with this issue.
What determines a race's response about refunds. A variety of factors. Some races incur expenses prior to race day and race organizers do not feel the event is in a position to offer a full refund. In some cases the event was a fund raiser for a non-profit organization and the organization feels the entry fee was a donation. The races that offer a refund or credit to another race are doing so because they are in a better financial position.
The Half at the Hamptons offered $15 off a future half marathon, the Great Bay Half Marathon in Newmarket on April 7. For some that offer was sufficient, for others - not so much. St. Laurent and others at LOCO Sports were met with quite a bit of anger that no refund was offered. The LOCO Sports folks defended their position but based on emails and postings on social media websites the explanation was not sufficient.
An example of "you can't please everyone" was one of the ways LOCO Sports responded to the cancellation. The day before the race had originally been set aside for number pick up. When the race was canceled number pick up became a party with free food, beer and music. Hundreds of people attended and everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon. Not everyone was happy. Some accused LOCO of spending money on a party instead of giving it back to the runners.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to the cancellation of a race. Perhaps it comes down to trust in the organizers. When a race is canceled do runners really believe organizers are happy that to keep the money without putting on the event? Do runners think the race director is lying when he tries to explain how much money has already been spent prior to race day?
If anything good comes out of the cancellation of the Half at the Hamptons it will be better preparation for another cancellation. More thought will probably go into have a back up date and more thought will be given to finding a more satisfactory solution for all parties involved.
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Running shorts: Congrats to Larisa Dannis of Manchester. Danis won the Hyannis Marathon in Hyannis, Mass. on Feb. 24. In the accompanying half marathon Samuel Fazioli of Salem finished third. Let's also tip our hat to Jacob Drescher of Milford. Drescher won his age group, 15 to 17, in the marathon.
Broken record time. Madison's Jim Johnson did it again, two more wins in the Granite State Snowshoe Series. On Feb. 16 he won the Kingman Farm race in Madbury and on Feb. 17 he won the Horsehill race in Merrimack.
Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.